Will a man argue with God? How about a prophet of God? Will he object to God’s plans? Habakkuk did.
This little known prophet is not mentioned outside of the book that bears his name. There is no hint of his hometown or family of origin. He was probably a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, serving in or near Jerusalem in the late 7th, early 6th century BC when Babylon was coming to prominence and the main threat to Judah and Jerusalem. He experienced the devastation of the good king, Josiah, being killed. He saw the decline under King Jehoiakim. He knew of the Babylonian occupation and the first taking of exiles to Babylon, the group that included Daniel and his three friends.
But Habakkuk’s complaint was against God. Why?
The book’s structure is simple. Habakkuk complains. God answers. Habakkuk complains again. God answers again. Habakkuk prays in humble submission and awe of the sovereign God. This was his Job moment.
Complaint # 1 – Habakkuk 1:2-4 –
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
He saw the rampant idolatry and immorality in Jerusalem and was troubled by God’s seeming passivity. Why does God allow such great evil in the world to go unpunished? Do you ever wonder about that? How can God continue to tolerate such grievous acts of violence, racism, sexual immorality, corruption in business and government? Good Questions, but God has an answer you may not like.
Answer #1 – Habakkuk 1:5-11 –
“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
Habakkuk did not see this coming. God seems to be taking sides against his own people. He will use Babylon, a completely idolatrous and violent nation, to punish Jerusalem and Judah. How could God justify that? Do Americans think like that? Could God use Iraq, Iran, al Queda, ISIS, North Korea, China or Russia to discipline the United States of America? Do we only think of how to defend ourselves against those enemies? What about humble repentance and prayer?
Complaint #2 – Habakkuk 5:12–2:1
Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 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?
Habakkuk has declared himself wiser and holier than God. I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. 2:1
Answer #2 – Habakkuk 2:2-20
2 Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.
I won’t attempt to unpack all that is in God’s answer to Habakkuk, but it is filled with encouragements and reminders that God is sovereign over all things. Consider two highlights that reflect the Gospel.
1. Verse 4b – but the righteous will live by his faith. Habakkuk cannot grasp the ways of God, but since God is eternal and sovereign over all things, Habakkuk must trust God. This principle of faith is foundational to the Gospel as revealed more fully in the New Testament, where this verse is directly quoted three times; Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:37, 38 In contrast to obedience to the law, of which we all fail, we are called to believe God for all things, including our salvation. Paul quotes this in his letter to the Galatians in relation to Abraham, who believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness(Genesis 15:6).
This was the breakthrough verse for Martin Luther, who languished under the burden of his own efforts and guilt. This truth transformed his life, that it was not his works, but faith in Jesus Christ, that was his hope.
2. Verse 14 — For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
God’s plan includes a rescue of people from all over the world, every ethnicity to be included in his eternal family. This promise to Abraham, all nations will be blessed though you Genesis 12:3 is reinforced throughout the Old Testament.. This is God’s promise to be carried out through the Great Commission, make disciples of all the nation (Matthew 28:20) and you shall be my witnesses to… the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
Somewhat like Job, when God speaks, Habakkuk is simply humbled before Him in prayer..
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
Justice is a vital biblical theme, but for all of us, it is God’s mercy upon which we are dependent for salvation. Paul brings it together, For it is by grace you have been saved that faith… it is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8,9