In the ancient world no less than now, prophets were hated by the powers-that-be. As Agamemnon famously said to the soothsayer Calchas: “Prophet of evil, when have you ever said good things to me? You love to foretell the worst, always the worst! You never bear good news” (Homer, The Iliad, Book 1:106-108). Ahab expected no better from Micaiah ben Imlah. He was right not to! “Didn’t I tell you that he would not prophesy good fortune for me? Only misfortune!” (1 Kgs 22:18). Almost by definition, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. That being so, whoever makes accurate predictions about the future, almost by definition, foretells doom.
The tightrope act Habakkuk performs as a prophet is the function of a double-barreled assertion. The slaughter he foresees was ordained by God even if the slaughter defied justice and fell under God’s judgment.
One disaster calls forth another in Habakkuk. Horrifying as that was, it corresponded to the shape of reality. The prophet could not and did not pretend otherwise. Here is Hab 2:9-14:
the one who grabs what he can grab
– a disaster for his house –
so as to set his nest on high
and snatch himself from the grip of disaster!
have plotted shame for your house,
cutting off many peoples,
your appetite straying.
For the stone in the wall cries out,
and the rafters in the woodwork answer it!
the one who builds a city with spilled blood,
who establishes a town with iniquity!
Isn’t this – just watch! –
from יהוה of Armies?
Let peoples toil with plenty of fire,
nations grow weary with plenty of slaughter!
Then the earth will be filled
with knowledge of יהוה’s glory
as waters cover the sea.
The peculiar strength of the prophecy of Habakkuk is its anticipatory reach. It was not clairvoyant to predict that the Chaldean juggernaut would overrun the earth, slaughter and kill at will, and stuff its net with nations as fishermen do with fish.
It was prescient to proclaim, before the predicted crime was consummated, that punishment would follow. The result, according to H, is that knowledge of יהוה’s glory would fill the earth as waters cover the sea (2:14). Conversely, the inability of the other gods to predict the slaughter of their own peoples, and the eventual slaughter of the slaughterer, is taken as proof that they do not exist (2:18-19).
This post is part of a series:
- The Book of Habakkuk: An Introduction
- The Prophet as Intercessor
- Faith-based Religion
- Assurance of Things Hoped For
- Habakkuk 2:4
- Anticipated Closure
- Good and Bad Imperialism
- The Anticipatory Reach of Prophecy