This is a beautiful book of damning words.
It feels a bit disrespectful to go literary critic on the bible. In my tribe of christianity its all the word of God and if so, who am I to sit in judgement? But from where I sit not all of these minor prophets are equal from a literary point of view – Jonah also comes to mind as an exceptional example. None are badly written mind you, and “where I sit” includes all sorts of filters of cultural and language distance that distort the original in unexpected ways. My 20th century english-speaking perspective warms to some and is baffled by others that other times and cultures no doubt embrace.
That all said, I was struck by the economy, focus, and articulation here.
So yesterday we were left hanging with the question of how God can call a vile nation like Babylon an “amazing” and “unbelievable” solution to all the evil Habukkuk has on his heart to bring before the Lord.
I wondered if the answer would be that I’ve heard over the years… that the broken nature of the world means God has to work through evil to save any of it. No, I think God’s answer to that line of explanation of his mysterious ways would be a loving “stay in your lane”…
The answer is “do you think I don’t know? Trust me!” – or as it is put more beautifully in the final verse:
“the Lord is in his temple, let the earth fall silent before him”v19
That “do-you-think-I-don’t-know” is teased out with poetry that has the most God-like, searing, knowing, damning image of ourselves. Our sin does not exist without consequences in the universe God made, the teeming and balanced ecosystem of life he has brought into being from nothing.
They have taken life, shed blood for their own excessive gain. The shedding of blood is a refrain through it. There is a sense of them offending creation itself – the morality of inanimate objects – by their evil:
9 Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,Ch 2:9-10
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
I suppose we’ve seen it in a way with the government officials who have been in trouble over this COVID-19 disaster. They have not followed their own rules – notably a senior advisor in the UK who was the architect of their lockdown, and then when he had the disease ignored the precautions, endangering others. The officials have made sure they get priority over testing and medical equipment while they tell others to cope with shortages. Talk about “setting your nest on high”.
The passage is a diatribe, a devastating tear-down of arrogance, selfishness and cruelty; but somehow I hear notes of sadness and of peace as it plays. Of course these offences are evil, even though they seem to work. None of it will stand, there will be justice. We are all equal, naked before God.
Because the mirror on our arrogant, petty, nastiest urges is so unsparing, the love is all the more overwhelming.
Christ did not take life, did not shed blood. His was given.