Habakkuk, Babylon, and the American Christian
Aside from its one famous verse, "The just shall live by faith" (2:4), the book of Habakkuk is not well-known. But we can understand it as well as those who first read it the late 600s BC. The book is simple. It's a dialogue between God and Habakkuk.
It begins with Habakkuk praying to God about the corruption in his country, Judah. Things were really bad in Judah in the late 600s. Pagan idols were placed in God's temple, the kings were cowards, the priests were false teachers, and the wealthy people of the country were not being punished for their crimes against others.
After Habakkuk finishes praying, God responds!
He tells Habakkuk, "I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if it was recounted to you." (1:5b) What are the details of God's unbelievable answer to prayer? He promises to bring the Babylonian army to swiftly destroy Judah (1:6-11).
That's not the answer Habakkuk was looking for.
Imagine you were praying about America's corruption and God responded, "Don't worry, I have a wonderful plan. I'm sending China to wipe out all that evil you're talking about!" You might be disappointed. Now you know how Habakkuk felt.
Instantly, Habakkuk becomes indignant on behalf of Judah! He answers God, "Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" (1:13b). In other words, "What are you thinking, God? Those guys are worse than we are!" This new complaint from Habakkuk about Babylon closes out the first chapter.
Then in chapter two, God responds a second time. He tells Habakkuk that yes, he understands very well that the Babylonians are really bad folks. He pronounces five "woes", five rebukes, for the nation of Babylon as a reminder that God will judge her as well.
I won't deal with all five woes here. I want to dip my toe into the first one with you. It's very interesting!
The first woe against Babylon goes like this:
"Woe to him who increases what is not his—for how long—and makes himself rich with loans?’ Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, and those who make you tremble awaken? Indeed, you will become spoil for them. Because you have taken many nations as spoil, all that is left of the peoples will take you as spoil—because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, to the town and all its inhabitants." (2:6b-8)
This first woe criticizes two national policies. First, Babylon is guilty of excessive borrowing (2:6b-7). She has "made herself rich with loans". Second, she has been violent in her conquest of foreign nations. Babylon has "taken many nations as spoil" by means of "human bloodshed and violence" (2:8).
I don't think America is being referred to in some cryptic way in Habakkuk 2. But I see parallels. Like ancient Babylon, America is both the world's greatest superpower and its greatest debtor. That's not a sustainable combination.
America's defense force has, "a budget of $738 billion and 1,388,000 men and women in the armed forces, it boasts an awe-inspiring 6,125 nuclear weapons, 11 aircraft carriers, 68 nuclear submarines, 3,761 military aircraft, 867 attack helicopters, 6,209 tanks and 113 warships." (source: tinyurl.com/bdfce3y8)
But the USA is borrowing from other nations to pay for that defense force. Our country is over $30.5 trillion dollars in debt! The closest countries to us are Japan ($15 trillion) and China ($10.6 trillion). You can find the most recent numbers at usdebtclock.org/world-debt-clock.html.
The lesson God taught Habakkuk is that Babylon's power won't last forever. One day her creditors will overtake her and her military strength will be broken.
Let's discuss some applications related to these issues.
As Christians in America, we can learn from God's rebuke of Babylon. If you look throughout chapter 2, God describes the lifestyle of the Babylonians. Here's my summary: their culture proudly turned a blind eye to all kinds of sin and oppression because they were immersed in wine, luxury, insatiable greed, and violence.
How can American Christians respond? We can start by weeding out our love of luxury. We need to live a simple lifestyle. We need to stop eating so much. We need to re-sensitize ourselves to the horror of violence, though our culture often celebrates it. And we need to stay out of credit card debt as we finance our lifestyles.
Wine appears multiple times in this chapter. It is emphasized more than other sins.
Today we can add a long list of mind-altering substances, legal and illegal, to the Bible's warnings about alcohol. Did you know America consumes 80% of the world's opioid supply? (source: tinyurl.com/3zcvsenf). America is the sixth greatest consumer of psychotropic drugs (source: tinyurl.com/5n7ph84j). America is a world leader in mind-altering substances. So Christians in America should exercise special caution to avoid the world's pursuit of an artificial mental state.
As a country, we are living beyond our means. We are riding a wave of credit that will crash one day. When that happens, the value of our currency, our bank accounts, and our retirement savings could change quickly. We have no guarantee of "financial peace", no matter how responsible we have been as individuals.
But we can have eternal peace. If we trust our lives to Jesus, our Lord and High Priest, He will continue to provide for and guide His church. As Habakkuk 2:4 says, "Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith."