Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?
(Habakkuk 1:13b-17 NIV)
As we continue to look at this dialogue between Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, and God, we are listening in as Habakkuk is asking his second question to the Lord.
Habakkuk has asked his first question about what God was going to do about the messed-up world Judah had become, and God answered him in a very unexpected way by telling Habakkuk something that would blow his mind – that He (God) was going to use the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to discipline Judah for their waywardness.
Habakkuk’s first response to God was that God is God, and that as God, He can do whatever He chooses to do. Habakkuk also claimed God’s covenant with His people, remembering that God would not wipe out all His people, and thus break the covenant He had initiated with Abraham.
Still, Habakkuk was perplexed about God’s response. Today we see Habakkuk’s second set of questions back to God.
In verse 13b, Habakkuk asks God why He would tolerate the Babylonians, who were far worse than the Israelites, when He was planning to discipline the Israelites. Didn’t the Babylonians deserve far worse judgment?
Habakkuk then paints a mental image of what this will look like when God uses the Babylonians to discipline Judah.
In verse 14, Habakkuk acknowledges that Judah is like a bunch of fish in the sea, living a natural life, and that they have forgotten that God is their Sovereign, their ruler.
In verse 15, Habakkuk continues with this same “fish in the sea” analogy, and introduces the Babylonians as the fishermen. Habakkuk says that the fishermen will use all means to capture the people of Judah:
- hooks – catching one at a time
- nets – shallow water fishing, where the fisherman stands in knee-deep water and throws a net out, then gathers it in to capture whatever fish he can as a group
- dragnets – deep water fishing, where the fishermen go out in boats, lower their nets into the water, then pull the nets up to capture whatever fish they can as a group.
At the end of verse 15, Habakkuk says that the Babylonians will be happy about this; in verse 16, Habakkuk says that they will give thanks to their own power and to their nets for bringing in such a fine catch as Judah.
As a side note, it’s important to note that historians have found traces of Babylonian-era history, and the fishing analogy is recorded in their culture as well. Babylonian monuments show the Babylonian army capturing people in fishing nets, just as a fisherman gathers fish. Also, the Babylonians often used fishing hooks and rope to move large number of prisoners. Babylonian-era pictures and other documents describe the Babylonians’ process of driving a fishhook through the lips of their captors, then running a string through each fishhook so that a single tug of the string would induce great pain on their captors, and keep everyone in line as they led them away in captivity.
Habakkuk ends his analogy in verse 17 with another question: “Lord, are You going to allow the Babylonians to continue their sweep of terror across the nations and world unchecked? If you are not going to stop them, then who will?”
Often, like Habakkuk, we scratch our heads and wonder what God is up to. We see evil flourishing all around us, and no one seems to be able to stop it. We wonder if God has gone silent, or if He has just gotten fed up with the whole mess and has walked away altogether.
Always, as depicted in the book of Esther, we see God in His Providence, working quietly behind the scenes to lovingly bring others to Himself. When we can’t see God’s hand at work, we must then trust His heart, and know that in love, He is taking care of business and will make all things right in the end. And that is the walk of faith that God calls us to live, trusting in His Sovereignty to watch over us, to guide us, to provide for us. Our part is to trust Him and love Him with every fiber of our being.