When does Habakkuk 2:14 take place? By Jack Kettler
“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Judah and Jerusalem’s rebellion had reached a climax, and God’s judgment was certain. Habakkuk’s prophecy took place around the time of Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Outline:
- 1:2-4 Habakkuk’s first dispute.
- 1:5-11 God answers by saying the Babylonians are his agent of judgment.
- 1:12-17 Habakkuk’s second dispute.
- 2:1 Habakkuk as God’s watchman.
- 2:2-20 The punishment of the wicked.
- 3:1-19 Habakkuk’s hymn.
How does one understand the fulfillment of Habakkuk 2:14? There is disagreement if Habakkuk talks about the Church age or the Dispensational Chiliastic view of the future in 2:14. The present study will focus on the Church age fulfillment of Habakkuk’s glorious prophecy. The futuristic approach is speculative compared to the Church age.
The Church age is between the 1st and 2nd coming of Christ.
Chiliasm, is from the Greek word chilia (χίλια), or millenarianism from the Latin words mille, “a thousand,” and annus, “year.”
Cross references where God says the same thing as in Habakkuk:
“But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” (Numbers 14:21)
“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” (Psalm 22:27)
“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)
Jonathan Edwards regarding Isaiah 11:9, which says the same as Habakkuk 2:14:
“Now the kingdom of Christ shall in the most strict and literal sense be extended to all nations, and the whole earth. There are many passages of scripture that can be understood in no other sense. What can be more universal than Isaiah 11:9. ‘For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.’ As much as to say, as there is no part of the channel or cavity of the sea, but what is covered with water; so there shall be no part of the world of mankind but what shall be covered with the knowledge of God.” (1)
Baptist missionary, William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement agreed with Habakkuk 2:14, thus, providing him motivation and hope. Carey believed the gospel could convert whole nations to Christ.
In Carey’s case, after laboring in India for over five years, he finally had his first conversion.
“He was only one, but a continent was coming behind him. The divine grace which changed one Indian’s heart could obviously change a hundred thousand.” (2)
The following survey of classic commentaries will edify the reader. With the exception of Barnes, these commentaries were written before the rise of Dispensational Chiliasm, thus, escaping the trap of reading the interpretive dictates of a theological system into the Scriptures.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on Habakkuk 2:14:
“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, …. Of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; of the glory of his person, as the Son of God, and truly God; which is essential to him, and underived; the same with his Father’s, and what transcends the glory of all created beings; and of the glory of his office as Mediator, which itself is glorious and honourable: and this his glory lies in his fitness for it; in his faithful performance of it, and the honour given him by his Father upon it; as well as in the fulness of grace in him, which makes him appear glorious to his people; and who are continually giving glory to him as the Lord their righteousness, by exercising faith on his righteousness, and glorying in it; and as their only Saviour and Redeemer, by looking to him, and believing in him as such; and as the only Head of the church, by owning and holding to him; and as the only Mediator between God and man, by making use of him for that purpose, and not angels and saints; and as their Prophet, by hearkening to his voice, yielding a subjection to his Gospel, and submission to his ordinances; and as their Priest, by dealing with his blood and sacrifice for the atonement and pardon of their sins; and as their King, by obedience to his commands; and who will now take to himself his great power, and reign gloriously before his saints; the glory of his kingly office will be now seen and known, when this prophecy shall have its full accomplishment, and which seems greatly intended. The “knowledge” of all this glory will not be a mere notional and speculative one, but special and spiritual; an experimental knowledge, accompanied with affection, approbation, confidence, and appropriation: and “the earth will be filled with” this; that is, the inhabitants of it: this had an accomplishment in part in the times of the apostles, when they were sent into all the world to preach the Gospel to every creature, and diffused the savour of the knowledge of Christ everywhere; and had a further accomplishment in the times of Constantine, when the whole Roman empire, or all the world, became Christians; and again at the time of the Reformation, when many nations, especially in Europe, were freed from Popish darkness by the pure light of the Gospel; but will have its final accomplishment in the latter day; and which will bring on the destruction of antichrist, and seems here intended; since this is given as a reason why it will be all labour in vain to attempt the prevention of it. It will be by means of the Gospel spreading the knowledge of Christ everywhere that antichrist will fall; this is the brightness of Christ’s coming, with which he will be destroyed; hence the angel, with the everlasting Gospel to preach to all nations, and with whose glory the whole earth will be lightened, is represented as preceding the fall of Babylon, and as the means of it; see 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and the great spread and large abundance of this knowledge communicated by the preaching of the Gospel is thus illustrated and exemplified,”
“as the waters cover the sea; expressing the nature of Gospel doctrines, revealing the glory of Christ and his grace, which, like waters, refresh and make fruitful; and the force and power of them, bearing down all before them, like an inundation of water when it breaks its banks; and likewise the depths of them, these being the deep things of God; and more especially the general spread and large abundance of them, and of the knowledge conveyed by them; which will fill the earth, as the waters of the sea fill up and cover the vast chasm prepared for them; see Isaiah 11:9.” (3)
There is no question at all regarding the time period for Gill as he notes, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, …. Of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; of the glory of his person, as the Son of God….”
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible provides an excellent commentary on Habakkuk:
“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord – Habakkuk modifies in a degree the words of Isaiah which he embodies, marking that the destruction of Babylon was a stage only toward the coming of those good things which God taught His people to long for, not their very coming. All the world should be then full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, not, as yet, wholly of Himself Jerome: “When Babylon shall be overthrown, then shall the power of the might of the Lord be known unto all. So shall the whole earth be filled with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the bottom of the sea. This as to the letter. But it is plain, that the Devil also and antichrist, and the perverse teaching of heretics, built a city in blood; i. e, their own Church, with the destruction of those whom they deceive … But when they fail in the fire (either this fire which is felt, or consumed in the fire of the devil their prince, or burned up with the fire whereof the Lord says, ‘I came to send a fire upon the earth,’ and so brought back from their former course, and doing penitence), the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, when, at the preaching of the apostles, their ‘sound shall go out into all the world,’ as waters covering the sea, i. e., all the saltness and bitterness of the world which Satan had rained down and the earth had drunk, the waters of the Lord shall cover, and cause the place of their ancient bitterness not to appear.”
Rup.: “‘For the Spirit of the Lord filled the earth,’ and when He filled it, ‘the earth was filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,’ so that unlearned and ignorant men became wise and eloquent, and earthly became heavenly, yea, they who were earth became heaven, knowing the glory of the Lord, declaring the glory of God, not anyhow, but as waters cover the sea. Great as must be waters, which would cover the sea, or compared to which the sea were nothing, far greater is the miracle, when the abundance of heavenly wisdom, given to the simple, surpassed the sea, i. e., the wisdom of all mankind.” This verse being already a received image of the spread of the gospel Isaiah 11:9, it would of itself be understood to include this also; but more generally, it declares how upon all the judgments of God, a larger knowledge of Him would follow Cyril: “All things are full of Christ, who is the Glory of the Father; wherefore also He said John 17:4, I have glorified Thee on earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” (4)
Barnes correctly sees the connection between Habakkuk 2:14 and Isaiah 11:9
Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible
“The Prophet briefly teaches us here, that so remarkable would be God’s judgement on the Babylonians that his name would thereby be celebrated through the whole world. But there is in this verse an implied contrast; for God appeared not in his own glory when the Jews were led away into exile; the temple being demolished and the whole city destroyed; and also, when the whole easterly region was exposed to rapine and plunder. When therefore the Babylonians were, after the Assyrians, swallowing up all their neighbors, the glory of God did not then shine, nor was it conspicuous in the world. The Jews themselves had become mute; for their miseries had, as it were, stupefied them; their mouths were at least closed, so that they could not from the heart bless God, while he was so severely afflicting them. And then, in that manifold confusion of all things, the profane thought that all things here take place fortuitously, and that there is no divine providence. God then was at that time hid: hence the Prophet says, filled shall be the earth with the knowledge of God; that is, God will again become known, when by stretching forth his hand he will execute vengeance on the Babylonians; then will the Jews, as well as other nations, acknowledge that the world is governed by God’s providence, as it had been once created by him.”
“We now understand the Prophet’s meaning, and why he says, that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory; for the glory of God previously disappeared from the world, with regard to the perceptions of men; but it shone forth again, when God himself had erected his tribunal by overthrowing Babylon, and thereby proved that there is no power among men which he cannot control. We have the same sentence in Isaiah 11:9.” “(39) The Prophet there speaks indeed of the kingdom of Christ; for when Christ was openly made known to the world, the knowledge of God’s glory at the same time filled the earth; for God then appeared in his own living image. But yet our Prophet uses a proper language, when he says that the earth shall then be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory, when he should execute vengeance on the Babylonians. Hence incorrectly have some applied this to the preaching of the gospel, as though Habakkuk made a transition from the ruin of Babylon to the general judgement: this is a strained exposition. It is indeed a well-known mode of speaking, and often occurs in the Psalms, that the power, grace, and truth of God are made known through the world, when he delivers his people and restrains the ungodly. The same mode the Prophet now adopts; and he compares this fullness of knowledge to the waters of the sea, because the sea, as we know, is so deep, that there is no measuring of its waters. So, Habakkuk intimates, that the glory of God would be so much known that it would not only fill the world, but in a manner overflow it: as the waters of the sea by their vast quantity cover the deep, so the glory of God would fill heaven and earth, so as to have no limits. If, at the same time, there be a wish to extend this sentence to the coming of Christ, I do not object: for we know that the grace of redemption flowed in a perpetual stream until Christ appeared in the world. But the Prophet, I have no doubt, sets forth here the greatness of God’s power in the destruction of Babylon. (40)”
“(39) The idea is nearly the same, though not the words. The verse in Isaiah is literally this—”
“For fill the earth shall the knowledge of Jehovah,
Like the waters spreading over the sea.”
“The verb rendered “cover” here and in Isaiah is, [כסה], which means first to spread, and in the second place to cover, as the effect of spreading. It is followed here by [על], over, and by [ל], over, in Isaiah; and so, spreading must be the idea included in the verb. The comparison in Isaiah is between knowledge and waters, and the earth and the sea. Hence the common version does not properly present the comparison. The verb [מלא], is used in a passive and active sense. See Genesis 6:13, and Genesis 1:22. This verse may be rendered in Welsh word for word, without changing the order in one instance: —”
“(lang. cy) Canys henwa y ddaear wybodaeth o Jehova,
Vel y dyvroedd dros y more yn ymdaenu.”
“The knowledge of Jehovah,” [דעה את-יהוה], is not an instance of a genitive case by juxtaposition, which is common both in Hebrew and in Welsh; for [את] here must be a preposition, “from,” for it is sometimes used for [מאת]. It is a knowledge that was to come from Jehovah, and not a knowledge of Jehovah. – Ed.”
“(40) There is no reason to doubt but that this is the meaning of the sentence here: and it is a striking instance of the variety of meaning which belongs to similar expressions, when differently connected. The glory of God is manifested by judgments as well as by mercies. In Isaiah it is “the knowledge of or from Jehovah;” here the expression is, “the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah.” By “the knowledge of Jehovah” is to be understood the revelation made by the gospel. But by “the knowledge of his glory” is meant evidently the display of his power in destroying Babylon, as power is often signified by glory. – ED” (5)
As seen, Calvin enlightens the reader to the immediate application of Habakkuk 2:14 and then most aptly explains the Messianic fulfillment of the passage.
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen. Matthew 6:9–13
Like in times past, God fulfills Habakkuk’s prophecy in response to prayer!
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
- Jonathan Edwards, the Complete Works, Vol. 1, The History of Redemption, (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, reprinted from the 1834 edition, Seventh printing May 2011), p. 608.
- Iain Murray, The Puritan Hope, (The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971), p. 141.
- John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Habakkuk, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), p. 38-39.
- Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Habakkuk, Vol. 11 p. 340-341.
- John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Habakkuk, Volume 1V, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), pp. 108-109.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at: https://www.amazon.com/Books-Jack-Kettler/s?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3AJack+Kettler