Habakkuk lived in perilous times. A colossal battle was raging in the east between the cruel Assyrians and their new enemy, the mighty Babylonians. Both of these nations had demonstrated hatred toward Judah, and both looked hungrily toward the beautiful land that God’s people possessed.
God assured Habakkuk that the idolatrous nations of the earth would eventually face judgment from a just God (Hab. 2:5-17). By inspiration Habakkuk wrote of the uselessness of idols, which can neither hear nor respond to prayer (Hab. 2:18-19). Then Habakkuk wrote one of the best-known verses in his three-chapter book:
“The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20).
Far from a lullaby song of peaceful calmness, this verse is intended to challenge us to the core. Consider three challenges implied by what Habakkuk said:
Contentment in a day of Covetousness — The context of Habakkuk 2:20 illustrates a marked contrast between the mute, helpless idols that men manufacture and the Living God before whom all must one day bow. How ridiculous to create something out of wood and metal, bow down before it and declare that it is one’s source of strength and joy! Even today so many are caught up in the pursuit of money and “things” (our generation still has its idols, we just call them by different names) that Habakkuk’s words are still relevant. Anything that competes with God for the first place in our hearts is a potential idol (cf. Matt. 6:33; Col. 3:5). When Habakkuk said, “let all the earth keep silence before Him,” he was calling us to be content and well-satisfied in the Lord. The Psalmist had the same thought in mind when he declared, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
Reverence in a day of Disrespect — Habakkuk not only wanted people to be content in the Lord, but his words also indicate a need for great reverence before God. Jehovah is described as being in, “His holy temple,” demonstrating that attitudes of worship and reverence are always appropriate in His presence. The nations of the earth were busy seeking their own agendas and calling God’s name merely as a curse or blasphemy against His people (Hab. 1:11), but the prophets commanded the nations to give God the glory due His name. In our day it often seems en vogue for “enlightened” people to ridicule religion and the name of God. Christians ought to be zealous for the name of God (Matt. 6:9) and show a reverence for Him in the midst of an often irreverent world.
Humility in view of Judgment — Habakkuk 2:20 also indicates the certainty of God’s righteous judgment upon the ungodly. The forces of this world that oppose God will one day be silenced. Paul said that, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:10). This really IS our Father’s world, and He rules in the kingdoms of men (Dan. 4:17). Though some people seem to defy God’s will at every turn, all who have ever lived will one day confess that God is holy and righteous altogether. In view of God’s certain judgment, Habakkuk boldly commanded all the earth to be silent before Him. Compare this verse with the account of the seventh seal being opened in Revelation 8:1 when, “there was silence in heaven about half an hour.” When the awesome nature of God’s judgment is in view, who can help but keep silence before Him? Let us approach our Creator and Judge with genuine humility, knowing that only through the blood of His Son can we stand before Him and be found righteous (Rom. 3:21-26). —JB