How to keep your cool when there is trouble afoot.
The book of Habakkuk is one of the so-called minor prophetic books in the Bible which more appropriately, should be called “short prophetic books” since there is nothing minor about the message that they deliver to the people of God.
Habakkuk lived in about the same era as Jeremiah. There was international conflict and distress between superpowers and the people of Israel were sandwiched in between them. There was also civil, moral and spiritual rot within Israel/Judea. Due to the evil deviation of his people, God had decreed judgement, and in particular, a 70 year period of exile at the hands of the Babylonians. The book of Habakkuk has a beautiful symmetry: Habakkuk complains, God answers, Habakkuk has a second complaint, God answers his second complaint. After digesting God’s replies, Habakkuk thinks things through. He brings to mind in metaphor so many of God’s awesome interventions in history and finally comes to find peace in knowing that God is sovereign. Despite all the grief that may come to him and around him, he is secure in the knowledge that God will sustain him to the end.
Habakkuk’s first complaint is that God seems to ignore not only his prayers but also the evil, violence, injustice, corruption and wrong-doing that prevail in society at that time. Why, God, do you allow this to continue? Atheists latch on to this situation and conclude that either God does not exist or is malevolent. Or if just, he is powerless to do anything about the evil. What they do not calculate is that the evil we see is generated by hearts and minds that are corrupted by sin and alienated from a holy God who has made freewill a foundation of human life—to choose for God or to reject him. There are consequences to either choice.
God answers the first complaint by telling Habakkuk that he does have a plan. That plan is to utilize, as his agents of judgement upon the evil of his own people, the Babylonians who admittedly are powerful and ruthless.
Whoa! Habakkuk finds this hard to take. He complains that God is going to use a foreign nation that is even worse that his own to deliver judgement! To Habakkuk, this just does not compute! He says, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what [God] will say to me.”
God does reply and asks Habakkuk to write his reply down so that it is broadcast to all and also, so that the message will not get distorted as it makes its way to the people. Essentially, God is saying that although the Babylonians will accomplish his will against his people, their own ruthlessness, evil and idolatry will be punished. After this “noisy” conversation as it were, there is a sudden silence: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
God, who is sovereign in history, will always have the last word and there will be complete justice. Embedded in chapter 2:3 is the promise, “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.” And in 2:14, God says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” In other words, nothing will thwart God’s timetable toward full victory!
Habakkuk responds in the end with prayer and worship. He rehearses some of God’s miraculous activities in history. He admits his own fear and trembling despite all of God’s words. However, even with the spectre of trouble ahead, he makes a powerful statement of faith that he will find joy in his Saviour even if the bottom falls out of life! And in 3:19 he projects a beautiful image: “The sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” The safest place for mountain sheep and mountain animals is a craggy cliff face since their enemies cannot get a foothold.
There are several take-home lessons for us from the book of Habakkuk:
1. God is sovereign over history despite what it appears like from our perspective.
2. His ways may challenge our common sense and may not necessarily please us.
3. Our unshakeable well-being is grounded in God himself and not in our circumstances.
4. God is open to dialogue but we are to do more listening that talking! Recall his history!5. God’s righteousness will ultimately prevail as thoroughly as the waters cover the oceans.
The book of Habakkuk could easily have been written in our 21st century era to reflect the same situation that prevails within our own world with its global turmoil, conflict and power struggles! But there also is a deterioration within the house of faith. And we also can be challenged to look inward to assess whether we are in the faith and whether we are faithful to our eternal God. Do we live each day in Christ with the knowledge that he will provide for us regardless of outward circumstances that may affect us or even, for that matter, health and personal struggles that we may have. Do we trust in God’s provision for us?
Read 2 Corinthians chapter 4 to round out the proper perspective that sees Jesus Christ as our provider of eternal security and the eventual end of any troubles that we may see or experience.
The book of Habakkuk is a challenge and an encouragement!