For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)
Imagine you take a cruise from Durban harbour and end up in a life raft in the middle of the Indian Ocean! As far as the horizon, all you see is water. Put aside images of sharks, punctures, storms and dehydration for a moment, and imagine yourself floating blissfully around the horn of Africa, into the vast Atlantic Ocean. You are experiencing a tiny sample of the inter-connected system of the Earth’s five Oceans and many smaller seas, which cover 361 132 000 square kilometres, a volume of roughly 1332 million cubic kilometres. At its deepest, the ocean is 10km and 71% of the earth’s surface is water. That’s a lot of water!
Yet the Lord gives Habakkuk this all-encompassing image to describe how the knowledge of His glory will stream and seep, trickle and gush, roll and crash like the ocean–until it fills the whole earth. It is a remarkable declaration by the Lord that His everlasting Kingdom will flood the entire earth.
A remarkable promise
And it is even more remarkable, given what is happening in Habakkuk’s world: Let’s remind ourselves that Habakkuk is a prophet to the small eastern-Mediterranean kingdom of Judah, in around 600AD. He is bravely proclaiming God’s judgment on Judah and her Babylonian captors, on the cusp of the final Babylonian onslaught in 597BC. His oracle from the Lord is a great ‘burden’ to bear. In a short while, Jerusalem would be besieged, its temple pillaged and 10 000 of its strongest and brightest deported to Babylon. None would remain in Judah except the old and destitute. Yet Habakkuk sensed that neither Jehoikim nor Nebuchadnezzar were truly on the throne: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab 2:20). For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). For Habakkuk there was only one King.
How then could Habakkuk suppose that Yahweh’s fame would ripple to the ends of the earth, as he watched the last of God’s people caught like fish in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dragnet (Hab 1:14-17)? How could the righteous continue to live by faith– in exile (Hab 2:4)? The answer can be found in God’s promise to restore His people and all of creation.
Habakkuk 2:14 is an echo of a promise of restoration that reverberates through the corridors of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. They are the hopeful words of the prophet Isaiah a hundred years before, despite the annihilation of the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria in 722BC.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Thy Kingdom come
In Isaiah 11, the prophet sees a vision of God’s anointed Messiah-King. He is not just ruling over heaven, but over a restored earth, where the effects of sin’s curse have been reversed. There is no predator and prey. No death and oppression. No injustice and wickedness. This wise and good King is a descendant of King David (Jesse’s son), like a fallen ‘stump’ of a kingdom that grows into a fruitful tree. The King is also the righteous and powerful Judge, who bores into the human heart and rules with perfect equity. God’s Kingdom of justice and peace is not just for Israel, but extends to the whole world, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
The scope of the remainder of Isaiah’s vision is just as breathtaking– God’s new King will gather up his scattered, redeemed people from all over the world in a new exodus, like a path through the Red Sea (Isa 11:11-14; 15-16).
A signal for the peoples
The prophets did not have a clear picture of what the “signal (or “banner”) for the peoples” would look like, nor how the nations would rally to him (Isa 11:10). Or when “that day” would be.
They did not live to see the good news of the kingdom proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles around the world. They did not hear the Lord Jesus teach that his Kingdom was like a tiny mustard seed that would grow into a big tree, a home to many birds perching in its branches (Luke 13:19). They did not see Jesus seeking out a Samaritan woman or the Gentiles “forcing their way into the kingdom” (Luke 16:16; Matt 11:12). Like us, the prophets were not amongst Christ’s first-century followers commissioned to go forth and multiply– to make disciples of all nations to the ends of the earth (Matt 26:16-20).
But Old Testament believers saw glimpses of God’s epic Kingdom, like the shaft of light in Habakkuk 2:14. They knew that one day all the nations would worship before the Lord. Every knee would bow, and every tongue would swear allegiance to Him (Isa 45:23). God’s glory would be declared among all the peoples of the world (Ps 86:9; Ps 96:3; 7-8). The peaceful reign of God’s King would extend past humanity, to all of creation (Hosea 2:18). Isaiah 60, 65, 66; Ezekiel 48 and Daniel 7 give Old Testament snapshots of God’s immense glory as King of the universe.
Living in the “now,” but “not yet”
As New Testament believers, we look back to the gospel ‘banner’, but we’re still looking forward to the fullness of the promise to Habakkuk —“the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Christ is reigning in heaven right now (Heb 1:3; Acts 7:56). But the Apostle Peter reminds us that Jesus must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through his prophets (Acts 3:21). That restoration will be visible, spectacular and indisputable, when the King of Kings returns to earth in glory, and every knee in heaven and on earth bows before Him (Phil 2:10-11). Before then, all creation groans under the curse of sin, and there is no utopia on earth.
But we see the kingdom coming each time a sinner comes to a saving knowledge of God, through faith in Christ. We see the earth being filled with God’s glory when a missionary goes out to the far corners of the world, or when a life-giving sermon is preached at home. We see God’s kingdom coming to earth each time you share Jesus by word and deed, in the messy streets of life. Each time you bring the King’s kindness, justice, wisdom and harmony to a world that groans from the fall (1 Peter 2:12). Each time you create or appreciate beauty. Each time you restore something broken. Each time you take captive a thought that opposes Christ’s reign in your life (2 Cor 10:3-5).
How big is your God, and where do you see yourself in relation to His Kingdom? Do you consider faith to be just a private matter, or do you see yourself as part of the diverse throng of worshippers John describes in Revelation? Do you see yourself as an active citizen in His Majesty’s service?– “A kingdom and priests to serve our God, and reign on the earth.”
And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
In a loud voice they were saying:
Join us next week as we look at the last few verses of Habakkuk and turn our hearts to the final renewal of all creation. The best is yet to come!
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim 1:17)
Worship as you listen to All Glory Be to Christ. It is sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne!
“The second coming of Christ shall be utterly unlike the first. He came the first time in weakness, a tender infant, born of a poor woman in the manger at Bethlehem, unnoticed, unhonored, and scarcely known. He shall come the second time in royal dignity, with the armies of heaven around Him, to be known, recognized and feared, by all the tribes of the earth.
“He came the first time to suffer – to bear our sins, to be reckoned a curse, to be despised, rejected, unjustly condemned and slain. He shall come the second time to reign – to put down every enemy beneath His feet, to take the kingdom of this world for His inheritance, to rule them with righteousness, to judge all men and to live forevermore.”