Minor Prophets: Habakkuk’s Meditation


Habakkuk evokes the deer which nimbly “tread upon the heights,” escaping, in the end, the trampling horses of Babylon.

Habakkuk had asked God three questions in chapter 1, with increasing alarm. Why was God not bringing judgment on the flagrant wrongdoers in Judah? After God’s prophetic answer, Habakkuk asked an even more pressing question: Why was God going to bring judgment through the ruthless Chaldeans? And finally, would God ever bring mercy back into the frame?

God’s answer, already given, settled in the following silence. Babylon’s armies would be God’s judgment on Judah, and at an undisclosed future time, God would judge Babylon for their bloodlust.


Meditation on the Character of God

Tempered in wisdom, in an abiding faith in God, and in a knowledge of scripture, Habakkuk spent time in meditation, allowing the light of God’s word to shine onto his questions. When you and I face hard questions like this, we, too, can follow Habakkuk’s example:

I will stand at my watchpost,
    and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what [God] will say to me,
    and what [God] will answer concerning my complaint.

Habakkuk 2:1 (NRSV)

If you and I were to have listened in on Habakkuk’s inner thought life, I think we would have heard the prophet remind himself of the things he knew were true about God, that God had revealed about the Lord’s nature and purpose in chapter one, and that Habakkuk had himself spoken:

  • 1:2 God listens to the prayers of God’s people, and God is Savior to God’s people.
  • 1:3, 12-13 God is holy, and commands the people of God also to be holy as God is holy.
  • 1:3, 12 God had a personal relationship with Habakkuk and was concerned about the Lord’s prophet, even as God was concerned about each one of God’s beloved people.
  • 1:4, 11 God is righteous and just, the Judge of all the earth, indeed of all the universe, for God created all, is the author of all, sustains all, and alone has the right to judge.
  • 1:5 God is sovereign, and all the affairs of the cosmos are subject to God’s authority and power.
  • 1:12 God is faithful, a Rock of protection and unchanging reliability.
  • 1:17 God is merciful, and will always relent, rescuing the remnant of the righteous and faithful.

Holiness Theology

In fact, Habakkuk had appealed to each of these attributes of God’s nature and character, and particularly in terms of the ancient Hebrew’s holiness theology.

Why do you make me see wrongdoing
    and look at trouble? . . .

Your eyes are too pure to behold evil,
    and you cannot look on wrongdoing . . .

Habakkuk to God, Habakkuk 1:3, 13 (NRSV)

The prophet understood that in the creation of the world, each plant, each creature, each element of earth and water and air and even fire was given its own domain, its boundaries and blessings, its parameters and commandments. To be pure meant to know and keep one’s domain and one’s mandate.

God alone is over every domain, and yet also within those spheres, for God is the master of even space and time, the one who knows each star by name and commands their courses, who set in motion the history of humanity, and who is set apart, alone as God.

Humanity also was to be set apart for God, life itself was sacred, blood was sacred, for the life is in the blood, as Moses had taught them,

For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.

Whoever sheds the blood of a human,
    by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;
for in [God’s] own image
    God made humankind.

God to Noah, Genesis 9:5-6 (NRSV)

And

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.

God to Moses, Leviticus 17:11 (NRSV)

God’s people were to live set apart from the cultures and ways of the peoples around them, to live before God and other nations according to God’s vision for covenant relationship. They were to take on the core values of God and to know the heart of God. They were to bear witness to the truth of God to all people and nations.

Even, and perhaps especially to such nations as the Chaldeans.

In contrast to the wickedness of those who did not worship God, the people of God were to revile all that was defiled, profane, corrupt, and polluted—both those outward actions and also the inward condition that promulgated such actions.

In keeping with protecting and preserving the discrete domains of all that existed, God’s people were to observe the Sabbath, keep God’s commandments, and keep themselves pure.

For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy . . .

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy . . .

Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the Lord your God . . .

You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine . . .

YHWH to the people, Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7, 26 (NRSV)

Meditation on the Purposes of God

I think if we had kept listening, we would have heard Habakkuk’s inner thoughts turn to the purposes of God as flowing from God’s character. The prophet’s oracles in chapter 2 reveal he applied what he knew was true to his situation:

  • Because God is holy, this invasion is for good, not for evil.
  • Because God is sovereign, this invasion is not simply the result of mere chance. These events are under the guidance of God’s power and direction, God’s intention and authority.
  • Because God is faithful, I know the Lord will not abandon me, God’s mind has not been changed about me.
  • Because the Lord loves God’s people, this is all coming from God’s overarching love, I know God is going to work this together for good, the good of God’s people, for all people, for the earth, for the cosmos, for eternity, and for God’s glory.

Even still, it is clear Habakkuk was still troubled by what God had revealed to him.


[Blåsing i bukkehornet under botstiden.Ortodokse jøder ved VestmurenAv Mark Neyman/Government Press Office, Israel..Lisens: CC BY SA 3.0]

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