Chapter two of Habakkuk is God’s answer to the prophet’s dramatic pleading with God which starts at the beginning of chapter 1:
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds (NIV throughout).
Habbakuk bemoans the traumatic tragedy which is the Bablyonian conquest of Israel at the end of the First Temple period. Putting words in God’s mouth, Habakkuk gives a very clear description of why he is so angry toward God:
5 “Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told. 6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own. 7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor. 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar. They fly like an eagle swooping to devour; 9 they all come intent on violence. Their hordes
advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand. 10 They mock kings
and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them. 11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”
This chapter continues with more complaints and pleading with God to be merciful:
12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish. 13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
Then we have chapter 2 which begins:
1 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
The imagery used here is that of siege. Habakkuk sees himself as a watchman waiting for God to respond.
In chapter 2 God answers.
2 Then the Lord replied:
This is a tense and dramatic moment in the Bible.
Habakkuk’s claim against God is not unlike Job’s who also suffered "unjustly." Just like the climactic revelation at the end of Job, we are taught that an encounter with the Mysterium Tremendum engenders humility and silence. I think there is a lot of nuance in the response we find in Chapter 2, but the major idea about the relationship between God and human beings is summed up in verse 20:
The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
(It happens to be that I have a lot more thoughts related to the structure of this book as a whole and its place in the Bible which I recorded about a year ago and posted here.)