Our God is a consuming fire, and when He comes in judgment there will be no mistaking it. Habakkuk was already quite convinced that Babylon was sowing iniquity. That was his background assumption. The word of the Lord comes to him and shows that Babylon, after they overthrow Judah, will consequently reap the same crop that they planted. God is not mocked.
“. . . But the Lord is in his holy temple: Let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:6-20).
Outline of the Book
Remember the structure of the book. First is Habakkuk’s complaint about injustice in the land (1:2-4). Then he finds out that the invading armies of Babylon are the answer (1:5-11). Habakkuk says that this is even worse (1:12-17). But wait, God says. The just shall live by faith (2:1-5). God then answers Habakkuk’s second complaint, which is our text today (2:6-20). The army of Jehovah’s army contrasts with the army of Babylon (3:1-15). Habakkuk finally resolves his dilemma (3:16-19).
Summary of the Text
So remember that this portion of the book is God’s reply to Habakkuk’s second complaint, which was that Babylon was worse than Judah. But Babylon, having come to the end of a long career of grasping piracy, will come to the end of itself. And all his previous victims, who had been heaped up together, will then turn back around and taunt him (v. 6). Your vast wealth is going to stick to your boots like thick wet clay. Those the Babylonians had ruled over would rise up suddenly, surprisingly, and bite them back (v. 7). Babylon the violent plunderer would soon be plundered (v. 8). Woe to the one who would build his house by gathering in the ruin of his house (v. 9). And woe if he thinks that this grand wealth will somehow serve him as a fortress (v. 9).
When Babylon was on the march, gathering glory, God was seeing to it that they were actually gathering shame—shame for their own house (v. 10). As they troubled everyone, they were actually bringing trouble against their own souls (v. 10).
And then the prophet shifts his voice. Babylon’s victims are no longer taunting it, but now the very buildings they have erected have taken up the woe. The stones in their wall will cry out, and the beams of timber they have set will answer in an antiphonal chorus (v. 11). The buildings built with blood will pronounce a woe on the one who builds with blood, the one who establishes a city through iniquity (v. 12). The Lord of hosts will see to it that building with wood, hay and stubble will be conducted in the midst of the fire, while the fire is already raging (v. 13).
The manifest destruction of Babylon will result in the knowledge of the glory of God filling the earth (v. 14). This same image is used by Isaiah to speak of the coming kingdom of Christ (Is. 11:9), and for the one who has the eyes of faith, this is all of a piece—it is a long sustained narrative. The story of redemption is a long story, encompassing all of human history.
Babylon, drunk on greed and covetousness, will recruit neighboring princes and kings, to their humiliation and shame (v. 15). But as Babylon was the cup-bearer to these others, to their shame, so the Lord will become the cup-bearer to Babylon, but this time in fierce judgment, and Babylon will vomit on its own glory (v. 16). The violence of Babylon will recoil on them—from Lebanon and environs, and all for their bloodthirstiness (v. 17).
Habakkuk concludes by bring the sins of Babylon back to the headwaters, to the gods of this Babylon (v. 18). What kind of sense does it make to carve something that you then trust in? An idol is a teacher of lies, and the whole scam turns out to be idolaters lying to themselves (v. 18). The artisan makes the thing, and then commands the wood and stone to “arise and teach me.” But, lo, Habakkuk says. They are not breathing. They are dead, and therefore dead quiet.
And so he returns to the worship of the true and living God, the God who speaks. That being the case, we must come to worship, and be silent before Him (v. 20).
Not Just a Defeat of Evil
Jehovah does not just bring evil down in order to create a covenantal vacuum. When Babylon is destroyed, the news of that destruction will go everywhere. And it will be known that God was the one who did it—no one else could bring Babylon low like this. The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth up, the same way that water fills the sea. How much glory will God receive from this toppling of Babylon? How wet is the Pacific?
But God is intent on doing more than just dethroning tyrants. His intention is to establish the throne of His Christ, His Messiah, and the glory of this promise is expressed in exactly the same way.
“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, Which shall stand for an ensign of the people; To it shall the Gentiles seek: And his rest shall be glorious”
Is. 11:9-10 (KJV)
John Calvin takes this phrase in Habakkuk as simply referring to the news of Babylon’s destruction filling the world. This is true, as far as it goes, but the New Testament makes a point of connecting all of these things to the advance of Christ’s kingdom. The fifth verse of chapter 1 (which is contextually all about the invading Babylonians) is quoted to unbelieving Jews, warning them about not believing in the Christ (Acts 13:41). And Paul in Hebrews quotes Hab. 2:3 and 2:4, applying it to the wavering Jewish Christians of his day—warning them not to shrink back or hesitate. In other words, Habakkuk and Luke and Paul are all talking about the same thing, which is the salvation of our souls as we trust in the Christ.
The God Who Speaks
The Lord is in His holy temple. We saw in the verses just before this that idols carved out of inert matter are dead. They are deaf, dumb and blind. And on top of all that, they are dead. They have no breath in them. They cannot speak a word. This is one of the reasons why men love to carve out such gods for themselves, and why they pray to icons. Icons don’t talk back, which means they don’t rebuke or admonish. The only thing they teach, and this by implication, are lies (v. 18). And so when idols are not animated by demons (1 Cor. 10:21), they are like ventriloquist puppets for the idolaters. This is how idolaters encourage themselves. Idolatry is an echo chamber.
The idols are already silent, being what they are, but the idolaters need to become silent. And why? Because the Lord is in His holy temple. We must be silent because we worship a God who is not silent. He is the God who sent His Son, the Word. He gave us a book full of holy words. Bow your head then, and listen to the holy God who speaks. And what He speaks is Christ. What He always speaks is Christ.