Q: #326. Does (Hab 1:13) literally mean that God cannot look at evil / sin?
A: If you look at this verse in 3 different ways: in context, in the Hebrew it was written in, and against the rest of the Bible, I think you will see very clearly that this verse does not mean that God cannot look on evil / sin. Here is (Hab 1:13) in 3 different translations:
(KJV) Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
(NIV) Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
(NASB) “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness WITH FAVOR. Why do You look WITH FAVOR On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?”
(caps emphasis mine)
First, let’s look at this verse in context. Most who quote this verse stop after the first sentence. However, the rest of the verse is crucial to explaining what Habakkuk is saying. Let me paraphrase this verse in a way that might make it more clear. “God, your eyes are too pure to look favorably at evil or wickedness. So, how can you sit silently and watch the wicked swallowing up a people more righteous than them and do nothing about it?”
Do you see why you cannot stop at the first sentence? Habakkuk is clearly not making a statement that “It is impossible for God look at evil / sin.”
Secondly, the Hebrew word for “look on” is “nabat.” Strong’s gives this definition: “look intently at; by impl to regard with pleasure, favor, or care.” This is why the (NASB) version adds the words “with favor” in its translation. By carrying out this Hebrew word to its fuller meaning, it is made very clear that Habakkuk did not intend to say “God cannot look upon evil / sin,” but rather, “God cannot look FAVORABLY upon evil / sin.”
Finally, the Bible clearly shows us that God sees EVERYTHING on this planet, including evil and sin (Prov 15:3)(Job 34:21-22)(Amos 9:8), because He is omnipresent (everywhere at once) (1 Kin 8:27)(Ps 139:7-8)(Jer 23:23-24)(2 Chr 16:9). In addition, God is shown throughout the Bible to judge the sin and evil He has seen (Heb 4:13)(Ps 90:8). In the first 19 chapters of Genesis we see 3 powerful examples of this. God saw Cain murder his brother Abel (the first murder in the Bible) and punished him for it (Gen 4:8-15). God destroyed the whole Earth in a flood because He saw the evil of man (Gen ch. 6-9). God destroyed the cites of Sodom and Gomorrah because He saw their evil (Gen 19:12-25). So, God clearly sees evil and sin and judges it.
This is why Jesus had to come and give His life for the sins of all men. God has seen every sin we have committed, big and small, and “the wages of (our) sin is death.” We are condemned for all eternity because of our sin. But, through God’s grace and mercy, we can be forgiven of our sins. God has given us the gift of “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:23). Please accept this gift today!