Habakkuk All Over Again

Habakkuk Again: The Wisdom of Faith or the Foolishness of Empire (Jan.'10)
I've been wrestling for about seven years with the book of Habakkuk, which is just a short book by a "minor" prophet who wrote sometime before the Jerusalem Temple fell in 586BC at the marauding hands of the Babylon (Ps.74,6). Seven years on my spirit and it's just now starting to make some sense in the last six months.

Habakkuk rips into Babylon and beseeches God as to His apparent delay in executing judgement upon her: "How long, Yahweh am I [Israel] to cry for help while you will not listen; to cry, "Violence!" in your ear while you will not save?" (1,1-2)  

The separtist Jewish Reformers of the Qumran Community about 500-600 years later eagerly turned to this prophet and made a similar cry in their Habakkuk "Pesher" (their commentary-explanation) against the next Babylon, the Roman Empire (since 63BC), which like the Greeks before them (since 175BC), had corrupted the High Priesthood.

It's likely Jesus held both the High Priesthood and to a lesser extent Rome (who killed him) responsible for this corruption: "My Fathers house is a house of prayer for all people, yet you have made it a den of thieves." (Mt.21,13)

Psalms of Solomon, an interesting non-canonical work written just before Christ, even more directly seizes in this theme of Temple corruption in times of rising "Babylonian" influence:

"But (because of) our sins, sinners ["Babylonian" Greece and Rome] rose up against us." See also Ps. of Solomon 8,12ab: "they [temple priests] walked on the place of sacrifice of the Lord (coming) from all kinds of uncleaness."

 As to God's delay against this recurring corruption, we find the source and solace of a renown bit of scripture: 

 "For the vision [the victory of God's just] is for it's appointed time, it hastens towards it's end and it will not lie; although it may take some time, wait for it, for come it certainly will before too long. You see anyone whose heart is not upright will succumb, but the upright will live through faithfulness." (2,3-4)

In other words, "The just will live by faith."

This simple verse in this largely forgotten book has become the wisdom of the ages, and the way to overcome all that is "Babylon."  The Apostle Paul also seized on this verse (Romans 1,17; Gal. 3,11, so did the author of Hebrews at 10,38), and made it his and our highest wisdom. Why? Paul had experienced that all God's blessings come through faith, as activated by God's grace, and by our individual "Yes" and "Amen" to that grace. Faith brings life. Faith is life, amidst every hardship and trial.

In contrast to the wisdom of faith, there is the pit of foolishness, from following the false lights of Babylon. Foolishness in the bible is not just a lack of wisdom, it's not having the faith to escape "Babylon." Rev. 18,4: "Come out of her my people lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive her plagues."

Harper Collins Bible Dictionary (1996): "A fool is one who, either by ignorance or by deliberate and calculated premeditation, follows a lifestyle or commits specific acts that are detrimental for the person and for society. Such actions and lifestyles can be described as foolishness or folly. In the bible these characteristics stem from the lack of a proper relationship with God." From lack of faith.

And the cranky and somewhat obscure Habakkuk captures four major roots of Babylonian foolishness, subject to judgment, that are still present and relevant 2600 years later:

1. The trust-worship of Military Prowess and Technology. Habakkuk 1,16-17 (JB)

"And so they offer sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their dragnet, for by these they get a rich living and live off the fat of the land. And they go on emptying their net unceasingly, slaughtering the nations without pity."

Psalm 44,6-7: "For my trust was not in my bow, my victory was not
won by mysword, it was you who saved us from our opponents, you
who put to shame thosewho hate us." See also Psalms 46,9 and 76,

There was more war and death in the twentieth century than in all the prior centuries combined. The expansive technology of movement across national borders has hastened this course. The world seems hell-bent on continuing this trend in the 21st century. Technology has become a false peacemaker, a false god, a false comfort. War is peace, because we have more means to wage it. Well, then, if we have this new gizmo, then let's drone on!

You don't have to be a pacifist to realize that trusting trillion dollar military budgets and war making technology more than trusting in God is foolishness. It's lack of faith to think that we humans can militarize and inavde our way out of every people and cultural conflict.

2. Greed Based Credit System. Habakkuk 2,6c-8.

"Disaster to anyone who amasses goods not his (for how long?) and to anyone who weighs himself down with goods taken in pledge!

Will not your creditors suddenly stand up [China], will not those who make you shiver wake up, and you fall prey to them?

Since you have plundered many nations, all the nations that remain will plunder you, because of the bloodshed and violence done to the country, to the city and to all who live in it."

While usorious lending- charging competetive interest- was a sin between Israelites (Ex.22,24; Ez.18,18)- such debt is the norm for "Christians" and consumers, and governments, and the world's largest banks fiercely protect this usury turf. 

Printing more money into circulation by issuing treasury bonds, often to our enemies, is now a long established government policy.

Free loans to Wall Street banks, to keep the usury going, and pay obscene bonusses while ordinary folks are enslaved to the inflated mortgage loans and credit mania Wall Street created in 2005 with less rigorous capital requirements.

Isaiah 5,8: "Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, until there is nowhere left and they are the sole inhabitants of the country."

A largely unregulated money system continues to be gamed. And the day is soon coming when more government debt is not the answer.

3. Various and Corrupting Lust of Those Who Hold Highest Religious and Political Power. Habakkuk 2,15-17.

v. 15 "Disaster to anyone who makes his neighbors drink, pouring out his poison until they are drunk, so that he can see them naked! You are full of shame, not glory! [See also Gen.9.22] 

v. 16 Your turn now to drink and show your foreskin. The cup of Yahweh comes round to you, and disgrace will overshadow your glory.

v.17 For the violence done to the Lebanon will overwhelm you and the massacre of animals will terrify you, because the bloodshed and violence done to the country, to the city and all who live in it."

The Qumran sect (sometime between 175BC and 70AD) viewed these verses as the "Wicked Priest" pursuing the "Moreh Tsedek" the "Teacher of Righteousness" from the line of Zadok (Ezekiel 44,15ff, 1Chronicles 29,22). To make him drunken, ie lawless, as if uncircumcized, as if a "gentile" like him.

This ongoing battle began in 175BC when the new Greek Ruler Antiochus Epiphanes deposed and killed Onias III (remember there are no kings post exile so the High Priest is de facto governor of all Israel) and installed his traitorous blood brother who took the Greek name Jason.  Thereafter in 170BC, he was replaced by the impatient Antiochus with the bigger bribing Menelaus, who was not a Zadokite (Sid Green "Sons of Zadok", see 2Maccabees4,32-50).

From then on the Zadokite line was more or less compromised, expecially in 152 by Jonathan Maccabee and John Hyracanus in 134 (Hasmoneans), and then by Rome's double-dealing ethnarch clan, the Herod's in 63BC.

At some point in this sale of high priesthood, The Qumran separtists, probably rightful Zadokites, commented on this non-authorized and corrupted priesthood in Pesher Habakkuk, in these ways (as trans. Fred Miller, "An Analysis of the Text of Habakkuk and Related Discussion," pp. 11-12, Muellerhaus Publishing, 1999 Carollton Ga.):

v15: Peshru [they explain] about the "Wicked Priest" who pursues after the "Moreh Tsedek" to swallow him up in rage his hot (rage). Tenderness is to come to pass and in the last season (end time) a comforting day, The young lions shall appear to them and swallow them and for their stumbling. In the day of fasting of
the Sabbath of their comfort."

[Today? Babylonian religious leaders attempt to destroy those who follow God more closely than they do]

v16: Peshru about the "priest" who is more proud of his shame than His glory Because he is not circumcized with the circumcision of his heart and he goes on his way for the sake of profit so that the telling of the fastings will cover them.

[Today? We have saving faith in Jesus and Holy Ghost Baptism to circumcize our heart, things better than hoopla, silver and gold]

v17: Pesher of the thing about the "Wicked Priest" to take the spoils to himself as recompense which completes his lust because the moon is his singular witness and their beasts are the fools of Judah doing the Torah with which God will judge us in the end.

[Today? May we leaders not become a religious power class- fools of Judah- each so keen for individual success that we lack the faith to survive our vaulted doctrine.]

wherefore he says: Peshru: "The city is Jerusalem in which the "Wicked Priest" does abominations and defiles the Holy Temple of God.

[Today: are our centers of religion defiled?]

that is to the cities of Judah who lusting plunder wealth.

[Today: corrupted and defiled by all manner of lust]

So, in Habakkuk's day, and Rome's Day, and today we have unjust greed, self justified lust, the attempted corruption of the good class of religious servant by the corrupt class.  For present day confirmation of this we look Rev. 13,14:

"And it [the religious beast] was able to lead astray the people of the world [and some of the uncorrupted church] and persuade them to put up a statue in honor of the beast [political beast] that had been wounded by the sword and still lived."

And persuaded them to (v.16) "to take the mark [Babylonian ideology of "anything goes"] of the beast." See also Rev. 18,7: "Every one of her pomps and orgies..." 

This pattern of the good being corrupted by the evil seems to repeat itself across the ages and calls for God's judgement. How long will God tolerate such unrepentant, anything goes, religious subversion?

But be encouraged little flock. As Jude wrote 3b-4: "I must write to you encouraging you to fight hard for the faith which has been once and for all entrusted to God's Holy people. Certain people have infiltrated among you, who were long ago marked for down for condemnation on this account; without reverance they pervert the grace of our God to debauchery and deny all religion, rejecting our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

And Jude v.11: "Woe to them for they have gone in the way of  Cain, have run greedily in the error of Ballaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah." ." 

But we follow Jesus.

4. The Replacement of The Living God With Dumb Satues. Yahweh is in His Temple Habakkuk 2,18-20.

"What use is a sculpted image that a sculptor should make it?- a metal image, a lying instructor! And why does the image-maker put his trust in it, that he should make dumb idols? But Yahweh is in His Holy Temple: let the whole earth be silent before him."

Think of the bronze "Oscar" statue, the idol of entertainment business that teaches us how to think and spend, and talk and look and act. Think of churches encased in gold and silver, yet who have lost faith,  "never realizing that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too." (Rev. 3,17)

Think of the exaltation of human flesh in so many churches, whereas the the vital and saving and prophetic Holy Ghost presence is minimized and sent away, as if by human decree.

When I first became a Christian I was kneeling in the denominational church with the highest spire in town, and out of the blue of that spire's inner frame came a crashing tile, just missing the guy in charge. I didn't know then how zealous God is that He gets first billing in His church, but that day my spirit glimpsed that fact.

Similarly, one day I was leading worship at a funeral (yet another), and God told me "Don't just go through the motions in my House, make an idol out of that incense." Again Ok- it's Your Holy house. And you are there, because you are welcome and put first, or you leave. How dare we run you out of your House (Ezekiel 9-11) by filling it with our idols?

Conclusion: Choose the Wisdom of Faith

Hab.3,16ef "Calmly I await the day of anguish which is dawning on the people now attacking us."

 v 19; "Yahweh my Lord is my strength, he will make my feet as light as a doe's, and set my steps on the heights."

The faithful one (or the church) here is made secure and joyful by the wisdom of faith, by living "My Lord is my [only] strength." Though apparently weak as a doe, the faithful one can negotiate-by faith- the narrow and rocky path through Baybylon, up to the heights of Zion.
"Yahweh has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm; Never again shall I give your grain to feed your enemies. Never again will foreigners drink the wine for which you have toiled. No the reapers will eat it and praise Yahweh, the harvesters will drink it in my sacred courts!" (Isaiah 62,9)

Yes. One day every effect and practice of Babylon will be removed to make way for God's faithful.

Yes, and Amen.

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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.