In the Bible the prophet Habakkuk is the first one to dare call God to account. For centuries, faith had been announcing God’s justice. However, this justice had not always been obvious. After many kept silent about their doubts, Habakkuk was the first biblical author who asked boldly: Why does the Lord allow injustice to triumph? Why, when he punishes one oppressor, does he replace him with someone worse?
The answer is twofold:
– The Lord keeps secret how he rules the world and all he asks is that we remain faithful: the upright will live by his faithfulness.
– The prophet contemplates the glory of the Lord who will judge in the end.
Habakkuk spoke his oracles from 605-600, when Nebuchadnezzar, who had just destroyed the cruel Assyria, became very powerful himself and plundered Israel.
Why do you make me see injustice?
•1This is the message and the vision of Habakkuk, the prophet.
2Yahweh, how long will I cry for help while you pay no attention to me? I denounce the oppression and you do not save.
3Why do you make me see injustice?
Are you pleased to look on tyranny? All I see is outrage, violence and quarrels.
4That is why the Law has been put aside and just decrees are no longer issued. The wicked overrule the upright and they get crooked sentences.
5Look, traitors, and pay attention; be amazed and astounded, for I am going to do in your own days, something that you would not believe if you were told it.
6I am going to call the Chaldeans, that terrifying and violent people who raid to the ends of the earth, to seize the lands of others. 7I call a terrible and dangerous nation who obey no other law but their own will. 8Their horses are speedier than leopards, fiercer than wolves on the plain; their riders gallop on and come from afar, they swoop like the eagle descending on its prey.
9When they launch themselves for an attack, pushed forward by the desert wind, they round up prisoners like sand. 10This people makes fun of kings and laughs at princes; they make light of fortified cities, for they build up an embankment and seize them. 11Thus they come and go like the wind! Their strength is their god!
Second complaint of the prophet
12But you, are you not Yahweh from past ages? You, my holy God, you cannot die. You have set this people to serve your justice and you have made them firm as a rock to fulfill your punishment.
13Yahweh, your eyes are too pure to tolerate wickedness and you cannot look on oppression. Why, then, do you look on treacherous people and watch in silence while the evildoer swallows up one better than himself?
14You treat human beings like the fish in the sea, like reptiles who are nobody’s concern. 15This nation catches all on its hook, pulls them out with its net and piles them up in its dragnet. 16Pleased and delighted at their catch, they offer sacrifices to their net and burn incense to their dragnets, since these supplied them with fish in plenty and provided them with food in abundance. 17Will they continue, then, to constantly empty their nets, slaughtering nations without mercy?
Second reply: the upright will live by his faithfulness
•1I will stand in my watchtower and take up position on my battlements; I will see what he replies, if there is an answer to my question.
2Then Yahweh answered me and said,
“Write down the vision, inscribe it on tablets so it can be easily read, 3since this is a vision for an appointed time; it will not fail but will be fulfilled in due time. If it delays, wait for it, for it will come and will not be deferred. Look:
4I don’t look with favor on the one who gives way; the upright, on the other hand, will live by his faithfulness.”
5The grasping conqueror is always ready to devour, he enlarges his mouth like the netherworld; he is as insatiable as death, he seizes on all the nations and monopolizes all the peoples for himself. 6But will not all the people mock him, as with one voice? Will they not write fierce satires to show him up? They will say,
Against the oppressor
•Woe to him who amasses what is not his and fills himself with extorted pledges. 7Your creditors will come suddenly, your money collectors will waken and take away all your goods.
8Since you have plundered so many nations, shedding blood, stripping the land, their cities and homes, all the remaining nations will turn on you.
9Woe to him who raises his house on unjust profits and fixes his nest so high that he thinks he can thereby escape misfortune!
10You have willed the disgrace of your house; you draw evil on your own head. 11The very stones of your walls cry out against you and the rafters reply from the roof.
12Woe to the one who builds a city on bloody foundations and sets up a town by means of evil. 13Has Yahweh of Hosts not willed that the work of the nations go to the fire and the peoples toil for nothing?
(14For as the waters fills the sea, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.) 15Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors and drugs them to make them drunk so that everyone looks at their nakedness. 16This will bring you more shame than glory. You will also drink and uncover your foreskin. The cup turns over in Yahweh’s hand and pours out onto you: disgrace will swallow your glory.
17The violence you did in Lebanon will befall you and the animals will devour you, since you slaughtered human beings, destroyed the country with its cities and put an end to all who lived there.
18What use is a statue? Why do the sculptors make them? Why these images and deceiving answers? Why do their makers trust them and produce mute idols? 19Woe to the one who says to a piece of wood, “Wake up,” and to a dumb stone, “Get up.” Can it give any answer? For, even though it is plated with gold and silver, there is not a single breath of life in it.
20But Yahweh lives in his holy Temple: let the whole earth be silent before him!
Prayer of Habakkuk
•1Prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet. To the tune of a dirge.
2I have heard, Yahweh, of your renown;
I stand in awe of your work, O Yahweh.
In the middle of years make it known;
in your wrath even, remember mercy.
3God comes from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory shrouds the heavens,
his praise fills the earth,
4his splendor is like the daylight
with rays flashing from his hand,
radiating from his hidden power.
5Pestilence goes before him,
plague follows close behind.
6He stands and the earth sways;
he looks and the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumble,
the time-honored hills collapse.
7I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the pavilions of Midian in anguish.
8Was your anger against the rivers, Yahweh?
Was your wrath against the sea
that you drive your steeds
with your invincible chariots?
9You bare and ready your bow
and set upon it your arrow.
With rivers you cleave the earth.
10At your sight the mountains writhe.
Torrents of water ragingly sweep by,
the deep roaring, lifting its waves high.
11The sun and moon stood still
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the gleam of your flashing spears.
12You stride the earth in wrath,
you trample the nations in rage.
13You came out to redeem your people,
to save your anointed one—
you crush the head of the wicked,
you lay him bare from head to foot.
14You pierce with your shafts his warriors who came like a whirlwind to scatter us in joy,
to devour the wretched quietly.
15You trample the waters with your horses,
amid the churning of the great seas.
16I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound.
Decay crept into my bones;
my legs tottered under my body.
Yet I wait confidently for the day of distress,
when we face the people coming against us.
17For though the fig trees blossom not,
nor grapes be on the vines,
though the olive crop fail
and the fields produce no food,
though the flock be lost from the fold,
and the herd be gone from the stalls,
18yet in Yahweh will I rejoice,
in God my savior will I exult.
19My Lord Yahweh is my stronghold;
he makes my feet as fleeting as the hinds;
he steadies my steps upon the heights.
For the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
• 1.1 Two complaints from the prophet and two answers from God:
– Verses 1-4. First complaint: Why so much wickedness in Judah?
– Verses 5-11. God’s ironic answer: Shortly the Chaldeans will restore order by invading and plundering everything.
– Verses 12-16. Second complaint: Why does Yahweh use such means as the Chaldean invasion to restore his justice?
2:1-4. Yahweh’s answer: One day it will be clear that the good and the evil ones are not treated the same. Those who remain faithful will be saved.
• 2.1 The divine answer remains mysterious. Later, God will clearly reveal how he rewards the just beyond this life. Before that moment comes it was difficult to clarify the mystery: Apparently the misfortunes which were announced as God’s punishment affected everyone equally. After Habakkuk, Jeremiah asked the same question (Jer 12:1); faced with the unbelief of his companions, Ezekiel tried to reaffirm the justice of Yahweh towards everyone (Ezk18); the Book of Job looks for the solution; but its answer will only be partial.
• 6. Habakkuk reveals the destiny of the conqueror who, for a while, will terrorize the world.
The Assyrians have used weapons to overpower nations, just as other conquerors in history have dominated by their technological advances. They have taken over the control of trade, natural resources from which they take a large portion in the name of services which we can no longer do without. They have imposed their religion, their culture and their own style of development. Uprooted from their slower rhythm of growth, or from their wiser but less efficient civilization, or from their more nonchalant lifestyle, these dominated people now lag behind the powerful of their time, running the risk of losing their souls and of ending up in the garbage bin of history. Habakkuk announces the judgment of God.
The last verse: Yahweh lives in his holy Temple: let the whole earth be silent before him! introduces the triumphant manifestation of Yahweh in the following chapter.
• 3.1 The prophet calls on Yahweh begging him to reveal himself. Then he describes his triumphant coming through a series of poetic images, recalling his past interventions in the history of Israel: the passage through the Red Sea, Sinai, Deborah’s victory.
I wait confidently for the day of distress (v. 16; see Is 8:11). Yet in God my Savior will I exult: these words are found in Mary’s canticle (Lk 1:47). In the midst of crises and anguish, the just one steps, upon the heights (v. 19).