The book of Habakkuk addresses why bad things happen to good people. Great, because we’d all like to know.
We begin with the prophet calling out to god, wondering why the wicked go unpunished, and why he has to put up with them. And Yahweh’s ‘answer’? Haha – he tells them he plans to solve the problem by sending the Babylonians to destroy the people. Yup, that’ll help – but it’ll destroy all the people, not just the wicked ones. And Habakkuk gets that, because his next question is ‘are you planning to wipe out everyone? Are you going to stand by while the wicked kill the righteous?’ Keep thinking, that’s a good start….
So Yahweh responds, starting with “This vision is for a future time. It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled. If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” (v 2) Haha, no wonder the faithful are still waiting! Suckers!
And then comes and even more important verse. “Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to god.” (v 4 – emphasis mine) Remember that line; it’ll be quoted 3 times in the NT (Romans 1; Galatians 3, and Hebrews 10), and it’s a cornerstone of Protestant theology.
Next is a tirade about justice that sounds suspiciously like ‘an eye for an eye’. (see v 6 – What sorrow awaits you thieves! Now you will get what you deserve; and v 8 – Because you have plundered many nations, now all the survivors will plunder you). What kind of mercy or justice is that? Anyway, Yahweh caused the plundering in the first place. He came right out and said that he would use the Babylonians to punish Israel. The tirade continues until the last verse in the chapter, which is “But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.” Bet I’ll find a meme with that verse; it sounds so nice when you don’t read all that precedes it.
The prophet praises Yahweh for the devastation he has caused in an effort to protect his chosen people. Obviously, brute strength and power are admirable qualities here. Mercy, not so much. Habakkuk thinks it’s just great that Yahweh “marched across the land in anger and trampled the nations in [his] fury… went out to rescue [his] chosen people, to save [his] anointed ones… crushed the heads of the wicked and stripped their bones from head to toe.” (v 12-13) Habakkuk is so awed by this that he’s content to wait for justice sometime in the future, even though in the meantime, there is famine and starvation. (v 16-17). Isn’t this just what believers are still told today? Shut up and wait, there will be justice… eventually… maybe not in this lifetime…. And the book ends with a mini-psalm of praise. Hurk!
I looked at Wikipedia to get some context for this book, and came across this – “Zephaniah includes one of the most vivid descriptions in the prophetic literature of God’s wrath.” Seriously? You mean it can get worse than what we’ve already read? This book was (supposedly) written in the twilight years of Judah, just before the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Zeph was warning the people about impending doom if they didn’t mend their ways (he was a contemporary of Jeremiah, so this is nothing we haven’t heard before).
Well the first chapter lives up to the quote above. In the SAB, it gets every icon except ‘misogyny’ and ‘good stuff’. Yup, it’s brutal. Yahweh will kill everyone and everything, and he especially has it in for anyone who worships other gods. Have you heard those ranting preachers beseeching people to repent before it’s too late because the end is near and god’s wrath is going to come down on everyone yada yada yada? Well this must be where they get their ideas from; all they have to do is read v 14-18.
The first 3 verses continue to sound just like the today’s crazy fundie preachers. Repent all you sinners, blah blah blah. After that the rant gets into naming the specific geographical areas that will be ransacked, and the people who will be attacked. Short answer – pretty much the whole region and everyone who lives there.
Jerusalem won’t be spared, because its leaders are rebellious, arrogant liars who defile the temple, etc… the list of affronts to Yahweh’s ego goes on and on. “The wicked know no shame” (v 5) – now doesn’t that sound like something a prudish, self-righteous elderly relative would say? In v 6-7, god just can’t figure out why the people continue to behave so badly; he’s dealt out so many punishments, yet they still don’t respect him. Now he will dole out even worse atrocities, maybe that’ll work. (Wait, haven’t we heard this before? – yup, in Amos chapter 4. Who’s plagiarizing whom?)
Moving along, in v 8-13 we get to ethnic cleansing – god reveals his plans to get rid of the undesirables and leave only his most loyal subjects. Then there will be no more sin, and they can all live happily ever after (v 14-17). It’s these last couple of ‘happily-ever-after’ themed verses that come up on a google search for Zephaniah. Apologists have to find at least one positive verse in every book, and in this one, it’s 3:17.