Habakkuk – Chapter 1 – Fish
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s worth mentioning again before we consider our passage for today. There are basically two major approaches to understanding the Bible, Reader response and authorial intent. Reader response is the perspective that it really doesn’t matter anymore what the author originally intended to communicate. What matters to me the reader is how I choose to interpret the meaning. From the perspective of reader response If you and I read the exact same passage, I may understand it to mean one thing, and you’ve reached a contradictory conclusion. That’s ok! Under reader response, we are both right!
Although the Bible paints some pretty amazing word pictures, it is not meant to be a piece of art on display for the world to decide how it makes the individual feel. Many privy reader response adherents instinctively realize the Bible must represent some level of cohesiveness, so they introduce the Holy Spirit into the reader response formula of Biblical understanding. They say when you read the Bible pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the meaning of the Biblical passage you are considering. Whatever comes to you is what it means.
So now, if you and I pray first, then both read the same passage and still come to conflicting conclusions, the problem is obvious! The Holy Spirit really didn’t speak to one of us! Let’s consider a more complicated scenario. Two different Bible teachers using reader response with a mystical encounter of the Holy Spirit come to differing conclusions. You and I hear the teaching. How are we to decide which man is right? You guessed it, we ask the Holy Spirit! If we don’t agree, again the problem is obvious! One of us really didn’t hear the Holy Spirit!
The reader response approach to understanding the Bible is not only wrong, but it is also dangerous! It changes the truth of God as recorded in the Bible into lies! The Holy Bible is Special Revelation authored by God and penned by several different human writers. When you and I read and study the Bible our purpose should be to uncover the message God intends to communicate. The Bible should be taken literally.
Indeed, the Holy Bible should be taken literally! Adopt the perspective of authorial intent when you read and study the Bible. Be diligent to study, not to the exclusion of prayer, but if you get the facts wrong how can you expect to reach a right conclusion?
Now that we’ve (hopefully) all agreed to adopt authorial intent as our perspective we need to resist the temptation to see metaphors or similes as a free-for-all zone just begging for a spiritual interpretation. Keep metaphors in the context of surrounding verses and passages. Let the text speak for itself.
Let’s consider the metaphor Habakkuk employed in Habakkuk 1:14-17.
14 Why do You make men like fish of the sea,
Like creeping things that have no ruler over them?
15 They take up all of them with a hook,
They catch them in their net,
And gather them in their dragnet.
Therefore they rejoice and are glad.
16 Therefore they sacrifice to their net,
And burn incense to their dragnet;
Because by them their share is sumptuous
And their food plentiful.
17 Shall they therefore empty their net,
And continue to slay nations without pity?
Using the context of all of chapter one we can accurately understand these verses. Habakkuk is asking the question of God. “Men like fish…”, or “Like creeping things…” is referring to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The fishermen introduced in verse fifteen are the Chaldeans. In verse sixteen the net they sacrifice to and the dragnet they burn incense to represent the pagan gods the Chaldeans credited for their military success.
Habakkuk 2:1 is another one of those unfortunate chapter/verse divisions. The verse really does belong in chapter one. Let’s consider it.
2:1 I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
You know, when Jesus mentioned truth to Pilate, Pilate responded, “what is truth?” Jesus’ response would have drastically changed Pilate’s life! The problem is he didn’t stick around for the answer.
Here in Habakkuk 2:1, the prophet resolves to, like a watchman on the wall, wait for God’s response. Not only so, but the prophet has made himself teachable. He prepared his heart to receive any correction given by God.
When it comes to comprehending truth will we throw our hands up in the air like Pilate and ask, “what is truth?”, as we stomp out of the room? Or will we be like Habakkuk and wait on God for His revealed truth. Will we make ourselves ready to allow Yahweh to corrected our conclusions?
Read the Word of God. Study the Word of God. Reach conclusions, but hold those conclusions loosely allowing additional facts or challenges from God Himself to re-calibrate your conclusions. I’ve been doing that for the past half a decade and it has been one wild and fulling ride!
All Scripture Quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.