The Judgment Foretold

Last time we looked at Habakkuk 1:1-5 and saw the prophet’s great sorrow at the poor state of the people of God who had fallen into terrible sins. We also saw the heavy burden that God gave Habakkuk to bear as a prophet called by God to pronounce a terrifying judgment upon his own people, his own countrymen and neighbors. Today we will look at that fearful judgment as it is recorded for us in the verses that follow in chapter one. Habakkuk was a man to whom the Lord gave a difficult burden to bear but along with that burden God gave him the grace necessary to perform the task appointed to him. Such is the lot of many saints past, present, and future. As our society grows more and more wicked around us, are we willing and ready to bear the heavy burden of witnessing against that corruption even if it means suffering for us? God may not always judge in the same way today as He did in the Old Testament, but there can be little doubt that He will not judge the western world as it rejects the light of the gospel. God may not execute His judgment by means of foreign invaders, but He may very well do so by delivering out land deeper into its sins.

The judgment which God revealed to Habakkuk came upon the wayward people of Judah by means of the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans or Babylonians were soon to become a mighty people and rising power in the world of Habakkuk’s day. However, Habakkuk spoke this prophecy before the Babylonians reached the height of their power. And as a result most of the wayward people of Judah did not believe the prophet’s words. They assured themselves that Jerusalem was the Lord’s city and that God was on their side. They foolishly thought even as they spurned God’s law that Jehovah would always protect them from their enemies. How often did they forget their own history! Did they not remember the miserable days of the Judges? Thus even as God addresses them and reveals the coming judgment, they, as it were, scoff at the very thought of a foreign nation invading their land and destroying Jerusalem.

“Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs” (Habakkuk 1:5-6)

Here the great foolishness of people of Judah is made plain. So confident were they that God’s favor shined upon them that they would not even believe God’s own word to them through the prophet. Unbelief was deeply rooted in the land of Judah and all the while the people believed themselves to be believers. Such is blindness of the deceitful and sinful human heart. They were convinced that God would continue to bless them even though they continued impenitently in their sin. How wrong they were. In the verses that follow God reveals the dreadful nature of the Judgment that will come at the hands of the Chaldeans. The picture which the prophet draws is a chilling one.

“They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.” (Hab. 1:7-10)

Three kinds of people lived in Judah at this time. There were those who were unbelievers and reprobate, who lived in the sphere of the covenant but were not members of the covenant. This section of the Jewish populace was always a corrupting influence in Judah. God’s judgment at the hands of the Chaldeans was the manifestation of His fierce wrath against this carnal seed. For them, God’s judgment was only punishment and retribution, and was aimed at their destruction and condemnation. Second, there were those who, though members of God’s covenant and elect, had fallen deeply into sin and had participated in the apostasy of the nation. For these sinning saints, God’s judgment was a powerful chastisement in which God, as it were, corrected them with many stripes. But they differed from the unbelieving Jews in that, for them, God’s judgment was aimed at their repentance and eventual salvation. It was aimed at awakening them from their stupor and turning them once again to the God whom they had forgotten and betrayed. Finally, there was the faithful and oppressed minority who still feared God and walked in the ways of Jehovah. Though God’s wrath did not fall upon this faithful remnant, they still suffered the consequences of God’s brought upon the nation for its sins. When the Chaldeans swept into Judah bringing destruction and leaving suffering in their wake all of Judah suffered.

We see in these verses a stark example of God’s sovereignty over sin. The Babylonians were a wicked nation and they had no good motive for their invasion of Judah. We should not imagine that the invading armies of the Babylonians were in anyway pursuing a righteous cause. As the text says “they shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.” The Chaldeans came to murder and plunder, to exalt themselves over another nation as they took twisted delight in the cruelties they inflicted upon the people they conquered. They were driven along the furious path of their conquest by the depravity of their own hearts manifested in their bloodlust and lust for glory. The Lord’s attitude toward their deeds is well expressed by the Psalmist: “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.” (Ps. 11:5) In addition to their sins of cruelty and violence, the Babylonians attributed their victories to their own strength which became their idol. As verse eleven says: “Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.”  They added idolatry to their already large list of sins. These crimes of the Babylonians were an affront to God’s justice and demanded His retribution. And yet they were the instruments in God’s hand to administer judgment upon Judah, the chastening rod in His hand. God does no wrong, yet He uses the evil of men to achieve His good purpose. The fact that the Chaldeans were God’s instruments of judgment in no way excuses their crimes.  Indeed, God had every intention of judging them for those crimes.

Thus, even in the proclamation of God’s judgment there was hope and comfort. Habakkuk makes this clear in the chapters that follow. All things are in the hand of God and He works all things for the good of His saints, even the evils which seem so terrible to us that we think nothing good could possibly come from them. We may not know why God allows certain evils to come to pass. The faithful Jews of Habakkuk’s day likely did not understand either. But they took comfort in knowing that God was in control, and that God would in the end save His people. Although the first chapter of Habakkuk is a dark chapter filled with judgment, we shall see the comfort God gives to His afflicted people as it beautifully unfolds in the next two chapters of Habakkuk’s prophecy.

Justin Smidstra

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