“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. – Habakkuk 2:9-14
Today’s passage is God’s response to Habakkuk’s second complaint which was the subject of yesterday’s passage about the dragnet. It seems God is trying to get the people of Israel to realize they are partially to blame for the calamity for which they are complaining to Habakkuk, they are a city of “bloodshed” and “injustice”. Perhaps God is referring to clan warfare similar to the blood lust and body parts described in the book of Samuel. I do not know.
There is a sense that the people are investing their time and treasures in the wrong things. God wants to strip them down to the soul and leave them naked and needy for ” Him. God has made it abundantly clear through a parade of prophets that the people are “exhausting themselves for nothing”. They are chasing after the wind. This passage has almost an Ecclesiastes-like hopelessness.
Interestingly, it appear that this hopeless desperation comes not from a lack of knowledge of God, but a willful ignoring of something that is self-evident: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”. This water reference is intriguing on several levels. It appears to be an almost exact quote of a passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 11: 6-9) Let’s unpack the parts and see if we can make sense of the whole. There are three parts: 1) the “earth will be filled”; 2) with the “knowledge of the Lord”; and 3) as “waters cover the sea”.
The first part reminds me of some of the water imagery describing God’s presence arriving like the dew in the morning (Isaiah 26:12-21), or the discussion of dew or deep wells back in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 33:13-17). The image of dew permeating a landscape is a really good metaphor for the way God’s presence permeates, or “fills” the earth.
The phrase “knowledge of the Lord” was a common one used in the book of Isaiah to refer to a recognition that The loving deeds of God are evident everywhere if you have the eyes to see them. It is almost as if it takes an active ignoring to miss this obvious truth. A bit like a child sealing their lips and turning their head away to avoid taking a medicine that will actually help them get better.
The last part of the metaphor is where the water comes in and it is a murky metaphor to be sure. How can waters cover the sea? This would seem to be an impossibility. The sea is water, so how can water cover water? I think when we put the metaphor back together this will make more sense so here goes. God seems to be saying here that His presence is everywhere (like the dew) you care to look if you have eyes to see and look very carefully. God is the logos (creative reason) behind all that we see and experience so in that sense He is the “water” that covers the sea. Phew! that was much trickier water than I expected when I first read this passage, but it was definitely an exhilarating and unexpected rapid for sure.
Prayer: God your love and presence is evident all around us. Help us have eyes to see it.