Texts: Habakkuk 1:2-5,12-15; 2:3,4,18-20; 3:17-19.
Habakkuk is a book which displays something of what we may feel but might be afraid to express. He asks the question we might not wish to ask. Habakkuk was contemporary with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah. Everything in the world of that time was undergoing change. Assyria had been the great super-power during the days of Isaiah and Hezekiah where the Lord wonderfully brought about a great defeat for Assyria at Jerusalem (Isaiah 37). But in 626 BC Nabopolassar, the king of Babylon, rebelled against Assyria’s dominance. In 612 BC Nineveh was destroyed, and by 609 BC Assyria was no more. Thus, Babylon became the super-power of the time. It was this regime which took Judah captive and by 586 BC the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken Jerusalem and the nation was no more (until the exile).
Where is God when trouble abounds?
The central feature of this book is the question of why things go wrong (from our perspective) and how we should view them correctly. The Scriptures are blunt and openly honest. We do not read sanitized versions of the people that God had dealings with. Abraham was a man of faith and the friend of God, but he treated Sarah, his wife, in a very poor way on two occasions. David was a man after the Lord’s own heart and yet he committed murder and adultery. Jeremiah is open too with the Lord, expressing his concerns about what was happening, and on one occasion he stated that the Lord had “deceived” the people (Jeremiah 4:10). But even though Jeremiah speaks to the Lord in such ways, there was no lightning bolt from the Lord! The former prophet Elijah after the contest at Mount Carmel despaired when he heard of Jezebel’s threats and ran for his life to the wilderness. The Lord made him sleep, then eat, and then sleep again before taking him to Mount Horeb where He spoke not in thunder nor lightning, but in a still small voice (1Kings 19:1-18).
The Scriptures are an incredible record of how God is patient and caring for His people. God has no need to justify Himself and His actions, for He is good and always does good (Psalm 119:68). But even though He does not need to explain anything, He does explain much to us. Often not in the ways we might expect, but always in the ways which are good for us. God even tells us the end of the story in the book of Revelation.
A look at the texts.
In Habakkuk 1:2-4 the prophet seems to be saying that they were going through tough and terrible times and the Lord seemed not to be concerned, but rather He appeared to be paralysed. There was “violence” and “iniquity” but the Lord did not seem to want to save nor to hear. There was “strife” and “contention” and the law seemed powerless whilst the wicked continued and the righteous were treated badly. We too have had tough times in recent years with the pandemic and with economic hardship so that some are saying “where is God in all this difficulty?” Some ask why God does not intervene? The Lord had defeated Egypt in rescuing Israel from bondage and He had defeated Assyria during the reign of Hezekiah, so where is He now?
In Habakkuk 1:5f the Lord answers, but not as expected. He is raising up the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:6). Assyria were described as the Lord’s “rod” of His wrath (Isaiah 10:5-12) to deal with Israel, but they overstepped the mark so now the Lord was raising up the Babylonians to correct them. Now, it would seem, the Babylonians appear to be worse than the Assyrians (Habakkuk 1:7,8).
In Habakkuk 1:12,13 the prophet appeals to the character of God. He is eternal and He is pure so why does He allow the wicked to prosper and say nothing when they treat the righteous so badly? We can imagine Habakkuk saying something along these lines: “Israel was more righteous than the Assyrians but they seemed to win out generally, and now the Babylonians have arisen and they are worse than the Assyrians and yet they will win out – how can this be? We might ask similar questions: “Why is Putin still in power?” “Why do the wicked prosper and get richer and good people suffer?” “Surely the God who is good, holy, and just can see these wicked things happening so why does He not act?”
Babylon – a picture of the world.
The first mention of an empire comes in Genesis 10 and 11 where we read of Nimrod, the mighty hunter against the Lord, who built Babel the beginning of his kingdom. This rebellion was a direct challenge to the command of the Lord. God wanted mankind to spread out across the globe (Genesis 9:1-7) but Nimrod led a rebellion so that they could make a name for themselves. They built their own way, their own religion, their own systems, and all so that they could glory in themselves. Well God confused their languages so that their project came to an end – although the Lord allowed Nimrod to build further cities.
We do not read again of Babylon until their resurgence during the time of Hezekiah (Isaiah 39). When Babylon regained power during the ministry of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, we find Daniel and his friends in captivity. The first way in which Babylon exerted its pressure upon the people of God came with the food they were eating. This was in order to undermine their trust in God, for He had told them what foods they could and could not eat in the Law. What were the exiles to do? Well in Daniel chapter 1 we find that Daniel refused to compromise on this issue and God gave him favour. Then the stakes were raised, for in Daniel chapter 3 the challenge to the people of God was to compromise in worship. Shadrach. Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden statue the king had made, and so were thrown into the fiery furnace. But wonderfully we discover that there were actually four people to be seen in the flames, and none were burned up even though the fire was fierce and at its top heat. Babylon’s challenge to the people of God began small (concerning food) and then got more serious (whom should we worship). And then in Daniel 6 we find that persecution for Daniel comes in connection with his inner practice of praying. They could not fault Daniel in any way save in connection with His faith. The king’s advisers convince the king to make life impossible for Daniel – you cannot pray to anyone except the king! What would Daniel do? Well he continued his normal practice and for this was thrown to the lions. The angel prevented the lions from harming Daniel, but they were still ravenous for they consumed others thrown into the same pit after Daniel was lifted out. Or we could point to Psalm 137 where the captors ask the captive exiles to sing a song for them. The exiles could not because all their songs were of Jerusalem and this was now gone. Babylon’s final end is pictured in Revelation 14:8 – fallen!
What does God say to Habakkuk in reply to his question as to what was going on?
The Lord’s first answer comes in Habakkuk 2:3
The vision is not for now. Habakkuk must wait. It will all occur just as God has planned. It is “in My time and not your time” says the Lord. How we want an instant answer! But God says “I know what I am doing, and I know when is the right time to act.” All God’s times are right. He sent His Son into the world at the right time. All our times are in His hand.
In 2Peter 3:8,9 the apostle tells us that with the Lord a day is as a thousand years and He is not slow concerning that which He has promised. All will come about just as He has planned. The Lord has a much broader agenda than Habakkuk (and we) realise. You, Habakkuk, are looking at things from the point of view of Habakkuk. The Lord is looking at things from not just a heavenly perspective but from a whole world view point. There are many more people to consider! There are still people to gather in, and so the Lord continues to uphold the universe allowing the wicked a time because He has people who are yet to be born for whom He has died and will bring to glory.
God is working in our lives through these difficult times for our good and for our sanctification. What did we learn through the pandemic? Some began to see the vital importance of fellowship because they had missed it so much during the lock-down. The Lord is also sifting through times of trouble and difficulty. Many people did not come back to some churches after the pandemic and some churches closed. There is a separating of the wheat from the chaff going on. How serious are we in following the Lord? We are to heed these words of Paul:
“rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” (Romans 12:12).
When it seems that the Lord is not delivering then keep trusting and keep believing.
The second answer comes in Habakkuk 2:4b: “But the just shall live by his faith.” These words have been world-shattering. The reformer Martin Luther sought peace and a right relationship with God through all the means he could see from his Roman Catholic environment, penances, indulgences, pilgrimages and so on. He tried all sorts of works-based means to get himself accepted by God, to try and demonstrate his righteousness before God, but then he came across these words and everything changed. This Scripture, for him, was one of the greatest gifts that God could give. It was this text that released him from all his efforts at gaining salvation.
The wonderfully unique thing about the gospel is that it is all through grace and not by self-effort nor by works. Every other religion, world view, system of thought or so-called ‘faith’ requires a person to do something by their own effort, or to offer something from their own means. Christ has done everything necessary so that when the Lord was asked by some of His followers: “what shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” the Lord replied by saying: “this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:28,29).
We must live by faith and not by sight (2Corinthians 5:7). The clamour of man to prove his worth or to demonstrate his value is all a waste of time because of sin. In Habbakuk we hear these words:
There is no argument nor persuasion against the Lord. Mankind must be silent before Him for he can do nothing and offer nothing which will be acceptable to God. One Man alone did all that was necessary and that was Christ Jesus, the Son of God. He gives to us His righteousness and so we are now “just” and we continue in this by faith in Him.
Now such a view is generally unacceptable to people. When the Lord Jesus pointed out this teaching that we can live only by faith and trust in Him, and that to live we must feed on Him for we can nothing to make ourselves presentable, many of His followers left Him (John 6:66). He then asked His disciples if they too were going to leave, Peter replied: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68,69).
This may be a “hard saying” (John 6:60) but it is the best, the only, and the surest way to find peace and true satisfaction. “The just shall live by his faith.”
The third answer comes in Habakkuk 3:17-20. Habbakuk imagines the worst possible situation that he could think of:
“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls.” (Habakkuk 3:17).
He imagines a situation of abject and complete famine so that everything fails. What then? Well even though the worst possible thing could come about in God’s plan:
“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” (Habakkuk 3:18-20).
He will rejoice in the Lord (cf. Philippians 4:4). Notice how he reminds himself of the character of God for He is the covenant keeping God of all power and strength. Look to what he knows the Lord will do for him too (“he will make …”). Even in the direst and most dark of circumstances Habakkuk has come to know that the Lord God is still on the throne, and He is still for His people. God will not abandon them, and He will never leave them even though He may have to chastise them for their sanctification.
By way of application.
How should we face adversity (in whatever form it may come)? Trust fully in the Lord. The just (those given righteousness from Christ) live by faith in the Lord Jesus. God is faithful. We can trust in Him. Consider His character and attributes. Moses requested a view to see God (Exodus 33:18), but the Lord said He could not see Him and live, so He placed him in the cleft of the rock and passed by covering Moses with His hand enabling Moses to see His back (Exodus 33:2-22). And then when the Lord passed before Moses He proclaimed:
“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6,7).
This is God. He abounds in mercy and grace. He is patient beyond human imagining. He is good, true, and righteousness, so that no sin will be left that is not dealt with. The Lord promised Noah that He would never again flood the earth and He has kept this promise. But we know in reality that sometimes harsh and difficult times will come. The world as a whole may never be flooded again but what of the floods in various places and at various times? Assyria was bad, Babylon was worse, but God is always good. These difficulties are sent to chastise us as Hebrews 12:7-11 tells us. Let us therefore consider the good and faithful God and seek to learn what it is that God is teaching us through such difficulties.
In Hebrews 12:2 we are exhorted to look to the Lord Jesus:
“… the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).
We can face the trials and tribulations to come if we:
Nourish ourselves on the Lord and all He has provided us (He will not forsake us).
Nourish ourselves on the future that God has promised us in glory.
We may grow old and get weaker, but the Lord never leaves His people. We may have to suffer but the Lord has gone before us as our Pioneer. Remember that He has prepared a place for us in glory to be with Him forever (John 14:2; 17:24).