The Question a Troubled Prophet Asked: Why the Silence?
The Hamas war began on the Jewish holiday Simchat Torah (Rejoice of Torah) which fell on Shabbat, 7 October 2013, when the Hamas terrorists surprisingly crossed the security wall and invaded the Israeli territory. In ISIS-style, they started murdering unarmed civilians in the kibbutzim (collective farms). As of the time of this writing, the death toll of this act of genocide is more than 1,300 Israelis viciously murdered solely on the basis of being Jewish. More than 100 Israelis were taken hostages in Gaza. Among the 1,300 victims of the genocide were women, children, babies, elderly people, and IDF soldiers. Women and girls were raped and taken as hostages as a human shield against the IDF retaliation or for sex slavery. Babies were beheaded, whole families were slaughtered in their homes, others burned alive in their cars. Even animals do not do such things. Hamas committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. This raises the inevitable question: Why the violence?
This barbarism occurred exactly 50 years after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when 3,000 Israelis dies in another surprising attack from the Arabs. Perhaps, this war in 2023 will enter the history as the Shemini Atzeret War and the darkest war in Israel’s existence, as the death toll will rise with the ground operation of IDF. But as death cannot live, life cannot die.
With all atrocities and acts of genocide committed by the Arab terrorists, it is hard to return to the regular Torah study and work of this ministry. Yet we need to continue to spread light in the darkness of hatred. As the Hasidic saying has it: “A little light dispels a lot of darkness”. In the following, we would like to posit another way to look at this war: this time through the questions of the prophet. We will explore this violence in the Land of the living in the context of the story of the prophet Chavakuk (Habakkuk), a story that poses significant challenges for the troubled mind. By laying out our thought, we hope the reader will see the Middle East in the days to come through the eyes of the prophet.
The Philistines of Gaza
If we want to understand what is taking place right now, we must understand first what took place at the time of the prophet, as we picture to ourselves the gradual development of the crisis. The Philistines were the bitter enemies of Israel. They were member of an Aegean people who settled ancient Philistia around the twelfth century BC and existed until the time of the most righteous King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) who totally crushed them. After that we no longer hear of the Philistines until … 1973, but this times as “Palestinians”.
He (Chizkiyahu) struck the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its borders, from watchtower to the walled city. (2Ki 18:8)
But are the “Palestinians” the same as the Philistines?
The term “Palestinians” was invented by the Soviets to refer to the Arab population in the State of Israel. The Soviet communists fabricated this term as a retaliation for the humiliating defeat of their Arab proxies in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. In the Yom Kippur War, Israel totally defeated its Arab enemies Egypt and Syria, which were supported by the Soviet Union with arms, instructors, and even jet pilots. But this victory came with a high cost of 3,000 dead for Israel, when the Arab armies invaded Israel in surprise.
Where the term “Palestinians” come from? The term “Palestinians” the Soviets derived from the name “Palestina”; the name Romans gave to Judea after the unsuccessful revolt of Bar Kochba in the second century. In this revolt Jerusalem was totally destroyed, and the Jews taken captives and send to all corner of the empire. The Romans renamed Judeah after the name of the worst enemies of the Jews and called it “Palestina” with the goal to totally eradicate everything connected to Israel and the Jews.
From the second century until the twentieth century, “Palestina” was known for the historical land the Jews lived in until it was known as “Palestine”. “Palestina” became “Palestine”: the British mandate on the east coast of the Mediterranean. In May 1948, “Palestine” ceased to exist, for a nation was reborn in one day in order to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah: Medinat Israel, the State of Israel. Until 1973, there was no such a thing as “Palestine” or “Palestinians”. The Arabs who lived in “Palestine” were not the Aegean people who settled in Gaza in the twelfth century BC. They were the Arabs who occupied Levant with the Arab invasion and the establishment of the Arab Caliphate until the 13th century. Everyone who now uses the term “Palestinians” thus referring to the Arab population in Israel has become a victim of the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Soviet Union. But are today’s “Palestinians” even Arabs? In the article The Palestinians—the Indigenous People in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – Time of Reckoning Ministry, we shared our hypothesis on the origin of the people today called “Palestinians”. Refer to the source for the complete explanation.
The unique prophet
“In Judaism, to be without questions is a sign not of faith but of lack of depth”. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
It is not lawful to say in one line of thought the Name of the Eternal and the question “Why”, since His ways are unknown to humans. Yet, from the time of Avraham, Mosheh, Iyov, and Chavakuk, the troubled soul asks the same question. Why the violence and cruelty? Why were babies murdered and little girls raped? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people? Why is God silent in acts of evil? We still ask these questions, because these great men of YHVH never received an answer from Him. Why?
Chavakuk is believed to have lived just before the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. In the Jewish tradition, he is identified as the son of the Shunamite woman, whom Elisha the prophet blessed in 2Kings 4. The prophet Chavakuk was a unique prophet among the prophets of Israel on account of his stance. While all other great prophets related the words of YHVH to the people, Chavakuk related the questions of the people to Him. The prophet saw in his days that evil remained unpunished and he challenged the Eternal for an answer. A response came from Heaven but not an answer. Instead YHVH challenged Chavakuk to wait and see, because the answer is meant for the last days. Until then, the prophet was told, “the righteous man lives by his faith”.
The questions the troubled soul asks
The burden which the prophet Chavakuk foresaw in a vision concerning the rise of violence in the Land caused him to lament and cry out to YHVH, saying,
O Yehovah, how long shall I cry, and You not hear? I cry to You, “Violence!” and You do not save. Why do You show me wickedness, and cause me to see perversity? For ruin and violence are before me. And there is strife, and contention arises. (Hab 1:1-3)
Note: The Hebrew word behind “violence” is חָמָס chamas. This word means also “cruelty” and “injustice”. This is the same Semitic word the most violent terrorist organization (only second to ISIS) Hamas used to identify itself in its war to destroy the State of Israel. In Arabic, Hamas is an acronym for “Islamic Resistance Movement”. We now return to the text.
This petition for help is the prophet’s lament in the name of the righteous who had to suffer under the oppression of the wicked nations (verse 5). In the opening of his petition, not hearing the cry of His people (“how long shall I cry, and You not hear?”) is equivalent to not helping and standing idle. For the question עַד־אָנָה ad-anah, “How long?” indicates that the wicked has conducted and continued to conduct their violence for a long time, without the Elohim of Israel having put it to an end. The choice of words by the prophet teaches that in the eyes of the prophet this appears irreconcilable with the mercy and compassion of the Elohim of Israel. Hence the prophet’s question: “Why do You show me wickedness and cause me to see perversity?” that the evil men may live and prosper and say, “Where is their God to help them?” The prophet goes on in his lamentation to conclude that because He has not intervened to stop the violence in His Land and the justice never goes forth, the wicked have besieged the righteous and judgment comes out wrong, and the consequences of shod ve’chamas (“ruin and violence”) cause cessation of the observance of the Torah in the Land (Hab 1:4).
The response follows instantly
Look among the nations and see, and be amazed, be amazed! For a work shall be shaped in your days which you would not believe if it were told. (Hab 1:5)
According to Rashi, the prophet foresaw that Nevuchadnetsar, the king of Babylon, was destined to be the ruler of the world and cause trouble in Israel. This is stated in the prophecy of verse 6 that the Kasdim (the Babylonians) would bring unheard violence (Hebrew חָמָס chamas, “Hamas”) in the land that if it were told, no one would believe it (Hab 1:5). The phrase shod ve’chamas, in which shod is ruin causing desolation and chamas is malicious act intended to injure, are connected together to express the cruelest form of violence.
They are frightening and fearsome, their judgment and their exaltation proceed from themselves. Their horses shall be swifter than leopards, and fiercer than the wolves in the desert. And their horsemen spread themselves. And their horsemen come from afar. They fly as the eagle, rushing to devour. (Hab 1:7-8)
(The video footages of the Hamas invasion of the local farms show how frightening and fearsome in their cruel judgment and exaltation the evildoers are. Their special forces were swift and fierce spreading themselves to murder as many innocents as they could. Their paragliders flew over the security wall as vultures rushing to devour human lives.)
For it is indeed obvious in YHVH’s answer to the prophet that the verses Hab 1:9-11 refer to the moral depravity of the oppressors on account of their cruelty and violence done in the Land of the living. And when the evil doers see the evil fruits of their violence (Hamas), they attribute it to their god,
Then they pass on like the wind. They transgress and incur guilt, for they ascribe their might to their god. (Hab 1:11)
Note: In Arabic, “god” would be “Allah”, the counterpart of the Hebrew “Eloah” or “Elohim”. The violence the Islamic terrorists commit is always done in the name of their god. We now return to the text.
Concerning them Rashi further says that the Babylonians did not deserve to be created, as it is written in Isa 23:13, “This people (Kasdim) has never been”. He explains that there are three things whose creation Elohim regrets, and the Babylonians are one of them. The prophet saw the burden of this message and the coming cruelty, and he lamented before YHVH.
But how did this answer Chavakuk’s perplexed question: How long shall I cry, and You not hear? The lack of answer in the prophet’s hearing led him to ask the same question in a different way.
Chavakuk’s second petition
Precisely in this manner, and even more so, was the second petition of Chavakuk. On this threatening announcement of the coming evil, in the name of the people he turned to the Rock of Israel a second time, saying,
You, whose eyes are too clean to see evil, You are not able to look on wrong. Why do You look on those who act treacherously and hold Your tongue, when the wrong devours one more righteous than he? (Hab 1:13)
Because he did not receive a satisfying answer to his first petition, there was nothing else left for the prophet to ask the question condensed into “Why do You look on those who act treacherously and hold Your tongue?” Then the prophet went on to challenge YHVH that He had made the people like fish of the sea while their enemies were rejoicing over the prey,
They pull all of them up with a hook, caught them in his net, and gathers them in his dragnet. Therefore, they rejoice and exult. Therefore, they sacrifice to their net and offer to their drag, because for them their portion is fat, and their food plenteous. Are they therefore empty their net, and not spare to slay the nations continually? (Hab 1:15-17)
(Again, the videos that the Hamas terrorists proudly took and posted on social media show how they were gathering the people like fish in a net to execute them before cameras while rejoicing and exulting in their plenteous sacrifice to their god. This is apparent to the understanding that according to their Charted, the goal of Hamas is a total annihilation of Israel and the Jewish people. Hamas is not interested in “two-state solution”, and they have never had. Keep this in mind whenever we mention “Hamas”.)
These figures of fishing net and hooks the prophet used in his second question to YHVH refer to all the means the barbaric people employ in order to subdue and destroy the nation. This fact that YHVH allows the righteous to be consumed like fish in a net and dragged like prey and offered as sacrifices to their god, appears to the lamenting prophet irreconcilable with the merciful and compassionate YHVH, and suggests his second petition, namely, how the Rock of Israel can be silent and possibly let this be done to His covenant people.
The vision is for the end
Unsatisfied with the words the prophet received, Chavakuk stood firmly on the ground, like saying, “I will not move until I hear what He will say concerning my questions why He sees the prosperity of the wicked while His people suffer”.
I will stand on my watch and set me on the tower and will look out to see what He will speak to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. (Hab 2:1)
Then YHVH answered the prophet saying that a vision will be revealed to him, which he is to explain it well. And this is the vision Chavakuk wrote,
Write the vision and inscribe it on tablets, so that it can be read easily. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, and it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it tarries, wait for it, for it shall certainly come, it shall not delay. (Hab 2:2-3)
Rashi interprets this wording like saying, “A prophet shall yet arise at the end of the years, to whom a vision shall be revealed concerning when the appointed time shall be for the downfall of Babylon and the redemption of Israel”. This prophet was indeed Yirmiyahu who wrote concerning the completion of seventy years of Babylon (Jer 29:10). This exile had already alluded to in the Torah (Lev 26:34) that the time would come for the land to enjoy its seventy Sabbaths and Jubilees in which they did not let the land have its due rest. And the people were exiled from the land for seventy years.
Although Rashi’s comment is historically correct, yet the prophecy does not speak of the end of Babylon but of the end in the future that will come in its appointed time. Until then, YHVH says that those who are prideful will not be declared right, but the righteous ones will live by their faith (Hab 2:4). Then, the prophecy continues to say that a fivefold woe (verses 6, 9, 12, 15, and 19) is hanging upon the Kasdim for what they have done (Hab 2:6-20). To the prophet’s second petition YHVH answers that He will do a marvelous work and inflict a judgment upon the evildoers and their idol corresponding in magnitude to the prevailing injustice. But until then, “Let all the earth be silent before Him” (verse 20).
How did that response help Chavakuk understand why the righteous people suffer now under the cruelty of evil? This that prophet understood not. In the words of the prophet:
O Yehovah, I have heard your report, and I was afraid. O Yehovah, renew Your work in the midst of the years! Make it known in the midst of the years. In wrath remember compassion. (Hab 3:2)
Chavakuk admitted before YHVH that he had heard the report and was afraid, nevertheless his questions remain unanswered. He asked the Lord to revive His work in the years to come and remember compassion in His wrath (Hab 3:2). And until the end of the prophecy, Chavakuk praised the Set-apart One of Israel, who covers the heavens with His grandeur.
What shall we say in conclusion of our study? But to remember the Jewish saying: “When judging the future through the eyes of the present, you lose hope in the future”. We understand not His plans, as neither did Chavakuk. And we leave the question open.
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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!
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