Habakkuk "Yet Will I Praise Him"
This is a very short book with only three chapters, written by Habakkuk. Habakkuk is a professional prophet who pursued his ministry in the temple in Jerusalem. As a prophet, serving in the temple, his ministry would have involved the communication of God’s oracles to the people.
The first two chapters of this book are known as an oracle which Habakkuk received in a vision “I am Habakkuk the prophet. And this is the message that the LORD gave me.” 1:1 (Contemporary English Version)
There is a sense of intimacy that pervades the dialogue between God and his prophet in the first two chapters. Thus this book can be seen as a written account of a religious, indeed visionary, experience of Habakkuk.
The prophet’s message comes from his initial dialogue with God.
In fact, Habakkuk’s question to God stems from the setting of the evil times in which he lives in Judah. His overall question to God involves asking “how much longer will injustice and violence triumph.”
“Our LORD, how long must I beg for your help before you listen? How long before you save us from all this violence? Why do you make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere? Laws cannot be enforced; justice is always the loser; criminals crowd out honest people and twist the laws around.” 1:2-4 (Contemporary English Version)
The prophets opening questions develops two areas of difficulty for the human and religious experience.
1. God does not seem to answer prayer.
How long should he pray and never see God move?
The prophet questions whether or not he should continue to plead, when it appears that God has no interest in this matter.
However since Habakkuk is a man of integrity and courage he will seek God because he is genuinely perplexed by the silence and inaction of God. His courage is such that he does not hesitate to question “Why”?
It is at this point in the book where the reader is invited to join in the prophet’s questioning and bring our own similar problems before God, hoping that God’s response to Habakkuk may also be a response for us when we ask “Why is it Lord that it doesn’t seem that you are responding to our prayers?
2. God does not seem to control human evil.
Why do the wicked outnumber the righteous? Why does justice become perverted in the function of a human society?
Why does God, the Creator of all mankind, permit things to become the way they are?
The prophet’s confusion seems to lie between his theology and human experience.
However, his profound faith in God and in God’s word inevitably brought about the questions that he had to God.
While Habakkuk’s message is addressed to a particular age and its circumstances, in addition, it addresses to the kind of questions that human beings raise in every age and in a multitude of circumstances.
Like Habakkuk, we may all have asked God, “How long must evil and violence continue, not only in other places, but also in ourselves, in others and in our own community?” It is the type of question that is familiar in our own minds.
However, the manner in which God was to judge His people was through a nation that was much wickeder than Israel. Ironically, sometimes, more than not, God’s answer to our prayer is totally different from what we may expect Him to do.
Hence, the dilemma the prophet faces after hearing God’s response is “how can one accept the means by which the judgment may be executed?” In verses 12-15 Habakkuk replies to God’s answer.
Holy LORD God, mighty rock, you are eternal, and we are safe from death. You are using those Babylonians to judge and punish others. But you can't stand sin or wrong. So don't sit by in silence while they gobble down people who are better than they are. The people you put on this earth are like fish or reptiles without a leader. Then an enemy comes along and takes them captive with hooks and nets. It makes him so happy that he offers sacrifices to his fishing nets, because they make him rich and provide choice foods. Will he keep hauling in his nets and destroying nations without showing mercy? (Contemporary English Version)
It was a horrific notion for Habakkuk to understand that his prayer to God was answered by hearing God’s set plan which was using an even more evil nation to execute his judgment than that which is being judged?
Hence, Habakkuk takes his stand and waits for the next response from God and as He faithfully waits, God responds to Habakkuk in a vision. Chapter two records God’s given vision.
While standing guard on the watchtower, I waited for the LORD's answer, before explaining the reason for my complaint.
Then the LORD told me: "I will give you my message in the form of a vision. Write it clearly enough to be read at a glance. At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting-- it will happen!
"I, the LORD, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.
Wine is treacherous, and arrogant people are never satisfied. They are no less greedy than death itself-- they open their mouths as wide as the world of the dead and swallow everyone. But they will be mocked with these words: You're doomed! You stored up stolen goods and cheated others of what belonged to them. But without warning, those you owe will demand payment. Then you will become a frightened victim. You robbed cities and nations everywhere on earth and murdered their people. Now those who survived be as cruel to you.
You're doomed! You made your family rich at the expense of others. You even said to yourself, "I'm above the law." But you will bring shame on your family and ruin to yourself for what you did to others. The very stones and wood in your home will testify against you.
You're doomed! You built a city on crime and violence. But the LORD All-Powerful sends up in flames what nations and people work so hard to gain.
Just as water fills the sea, the land will be filled with people who know and honor the LORD.
You're doomed! You get your friends drunk, just to see them naked. Now you will be disgraced instead of praised. The LORD will make you drunk, and when others see you naked, you will lose their respect. You destroyed trees and animals on Mount Lebanon; you were ruthless to towns and people everywhere. Now you will be terrorized.
What is an idol worth? It's merely a false god. Why trust a speechless image made from wood or metal by human hands? What can you learn from idols covered with silver or gold? They can't even breathe. Pity anyone who says to an idol of wood or stone, "Get up and do something!"
Let all the world be silent-- the LORD is present in his holy temple. (Contemporary English Version)
In addition, notice that God answers his question not by trying to resolve this issue, but by putting things into perspective.
1. God uses human agents in the world through people and nations to judge an evil nation. It is His choice whether or not to use another evil nation to fulfill this judgment. It is here where we as mere mortals, find it difficult to understand God’s methods. For God to use another evil nation to judge a lesser evil nation, appears to be unjust, but Habakkuk finally affirms that all evil must be judged.
2. God’s actions in this world reveal partially His sovereignty over people and nations. Sovereign actions are rarely easy to understand. But in steadfast faith in the God who acts will ultimately carry us through doubt into understanding and enlightenment; especially when all we see physically is darkness and violence.
3. The ultimate acceptance of God’s actions comes from the moral conviction that the Lord is a moral being (1:13) While we may not understand God’s way of doing things, we must fully recognize that God’s direction is always towards human deliverance and its consequence must be mankind’s worship of the True and Living God (3:18)
Furthermore, God reveals the judgment that is about to come and then informs Habakkuk that it will tarry in coming but it will happen.
Habakkuk learns a couple of crucial lessons from these words:
1. God’s time is not man’s time. When we perceive that God is not at work, or is not doing thing fast enough, it is because we are unable to perceive the timing of divine action. We must learn like Habakkuk, “Even if it seems slow, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not delay” (v3)
2. Faithfulness is the key to righteous living (v 4). The person who is not upright will not have the tenacity and courage to succeed in life. But the righteous person is one that is penetrated by God’s righteousness, and thus they shall live successfully. They key to the life of the righteous is faithfulness. Faithfulness is a continuation in the relationship with God, even when circumstances are perplexing and hard.
3. Righteousness and faith are directly related “The just shall live by faith”
Amazingly, the effects that a vision given to us by God at a time when faith sags has within its fiber the ability to bring hope to a thus despairing and hopeless situation. As Habakkuk responds to God’s vision initially with a plea for mercy, he suddenly changes note and Habakkuk begins to respond by permitting God’s vision to enable him to transcend from his circumstances and give voice to praise (3:1-15).
This is my prayer: I know your reputation, LORD, and I am amazed at what you have done. Please turn from your anger and be merciful; do for us what you did for our ancestors. You are the same Holy God who came from Teman and Paran to help us. The brightness of your glory covered the heavens, and your praises were heard everywhere on earth. Your glory shone like the sun, and light flashed from your hands, hiding your mighty power. Dreadful diseases and plagues marched in front and followed behind. When you stopped, the earth shook; when you stared, nations trembled; when you walked along your ancient paths, eternal mountains and hills crumbled and collapsed. The tents of desert tribes in Cushan and Midian were ripped apart. Our LORD, were you angry with the monsters of the deep? You attacked in your chariot and wiped them out. Your arrows were ready and obeyed your commands. You split the earth apart with rivers and streams; mountains trembled at the sight of you; rain poured from the clouds; ocean waves roared and rose. The sun and moon stood still, while your arrows and spears flashed like lightning. In your furious anger, you trampled on nations to rescue your people and save your chosen one. You crushed a nation's ruler and stripped his evil kingdom of its power. His troops had come like a storm, hoping to scatter us and glad to gobble us down. To them we were refugees in hiding-- but you smashed their heads with their own weapons. Then your chariots churned the waters of the sea. (Contemporary English Version)
Noticeably,Habakkuk’s plea to the Lord to have mercy on the nation of Israel changes note and he begins to praise God for all His glorious acts and magnificent deeds that were performed on behalf of His people.
Ultimately, Habakkuk’s praise develops within him a conviction to accept God’s final decree of judgment and even more than this, the acceptance of the manner in which God will judge. The ultimate conclusion is pure and utter joy found in the confidence of God’s Person.
When I heard this message, I felt weak from fear, and my lips quivered. My bones seemed to melt, and I stumbled around. But I will patiently wait. Someday those vicious enemies will be struck by disaster.
Fig trees may no longer bloom, or vineyards produce grapes; olive trees may be fruitless, and harvest time a failure; sheep pens may be empty, and cattle stalls vacant-- but I will still celebrate because the LORD God saves me.
The LORD gives me strength. He makes my feet as sure as those of a deer, and he helps me stand on the mountains. (3:16-19 Contemporary English Version)
In conclusion, my hope and prayer is that as was we go through our own trials and tribulations, may we be reminded of the prophet’s conversation with God and in doing so may we too respond to our sufferings with a praise that leads us to have a conviction of God’s Person and a peaceful acceptance of His will.