The Book of Habakkuk is considered a lament whereby the prophet expresses his concerns and questions to God regarding the injustice and violence in the world. Habakkuk also expresses his distress about God’s “inaction” in the face of the wickedness and suffering he observes. He struggles to understand why God would allow an unjust situation to unfold. God responds to Habakkuk by telling him to write the vision. That said, why did God say in Habakkuk 2:2, “Write my vision, make it plain?”
God told the prophet to write the vision and make it plain so that not only the prophet himself could remember it, but all would have great clarity on God’s plan. The vision provides insight and understanding as well as offers a perspective on God’s sovereign plan and the outcome of events/ fate of people. It also addresses the judgment that will come upon the Babylonians and the ultimate vindication of the righteous.
The Style of Habakkuk’s Poetry
Unlike other prophetic books that describe warnings of judgment against corrupt nations, the book of Habakkuk is a compilation of the prophet’s laments. In a lament, the author lodges a complaint to draw God’s attention to the suffering and injustice in the world and then requests that God do something. It is also a prayer for help derived from pain. By saying, “How long shall I cry, And You will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2) the prophet was crying out to God.
Lamenting, when done with respect and reverence, is an act of faith. We cry out directly to God because we know what God can do. And because of our relationship with God, we can question what God is doing or not doing, especially when we are in the middle of suffering or when our enemies seem to have an upper hand. Lament teaches us that there are things we do not understand, and it’s okay to express our feelings to God.
Context and Background of Habakkuk 2:2
When Habakkuk wrote the text, the United Israel was divided into Northern and Southern Kingdoms. After the division, the people in ancient Israel lived a sinful life. They neglected the teachings of the Torah, resulting in more violence and injustice, and Israel’s corrupt leaders were tolerating all of it. So Habakkuk, in Chapter 1, asks God to do something about the violence and wickedness, and God answers: “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans” (verse 6) that will bring justice to the rebellious and evil Israel.
The Chaldeans, also known as the Babylonians, were God’s instrument of judgment upon disobedient Israel and eventually, they captured Judah. Babylon was a sinful nation that worshiped pagan gods, and sexual immorality was widespread. However, while the Babylonians were yet to conquer Judah when Habakkuk was lamenting to God, the people of Judah had also turned away from the one true God, and we’re living in sin.
When Habakkuk wrote the lamentation, he lived in the last decades of Judah, Israel’s Southern Kingdom. It was a time of injustice, violence, and idolatry, and God’s law seemed powerless. He saw the rising threat of the Babylonian empire and the sinful ways of Judah, but also, based on God’s first response, the prophet knew the Babylonians were worse than Israel.
Habakkuk laments again, condemning Judah’s sins but struggling with the idea that their suffering will intensify through attacks from even more wicked enemies. He asks how God can use corrupt people as his instruments of justice (Habakkuk 1:13). After demanding an explanation, Habakkuk depicts himself as a watchman on the city walls, awaiting God’s response (Habakkuk 2:1)
God’s Response: 4 Woes Against Babylon
Prophet Habakkuk struggles to see the people of God overtaken by such great evil, and God responds with great hope in Habakkuk chapter 2:2-3, “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end, and it will not prove false. Though it lingers, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
God answers Habakkuk with a second response in the form of a vision but clarifies that the vision is yet for an appointed time, meaning Habakkuk spoke to an age beyond his own. The Babylonian conquest would not be evident in his day but in the future. Habakkuk had to see the vision and make it permanent by writing it down. Through God’s response and explanation, we see four woes perpetrated by Babylon/the wicked:
- Unjust economic practices
- Slave labor, i.e., treating humans like animals
- Irresponsible leaders/poor leadership
The evil practices, which include typical forms of injustice and oppression that God described, are not unique just to Babylon but apply to all nations and generations, meaning God’s answer to Habakkuk is timeless. Chapter 2 points out that future nations and societies guilty of these four sins will face the wrath of God and experience their own downfall, but the just/righteous shall live by faith (Verse 4).
Yes, the downfall of oppressors might take time and seem like it won’t happen, but God promises it will come at the right time. It might look like a long time, but that’s because God is patient toward us, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9.)
Practical Lesson From Habakkuk 2:2
Lessons drawn from Habakkuk Chapter 2 apply today. For starters, we live in a world where persecution, violence, poor leadership, wickedness, and injustice are predominant. All these pains can steal our joy and make us question God. However, we can reconcile our deep questions, honest struggles, and nagging doubts with a lament, which allows us to process our pain but also to give praise and trust in God’s sovereignty (Proverb 3:5-6).
Through a lament, we can talk to God about our pain and draw upon the belief that God has set an appointed time to fulfill His plans that will give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). So when it seems that God is silent while evil or pain is thriving, engaging in lamentation invites us to talk to God.
When we lament, we also walk in Jesus’ step. Matthew 23:37–39 records Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem after declaring woes on the city’s leaders. In his ministry, Jesus had great reason for grief, and He brought that sorrow to God (Luke 13:33-34; 19:41–44, Mark 14:32–42 and Hebrews 5:7). However, perhaps the most memorable lament was when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 (quoting Psalm 22:1).
The way Habakkuk described Judah indicates evil was rampant, and he was deeply concerned about the spiritual decline of God’s people, so he pleaded with God for help. But God offers a response to his questions through a vision and asks Habakkuk to write it down. The vision gives insight into God’s sovereign plan, which includes the eventual judgment of the Babylonians and the vindication of the righteous.