By Andrew E. Courtis
Have you ever noticed that strange and terrible things are happening in the world? The answer to that question is really obvious. It would be really hard not to notice. But what’s not always obvious is why strange and terrible things are happening. Sometimes things happen and we simply have no answers. One of the most common questions we ask is “Why?”
This leads me to introduce you to the book of Habakkuk. This brief book consisting of three chapters is the eighth book in the Book of the Twelve, otherwise known as the Minor Prophets. The book begins, “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw” (Hab. 1:1). The word “oracle” could also be translated as “burden”. It is referring to the message that God had revealed to the prophet and the rest of this book contains that message.
This book was written during the spiritual and political decline of Judah, and prior to its fall. Habakkuk was troubled by the moral depravity of the people of Judah and he wasn’t sure why God allowed this moral slide to go unpunished. In this book we learn that God answers his question, but the answer gives the prophet more problems. In the end, we learn that through his struggle, he learns to submit to God’s sovereign plan and to trust Him. There are three major themes in this book that we will observe. In this introduction and overview, we learn about the prophet’s problems, the Lord’s power, and the prophet’s prayer.
1. THE PROPHET’S PROBLEMS (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1)
This book begins with the ultimate Q&A session. The prophet Habakkuk expresses the concerns and problems he is having with what is going on in the world. He sees evil and it seems that God is distant. As stated in the introduction, the scene in Judah was not looking good. Habakkuk described the situation as “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralysed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (1:3b-4). The people had departed from the truth of God’s Word and were chasing after their own ways. This was revealing itself in a sad moral and spiritual decline. Why does the Lord allow this? Why is He not acting? Habakkuk’s complaint in the opening verses is Why is the Lord indifferent? (1:2-4). The Lord answers this question by stating that He will send the evil Babylonians in to overtake Judah, but we will consider this answer shortly. Habakkuk then raises a second complaint. This time he wants to know why God seems to be disengaged from punishing evil, especially of those nations that oppose God and His ways. His complaint in verses 12-21 is Why is the Lord inactive? We are just like Habakkak. We live in a world of problems and we don’t always understand why things are happening. It is important for us to know that we as humans are going to struggle with problems. But we must not allow these struggles to lead us to fear but rather to faith.
2. THE LORD’S POWER (1:5-11; 2:2-20)
How does the Lord answer the prophet’s problem? It is interesting that He doesn’t explain Himself or defend His actions. Instead, the Lord in His grace and kindness, reveals facts with Habakkuk. What are the facts that God reveals to Habakkuk? In answer to Habakkuk’s two questions, the Lord reminds the prophet of his sovereign power.
After Habakkuk complained of God appearing to be distant (1:2-4) the Lord gave him the facts. But the facts are not what Habakkuk expected. In response to the fact that wickedness and corruption is increasing in Judah, God says He is going to send the wicked nation of Babylon to invade Judah as a punishment. This answer is a mystery. The purpose of this answer is not to deal with every issue, instead it to is state the fact that while Habakkuk thinks God is distant, He is actually at work. Now God’s ways are not always understood by us and they are mysterious. The Lord says,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
After hearing this answer, Habakkuk struggled with the fact that God who is holy and hates sin can look on, and be idle (1:13). In response to this the Lord reveals to Habakkuk that all His enemies will one day be judged. Their sin has not escaped His attention. But until that day comes, the people of God are to live by faith. The Lord told the prophet, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (2:3). This means that God’s plans will come to pass, but they will occur in His perfect timing. How should we respond to this great reality? The Lord tells the prophet, “the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4b). The rest of this chapter consists of five “woes” that are directed toward the Babylonians (vv. 6, 9, 12, 15, 19). In this section the prophet is reminded that the day is coming in which “the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
After considering these revealed facts, notice what amazing grace from God this revelation is. God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (1:13). Habakkuk, like all of us, is but dust. Yet God chooses to make known these facts of His sovereign operations. Here is a lesson for us. Every time we struggle with why things around us are going badly, though we may not fully understand, we are to be grateful that God has chosen to reveal the facts of His sovereign will in the Scriptures. Go to the Lord is prayer and pour out your troubles. Go to Scriptures and read what His plans and promises are. Then trust Him and live for His glory.
3. THE PROPHET’S PRAYER (3:1-19)
In this final section in the book, we have Habakkuk’s final response. In chapter 3 the prophet writes a Psalm. This psalm is a prayer that reveals his deep trust in the Lord. This prayer can be divided into two parts: Habakkuk’s recount (3:1-16) and Habakkuk’s response (3:17-19).
Habakkuk takes time to look back on God’s past actions of power and salvation. This recount includes references to God’s dealings with His peoplein bringing them out of Egypt, His acts during the wilderness wanderings, and His mighty acts as they claimed the promised land. After recounting such amazing truths of God’s great power, Habakkuk responds with complete trust in God regardless of what goes on around him,
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (3:16-18)