Men have always had the same responses to crisis: How long?
How can this go on? Why do the righteous suffer? Why do the wicked prosper?
God, why aren’t You doing something?
Unlike most prophets who spoke to Judah, Israel, Assyria, the Babylonians–some people group–this is a conversation between a prophet and God.
Join us as we study this unique prophetic text:
If I were to give you a phrase to bring to mind when you think of the book Habakkuk, it would be: How long?
Unlike most prophets who spoke to Judah, Israel, Assyria, the Babylonians, this is a conversation between a prophet and God.
A fitting book at this time as we face COVID-19. Before that, there were tornadoes. Before that, locusts swarming in parts of Africa.
There have been crises since the beginning of time that have caused man to ask the questions Habakkuk raises to God in this book, and we bend our ears to listen.
Men have always had the same responses to crisis: how long? How can this go on? Why do the righteous suffer? Why do the wicked prosper?
Why aren’t You doing something?
It’s important always to understand who the first, immediate audience of the Bible was, how they understood it, and then how we understand it in our context.
Habakkuk writes during a time of national crisis from without, and religious-political corruption from within.
The babylonians and assyrians were the global superpowers of the day. The Assyrians had finally been defeated by the Babylonians and were set to go after Egypt. Babylon was on top, and they were no friend to Israel.
Josiah, the good king, has passed away. Soon after his death things fell apart and Jehoiakim came to power. In his eleven-year reign, he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
Together, Israel has an evil superpower breathing down their neck and a corrupt king reigning over them.
In this context Habakkuk cries: How long, O Lord?
Habakkuk is an awful (full of awe) and wonderful book. It’s a conversation between God and a prophet who gets an answer.
The book of poetry and structure ends with a direction to the choir director.
A Helpful Structure:
Habakkuk 1:1-4 Habakkuk’s complaint
Habakkuk 1:5-11 God’s reply
Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 Habakkuk’s complaint
Habakkuk 2:2-20 God’s reply
Habakkuk 3:1-19 Habakkuk’s prayer
This complaint-lament structure is important. The psalmist did this as well. It should be a relief to you and me: we can complain to God.
We can bring our confusion and lament to Him.
Putting this together; there is Habakkuk’s complaint, God’s response, and then a series of woes. This is sometimes called a “taunt-song” or dirge. He’s taunting the enemies, if you will: “You think you’re powerful, Babylon? Let me tell you what’s going to happen to people who aren’t faithful…”
Chapter 3 rounds into a doxology – doxo, giving glory to God.
We’re talking about God’s character and attributes, vertically worshiping God. But it’s hard because it talks about this awful wrath of God: pestilence, plagues, shattering mountains, rage against rivers…
This is language of a warrior, wrathful God who is bringing punishment on evil people and nations.
Habakkuk’s response/prayer reveals the heart of a human and the head of a prophet:
I don’t know if COVD-19 has made you tremble, if the fear of a storm, losing your job, the economy, or other events have made you tremble.
Habakkuk says, when I hear God’s pronouncement of what’s going to happen, my inward parts tremble.
- Our God is eternal and immovable.Habakkuk 1:12
The ever-present “Why?” is best answered by the everlasting “Who!” Though the outlook may elicit terror, the uplook elicits trust. The prophet’s complaints and fears were resolved in confidence and faith. Thisis the heart of the message of Habakkuk: “The righteous will live by his faith” (2:4). (1. J. Ronald Blue, “Habakkuk,”in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1505.)
- Stand guard, take your stand, and keep watch. Habakkuk 2:1
The charge is to remain faithful, but the tension comes in the fact that being faithful does not guarantee that things will get better.Even though the prophet didn’t like the eminent judgment, he stood his ground. He didn’t use his circumstance as permission or cause to be faithless.This is a challenge to us. The twisted logic we can fall into is that if things are going poorly then we feel God isn’t playing fair–so why should we? When circumstances become difficult we think, “well, I’ll just go sin.”As Habakkuk says: stand guard, take your stand, and keep watch.We have this confidence that, even though things may not work out the way we want, but we can stand firm because we stand on Christ. Our confidence is ultimately in what He is going to do.
The present may not be fun or enjoyable, but I know the ultimate future will be better and I look forward to it.
- Everything is unfolding according to God’s plan. Habakkuk 2:3
A lot of Christians have problems with God’s providence and sovereignty, but nothing happens outside of God’s sovereign providence.This is God’s voice to Habakkuk. I love the language: it hastens…though it tarries.Man has schedules and timelines, but everything is unfolding according to God’s schedule.
- Know when to be quiet. Habakkuk 2:20
Following the woes (there are 5 in chapter 3) we have this red flag: “BUT the Lord is in His holy temple…”Sometimes we need simply to be silent before Him.Until you and I have a clear picture of who our God is, we don’t have reason to be quiet because we think we can contribute something.Who are we to answer back to God? Romans 9:20, Job 42:6When we know who God is, we’ll be quiet before Him.
- No matter our circumstance, choose to trust.
The crescendo verses of the book: Habakkuk 3:18-19Like the Psalmists, these “I will” statements are choices, declarative decisions.When we walk the walk of faith, God is the one who makes our feet like hinds’ feet and enables us to walk on high places.
The point is, and what Habakkuk reminds us, is that we cannot do this by our own strength. BUT the Lord has created us and enables us to do things we cannot do on our own.
Things may not get better. We may go through some very difficult times, but can we stand firm?
And when Habakkuk finished his final strophe, he had one thing left to do–one command to give: sing about it.
Choosing to worship God changes the countenance of the worshipper.