This verse begins a section that leads up to Habakkuk's second question. He begins immediately with asking, "Is this really the holy God of Israel? Am I talking to the very God of the universe, the One who lives forever? Can this really be God, if He will punish His own people by the hands of these terrible Chaldeans?" This verse shows how much his faith was shaken.
"We shall not die" is an emendation by the Jews. They think that God should never be linked with death. But Habakkuk actually says, "You shall not die." He is reaffirming to himself just who is speaking to him—the Eternal God! He is desperately trying to square what God had just told him in verses 5-11 with what He understood of God's nature.
"You are of purer eyes than to behold evil." Habakkuk understood God to be pure and holy, so he wonders, "How can God do this evil thing to His people? He is purer than that." God has revealed something about Himself that the prophet has not yet grasped. His understanding is being stretched. He thought he knew what God's character was like, but God had just thrown him a curve ball.
Habakkuk asks God, "How can You restrain Yourself from just simply annihilating these Chaldeans? Look how wicked they are!" In verses 6-11, God Himself had described all of their evil doings. They take what is not theirs. They march through the breadth of the earth and gobble up town after town after town. They eat what they want. They take the jewels, the gold, the silver, the people themselves, and they transport them back to their own lands. Habakkuk cries, "These are terrible people, God, and You are going to let them punish Your own special people? This is not the God I remember learning about as a child."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
In the first chapter, the prophet Habakkuk was upset with God because He had made prophecies regarding where Judah's punishment would come from—from the Chaldeans. Habakkuk was irritated by this because he considered the Chaldeans to be worse than the Judeans. His questions run: "God, why are you doing this? Why don't you at least punish us by a righteous nation instead of sending upon us a nation far worse than we are?"
That was the way Habakkuk looked at it. God did not look at it that way because He would not have sent the Chaldeans if He did not think it was the right thing for Him to do. Maybe they were worse in an overall sense, but who was more responsible for what they were—the Chaldeans or the Jews? Had the Chaldeans had God's way revealed to them as the Judeans had? Of course not. Maybe the Judeans were not as bad on paper, maybe statistically, but they were more responsible. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).
God would punish them with a hasty nation, He says, a nation violent and rapacious in the way it did things. Habakkuk did not like that one bit, so he appealed to God, and his appeal was hotly delivered.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 2)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Habakkuk 1:13: