How Long?

This poem is an interpretation of part of the Bible (Habakkuk 1-2). In this book of the Bible, the prophet Habakkuk has a conversation with God. Habakkuk sees violence on every side, and even though he knows that it will not last forever, he is trouble by how the wicked surround the righteous. God says that the end will come with the consternation of the proud one, who collected the people of the earth like sand, and destroyed many others. He will receive on himself what he has done to others, and his own house will testify against him.

The visions in this short book
Came through the prophet Habakkuk

How long will I be dismayed
As I cry out to God for aid
The violence comes in waves
But no one comes and saves
Destruction is on every side
And real justice is cast aside
I am distressed as I look around
For the conflict I see is profound
The wicked encircle the upright
And against them they all unite
The law of God has been neglected
So that evil is not corrected

Then the Lord said to me
In that day you will see
A vicious and cruel people arise
And you will not believe your eyes
Now look at the world and be alarmed
For no spot on earth is unharmed
The laws of these people come from within
They follow the rule of discord and sin
They steal whatever their eyes see
So those on the earth fear and flee
They are swifter than lightning
Their appearance is frightening
They swoop like an eagle on its prey
And none of their victims can get away
They stir up violence and confusion
And every stronghold sees their intrusion
They laugh at kings and their stone castles
For the earth’s leaders are their vassals
They collect the earth’s people like the shore’s sand
And hold all the people in the palm of their hand
They came like a storm but will leave like the wind
For the guilt of their actions will leave them chagrined

O Lord, eternal God, we will not die
Though the mountains quake under the sky
You have appointed these cruel ones to test
Those who could not otherwise be assessed

Why do you allow evil to abide
So the people cannot from it hide
You do not look on evil with approval
But wait patiently for its removal
People have become like fish or insects
That no one ever leads or protects
The cruel ones gather the fish with their nets
They worship their strength and have no regrets
Because of these things, they are satisfied
Their food is great, and they are not denied
But how long can they destroy without sparing
Will you, O Lord, let them slay without caring

I will stand at my post to see
What the Lord’s answer will be

And the Lord answered and said
Let this vision be spread
Write down the entire content
So it can be quickly sent

For the vision is about a future date
And though it delays it will not be late
It will not fail to reach the end
And at that time you will comprehend

The leader of the cruel ones is proud
Seeing his success, his soul is unbowed
Full of wine, he leaves his home
Back and forth, the earth to roam
Like the waves, he is never still
And like hell, he never has his fill
All of the people, he easily collects
And gathers to himself many subjects

But the people know this cannot last
How long can plunder be amassed
Woe to the world’s great thief
Who would not give people relief
He makes himself rich with loans
And their payment he only postpones
How long until your creditors awaken
And demand return, and you are shaken
For then they will rise up against you
For all your loans are long overdue
Because you have looted and killed
The people who remain will be filled
With the things from your treasure
And you will know only displeasure

Woe to the one who puts his nest on high
He thought he could hide his crimes thereby
You have cut off many from the land
Their deaths you have cruelly planned
You schemed these shameful schemes
You sinned against yourself, it seems
For your own house will witness against you
The door will tell the roof what you did do
Woe to him who founds a town on bloodshed
And does all of its inhabitants behead

Is this what the Lord does require
That people work only for the fire
The nations strive for no reward
For their results cannot be stored

But the earth will one day overflow
With God’s glory, and all will know
That he is the one for whom they all waited
For the joy he brings cannot be overrated

Woe to you who mix anger with wine
So that you can your neighbor malign
You make him drunk to look on his shame
But disgrace will come instead to your name
For the Lord’s cup will return to you
And shame will cover your glory too
Woe to you who terrify the creatures
For distress and violence will be your teachers

What is the profit of an idol of wood
Can its language even be understood
Woe to the one who trusts in a stone
To this “teacher” your life is unknown
Your idol is covered with silver and gold
But it’s lifeless as it comes from the mold

Let the earth be still before the holy Lord
He’s in his temple and the people are in accord