Habakkuk evokes the deer which nimbly “tread upon the heights,” escaping, in the end, the trampling horses of Babylon.
Justice on Earth
The problem that troubled Habakkuk is the same one that troubles people today: Is God sovereign, or not?
If God -is- sovereign, then is God good?
Is God loving?
Is God more powerful than evil?
If there is a God at all, then why does God not seem to be at work in our day?
Habakkuk must have been praying for a long time when he finally asked God this first question:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,Habakkuk to God, Habakkuk 1:2-3 (NRSV)
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
At the beginning of his career as a prophet, Habakkuk was suffering intensely, and looking to what seemed a silent God for answers.
This goes to the very bedrock of belief about who God is.
Habakkuk would learn there is so much that God sees and knows about us and about our situations, about the people who are involved with us. God sees and knows even those whom you and I may never know about, but who are watching us being humbled and are learning about a life of faith because they see us living it.
And the reason why Habakkuk learned these things about God was his willingness to take hard questions to the Lord, to keep praying even when he felt like God was not listening.
Rather than become dispirited or resigned about God’s delay in answering, Habakkuk doggedly persevered in prayer, and kept asking until God answered.
Question 1: Why No Judgement?
First question: God, Creator and Judge of the Cosmos, why are You letting the people of Judah continue in wickedness without judging them?
God’s answer was unexpected to Habakkuk– “I am not allowing it,”
So the law becomes slackGod to Habakkuk, Habakkuk 1:5 (NRSV)
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
The Lord was teaching Habakkuk four things about Almighty God.
(1)Verse 5: “Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded!”
The key to understanding historical events is the relevance events have to the kingdom of God. What is God doing with God’s people? God is accomplishing the Lord’s purposes in history for those who belong to God.
2)Verse 5: “For a work is being done“
History follows God’s divine plan. The events of history are not accidental, even though it may look that way to you and me.
3)Verse 5: “In your days“
History follows God’s divine timetable. God reiterated this to Habakkuk in the second chapter,
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
God to Habakkuk, Habakkuk 2:3 (NRSV)
4) Verse 6: “For I am rousing the Chaldeans“
History is subject to God’s authority and dominion. There is no power in all the physical world or the spiritual realm that is not ultimately under the authority and dominion of Almighty God.
Things are not always what they appear to be.
The Babylonians seemed to be rising up in their great military power. But God was showing Habakkuk it was only by God’s own purpose and intention that the Babylonians were anybody at all. And God described all they had become:
- Dread and fearsome.
- Justice and dignity proceed from them.
- Their cavalry is swifter than leopards, more menacing than wolves, they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
- Unstoppable brutality with unbroken victories.
Perhaps, as a measure of reassurance to Habakkuk of God’s commitment to righteousness and just judgment, God elucidated the Chaldeans’ ultimate destiny.
they transgress and become guilty;God to Habakkuk, Habakkuk 1:11 (NRSV)
their own might is their god!
Judgement would one day be in store for the Babylonians.
There is no doubt Habakkuk had been hoping for God to intervene graciously, as the Lord had done already countless times in Judah’s history, bringing revival as in Josiah’s day.
So God’s answer left Habakkuk even more troubled!
Question 2: Why Babylon?
Habakkuk’s second question:
Are you not from of old,Habakkuk to God, Habakkuk 1:12-13 (NRSV)
O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die.
O Lord, you have marked them for- judgment;-
and you, O Rock, have established them for -punishment.-
Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
and you cannot look on wrongdoing;
why do you look on the treacherous,
and are silent when the wicked swallow
those more righteous than they?
Habakkuk to God: “Wait, wait! I understand that evil needs to be judged, but how can you raise up a nation that is so much more evil than ours and use them against us, Your own people? Surely Your character prevents You! You are holy! But this looks like you are approving evil!”
“O Lord my God, why do You leave us to be as helpless prey?”
Habakkuk knew how relentlessly rapacious the Babylonians truly were. He described them back to God.
Habakkuk to God: “These wicked Babylonians are hooking people like fish, they treat the world like their private fishpond, dragging whole people groups in with their dragnet, their superior war technology. And then they sacrifice to their nets – they give all their money to armaments, they -worship- what they do.”
“O Lord my God, are You really going to allow the predatory Babylonians to swallow up Your people?”
We can have a lot of empathy for Habakkuk, in all this. He knew and reverenced God. He loved God, and looked to God for rescue. And God’s response cast Habakkuk into a tailspin that should feel familiar to you and me. Do we not sometimes ask the same kind of questions?
- All-wise and knowing God, why did You let the doctor misdiagnose me? Not only has the misdiagnosis cost precious time and resources, but now I am in even worse shape, and may not recover. (And it is hard for me to take responsibility for not listening to my friends and family who urged me to get a second opinion.)
- All-powerful and Sovereign God, why have You allowed such a crushing disappointment in my life? (And it is hard for me to take responsibility for the decisions I made, and the actions I undertook, which contributed to my current state of suffering.)
- Creator of the Cosmos, and loving God, I know I am not perfect, but why does this person who is so much worse than me, who does not even have faith, have it so much better, while I am losing out? (And it is hard for me to gain perspective in seeing the bigger picture, or the generosity to rejoice in another’s good fortune.)
- Wise and just Judge of the world, why have You arranged a result that is so much more painful and greater than the original action? Can You not see the imbalance, here? Have you no pity for my intense anguish? (And it is hard for me to accept God’s discipline and correction in areas where I do not see the need, or the seriousness.)
Habakkuk’s questions resonate.
If God really were sovereign, and all-powerful, and if God were truly loving, was God also all-wise? (Habakkuk questioned God’s judgement and methods, they seemed unwise.)
Or, was God truly just? (Habakkuk wondered at the righteousness of God’s intentions.)
Because to Habakkuk’s eyes, the weight of Judah’s wrongdoing did not seem to merit the severity of God’s response.
Question 3: Why No Mercy?
Is he [Chaldea] then to keep on emptying his net,Habakkuk to God, Habakkuk 1:17
and destroying nations without mercy?
Habakkuk to God: “So, these ferocious marauders will throw net after net over Your people, Lord, without end in sight? Will there be no one left? Nothing left? Will You allow their ravenous appetite for bloodshed and brutality to go unchecked, until all the nations have been taken into captivity, or left dead on the battlefields?”
“O Lord my God, when will this murderous destruction end?”
God did not give Habakkuk an answer, for God had already explained everything.
Judah had been given mercy until the people had reached the fullness of their rejection of God. Now, there would be judgment, and the “judges” would be thorough in their work. Nevertheless, God would repay the wickedness of the Chaldeans, for though they had been raised up for this very purpose, their dark and sadistic lust for savagery, and their pleasure in causing pain would have to be dealt with, in time.
So often, as with Habakkuk, it can feel as though God is thickly silent, there is an impermeable, impervious wall of nonresponse that sits like a heavy stillness over our spirits. In chapter 2, this weighted pause would penetrate deeply into Habakkuk’s psyche.
[Chaldean King depicted as an eagle | The British Museum / (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)]