“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” Habakkuk 1:2
The book of Habakkuk was written between 640-609B.C. shortly before the Babylonians invaded Judah and carried the Jewish people away into captivity. Habakkuk is one of the seventeen books of prophecy in the Old Testament. It’s a short book, as Habakkuk was a minor prophet. In the first two chapters, Habakkuk is arguing with God. He doesn’t understand how God can sit back and do nothing while his fellow countrymen are worshiping idols, killing one another and oppressing the poor.
He fusses at God: “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? 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, therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Habakkuk’s basic questions and concerns have been questions that have concerned believers down through the ages. Why does evil sometimes seem to go unpunished by a holy God? And why doesn’t God respond to our prayers when we think He should? In other words, why doesn’t God just show up the minute we expect and zap all of our enemies the way we tell Him to?
Then God answers Habakkuk: “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. I am raising up the Babylonians,…” (Habakkuk 1:5-6a) God continues describing the strength and the wickedness of the Babylonians and showing Habakkuk that He will use them to carry the offending Jews off into captivity. The apostate nation of Judah is to be punished by an invasion of the godless Babylonians!
God’s answer completely throws Habakkuk off guard! It’s all too confusing and makes no sense! Habakkuk cannot see the justice in wicked Judah being punished by Babylon – a nation that is even more wicked! That doesn’t fit into his theology at all! He argues: “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Habakkuk 1:13b) Now instead of asking why God isn’t punishing Judah, Habakkuk is asking why God isn’t punishing Babylon? He chides God: “O, Rock, You have marked them (Babylon) for correction? You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,…Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:12b-13)
After Habakkuk has fussed and fumed at God, he stands like a sentinel to wait his answer from his God. “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He (God) will say to me,…” (Habakkuk 2:1a) And God indeed comes and gives Habakkuk His answer. God tells Habakkuk to write down His answer. He says, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time, it speaks of the end and will not prove false. though it lingers, wait for it: it will surely come and will not delay,” (Habakkuk 2:3)
Then God contrasts the arrogant Babylonians with the trusting people of God. The person who attempts to trust in his own strength (the Babylonian) is compared with the person who trusts in God. The one who trusts in himself will die whereas the one who trusts in God will have eternal life. God speaks: “See he (Babylon) is puffed up: his desires are not upright--(We all know what eventually happened to Babylon!) But the just will live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) This truth is written throughout all of Scripture –the truth that our faith in God is everything—but here it is again in Habakkuk! “The just shall live by faith.”
God goes on to explain that crime doesn’t pay. Even if it appears for a time that evil people are getting away with murder, their lifestyle will catch up with them in the end. God spells out that there are punishments waiting for the greedy and the violent, the shameless and the idolaters. God has that programmed into the DNA of the universe, so Habakkuk shouldn’t worry. “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain …you have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of your walls will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?” (Habakkuk 2: 9a, 10 -13)
God reminds Habakkuk that He does care and He is involved. In the appointed time, evil doers will be punished and justice will be restored. Finally in the end good will overcome evil and love will win out over hate. God gives Habakkuk a glimpse of the coming great victory at the close of the ages, the final glorious outcome! “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
Habakkuk is a changed man! Hearing from God has made all the difference! Habakkuk has finally learned to trust God regardless of the circumstances. No more fussing and complaining for Habakkuk! Now he will rejoice in God even when everything is going wrong. He realizes that God’s ways are beyond his simple understanding. Habakkuk proclaims one of the strongest affirmations of faith in all of Scripture and sets it to music. “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. Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Habakkuk was concerned about the problems of his day and we have problems today too. Everywhere we look we can see division and prejudice in the political arena today. The greedy take advantage of the poor often while using God’s Name. We go to church and sometimes find political lessons of fear and hate being taught along with the Sacred lessons of Grace! I know a woman who has lost her health insurance and is sick with cancer and doesn’t know what to do. Another friend has lost his job and his house and doesn’t know how he will pay his bills. And a third acquaintance is devastated because her son has committed suicide.
Families are breaking apart and loyalty is in short supply. I do my very best and still rejection and failure have been my companions. Like Habakkuk, I get discouraged with my life and with the world around me and you may be discouraged too. But like Habakkuk I believe that if we ask God for help and listen for His voice, He will give us the strength and vision to keep going. God told Habakkuk to wait for His answer and He may be telling us the same thing.
We can build ourselves up by remembering that we will be part of the victory at the end of the age when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,…” (Habakkuk 2:14) Today we are to do what we can about the problems around us, and then trust the rest to God. He knows the way through the wilderness. All we have to do is follow.
The book of Habakkuk closes with these words: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer. He enables me to go on to the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19) Habakkuk trusts God and that trust causes his feet to be sturdy like the feet of a deer. He is now able to leave the dark valleys of doubt and fear and climb up the sheer precipices. He can go on to the heights!
Let’s follow Habakkuk’s example and learn to completely trust the Lord. Our faith will be strengthened as we read the Scripture and listen to God’s Word. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word” (Romans 10:17) Like Habakkuk we will be changed by listening to God’s Word. Let’s make the habit of obeying and trusting God an all important pursuit. Then we can leave those valleys of discouragement and like Habakkuk go on to the heights!