By Andrew E. Courtis
Many things in life are unexpected. In-fact, many things that are enjoyed and loved by many came about unexpectedly. A naval engineer intended to design a devise that would monitor power on naval ships. It was dropped on the floor and he saw it slink away. The birth of the slinky. The rest is history. Other unexpected inventions were Potato chips, chocolate chip cookies, the sticky note and penicillin. These apparently were all unexpected and left us with things we can be grateful for (some more than others!). But there are some unexpected things that are not so exciting. These are the things that don’t seem to make sense or bring hardship to our pathway. This brings me to our message from the book of Habakkuk. The prophet Habakkuk was struggling with the evil compromise of the people of Judah. He wanted to see God bring about judgment and revival. After asking a series of questions God answers him, but He gives the prophet an unexpected answer. We will consider the prophet’s question (1:2-4) and the Lord’s answer (1:5-11).
1. THE PROPHET’S QUESTION (1:2-4)
In these three verses there are a number of questions the prophet asks God. These questions are weighing heavy on his heart. He asks God,
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (1:2-4).
These questions can be summarised by one, and that is “Why does the Lord seem indifferent?” When bad things happen, be it suffering or watching what goes on around us, we often ask the question “Why?” yet we hear no answer. It appears that God is distant and indifferent to our struggle. Or perhaps we see injustice take place around us, and it looks as if God is idle and refuses to act. Throughout Scripture we have many examples of God’s people asking God questions as a result of their struggle. Around twenty times in the Psalms the question is asked to the Lord, “How long?” An example of this is Psalm 6:3, “My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long?” We are often troubled souls. It is for this reason we and embrace the words of the psalmist,
“With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (Psalm 142:1–2)
Many times these questions arise because we can’t see God’s action or involvement. The questions that Habakkuk raises reveal two things about him. There is much we can learn from these two things.
A Longing Heart
The questions that Habakkuk asked say a lot about the Prophet’s heart. He does not ask these questions so as to be controversial or curious. They arise as a result of two major reasons. Firstly, he loves God’s Law – therefore he loves justice. Secondly, he loathes sinfulness – therefore he loathes perversion. He wants to see God act by bringing about judgment and revival in the land of Judah. He wants to see people submitting to and serving God. He wants to see evil shunned and righteousness upheld. For Habakkuk, his burning passion was the glory of the Lord. The prophet’s desire here is to be commended. There is a lack of this kind of passion today, as people are not prepared to stand firmly on God’s Word. For many people the topics of the day consume their passions.
A Limited Mind
His longing heart burned for justice and revival, but his questions also reveal a limited mind. He may feel and think that God is distant and indifferent, but that is coming from the limited perspective of a human being. Habakkuk, like all of us, does not know everything. Sometimes we may even act like we do, but the truth is we don’t. We are limited and finite creatures.
So though his heart burns with passion and he asks questions from a longing heart, they are also questions coming from a limited mind. When we do struggle and long for justice, we will do well to remember that we are limited.
2. THE LORD’S ANSWER (1:5-11)
God answers the prophet’s questions. As stated in the previous message, this act of God in providing an answer is gracious and kind. Secondly, the answer that He gives is not quite what the prophet Habakkuk was expecting. As we consider the Lord’s answer, there are three things we learn about God’s dealings with humanity.
God is at Work
The Lord begins by stating,
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (1:5)
Here the Lord makes it clear that He is doing a work. Regardless of how things may look from our limited perspective, God is at work. We learn in other passages about this active and sovereign work that extends to all things (cf. Eph. 1:11). God is sovereign over all nature (Psalm 135:6) and history (Acts 17:26). The Lord said, “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Isaiah 14:24) and “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Isaiah 46:10).
Now returning to what the Lord said in Habakkuk 1:5, it is interesting that Paul quotes this verse at the end of his sermon (Acts 13:41). Here Paul applies it to his audience as a warning of rejecting the gospel. If God brought about great disaster in the day of Habakkuk, how much more disaster will come upon those who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So the first thing we learn from the Lord’s reply is that He is at work. As the people of God, we need learn to rest and rejoice in this reality. No matter what is happening around us or to us, our Lord is at work. This does not take away our real struggle, but it does assure of what is true.
God’s Work is Often Mysterious
God is not only at work, but His work is often mysterious to us. The Lord told Habakkuk “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (1:5b). What is it? God is going to punish Judah by sending the Chaldeans. He said,
“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own” (1:6).
This is not the answer the perplexed prophet was expecting. To be told that God is going to deal with the injustice and evil in the land of Judah by sending a people that are even more evil is an interesting answer. Often when we are struggling or even suffering, we can easily become overwhelmed by the confusion we experienced in watching how things unfold. Here God graciously tells the prophet that His ways are often mysterious.
The world power at the time of this book was the Assyrians. God tells Habakkuk that He is raising up the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans will become the world super power also known as the Babylonian Empire. This empire was a powerhouse. The Lord calls them a “bitter and hasty nation”. This reveals their character and conduct. The leader of this empire was Nebuchadnezzar and he persecuted the few that stood on the Word of God (cf. Daniel 3). In verses 7-11 the Lord provides a description of their character and conduct. It is made clear from these verses that their corrupt conduct comes as a result of their corrupt character. Or as one commentator puts it, “Character produces conduct, and this Babylonian character is expressed by unprincipled rapacity” (Carl E. Armstrong, “Habakkuk”, The Expositors Bible Commentary, p. 502).
This evil people that God was going to send into Judah were not restrained by God’s Law (1:7). Their political and military campaigns were swift and forceful (1:8-9). They scorned, scoffed, and mocked other leaders (1:10). They boast and brag about their own accomplishments, and they rely on their own might (1:11).
Now this may have given them victory, but this conduct that comes as a result of poor character, was actually the very thing that brings them down. Now even though God’s ways are mysterious, this does not mean He is missing from action. His ways are not our ways. Even when things may look terrible from our limited perspective, we are to learn to trust Him.
God’s Work is Perfect
What is the final lesson about God work that we can walk away with? It is this; God’s work is perfect. The work of God in history and in our lives is moving in a particular direction. It is leading to a time, and specific moment in which “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). For the people of God, this is exciting because we will be a part of this paradise. We can be assured that the work of God includes what he is doing with our lives. God is at work in you to conform you to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). He is working to bring you to this future glory. So here we learn that God is in control of the political scene and no leader or policy will get in the way of His sovereign purposes (cf. Daniel 2:21). God is in control of nature, so no disaster will get in the way of His sovereign purposes. God is in control of all things and He will accomplish all His purposes.
As the people of God, we need to know that trouble and struggle will be a part of our life. It is a good thing for us to bring our struggles to the Lord in prayer, and pour out our complaints. But we must learn that the reason why we don’t understand is because we are limited. We are to know that our Sovereign Lord is at work, and this work will bring about His perfect purpose.