God responds to Habakkuk’s second complaint by more or less saying that Babylon will get what it has coming to it. God will use Babylon to punish the kingdom of Judah but Babylon’s sins have not been forgotten, nor will they be overlooked. If the Israelites are deserving of punishment for their injustice, Babylon will get even more.
Habakkuk 2:4 is often quoted – “the righteous will live by faith.” Paul quotes it directly in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11. The writer of Hebrews also closely paraphrases the verse, saying in Hebrews 10:38: “But my righteous one will live by faith.” The fact that this is repeated so often makes it one of the most important verses in all of the Bible and makes it one of the keys to understanding the Bible.
In its original context, Habakkuk 2:4 presents a contrast between the Babylonians and a true follower of God. Habakkuk was concerned that the Babylonians were more wicked than the Israelites. God goes on the define what righteousness is and it is clear that the Babylonians are not righteous. God has not missed the fact that the Babylonians are wicked.
Verses 4-5 list several of the sins that Babylon is guilty of. Babylon is puffed up, drunk, arrogant, never at rest, greedy, and is never satisfied. It is no coincidence that many of these sins are the cause of the downfall of Babylon.
Daniel 5 records the last day of the Babylonian Empire. The story is known for the writing on the wall where God declares that the nation’s days are at an end. Even though the Medo-Persians are encamped outside of the city, the kind has a big feast, thinking that he is secure within the city walls. There we have arrogance and drunkenness. Babylon would fall that very night without a fight. Its enemy slipped in under the fortifications through a waterway and captured the city. Babylon fell in one night and the greatest empire on earth has a pathetic epitaph recorded in Daniel 5:30-31. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.
The rest of Habakkuk 2 is a list of woes that are leveled against the Babylonians. These woes could be applied to virtually any nation but they are specifically aimed at Babylon as the guilty party.
The chapter closes with a description of the worthlessness of idols. They are worthless because they are carved by human hands man can’t give life or significance to his own creation. No matter how carefully crafted the idols are and no matter what precious materials they are made of, they are still lifeless.
God’s declaration of the worthlessness of idols is particularly significant. Israel had problems with idol worship from its very beginning. Moses didn’t make it off Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments before the Israelites had constructed a golden calf to worship.
This problem continued on for centuries until the day of Habakkuk. The Israelites worshipped Baals and Ashtoreths and numerous other idols. This is ultimately their undoing and the reason that they will be conquered by the Babylonians. They were guilty of other sins but ultimately this is the cause of their problems. If they had been faithful in worshipping the Lord, their wickedness would not have grown like it did.
Babylon is far more consumed with idols than Israel ever was. God essentially tells the Israelites, “If you want to worship idols, I’m going to put you in a land that’s full of idols.” The Israelites ultimately learned their lesson as idolatry was never a problem for them after the exile in Babylon.
But God is going to judge the Babylonians for their idolatry as well. The images that they have sculpted with their own hands are going to be proven worthless. They won’t do anything to fend off the punishment that God will bring.
Habakkuk 2 closes in verse 20 with a matter of hope.
But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
All of the idols may be worthless but God is still there. This thought should bring comfort to Habakkuk. Even though his own people will be punished by an even more wicked group of people in the Babylonians, God is still in charge. He will see that justice is served for everyone.