Why Does God Seem Inactive? (Habakkuk 1:12-2:20)

By Andrew E. Courtis

Habakkuk saw the comprise and corruption in the lives of the people of Judah, and this greatly bothered him. It seemed as if God was idle and was not doing anything about it, so the prophet complained (1:2-4). God in His kindness answered the perplexed prophet. His answer informed Him that despite what Habakkuk thinks, He is working and His work is mysterious. The Lord then tells him that He is going to deal with the comprise and corruption in Judah by sending the wicked Chaldeans as a punishment (1:5-11). This answer provided more problems for Habakkuk and that is what brings us to this next section of the book.

In this message we will consider Habakkuk’s second question, and the Lord’s second answer. The prophet asks “Why?” (1:12-17) and the Lord answers “Wait!” (2:2-20).

1. THE PROPHET’S QUESTION: WHY? (1:12-17)

In this section the prophet Habakkuk raises his second complaint to the Lord. This comes as a result of receiving an answer from the Lord to his first complaint.

There are two aspects of his question that I would like to consider. From these aspects we are able to learn some important principles to follow when we also struggle with problems facing us.

The Prophet’s Certainty (1:12)
Habakkuk begins his complaint by stating what he is certain of with regards to God’s character. He says,

Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (1:12).

Here we see that with great emotion (“O LORD”, “O Lord”, “O Rock”), Habakkuk affirms his understanding of God’s eternality (“Are you not form everlasting”), holiness (“my Holy One”), sovereignty (“you have ordained them as a judgment”), and His faithfulness (“O Rock”). These are the things he knows to be true about God, and he appeals to God on this basis. Even though he is struggling, this is the ground upon which he has the struggle.

This is an important principle for us to grasp. When we are feeling overwhelmed and helpless because of the deep waters of hardship, we need to place our feet on solid ground. This is precisely what Habakkuk did. If we do not do this, we will be swept away by uncertainty.

The Prophet’s Confusion (1:13-17)
After stating his certainty about God’s character, Habakkuk pours out his confusion to the Lord. Habakkuk struggled with the fact that God who is holy and hates sin can look on, and be idle. He asks, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (1:13). He then goes on to describe the evil character and conduct of the Chaldeans. Knowing that God is holy, he doesn’t understand how God could allow this to happen. We often struggle to reconcile what we know to be true about God’s character and what is happening around us. The first mistake we often make is to see the fault with God. We need to remember as we learnt in the previous passage that we are limited, and therefore we do not always understand what is going on. It is for this reason that we will often be confused about hardship, and this is normal.

Here are some lessons we learn from Habakkuk’s questions. Firstly, when we face hardships or struggles, we will do well to step back and remind ourselves of the things that we do know about God’s character. This way, even though the deep unknown waters of mystery may be around us, we can still be standing upon the ground of certainty. Secondly, when we struggle, we are to pour out our hearts to the Lord in prayer. God commands us to pray, and prayer is to our benefit. Prayer helps us grow closer to God.

In a transitional verse, after starting his complaint, Habakkuk writes,

I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint” (2:1)

With a sense of expectation and confidence, Habakkuk says that he has handed his problem to the Lord and he is waiting for the Lord’s response. By making use of militaristic language, Habakkuk describes himself as a watchman on the lookout. A watchmen placed on the elevated tower of a city wall was able to see from a distance if a friend or foe is coming to the city. Habakkuk has handed his problem to God, and in his mind he has found a high place away from the ideas of the world and there he waits for God’s Word. This is a significant verse. It describes an essential element that we ought embrace when we struggle and pray.

2. THE LORD’S ANSWER: WAIT! (2:2-20)
The answer the Lord gives is considerably longer than the one given to Habakkuk’s first complaint (1:5-11). The answer, which is almost the length of the entire chapter, can be summarised by one word, and that is wait! We live in a society where waiting is not easily embraced and welcomed. Everything has to be fast and instant. If we order a hamburger in a drive through and get told we have to pull over to the waiting bay and wait, this often puts us out. If our computer takes too long to turn on it frustrates us. Waiting for holidays, waiting for Friday, sometimes it just seems too long and we get impatient. Waiting is something we all struggle with. The Lord instructs Habakkuk,

Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 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” (2:2-3)

What does the command wait involve? It doesn’t mean to live our lives in this perpetual stand still, leaving us without action. When God calls for His people to wait it is not a call to inaction. There are two things involved in this command. Firstly, it includes the requirement of the walk of the righteous (2:4) and the recognition of the woes of the unrighteous (2:6-20). While we wait, we walk in obedience and we recognise that God will bring ruin to His enemies.

The Walk of the Righteous (2:4-5)
Verse 4 provides a contrast with how God’s people are to conduct themselves with compared to godless leaders. The Lord says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). The coming leader of the Babylonians is described as arrogant. This arrogance is seen in how his life is lived. His boastful character produces bad conduct. The Lord is clear that He hates this, “Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).

In contrast to this boastful arrogance, the people of God are to live differently. He says, “but the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4b). This is a call to a life that is lived in faithfulness to God. To live by faith means we take God at His word and respond to it in obedience. This verse is quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38). It has been observed by some that Romans emphasises the word “righteous”, Galatians emphasises the word “live” and Hebrews emphasises the word “faith”.

The Woes of the Unrighteous (2:6-20)
While we wait on God, in addition to the required walk, the people of God are to recognise the woes of the unrighteous. In other words, they are to understand that though evil exists and appears to be rampant, God is going to bring them down. The remaining portion of this chapter contains five woes from God directed to the Babylonians (vv. 6, 9, 12, 15, 19). These woes are prophetic announcements of coming destruction and doom from God. The five woes are directed at them for the following actions: 1. Destructive Greed (2:6-8), 2. Deceitful Gain (2:9-11), 3. Disregard for life (2:12-14), 4. Debauched Sensuality (2:15-18), and 5. Distorted Worship (2:19- 20). These woes were fulfilled when the fall of Babylon occurred when the Medo-Persians conquered the Babylonians. There will also be an ultimate fulfilment in the future when God brings down Mystery Babylon (Revelation 17- 18).

CONCLUSION
The prophet Habakkuk struggled and complained to God. He saw evil and corruption around him and he did not understand how God seemed to be standing to the side. God responds and tells the prophet that he is to wait. This waiting involves two actions, the requirement of walking in obedience and the recognition of woes that are coming upon all unbelievers. This is what we are called to as the people of God. Our eternal and holy Lord is in full and compete control of all things. Will you trust Him and honour him with your life?