Originally published at TRC Magazine (The Relevant Christian) on April 30, 2014.
By Anna Popescu
This prophecy of Habakkuk tells of a struggle and triumph of faith which took place in the soul of the prophet himself. “It begins with a sob, and ends with a song; and it is in the process from the one to the other that the little book discloses the heart of its meaning to us.” —Dr. Harold L. White
Chapter 1: Habakkuk’s Conflict
How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!” yet You do not save.
Have you ever questioned how God seems to be working—or not working—in your life? We might be struggling with financial problems, wondering how much longer we can keep a roof over our heads. Perhaps we’ve been praying for such a long time for a specific need, and still don’t have the answer. Maybe we’re living a life filled with physical pain that doesn’t ever seem to end.
And then there is all the crime and evil in our society. The unborn and young children are still being exploited and preyed upon. Too many people feel entitled to have it all without making any effort to earn those possessions. Christianity is being mocked as never before. Our values and beliefs are constantly being laughed at, provoked, and demonstrated against. The claims of open-mindedness seem to embrace everything but Christianity.
Then we look around at the people who seem to sail through life with hardly a care. They have lots of money, the latest tech gadgets, gorgeous clothes and cars. It seems to us that they are never lacking anything.
So we may ask ourselves: Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Doesn’t He love or care about me anymore? Can’t He see how I’m struggling just to get through each hour of the day?
Beloved, things are no different today than they were back then.
Habakkuk had a big problem. He was looking at all the injustice in his world and wondering why God wasn’t taking care of it. He knew God was just, righteous, and punished evil, but it seemed to him that God was doing nothing to punish the sin and violence he saw all around him. In fact, to Habakkuk, it looked like God was simply ignoring all the wrongdoing and wickedness. Habakkuk’s heart was broken, and in his anguish, he believed God did not care.
Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted. —Habakkuk 1:3-4
Habakkuk lived in a time of some very evil kings. The people of Judah had strayed very far from God, away from Mosaic Law, and had chosen to follow their own path rather than God’s way. Habakkuk became very concerned that God apparently did not care that His chosen people were living such sinful lives, and wondered why God wasn’t taking care of this. How could God ignore such obvious corrupt behavior from His own people?
At this point, Judah was about to be invaded by the Chaldeans who lived in southern Babylon. These Chaldeans (also called Babylonians) were intelligent, aggressive and loved war. They worshiped many idols rather than the One True God. Habakkuk was appalled that God would punish Judah by allowing such a corrupt people to invade them.
J. Vernon McGee described the scene this way:
“The people of Judah apparently felt that they were God’s little pets and that He would not punish them for their sins.”1
Habakkuk was concerned that if the Jews were indeed God’s chosen people, why didn’t God do something? Why was He allowing this to happen to them?
He is about to see that although God’s ways don’t seem to make sense in this case, God is still in control.
God didn’t mince words with Habakkuk:
Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs.
They are dreaded and feared; their justice and authority originate with themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards and keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swooping down to devour. All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. They mock at kings. And rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble to capture it. Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god.
Habakkuk was understandably confused at this point. Although he knew how wicked the people of Judah have become, and heard God say that He will yet set things right, he doesn’t see why God would use such a wicked people to chastise Judah. After all, they weren’t nearly as bad as those awful Chaldeans!
Habakkuk protests first against the violence and injustice of his countrymen in Judah (Habakkuk 1:1-4), and then against the violence and injustice of the Chaldeans whom God is sending to punish Judah.2
Yes, God answered Habakkuk’s first question but God’s answer confuses Habakkuk so much that he has another, even more troubling question:
How can a holy God use a sinful nation to accomplish His purposes?1
Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their fishing net; because through these things their catch is large, and their food is plentiful. Will they therefore empty their net and continuously slay nations without sparing? I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. —Habakkuk 1:12-2:1
In essence, Habakkuk is lamenting:
LORD, I know You are in control but You are holy and righteous, so how can You possibly allow this? And then, in spite of his confusion, Habakkuk returns to what he knows to be true: the LORD is almighty, unchanging, holy, just and absolutely faithful. Habakkuk knows that whatever and however God is working in this situation, it must be righteous because God is the Righteous One: “LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this” (Ezra 9:15).
I will give thanks to the LORD according to His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. —Psalm 7:17
For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face. —Psalm 11:7
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. —Psalm 19:9
I will come with the mighty deeds of the LORD God; I will make mention of Your righteousness, Yours alone. —Psalm 71:16
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all it contains; let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness. —Psalm 96:11-13
Can’t you just imagine Habakkuk’s bewilderment at these series of events? I can feel Habakkuk’s confusion and anger at God’s strange way of dealing with people who refuse to worship Him and Him alone. He asked God, “Why are You allowing this, but how can Your way be just?”
Habakkuk see the Chaldeans as self-serving–a people who honor their own cleverness. They refuse to worship the LORD, but instead worship the works of their own hands. In verse 1:16 we read that they are worshipping the fishing nets that bring up huge catches of fish. Really?How far they have strayed from their LORD!
Habakkuk’s why was not meant to challenge God’s sovereignty. He was simply confused and asking God for clarification. Questioning God is not wrong as long as we do it with a sincere heart.
“It is entirely different to wonder why God allowed a certain event than it is to directly question God’s goodness. Having doubts is different from questioning God’s sovereignty and attacking His character. In short, an honest question is not a sin, but a bitter, untrusting, or rebellious heart is. God is not intimidated by questions. God invites us to enjoy close fellowship with Him,” from GotQuestions.org: Is it Right to Question God?
Beloved, are things any different today than they were in Habakkuk’s time? Violence and chaos surround us. We are daily inundated by news of catastrophic weather all over the world, like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, wildfires, and the list goes on.
What about the diseases and chronic pain illnesses that plague mankind? And what about trying to make ends meet when we can’t even find work? How can we afford health insurance when we can hardly pay for the basics such as housing, food and clothing? How do we rationalize all the casualties of war?
Where, oh where, is our God in all of this?
Beloved, hang tight with me while I explore Habakkuk’s change from gloom to glory.1 Next time we’ll sit with him while he waits and dwells on God’s attributes, confirming what he knows to be true:
God always knows best and always works for our good and His glory!
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
that He may exalt you at the proper time,
casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.
Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion,
seeking someone to devour.
But resist him, firm in your faith,
knowing that the same experiences of suffering
are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.
After you have suffered for a little while,
the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ,
will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
—1 Peter 5:6-11
1 Thru the Bible with Vernon McGee ©1982. Thomas Nelson.
2 From John Piper’s sermon: The Just Shall Live by Faith.