…the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (Habakkuk 2:20)
These words have been set to a beautiful tune and appear as song # 28 in our song book. The phrase (both as the song and as the verse) have been used at times to compel people to hush, and silently prepare themselves for worship.
There is certainly nothing wrong with people being silent before engaging in worship. At the same time, there is nothing in the Bible (Habakkuk 2:20 included) which commands a time of silence prior to participating in worship, whether in a private or public setting.
To use Habakkuk 2:20 as a precursor to worship is to use it in a way that the prophet himself does not use it. Let’s take a look at the context of Habakkuk 2:20. Rather than just going 7 verse back and 7 verses ahead, we’ll look at the whole book.
In Habakkuk’s day, evil prevailed among the people of God (1:1-4). His description of the nation is consistent with what is said about the time of Manasseh (2 Kings 21). Recall, the eventual destruction which would befall Judah was because of the sins of Manasseh (2 Kings 23:26; 24:3). Habakkuk writes before God’s judgment against Judah is exercised. In fact, he writes before Babylon rose to the status of a world power (1:5-11).
As troubled as the prophet was with the wickedness plaguing his nation, it troubled him even further that God’s solution was to destroy them by using pagan people. Habakkuk reasoned about God’s justice and Chaldean wickedness (1:12-17). He then prepared to hear God, and to be corrected by Him (2:1). As the LORD spoke, the prophet is reminded of a fundamental truth about God’s people:
…the just shall live by his faith. (2:4)
Don’t be concerned about the physical welfare of those who are mistreated by a wicked people (the Judeans or the Babylonians), for those who are God’s are focused on the spirit, not the flesh.
God is mindful of the righteous, and He’ll take of them. He is also aware of the wicked (whether the Jews or the Babylonians), and they will receive according to their works. The futility of the wicked is the focus of 2:5-20. In verses 18-19, the LORD speaks of the idols of the wicked, made of wood, overlaid with gold and silver, or of stone. Idols that are associated with lies and yet do not speak, in whom is no life. A chunk of wood will not awaken, a stone will not rise up and teach.
Don’t focus on such false gods, but on the LORD God of heaven. He is in His holy temple; He’s in heaven above and presides over all the earth. He is a living God; His word has been revealed, and it is truth. All the earth, not Christians gathered to worship, are commanded to keep silence, to hold their peace, to be still. The text establishes a contrast between the one true God and the false idols of men.
The text closes with the prophet praying for God’s mercy to be upon them, even in the midst of His wrath (3:1). Though destruction was eminent, Habakkuk still found joy in the Lord and praised Him, for He makes salvation available to His people, to those who are righteous and will walk the high road of faith in God (3:18-19).