Nineveh had fallen and once again, God’s people had
quickly forgotten God. How dense and dull is the natural man. Habakkuk
had something on his mind. It is called a "burden." He was troubled when
He compared what he knew about God with what was going on around him.
Why was God allowing evil to run rampant? Why was not God doing
something about sin? Why were sinners getting away with murder? In
chapter one he is wondering, in two watching, and in three we find him
worshiping. Habakkuk is the thinker. He goes farther and has dared to
ask what others have only thought. Why doesn’t God do something about
evil? Evil men, violent, sinful men seem to rule the world while the
righteous suffer. Good ever goes to the gallows while evil sits on the
throne. Why does God do nothing? The weak are "spoiled" by the strong.
God’s laws are ignored and violators are indifferent to justice. Why
doesn’t God intervene?
Every lover of God has thought such questions. Why do
bad things happen to good people? Lone individuals have posed the same
questions to God, from the beginning. It has also been the collective
cry of the Jew as a people from the days of Egyptian salvery. Habakkuk
ministered during the turbulant twilight of Judea. Josiah was killed
while attempting to halt the advance of Egypt at Megiddo. Pharaoh-Necho
became the political power behind the Jewish throne, imprisoning one of
Josiah’s sons and installing another. Jehoiakim was weak, and wicked,
the world was chaotic and Judah was sinking back into darkness.
Habakkuk had a good sense of who God was in his
holiness. Habakkuk had a high regard for the laws and commandments of
the LORD. But why was God allowing people to trample on his law and his
Word as if God did not even exist? Here are questions that the righteous
have asked for millennia. David also was well aware of the dilemma of
evil parading proudly before the righteous. He wrote "Fret not thyself
because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of
iniquity" (Ps. 37:1). The Psalm of Asaph spoke about the problem as
well, "Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world, they
increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed
my hands in innocence. For all the day long have I been plagued, and
chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold I should
offend against the generation of thy children. When I thought to know
this, it was too painful for me," (Ps. 73:12-16).
The book of Habakkuk breaks into the prophet’s life as he carries on
a dialogue with God. If it sounds like he is complaining; it is
important to realize that he is complaining to God and not about God.
There is a big difference. Real, genuine, and honest prayer often sounds
like this. This is not the prayer of a self-righteous pharisee, it is
more closely in tune with the breast-beating publican in the back of the
temple (Lk. 18:13). Many prayers of believers begin with the question,
Why. We don’t like to question God in public, but who is so perfect that
they have never struggled with the weight of this question in secret
Another question God has heard many a saint pray comes
next, "How long?" (1:2). Whether uttered by a Hebrew slave in Egypt, or by
a sister named Mary waiting for help to come for Lazarus, this is a common
prayer. "How long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!" When we pray, God
does not always come running. He hears, yet "to everything there is a
season." Habakkuk’s frustration will teach us more about faith than all
the prophets. There is a hidden treasure in every trouble. Instead of
running from trials we should search the rushing streams we must cross for
golden nuggets. As Habbakkuk pans the murky bottom of a troubled faith he
finds a piece of gold so large that it has enriched the saints for
centuries. The precious truth he found shines throughout the church
history and shines brighter still: "The just shall live by faith." This
valuable truth is also a glowing truth that has shined in our doubt's
darkest hours. It is like a polar star that has helped many a saint get
his bearings while traveling through this world. This truth became the
centerpiece for Pauline theology (Rom. 1:16-17), it was also used in
Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:11) and is found in the letter to the
Hebrews (10:38-39). The righteous shall live (exist, survive, endure) by
(in, through, because-of) his faith. This was the touch-stone that ignited
the light of the Reformation when it was discovered by that monk named
Luther. Habakkuk’s problem is found in the first verse of the first
chapter. It is solved in the fourth verse of the second. This holy man was
vexed by what he "saw." What he saw weighed heavy on his heart. We must
all learn to live by faith and not by sight.
Life, at times, seems so unfair. Evil people seem to
thrive and prosper. Wicked people seem to get away with wrong and
righteous people seem to suffer. Do "nice guys" really finish last? So
it would seem, until Habakkuk got a revelation that would become the
Rosetta Stone of all moral theology.
Jesus put it another way when he said, "the kingdom
of God is within you." Taking care of the evil around us is God’s
business. What is important for our survival is the kingdom within us.
God will take care of sorting out each of the players that have a part
in and around our lives. No one will escape answering to God. We have no
way of knowing how an evil person, or nation is being used by God in the
greater equation of life. As a single number in a formula can transform
the final solution, so too, God employs many elements and complex
factors to bring about his ends. God is working. We react, God only
acts. He is never taken by surprise by political cataclysms or moral
catastrophe. The fall of the Assyrians or the rise of the Chaldeans do
not alarm the Almighty any more than the injustice of a neighbor or the
failure of a friend. We are often shaken, troubled, or confused by
events. If we could climb into Habakkuk’s watchtower we would see life
from the lofty heights of faith. God is our watchtower, when we are in
Him we see things through the eyes of faith.
The name Habakkuk means "embrace." Some see a saint
struggling with difficult moral questions and the "embrace" like that of
one wrestling with an opponent. Better is the embrace of a parent
holding a troubled child. Or even better still, is the believer who
embraces God’s truth: "the just shall live by faith."
Habakkuk did not like the answer God gave him. God
said that he was about to do something beyond the wildest imagination of
the Seer. God’s answer offered no relief. God was about to raise up the
Chaldeans (1:6) and use that bitter and hasty nation to bring a terrible
and dreadful judgment. How could a righteous God use unrighteous men to
accomplish his ends, and more importantly, punish the righteous? How
could a God who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil" use evil to such
an end? Habakkuk is the doubting Thomas among the twelve ancient seers.
He retreated to his Old Testament equivalent of the upper-room and like
the Apostles of Christ waited for the filling of the Holy Spirit, so to
speak. He "will watch to see what [God] will say" (2:1). As Christ
instructed his followers to "tarry" at Jerusalem so Jehovah told this
troubled seer to wait for his answer for "though it tarry, wait for it;
because it will surely come, it will not tarry" (2:3). The answer that
came was simple and yet brilliant: faith. Pride will never triumph,
faith never fails. "The just shall live by faith."
Descendants of the Babylonian captivity and Disporia
were visited in their synagogues nearly five hundred years later by an
Apostle once named Saul who would preach another message that must be
accepted by faith. Paul on his first missionary journey quoted the words
of Habakkuk while preaching to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia. Far from
Jewish soil, the great-great grandchildren of deported Jews listened "Be
it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is
preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; And by him all that believe
are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by
the law of Moses; Beware, therefore, lest that come upon you, which is
spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish;
for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no way believe,
though a man declare it unto you." (Acts 13:38-41).
It was beyond the scope of Habakkuk’s wildest
imagination that Jewish Apostles would carry a light to the Gentiles (Acts
13:47) and the descendents of Babylon would bow before the Lord Jesus
By faith Habakkuk is assured that crime does not pay.
Every sin will have its judgment. Every evil will have its end. The woes
of the second chapter are severe and awful and the tears of a sinner's
sorrows will know no comfort. The cries of the righteous will be quieted
with God’s embrace not unlike a mother who picks up her troubled babe,
holds it close, and softly whispers "hush" 2:20.
The final chapter of this little book is a song. One
would have to read in Hebrew to appreciate the beautiful alliterations
and the poetic form it takes. It is a song of faith. It is the
equivalent of Luther’s "A Mighty Fortress is our God." It speaks of
God’s love, and mercy. It sings of his glory(3:3-4), and tells of his
might (3:5). Faith is able to sing as God "measures" and judges the
earth (3:6). Faith stands trusting though the world tremble. Faith, like
Paul and Silas in a Philipian jail, sings in the night.
One of the most beautiful expressions of faith is found in this ode.
Faith needs nothing but God to survive. Many times in history the Jewish
people were stripped of everything yet so many fail to find this truth.
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the
vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, the flock shall be cut off
from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; Yet I will
rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
Habakkuk’s faith survived his doubts. He climbed into his watch tower
and waited for insight and assurance. His faith endured as seeing him who
is invisible. His faith discarded the human scales of what men think is
"fairness" and trusted God’s goodness, wisdom, and integrity. His faith
finally learned to lean on God alone and learned to trust in the giver
more than the gift. Like every other giant of faith he discovered the
peace that comes with trust. Elijah learned it when Cherith dried up,
Moses learned it in the wilderness, Job on the ash heap, God is working on
the problem of good verses evil and when he is finished we shall all bow
in astonishment, ashamed that we could ever have doubted at all.
To Modern Preachers and Teachers
The best teachers think. Some are afraid to look to
closely at what they believe for fear that it will not survive such
close scrutiny. They are afraid to think. Habakuk was a thinker. The
best students, ask hard questions. There was a day when anyone who dared
to ask a question was quickly crushed. Those were dark ages indeed.
Truth fears no inquiry. Real faith needs no inqusitions.
The best teachers embrace God's words and cling to
them as a vine climbing the lattice. The best teachers hold on to God's
promises and never let them go. But the best teachers also embrace in
love all whom they teach. The best teachers do not teach lessons, they
teach people. It is not until a man has doubted and dared to ask the
hard questions, that his faith has come of age. There was a time when a
man was not considered a real sailor until he had "rounded the horn" and
experienced the fury, wind and waves in the straits of South America.
Once he had endured the treacherous currents, icy gale force winds,
frozen canvas, and colliding oceans, then and only then could he be said
to truly be a sailor.
Faith that never had a doubt is feeble. It is untried and untested.
Habakkuk faces our doubts and helps us destroy each with an honest
answer. Thank God for the thinker.