One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Habakkuk. I remember preaching from this great text the first time. I went into the text unaware of what the book was about and after a week of study I had fallen in love with these words.
Habakkuk addresses some of the critical issues and questions of our day. He most likely grew up during the “good ole days” under King Josiah. When King Josiah reigned there was a revival in Israel. Unfortunately, as soon as the King died, the revival did also. Habakkuk begins his book mourning the state of his country.
The Book of Habakkuk was written later than Nahum because the Assyrian Empire is gone and the Babylonian Empire has come to power. It had to be written sometime after 612 BC (when Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire was defeated) and 586 BC (When the Babylonians leveled the Southern tribes of Israel. The book is written as a dialogue between the prophet and the Lord.
THE PROPHET’S PRAYER (1:2-4)
2 How long, O 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 wrong?
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.
Habakkuk is frustrated at the state of affairs in Israel. He has been praying for revival and things just seem to be getting worse. It’s as if we prayed, “O Lord, how long before you answer our prayers? Violence is getting worse, drug abuse is epidemic, immorality is all around us. False religions are taking over our country and your people are being silenced. In churches everywhere Pastors who don’t believe lead their congregations astray. O Lord, please do something.”
This is the prayer of a man who cares about his country. He knows what is needed: a spiritual revival and has been pleading with God for such a revival.
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS (1:5-11)
5 “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 dwelling places not their own.
The Lord was not offended by the prophet’s honest prayer. God is never angry when we speak honestly and respectfully. The Lord’s message to His servant was, “Habakkuk, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that I am about to correct the problems you are concerned about. The bad news is that the way I am going to do this is to bring the Babylonians in to destroy Israel.
It would be as if God answered our prayers for revival by saying, “I’ve heard your prayer. I am going to purge the evil from America by bringing Iraq (or communism) against you to wipe you out.
HABAKKUK’S COMPLAINT (1:12-2:1)
We are not surprised when Habakkuk does not like the answer he was given. Habakkuk expresses his confusion. This doesn’t make sense.
12 O Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, we will not die.
O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment;
O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
Habakkuk’s complaint stems from the fact that the Babylonians are godless and ruthless people. They worship idols, they treat people shamefully. The Israelites are bad but the Babylonians are far worse! Habakkuk cannot understand why God will allow the righteous to suffer at the hands of the godless.
Are you beginning to see how relevant this book is to our daily lives? How often do we raise this same question in our lives,
- Why is my marriage crumbling and the marriage of a pagan thriving?
- Why did I get cancer while the murderer gets off on a technicality?
- Why did God allow me to get assaulted when I was trying to be faithful?
- Why do my Christian kids get picked on by the “hardened” kids?
- How can the laziest man in the plant get promoted over me?
- Why do I struggle financially and my god-taunting neighbor flourishes
It’s a key question of life: why do the evil prosper and the godly suffer? This was a theological crisis for the prophet. Just as it is for us. Habakkuk knows that God is good. He is sure that God never does what is evil. But the idea of the Babylonians coming against the Israelites doesn’t make any sense.
Habakkuk tells the Lord that he is going up to the watchtower and wait for an answer. I used to think that Habakkuk was stomping his foot and pouting as he went to the tower. I don’t think that anymore. The prophet wants to know the truth. He wants to understand. So he gets away to a quiet place to seek understanding. He doesn’t panic, he doesn’t renounce his faith, he doesn’t rant and rave against the Lord publicly, and he doesn’t despair. Habakkuk gets quiet. In his heart he knows there must be an explanation. In his heart He knows that God is good. He will sit and wait.
GOD’S RESPONSE (2:2-20)
Habakkuk waits (we don’t know how long) and God does indeed answer his faithful servant,
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.
4 “See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous will live by his faith—
What follows are words that can be pretty confusing so let me sum up what God is saying. The Lord tells Habakkuk that he needs to see the big picture. Just because God is using this pagan nation to accomplish His purpose in disciplining His people doesn’t mean that God approves of the Babylonians. It doesn’t mean that God has gone soft on sin.
God will indeed judge the Babylonians . . . just not right now. The judgment is so sure that God gives the prophet a prophecy of that very judgment. Things may seem bad but God is still on the throne.
In essence, in reply to Habakkuk’s complaint God’s message is simple, “Trust me”. And that’s the same message that we hear when the times are difficult. We cry, “Why God?” and God says, “Trust me”.
Don’t miss the important words of verse four, “the righteous (or the just) shall live by faith.” These are words picked up several times in the New Testament. They were the center of Paul’s theology. They were the words that began the Reformation. The people who belong to God, live by faith.
This is true in terms of our salvation. We are told that we must trust the work of Christ on our behalf. We are to trust that God really does love us and has provided, in Christ, what is needed for us to be forgiven and reborn. The protestant proclamation is that we are saved by grace, through faith.
But this statement is also important for our daily living. The true believer must live by faith. We can’t look at the present circumstances, we must always be looking to the Lord. We must not give in when the trials come. Instead we trust that God will be faithful to His promises. He will provide for our needs, He will give us the strength we need for every circumstance, He will never leave us or forsake us.
Perhaps this doesn’t seem like much of an explanation to you. But often in the Bible the message for confusing times is: “Wait and see what God will do.” God doesn’t have to explain things to us. In fact, if God did explain things, we wouldn’t understand.
Have you ever tried to explain to a little child why they can’t eat any more candy? Have you tried to explain why they must brush their teeth, comb their hair, or wash their hands? Have you tried to explain to your teenager why you think they are making the wrong choice about anything? It’s impossible. A child’s understanding is different from that of their parent. The parent has experience on their side. They see things the child cannot. You could explain, but your child would only yell, scream and roll their eyes. So what do you instead? You may spank them, you may put them in the corner, you may tell them that they must obey simply because you said so. Is that really any different than what God is saying here?
We must trust the one who makes the rules . . . even when we don’t understand.
THE PROPHET’S CONCLUSION
It seems to me that in Chapter Three the prophet does a little soul searching. He is asking himself the question, “Do I trust the Lord, or don’t I?’
He remembers God’s faithfulness in the past. He remembers how God came out of the mountains of Sinai (Teman and Mount Paran) to meet with Moses and to rescue His people. He remembers the way God appeared to the people in a bright light and how Moses even had to wear a veil after talking with the Lord because of the reflected brightness in the face of Moses.
He remembers the way God brought Israel out of Egypt. He remembers the way God used the elements to bring plagues on the people. He remembers the parting of the Red Sea to bring the Israelites to the other side. He remembers the day the sun stood still allowing Joshua to slay the enemy when it was time for Israel to take possession of the land.
As Habakkuk remembers God’s faithfulness in the past, he is reminded that God is trustworthy. He determines that he will indeed trust the Lord. The book ends with these inspiring words,
16 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 go on the heights.
Habakkuk says, “OK, bring on the Babylonians. I don’t want calamity to come to my country . . . but I trust the Lord. In fact I will trust Him no matter what happens. I will trust Him because He is trustworthy.
Difficult Circumstances May Be Confusing
I hope it is encouraging to you to see that even those closest to God sometimes question the circumstances of life. We are not spiritual invalids simply because we don’t understand. There are many times in life when we find ourselves asking the question “Why?”
- When a young person dies
- After a devastating accident
- After a terrorist attack
- When nature strikes with devastating power
- When we see the suffering of those who suffer from starvation and plague
- When it seems like the evil prosper while the righteous suffer
- When we feel like we are doing our best but still can’t seem to do anything right
In these times it is natural to ask, “Why?” There is nothing wrong with honest questions. God doesn’t expect us to understand everything He is doing. In fact, the Lord told Isaiah,
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. [Isa. 55:8-9]
The best way to handle difficult times is to focus on the Character of God rather than the devastation of the circumstance.
In times of difficulty it is tempting to get mad at God and to turn away. But the better course is to go toward the Lord rather than away from Him. It is in the times of difficulty when we need to stop and recount the things the Lord has done in the past. We must remember the story of Israel and the life of Jesus. We must remind ourselves of his death, and His resurrection. We should remember His faithfulness in our own lives and in the lives of those we love. We need to recite His promises. In short, we need to remember God’s character.
The painful times in life are like surgery. Surgery is painful, it sometimes takes a long time to recover, and it generally leaves scars. But surgery is not a bad thing. It is designed to ultimately make us well and many times saves our life. The painful times of life for the believer are designed to shape our character, to strengthen our heart and to increase our faith. At times these things are difficult to recover from. Most of the time these trials leave scars. But the reason these things are allowed to pass through the nail-scarred hands of Jesus is because these pains are designed to make us well.
You and I have a choice. We can focus on the problem and dwell on the pain or we can focus on the Great Physician. Often we may not understand how the pains of life will help “conform us to the image of Christ” but we can trust the fact that the Lord loves us and has promised to make sure that every situation is designed to help us grow and develop in our faith.
True Faith Means Hanging On
Habakkuk tells us that the just will live by faith. They will trust even though they do not see. They will hang on even though they do not understand. May I suggest that the next time you are in a difficult circumstance you ask yourself a simple question: Do I trust Him, or don’t I?
We are reminded that true faith, is not merely intellectual. It is not enough to know that Jesus was God in the flesh. It is not enough to know that He is the Savior. It is not enough to believe that Christ gives us a new beginning. We must act on this knowledge. We must build our life and anchor our hope to these facts. And that means trusting . . . . it means hanging on . . . even when life doesn’t make sense.