Lesson 3: The Holy Perfections of God Habakkuk 1:12-17
The Prophet Habakkuk wrote during very troubled times. The Jews as a nation had drifted into evil and immorality. Foreign powers invaded their cities again and again. Jeremiah warned that God would soon judge and bring captivity to the Jews.
Habakkuk was confused (1:2-4). How could a Holy God allow such oppression and evil to continue against his own people? But Habakkuk’s confusion was not doubt. In his unfailing trust in the truth of God he turned to the LORD for understanding. God answered him.
From the beginning of the covenant, God had warned Israel that if they rebelled against His Covenant, He would bring foreign heathen nations against them to chastise them. As a loving parent God will not let such things continue uncorrected in his children. They would recognize this judgment by people speaking other languages coming against them.
What the heathen intend for evil, God uses for His holy purposes. This does not make their evil morally right. They will be held guilty for what they do (1:11).
Habakkuk Replied to God’s Answer.
Habakkuk rejoiced in the Covenant promises of the God of Israel.
Habakkuk 1:12-13a, “Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. …”
In verse 6 God reminded the Prophet that Jehovah is Sovereign over all. In verse 11 he was reminded that the heathen remain guilty. This lead him to praise God for all His amazing perfections. These perfections are the Foundation of our Covenant Hope.
First, Habakkuk found hope in the eternality of God. Psalm 90:2 tells us, “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” Troubled times may come and go, but God is never taken by surprise. God is and always has been God even before the Chaldeans existed, before Israel was a nation. Recent events, even if he could not understand them, were well within the plans of the Eternal Creator.
Habakkuk also found hope in God’s eternal and personal covenant love. This promise is found in many places in Scripture. It was written long before by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:6, “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” Later the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4, “… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world …”
Habakkuk uses the covenant name of God, “Jehovah” (Yahveh, יהוה). Here it is translated as “LORD.” He is “the self-existent one”, the “I AM.” He depends upon nothing but Himself. This is the name God used in revealing His Law and plan for their deliverance from Egypt. It shows the determination of God to redeem His fallen people.
He calls him “My God”, personally declaring that he saw himself belonging to this God as one of his Covenant People. The heathen make their own strength to be their god. This is the essence of humanism where the human creature and his perceived abilities are honored in place of the Creator (Romans 1:25). The God of Habakkuk is the One who made him. He is the source of all power, even that of his enemy. Proverbs 21:1 assures us, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
With confidence Habakkuk says, “we shall not die.” God is always faithful to His covenant promises. God’s people will not ultimately perish. Any sufferings He allows are for His own purposes. In this case the suffering was to purify and to chastise His rebellious nation to correct them.
Habakkuk found hope in the Holiness of God. He calls Him the “Holy One” (qa-dosh’, קדושׁ). God is morally unique, unlike any other. He cannot approve of evil. The passage here says of God, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness.” He cannot allow wickedness to go unjudged. He cannot allow His people to remain in their rebellion for long.
The Prophet found hope in the Sovereign rule of God. He calls him the “Rock” (Tsur, צוּר), one who is firm, strong, a secure place to shelter His people. This is what Jehovah is called in Deuteronomy 32.
Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice; Righteous and upright is He.”
Deuteronomy 32:15, “… Then he forsook God who made him, And scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation.”
Deuteronomy 32:18, “Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, And have forgotten the God who fathered you.”
He is an unchangeable refuge for His faithful covenant people, but not for those who rebel against His moral principles. God had in the past appointed a heathen nation to judge His people. In Isaiah 10:5 God had called Assyria … “the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” “Rod” and “staff” are the same Hebrew words David used in Psalm 23, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” But for those who are the enemies of God, the rod and staff are used to strike out at them in judgment. Assyria was used to chastise the Covenant people when they became an idolatrous and evil nation.
In the time of Habakkuk, Israel again deserved the covenant curse of judgment as a nation. God was about to use the Neo-Babylonians to remind them of their obligations to the covenant, and that their standing is by grace alone.
Yet the prophet’s questions continued.
Habakkuk 1:13b, ” … Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?”
The prophet brings his confusion before the LORD. He wondered why nothing was being done to the treacherous and wicked. God’s holiness did not seem to fit in with what he was seeing.
God had made it clear that He viewed these pagan nations as evil and guilty. The problem was that Habakkuk was measuring God’s blessing by the world’s standards. In our fallen world the lost use every means they believe will help them get what they want. They rejoice in the conquest of the moment with no real concern about the long-term dangers of immorality and ungodliness. The world cannot see the temporary nature of the pleasures of sin.
He asks why God seemed silent when the wicked swallow up those who are more righteous than the oppressors? Though the nation of Israel had rebelled, there were some who still faithfully rested in the promises and righteousness of God. They were suffering in a way that was hard to understand.
But God’s seeming silence was not really silence at all. God had already spoken very clearly in His word. His warnings about the consequences of disobedience by his people were not unknown. Even this punishment by a foreign nation had been clearly revealed. The curses of God’s Covenant were as certain and as real as the promise of his blessing.
Why did God make men like fish?
Habakkuk 1:14-17, “Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice to their net, And burn incense to their dragnet; Because by them their share is sumptuous And their food plentiful. Shall they therefore empty their net, And continue to slay nations without pity?”
It appeared to Habakkuk that God was treating His people like fish and creeping things. The word translated as “creeping things” is “re’-mes (רמשׂ). It was commonly used to describe reptiles or fast moving little animals. It’s the same word used in Genesis 1:21 of God creating the “moving” things that swarm in the waters.
Like the animals, Israel seemed to be without a real leader to protect and shelter them from their enemies. According to Romans 13:1-7 God’s purpose in human government is that is should be a “minister for good,” to punish evil, and protect the innocent. Leaders are to maintain public safety, dealing out justice to lawbreakers and invaders. At that time Israel seemed to have no such leader.
The Chaldeans would catch them like fish and rejoice. Their nets were long and weighted so they would go to the bottom with floats at the top so there was no way to escape. The enemy empties them out of the net to consume them for their own pleasure and benefit, enslaving them, taking their property, and abusing them.
Then the emboldened enemies sacrifice to their nets giving glory to their own devices for their imagined success. Worship and glory should only be given to the True Creator, not to nets and theirown skills. The analogy of caring for the fishing nets was easy to understand in that culture. They prized and cared for their means of oppression of civilly innocent people.
God’s Prophet wondered if all this oppression would ever cease. Will the evil ones continue to empty their nets and slay the nations showing no pity? Habakkuk brought these very human questions before God.
The ways of God are far above us!
There are times when we might be like Habakkuk. We know what God has revealed about Himself. We see evil and violence continuing around us. We see unbelievers sometimes make the covenant people suffer. We see unbelief and immorality defended by some who have infiltrated our governments and even our churches.
Even though we know that God may use the wicked to chastise his people, what we see is very hard to accept. We might not understand how to fit it all together, but we do know that in the holy mind of God there is perfect integration of those things which confuse us. And we are assured that our Good Shepherd uses it all for the very best help for his children.
The Confession of Habakkuk reminds us of what should never be forgotten as we try to understand. Our God is “from everlasting.” He has promised to redeem His people by His love and provisions. He remains most Holy in all His actions and permissions. He is Sovereign over all earthly matters.
There will always be questions we have difficulty answering. There will be those temptations of the world to encourage us to adopt its ways as if it would ease our discomforts and suffering.
We must always remember that our real hope rests only in the eternal and unchangeable love of an Almighty God. It cannot be shaken by changing situations. Great is the Covenant Faithfulness of our loving Lord!
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)