What does a prophet from 600 years before Christ have to say to us in 2023?
A light Summer read? NOT.
It was the beginning of a warm, bright, sunny summer and what I would usually gravitate to is a light read, but God had other plans (and are any Biblical books really a light read?). He seemed to whisper the name in my ear and it kept coming back up in my mind. Habakkuk. But why would I read that right now? I know it’s a minor prophet that I haven’t really studied much in the past, but it seemed heavy and clunky and frankly, sad. But I felt compelled to give it more attention. In my first quick read, I was immediately pulled into the drama unfolding and was surprised at how much I related to this prophet who wrote these words over 600 years before Jesus was born! Could this book have a lot of relevance to me in 2023? Friends, we are living in some funky times. We’ve just been through almost three years of pandemic, social unrest, and political mayhem… and it isn’t over. Not only our own country, but the whole world seems to be in turbulence. For those who say it’s never been this bad, I think it probably has, it’s just our own time to experience this turmoil.
Habakkuk, too, was living in a time of chaos. He was a spokesman for YHWH (a prophet) and he was agitated that the people of Judah seemed to be living with abandon. Even though they had seen their relatives, the Northern 10 tribes of Israel, taken into captivity, they weren’t heeding the warning and didn’t think it could happen to them. They were filled with violence and wickedness and justice was perverted (1:1-4). Sound familiar? He cried out to God and asked how long it was going to take for God to do something about this and bring the people back in line? He begged the Lord to save them. In every area of life, there are things that feel confusing and disheveled right now. I mentioned the pandemic and it’s aftermath, and the social upheaval, and of course the divided political atmosphere. It seems like foundations are shifting and it’s hard to get a footing. Beyond that the Church itself seems to be experiencing much of the same messiness. There is infighting and abuse of power, there is hyper-fundamentalism and super liberalism. It can be so disheartening and we cry to Jesus to fix it! In my own personal life it has been a year with some health concerns that have jolted me out of my complacency. I have had a couple of scares that have turned out to be ok so far, but it has made me realize I’m not taking very good care of this vessel God has given me, and so I’m thankful for these eye-openers. Some of these things seem unfair and undeserved, like we are being punished but often we are not sure what we’ve done wrong. And sometimes we want to point blaming fingers at everyone but ourselves. We cry out to God to make this make sense – make it right!
God says Habakkuk is not wrong in his analysis of the way things are. He agrees with Habakkuk. But Habakkuk is not prepared for what YHWH says next. He says He is going to send the Babylonians to execute justice on Judah. Wait, what?? YHWH describes the Babylonians as bitter & hasty, relentless & irresistible. He says Judah may feel safe now because these enemies are far away, but rest assured they are coming and they are not coming tenderly to reap judgment. They are coming and they won’t be stopped. They will be upon Judah before they know it and they are hungry for violence. The picture God paints is one of terror. And God is sending them! He is sanctioning this destruction. This must’ve felt to Habakkuk like he had made matters worse by complaining to God. I think we would all feel that way if the very thing we were upset about just got infinitely more complicated and harder. If I were moaning about having a cold and then God told me he was going to take care of it by giving me pneumonia?? But what if the pneumonia were the very thing that caused me to get to the Dr. to find out about something underlying that needed to be taken care of? It didn’t seem to make sense or seem fair at all to Habakkuk. He was upset with his nation, but now God is telling him He is sending an even more evil, vicious nation to take care of it!
Habakkuk’s objection & God’s answer
Habakkuk is now questioning how God could authorize such a thing. The Babylonians, after all, are far worse than the people in Judah! How could God favor these depraved people over the protection of His own beloved people – the people He has covenanted with? This section sounds a lot like Job to me. It is Habakkuk taking God to “court” and demanding answers. But here we come to the center of this little three chapter book. So lean in; pay attention: YHWH answers by telling Habakkuk to write this vision down on tablets (intending to take us back to the tablets the ten commandments are written on – so this vision is important!) and send messengers out running urgently to share this message. Habakkuk has asked “How Long?” And God says “Wait for it – It will surely come – it won’t delay” (2:3b). He is not slow – His timing is perfect. He says Babylon is “puffed up” and not upright, “but the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). What a promise! Here, the Lord is telling Habakkuk that what he sees with his eyes is not the end of the matter. The prideful, greedy Babylonians will not have the last say. LIFE and SALVATION will come for those who live by humble faith. Now God goes on a diatribe of woes for the Babylonians. There will be poetic justice. The end will come suddenly for them and they will be accountable for the cruel violence they have done to all creation. They are a people who have deified their own brute force (1:11) and believe they have accomplished great things within themselves, but their “dynasty” will crumble despite all their efforts to make it secure by amassing power and wealth. They are deceived by the very idols they created, the idols who give the appearance of having supernatural powers, but are man made mute nothings. God says these idols can’t speak, but YHWH is in His holy temple and we should all keep silence before Him…because He does and will speak and we need to listen in awe to His divine instruction and help.
Habakkuk’s response to God is now a beautiful prayer of submission. He is floored by the awesomeness of God and is humbled by the sovereignty of YHWH. He gives a powerful picture of God coming to save that is in stark contrast to the picture God has given of the Babylonians coming to destroy. The Lord has come and is coming. All who wait patiently for Him shall live! There is so much beauty in his prayer! Habakkuk is lead to acceptance of God’s judgment – not because there is an explanation for it, but because God is God and people are but dust. It is a simple act of TRUST. In the end of the book he realizes that even if all the things he thinks are necessary for life (milk, bread, meat) are gone, Habakkuk can still rejoice in the GOD OF HIS SALVATION. God is his strength and gives him sure-footed confidence and grace to endure any losses. His grace and mercy far outweigh the material losses that may come.
I buried myself in this book for several weeks. It’s only three chapters and I would highly recommend you spend some time in it yourself. I love how Habakkuk is completely changed by his back-and-forth with YHWH and the acceptance of His sovereignty. I want to be transformed like he was. I don’t want to be a bitter complainer who just keeps ramping things up and never having my heart melted and changed by God. It is so hard to understand what in the world God is up to in our world when we are in the middle of it. Why do innocent people suffer? Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Why are people so unkind and angry with each other? I cry out for answers sometimes and feel like there is nothing. But I believe that God is giving answers through this amazing prophet that we know little else about. (How amazing would it be if 2600+ years from now this is what people knew of me? That I sought God for answers and felt bitter, but I allowed His answers to change me into a person of faith and joy!) Just like He did with Job, God is reminding Habakkuk (and me too!) that He is God. He has a plan. It may not go down the way I think it should, but I don’t know all that He knows. He really is the most Just God. His sovereignty is unmatched. I can totally trust Him no matter what my eyes see. Jesus has come and is coming, bringing with Him salvation and He won’t be stopped. He is the God of my salvation! This book is about LIFE. We don’t have to have all the answers, that’s not our responsibility. Our responsibility is to respond to God with faith despite all the calamities we face. This book began with complaints and agitation, but it ends in JOY! Faith wins over chaos and loss.