As I study the minor prophets, I’m struck by how relevant their messages are today. Habakkuk wrestled with much the same questions that trouble believers in our own culture.
O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds. (Hab. 1:2-4)
Why would God let a country founded on His law get so bad? How can He stomach the violence and corruption and rampant sin? Why isn’t He listening to us?
Struggling With God
The entire short book of Habakkuk is a back-and-forth between God and His prophet. After Habakkuk opened with his familiar questions, God responded. It wasn’t what Habakkuk was hoping for, though.
Look among the nations and watch — be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you. For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. (Hab. 1:5-6)
Habakkuk was understandably confused. He wanted action from God, but not this. The Chaldeans were a cruel people and God confirmed that their invasion would be “terrible and dreadful” as they “all come for violence” (Hab. 1:7, 9). Did the punishment really have to be so bad?
Are You not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he? (Hab. 1:12-13)
I find it encouraging to read this and other stories where men of God struggled to understand His will. God is not obligated to explain Himself to man, and yet sometimes He does. He isn’t threatened or irritated by sincere, searching questions.
What follows in chapter 2 answers Habakkuk’s question about why God would use a heathen nation to punish His own people. It is also a general statement about how God responds to wickedness.
Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (Hab. 2:2-3)
God basically starts out by telling Habakkuk to follow His instructions and be patient. Even when we don’t understand, God expects obedience. He doesn’t just leave Habakkuk with the answer, “Because I said so,” though.
Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith. (Hab. 2:4)
The Lord gives Habakkuk a guide we’re still using today, and which Paul quotes twice (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). “The just shall live by faith,” but that is not how Israel was living. Earlier, Habakkuk asked why God would punish Israel’s sin using a nation that was even more sinful than they. God points out here that no matter what Habakkuk thought about the Chaldeans, Israel’s sin still deserved judgement.
Chapter 2 proclaims “Woe” to people who are drunken, proud and never satisfied (2:5), to the violent (2:8, 17), to the covetous and those who plan to escape God’s wrath by their own strength (2:9-12), to those who scheme and take advantage of others (2:15-16), and to the idolaters (2:18-19). These problems were not limited to Israel or to a specific time, but God could not let His chosen people continue in such sin.
All For Us
Chapter 3 records a prayer that my study Bible notes was intended for singing as a Psalm and isn’t part of the exchange between Habakkuk and God. Given the subject matter, though, I suspect Habakkuk did write it after mulling over his talk with God and the answers he was given.
O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Hab. 3:2)
Though he accepted God’s answer and knew his nation deserved punishment, there was nothing wrong with Habakkuk asking for mercy. We can do that today as well. His mercy is abundant (1 Pet. 1:3), and He has a long history of pardoning iniquity and holding back His wrath if we come to repentance, and of protecting His people in the midst of trouble.
If you have some extra time, click here to read all of Chapter 3. It’s an interesting picture Habakkuk paints of God — one full of power to execute vengeance, as well as one of a God full of glory and worthy of praise, who always acts for the good of His people even if it’s not how they expected.
You marched through the land in indignation; You trampled the nations in anger. You went forth for the salvation of Your people, for salvation with Your Anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked, by laying bare from foundation to neck. (Hab. 3:12-13)
No matter how bad it gets, Habakkuk says, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). We can do the same thing, secure in the knowledge that God is committed to saving us who stay committed to following Him.
The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills. (Hab. 3:19)