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Habakkuk (1:13--14) complains to God:

Your eyes are too pure to see evil, you cannot countenance oppression. So why do you countenance traitors? Why are you silent when evil people swallow up those more righteous than they? You make people like fish in the sea, like reptiles that have no ruler!

The complaint concerns the cruelty of the Babylonian troops, as they stormed through the region, capturing one nation after another.

God's reply is apparently in 2:2-20:

For the vision is meant for its appointed time; it speaks of the end, and it does not lie. It may take a while, but wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay... ... Because you plundered many nations, all the rest of the peoples will plunder you; because of the bloodshed and violence done to the land, the city and all who live there.

So the answer is: "be patient. Some time in the future, all the nations that you've robbed will rise up and rob you".

But, this reply does not really answer the question. The question is "why do you let the Babylonians succeed in harming the other nations, and let people be like fish with no ruler?". The reply does not tell why - it just tells that, some time in the future, the "fish" will take their vengence. They will still remain like fish, only the power relations would change.

Is there another answer to Habakkuk's complaint in the book?

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  • Is not the answer to your question referenced in your question : Because you plundered many nations, all the rest of the peoples will plunder you ? Is that not just ?
    – Nigel J
    Mar 16, 2022 at 17:48
  • @NigelJ My reading is that this verse describes the punishment of the Babylonians, which may occur many years in the future. It does not answer the question: "why do the Babylonians succeed now?". Mar 16, 2022 at 17:52

3 Answers 3

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I think the answer to this question lies in the first chapter. The structure of the book of Habakkuk is simple:

A: Hab 1:1-4

  • Habakkuk first complains about the violence and sinfulness of Israel

B: Hab 1:5-11

  • The LORD answers that He is "raising up the Chaldeans — that ruthless and impetuous nation" to punish Judah

C: Hab 1:12 - 2:1

  • Habakkuk second complain/burden consist of a question as to why God would use such an evil nation to punish evil!!

D: Hab 2:2-20

  • The LORD answers that Babylon's success will only be temporary and that the oppressor/punisher of Judah will be punished

E: Hab 3

  • Habakkuk's prayer of acceptance

Note that the LORD's second reply (Hab 2:2-20) contains the following admonition:

  • V4,5 - the just will live by faith, ie, be patient with the divine timetable: death and the grave/Sheol will eventually get Babylon
  • V6-8 - Babyl;on's unjust gains will come to return upon them - those she has plundered will plunder her
  • V9-11 - Because Babylon has destroyed houses, her houses will also be destroyed
  • V12-14 - same again for bloodshed and fire
  • V15-17 - Babylon's wine and drunkenness will turned to shame
  • V18, 19 - Babylon's trust in idols (as gods) is an empty trust - such gods are really dead!
  • V20 -the LORD is in control

Why Let evil Babylon Punish Judah??

The Bible often teaches that God allows sin and evil to reap its own consequences and cause its own downfall.

  • Job 5:13 - He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.
  • Ps 5:10 - Declare them guilty, O God; let them fall by their own devices. Drive them out for their many transgressions, for they have rebelled against You.
  • Ps 7:15 - He has dug a hole and hollowed it out; he has fallen into a pit of his own making.
  • Ps 9:16 - The LORD is known by the justice He brings; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
  • Ps 69:22 - Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
  • Ps 141:10 - Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by in safety.
  • Prov 5:22 - The iniquities of a wicked man entrap him; the cords of his sin entangle him.
  • Prov 11:6 - The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the faithless are trapped by their own desires.
  • Prov 12:13 - An evil man is trapped by his rebellious speech, but a righteous man escapes from trouble.
  • Prov 28:10 - He who leads the upright along the path of evil will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will inherit what is good.
  • Hos 11:6 – A sword will flash through their cities; it will destroy the bars of their gates and consume them in their own plans.
  • Job 5:13 - He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.

That is, God arranges affairs so that evil causes the downfall of evil. Habakkuk is a perfect illustration of this. Judah had wanted to be like the surrounding nations and spurned the protection of God, so God allowed what they wanted to work its natural consequences - Babylon, the great city that the final kings of Judah so admired, would be allowed to move against them.

From our point in history, we now know that it was King Cyrus leading the Medes and Persians that God allowed to deliver the Babylonian just deserts.

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  • "Habakkuk second complain/burden consist of a question as to why God would use such an evil nation to punish evil?" - you say that the God's reply to this is that the Babylonians will eventually be punished for their evil. But this does not answer the question "why God would use such an evil nation to punish evil?". Mar 16, 2022 at 22:37
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi - I will add something to help explain that.
    – Dottard
    Mar 16, 2022 at 23:27
  • "God arranges affairs so that evil causes the downfall of evil. Habakkuk is a perfect illustration of this. Judah had wanted to be like the surrounding nations and spurned the protection of God, so God allowed what they wanted to work its natural consequences - Babylon, the great city that the final kings of Judah so admired, would be allowed to move against them" This is a good answer based on the other Bible verses that you cite. But, is this answer mentioned in the book of Habakkuk itself? Mar 17, 2022 at 10:24
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi - my answer was an attempt to show this same pattern in this passage of Habakkuk - God often uses evil to destroy (or correct) evil.
    – Dottard
    Mar 17, 2022 at 20:03
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But, this reply does not really answer the question. The question is "why do you let the Babylonians succeed in harming the other nations, and let people be like fish with no ruler?". The reply does not tell why - it just tells that, some time in the future, the "fish" will take their vengeance.

Habbakuk has two complaints:

  1. Why are the people of Israel allowed to be so horrible? Ch 1:1 - 4 God's answer is Ch 1:5 - 11
  2. Why would God allow Babylon to punish the people of Israel? Ch 1:12 - 2:1 God's answer is Ch 2:2 - 20

The Babylonians are allowed to conquer the people is Israel because they were:

Chapter 1

  • Violent v2
  • Doing wrong v3
  • Unjust v3
  • God's law is paralyzed v4
  • Wicked v4

Let's start at the beginning.

Complaint 1: Habakkuk starts by asking God how long He will tolerate the injustice of Israel - 1:1 - 4. The list of reasons why they will be punished are summarized above.

Answer 1 God says:
1:5 “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."

God is going to raise up the Babylonians the end the injustice of Israel.

Then

Complaint 2 Habakkuk asks God why He would tolerate the even more wicked Babylonians punishing the people of Israel. 1:12 - 2:1

Answer 2 God says of the Babylonians
Babylon will be punished for their wickedness also. No timeline is given but a list of reasons for the future punishment is given. (summarizing the five woes)

6 ...“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’...

9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin!"

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice!"

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!"

19 "Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’"

There is more to the story, but this answers the question.

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  • "Why are the people of Israel allowed to be so horrible?" - I do not see any reference to the people of Israel in this chapter. On the contrary, the verses refer to "the nations" (1:5), "kings and ministers" (1:10) - of all the people in the region. Mar 17, 2022 at 17:18
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi The question as written in the original post is ""why do you let the Babylonians succeed in harming the other nations" where "you" is God. The question Habakkuk actually asks in 1:12 - 2:1 is - why did God let the Babylonians be the punishment for the people of Israel. Chapter 1:1-4 is a complaint about the unrighteousness of the people of Israel. These verses give the why for God's punishment through the Babylonians and the answer to your question.
    – David D
    Mar 17, 2022 at 20:37
  • Where in the text do you see any reference to Israel? Mar 17, 2022 at 20:39
  • It requires a careful reading of the context of the book. Habakkuk lived in Judea, the Southern Kingdom of Israel. His first complaint is about those in his home country. In chapter 1:13 it says ...."Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" This is a reference to the fact that as bad as the people in Judah are the Babylonians are worse. Even if we don't accept that the people who are sinning in 1:1-4 are the people of Juda - it does list the reasons they are being punished. The reasons for punishment are in 1:1-4
    – David D
    Mar 17, 2022 at 20:58
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The answer is explicitly given in God's reply:

For as yet the vision is far off, and it shall appear at the end, and shall not lie: if it make any delay, wait for it: for it shall surely come, and it shall not be slack.

God claims that what is happening with Bablyon and its tyranny is a "vision" of what is to come. The New Testament speaks of a new tyrannical Babylonian Empire in the future, too. We can guess what this refers to, but it's not relevant exactly for the sake of the question.

Answer: God is allowing this to occur as a foreshadowing of some future 'recapitulation' — it to serve as a type of what is to come in the future, "at the end [of the world?]" (cf. Matthew 24:6).

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