Study of the Prophets: Habakkuk (Cont.)

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue

Study of the Prophets: Habakkuk (Cont.) September 30, 2016

This week we continue our study at Chapter 1:10-11:

He scoffs at kings, and officers are his sport. He laughs at every stronghold, heaping up earth and capturing it. Then a spirit will come and pass over him, and he will incur guilt [by saying] that his god gave him strength.”

These verses echo the attitudes of many of our leaders and officials today. Scripture describes the impudent self-assurance of Nebuchadnezzar, the Chaldean king (Abarbanel). The speeches and actions following 9/11/01 and the political speeches we are currently witnessing provide sufficient validation of these statements. Interestingly, Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Chaldeans; the lowest of nations as we learned last week. Such pride coming from Nebuchadnezzar is may be compared to verbal threats of sanctions from a country that rejects G-d against Iran. In the case of our study, G-d used Nebuchadnezzar, his pride, and his forces for His purpose; to punish Israel. However, we will learn the rest of the story in Chapter 2. For now, we need to internalize a truth that G-d already has a plan for each of us, and all the nations of the world. He has a plan for His people Israel (all true believers). Believers should internalize this truth and not fear the evil that surrounds us. The Torah is replete with this theme. Although some of the things that G-d orchestrates or allows seem completely contradictory to our understanding of G-d, it is our perception of G-d that is askew that results from trying to make G-d fit into our human understanding. G-d is omniscient and omnipresent; everything is under His control. The limitations on human understanding is what Habakkuk experienced in this first chapter. G-d, in His mercy and compassion, took time to answer Habakkuk that his understanding would increase. Similarly, and fortunately for those who are called according to His purpose, YHVH/Yahshua ordained that the Torah would be written and preserved through all generations that we may grow in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of our purpose and how to accomplish it for G-d’s glory.

“…heaping up earth and capturing it.” This verse has at least two interpretations. The first is that Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers would carry dirt and heap it up against the enemy’s stronghold until it was high enough to overcome and attack, overthrowing the fortress (Rashi) (see Samuel 20:15). Radak interprets the verse figuratively; “he gathers a multitude of soldiers (as numerous as the dust) and captures the stronghold.”

“Then a spirit will come and pass over him…” The word used for spirit in Hebrew refers to one’s thoughts (Metzudos), or traits such as arrogance, cruelty, anger (Malbim). Seeing his success and accomplishments, Nebuchadnezzar becomes extremely arrogant and he gives credit to his heathen god. A parallel situation was the arrogance with which politicians and others in the United States demonstrated after 9/11 with credit given to the “American spirit” and “resolve.” There was never a word of humility or inquiry into why this event may have been allowed by G-d because G-d is no longer considered the King of the universe or the Sustainer of all life. With this attitude, there is no thought of repentance or considering the possibility that G-d would punish America as a nation just as He punished Israel.

Verses 12-13: “Are you not from the beginning of time, O HaShem my G-d, my Holy One? Let us not die! O HaShem, You have ordained him for judgment; and [You], O Rock, You have established him to chasten[us]. [Your eyes] are too pure to see evil and You cannot look upon wrongdoing. Why, then, do You look upon betrayers? [Why do] You remain silent when a wicked man swallows up one more righteous than he?”

Habakkuk pleads on behalf of Israel. Interestingly, the phrase “Let us not die!” should actually read “You, HaShem, will never die.” This is one of the 18 variations in Scripture, that writers make as euphemisms to protect the dignity of G-d, according to Rashi. This translation agrees with the NIV and the KJB. The New Living Translation states this phrase as “surely You do not plan to wipe us out?” Both translations make sense; the first as a declaration and belief that HaShem will never die, in grammatical agreement with the first part of the phrase “Are You not from the beginning of time, O HaShem my G-d, my Holy One?”

The second translation also makes sense in the context that Habakkuk is praying to G-d not to allow the Israelites to die even though he acknowledges G-d will use Nebuchadnezzar to chasten Israel. Thus, both translations are possible and consistent with the theme of verses 12-13.

Habakkuk questions how G-d can seemingly “stand by” and allow a king and nation much less righteous than Israel, to destroy them. Knowing G-d is the epitome of goodness, Habakkuk cannot understand how G-d can/ will allow such evil that is in total contradiction to the person and character of G-d. These are the same questions many people ask of G-d or use to support their unbelief and lack of Torah observance. Two examples are the comments “no G-d would allow such bad things to happen,” or “if there was a G-d, He would do ….”

Verse 14-17: “You have made man like the [helpless] fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler. He brings them all up with a fishhook; he catches them in his net and he gathers them in his trawl; therefore, he rejoices and exults. Therefore, he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his trawl, for through them his portion is fat and his food is plentiful. Shall he therefore empty his net, to slay nations continuously, without compassion?”

Habakkuk argues with G-d stating that He has abandoned mankind before the wicked Nebuchadnezzar just as the fish in the sea can be caught by anyone (Rashi; Radak). He continues this analogy by pointing out that larger fish can eat smaller ones just as the Chaldeans devour Israel. He then uses a similar analogy to that used at the beginning of the verse. There is no one who rules over the insects, and therefore, anyone who wishes can catch them. So too, have You placed mankind before this evil man (Radak). Since there is only one ruler over the insects, each one devours the other (Mahari Kara). Malbim uses another analogy. At least the fish have the protection of the water around them so that anyone wishing to catch them must use nets, or hooks, but You have made mankind like the insects of the earth, completely exposed to the enemy. Regardless of which analogy we choose, the point is that Habakkuk is arguing with G-d that the Israelites have been made completely vulnerable to the enemy. Taking the comparison of man to fish one step further, in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 33b), An aggada interprets that man may indeed be compared to fish. R. Yehuda said in the name of Samuels, “Just as fish, when placed upon dry land, immediately die, so it is with the Jew; as soon as he departs from the Torah and mitzvos he, too, immediately dies.” Although the term “Jew” was used in the biological sense as in most rabbinical thought and writing, but as Messianic Jews we have the definition of a “true Jew” in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament” defined by Yahshua in Romans Chapters 2-3. The word “immediately” used in the context of dying is similar to that used in Genesis when G-d told Adam that the day that he ate of the forbidden fruit, surely he would die (Gen. 2:17). We know Adam did not physically die on the same day evidenced by the remainder of the chapter. However, he died spiritually on the day he ate the fruit because this event caused the fall of man; imputed sin that would mandate spiritual death of all mankind if not for Yahshua’s sacrifice.

Nebuchadnezzar sacrifices to himself, idolizing the net and trawl with exultation and incense, attributing his success to these inanimate objects and not the G-d of Israel.

In verse 17 Habakkuk is asking G-d why He rewards Nebuchadnezzar every day when he sacrifices to himself and denies the existence of G-d (Radak). Going back to some of our previous discussion on this chapter, many believers as the same question, “why do You allow the wicked to prosper, especially when others who are more righteous suffer?” Fortunately for those who seek answers to this question with a humble heart, G-d provides the answers throughout the Torah. We will learn and study G-d’s answer to Habakkuk’s question in Chapter 2. Habakkuk cannot understand Nebuchadnezzar’s seeming continued success when it is obvious he does not recognize G-d. It is critical to study not only the questions of believers throughout the Torah, but YHVH/Yahshua’s responses we should always seek the source of information from which we develop our beliefs, values, and behaviors. We can never go wrong if we stay true to the King’s Highway (Torah), diverting our attention neither to the right nor to the left. G-d never changes; His Word is the only truth we need to learn, internalize, and act upon.

Next week; G-d’s answer to Habakkuk’s questions.


Rabbi Tamah Davis