For the Love of God, Volume 2/December 7
From Gospel Translations
2 Chronicles 7; 2 John; Habakkuk 2; Luke 21
GOD’S RESPONSE (HAB. 2) TO Habakkuk’s second complaint (see yesterday’s meditation) answers it in part and evades it in part. More precisely, it implicitly dismisses one part of Habakkuk’s question by putting all the weight on another part. Clearly God judges his answer to be so important that he wants it circulated (2:2), so what starts off as private communication takes the first step toward becoming incorporated into the canon.
God describes the “typical” Babylonian (2:4-5): puffed up, with corrupt desires, often intoxicated, arrogant, restless, greedy, violent, and oppressive. He is precisely the opposite of what God wants a human being, a divine image-bearer, to be: “the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4). There is a long-running dispute over whether the word for “faith” should properly be rendered “faithfulness,” not least because this line is quoted in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:37-38). Although there are strong voices on both sides, a good case can be made for preserving the ambiguity. Over against the person whose wretched conduct God lists in the surrounding lines, God certainly wants people to be “faithful.” On the other hand, the preceding two lines depict the wicked as “puffed up” and with desires “not upright”—just the opposite of a person with genuine “faith,” which in the Bible depends on God and therefore cannot be either puffed up (which presupposes independence from God) or corrupt.
Whatever the responsible way to take that line, the Babylonians themselves are so wicked, God says, that all of their erstwhile victims will one day rise up and taunt the oppressors with a long list of “woes” (2:6, 9, 12, 15, 19)—dramatic curses pronounced on them because of their grievous sins. These woes should be pondered by any nation that hungers to act justly. The last one is bound up with idolatry: “Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” By contrast: “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (2:19-20). It is as if the wickedness of the Babylonians is traced back to their idolatry. The words are a powerful reminder that God reigns over all the nations, and he abhors the idolatry that drives people to pant after created things rather than the Creator who made them and to whom they owe everything (cf. Rom. 1:18ff.).
So God has not explained how he can use a more wicked nation to chasten a less wicked one. Rather, he has said that he knows more about Babylonian wickedness than Habakkuk does, that he keeps accounts, that justice will one day be meted out.