Let’s get the background for this passage before we quote it and comment on it. In verses 2-4 the prophet Habakkuk questioned the Lord with these words, “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises…for the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (NKJV). In short, Habakkuk couldn’t understand why the Lord allowed such violence and iniquity to abound in Judah. In verses 5-11 the Lord assures him that He will indeed punish Judah and He tells him specifically who He will use to accomplish this, “For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans” (verse 6).

With that in mind, let’s read our portion starting with verse 13, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” The prophet is more baffled than before and he continues to question the Lord’s actions. In this verse he is basically saying, “Why are You, the holy One who can’t stand to look on sin, using a nation (the Babylonians) that is MORE WICKED than Judah to punish them?”

Habakkuk continues to question the Lord with an analogy that describes the vicious character of the Chaldeans in verses 14-16: “Why do You make men like fish of the sea, like creeping things that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with a hook, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. There they sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their dragnet; because by them their share is sumptuous and their food plentiful.” He likens Judah unto helpless fish and the Babylonians unto fisherman who catch their victims, followed by rejoicing and sacrifice. The picture is quite graphic, for in truth the Babylonians conquered their enemies with glee and after their victory they worshipped their military for its conquest.

Habakkuk has one more question to put before the Lord: “Shall they therefore empty their net, and continue to slay the nations without pity” (verse 17). He seems to be saying, “Are You going to allow this wicked nation, who shows no mercy to their helpless victims, to continue their wicked plundering of other nations forever?” The Lord answers the prophet in chapter 2:3-4 by assuring him that Babylon’s great empire would come to an end and that Israel would be restored and live. Those verses state, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak and will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by faith.” God wanted Habakkuk to know that God is sovereign and He can, and does, use a wicked nation to chastise His people to cause them to repent. In the end, His purposes are accomplished, for His people learn to “live by faith.” And Babylon, in the end, will be judged by the very people they plundered, as we see in verse 8, “Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the people shall plunder you, because of men’s blood and the violence of the land and the city, and of all who dwell in it.” (267.5) (DO)