1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. 2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
5 “Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honour.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; 9 they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. 10 They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on - guilty men, whose own strength is their god.”
12 O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. 13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? 14 You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. 15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. 17 Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?
“Lord, how long will you allow evil to run rampant? How long will you allow corrupt politicians to ruin our land? How long will you allow the ridicule and blasphemy that defies your holiness? You punished evil before, so where is the punishment now? How much longer do we have to put up with this in our country and throughout the world?”
Familiar words? We shouldn’t think that we’re the first generation of Christians to ask questions like these of God. He’s been hearing them ever since sin corrupted the perfect world He created.
As Bible-believing Christians we firmly believe that God is on His throne, and He remains in control, yet there is more than a trace of frustration and lack of faith when ask Him the same kind of questions Habakkuk asked. We know that God is the absolute ruler, but the circumstances we see around us brings ridicule from those who don’t believe in God, and if we’re entirely honest, more than a little doubt from those who do. A question we hear nearly every day is “Where is God in all of this?” And very often we cannot answer that question sufficiently.
So what are we to do when deep within our hearts we know that God is in control, but all of the evidence around us challenges that statement of faith?
The apostle Paul prays in Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.” One of the keys to trusting God more, is to know Him more intimately. Of course, much of God’s personality and character will remain a mystery, but He has revealed enough of Himself to us in order for us to grow in our knowledge of Him.
Get to know Him with your head, as well as your heart. It’s been said that the cure for doubt is true knowledge. As knowledge of God grows, our doubts of Him will be dealt with. This was the challenge Habakkuk was facing. He confessed significant doubts, questioning even God’s nature. Habakkuk’s message is powerful, and is so relevant for us today, yet this is a prophet we know very little about, and as a result we miss much of what God is trying to tell us through this prophecy. The Bible commentator Rudolph Norden wrote, “There is no Old Testament book that is able to do more for the burdened souls of men or to raise them to higher levels of hope and confidence than the brief prophecy of Habakkuk.”
As with so many lessons in Scripture, the words may have been written thousands of years ago, but they are so relevant for us in our lives here and now, that they could just as well have been written yesterday.
The details of Habakkuk’s life have been lost over time, but it is clear that he was well known in Jerusalem. The simple reference to him as “the prophet” in chapters 1 and 3 reveal that he was known by this title. So when someone said, “The prophet said,” during his lifetime, people were talking about Habakkuk. We also know he was a man of great faith. His statement in the closing verses of his brief prophecy has been called one of the greatest expressions of faith in the entire Old Testament: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.”
Habakkuk was a remarkable man whose faith was absolute. He trusted in God, even though he didn’t understand how God worked.
As old as this brief book in the Bible is, the message it proclaims applies very much to our lives today.
Just like Habakkuk, life in the modern world challenges our faith, and just like him, we need to be reminded that God remains in control, and that Jesus is the eternal Prince of Peace, especially when everything around us seems to challenge that truth.
One of the most interesting things about the book of Habakkuk is that unlike the other prophets in Scripture, he spoke to God rather than for God. This was highly unusual. The norm was that the prophet carried God’s message to a specific audience as he urged his hearers to listen to what God was saying through him. But Habakkuk reversed this normal procedure as he took the questions the people had about justice from man to God. There are similarities with Jonah’s story, as we also have a record of his conversation with God, but Habakkuk’s conversation with God was very different from Jonah’s. Jonah was incensed with God and he stood with his fists clenched in anger.
Jonah was a prophet that God had sent to call the people of Nineveh to repentance, but Jonah disobeyed and fled to Tarshish instead. After going through the trauma of being swallowed by the fish, he eventually went to Nineveh, but instead of rejoicing when God showed them mercy he sulked like a 3 year old. Just listen to this almost comical conversation in chapter 4: “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ But the Lord replied, ‘Have you any right to be angry?’ Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”
Now we can laugh at Jonah’s immature attitude towards God showing grace to the undeserved, but aren’t we exactly the same? We insist that He should do something about all the evil in the world, and when it seems to us that He doesn’t, or He does it in ways we don’t expect, we demand answers from Him.
(He did do something about all the evil in the world by the way – He sent Jesus…)
So while Jonah’s fists were clenched in anger, Habakkuk’s fists were clenched in sadness and frustration. Like Jonah, he was confused and was looking for an explanation about God’s actions, but there was no defiance, and this is what we need to learn from Habakkuk’s story.
It’s okay to question God, but we need to remember who we are and who He is. He is the sovereign King of the Universe. We know the story of Job very well, and he began to question God too. The Lord’s answer to him takes up 4 entire chapters of the Bible. It begins with these words: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.” (Job 38:2-4) Job’s wonderful response to God’s firm but grace-filled answer in the final chapter of the book of Job is basically to hold up his hands and say, “Lord, you know. You are sovereign.” All that Job had left was to worship.
So again, what can we learn from Habakkuk’s story?
Habakkuk’s times were chaotic and wicked. Worship of the one true God had deteriorated into not much more than pretence and had been modified to accommodate personal whims. Spiritual anarchy reigned, and there was insensitivity to the needs of other people. Another Biblical commentator wrote this about the period of history during which Habakkuk lived: “What a terrible picture! Sin, immorality, and vice were rampant, while those who were in authority and entrusted with government were slack and irresponsible. They did not apply the law equitably and honestly. There was lawlessness everywhere, faith had fallen away, and society in general was immoral and degenerate.” In the words of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Habakkuk’s world was so similar to ours - injustice, immorality, violence, and countless other ungodly things plague us, and like him many are asking where God is. Why is He silent when innocent people lose their lives in senseless terrorist attacks? Why do we have to face personal struggles in our health, our finances and in our family relationships?
These are all valid questions, and God has been hearing them for centuries. Occasionally He will answer, but more often than not all we hear is silence.
One thing we know about Habakkuk is how he faced his struggles - he did not lack faith. His faith was strong. He believed in God’s sovereignty, and he trusted that God was in charge of heaven and earth. He may have questioned God’s ways, but he had no doubts about God’s omnipotence, despite the fact that he couldn’t make sense of what was happening. He looked around at the hopeless confusion and asked why God did not do something. He knew of God’s greatness but he did not see God doing anything. He saw evil winning and righteousness losing. Just like us when we see what’s going on in our world and in our lives, it was a challenge for Habakkuk to see violence and oppression all around him.
When we fail to see what God is doing or allowing in our lives, our struggle can be summarised in three questions.
1. Is God indifferent?
Habakkuk was deeply distressed because it appeared that God didn’t care about those who were suffering. Even though he knew that God did care, what he saw going on in the world forced him to ask if God really did.
2. Is God inactive?
It seemed as if God was doing nothing, while Habakkuk was doing everything. He was concerned for the people, and was doing what he could.
3. Is God inconsistent?
He knew that because of God’s holiness, He would not accept evil, yet on the surface at least, it appeared as if He was, so to Habakkuk it almost seemed as if God was applying one set of rules to one, and another set to others.
And not only that, God clearly said that He would use Babylon to punish the people of Judah. How could a just God use such wicked people to punish His chosen people? How could a holy God execute fairness with such an evil nation?
The use of the Babylonians seemed to be immoral, unethical, and just downright unfair.
The commentator and writer Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Sometimes we have made the same accusations against God. We’ve said, ‘Lord, how long must I pray about this? How long must I talk to you about this? Are you indifferent to my prayers? God, are you inactive?’”
Habakkuk, in his faith and probably because of his faith, simply could not understand why so much evil and violence were tolerated. Sin seemed to be winning and it broke his heart.
But then God answered him in ways he certainly wasn’t expecting. The evil would be punished, but their deadly enemies the Babylonians were to be the instrument of discipline for His unruly nation. So Habakkuk questioned God again.
How could God allow such a wicked nation to destroy His chosen people?
But the Lord reassured him that He was not blind to sin in Babylon. All sin will be punished. Justice will come to both the proud and the righteous. We don’t really have the time this morning, but you need to read all four chapters of this brief prophecy to be given an insight into God’s thinking. Habakkuk eventually arrived at an understanding of his dilemma. He came to understand that there will be a universal judgment on evil. As God leads him through teaching Habakkuk, he began to learn more and more about the nature of God. Sin will be punished. God will do, and is doing something about the evil in the world. The lesson Habakkuk learned was this: He resolved to trust in the sovereign will and authority of God, regardless of how perplexing life may appear.
As for us, we have an added advantage over Habakkuk, because we know that not only will God exact justice on a sinful world, but we also know how He did it. He sent His Son to die for human sin. The choice we have as sinners is to gladly accept the atoning death of Jesus on our behalf, or we can choose to pay the price of our sin ourselves for all of eternity. But the point is this: God is not blind to what’s going on in the world, and the next time you cry out for justice against people who seem to get away with it over and over again, remember this - the only difference between corrupt politicians, suicide bombers and you is that they sin differently to you.
1. God is sovereign. He will judge all, and nobody will escape His justice. He judged Judah with the Babylonians, but then they themselves were judged for their evil. Earthly kings and despots may reign and seem to defy justice, but their days are numbered.
2. Faithfulness to Him assures us of our protection. We have no guarantees in this life, but there is a bigger, eternal picture that we need to remember. Whatever it is that’s testing your faith right now, be assured that these things will pass. They may only pass once you enter into eternity, but pass they will.
3. Divine discipline is guaranteed. Judgment is coming. It may not come soon, but it is coming. In his poem ‘Retribution’, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, Yet they grind exceeding small: Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all.”
4. Peace can exist in the middle of turmoil. The secret lies in a conviction and trust in God’s sovereignty. Try this simple prayer: “Lord, I don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t know why you seem not to answer, but teach me to trust in your goodness and in your sovereign will.”
Even in the midst of destruction and ruin, Habakkuk learned that he can trust God’s purpose implicitly, and so should we. He struggled with the question how long, and so do we.
Habakkuk was a faithful prophet who verbalised questions that have echoed throughout the ages. Who has never asked God, “How much longer will you wait?” and “Why don’t you hear my prayers?” Habakkuk struggled with some serious questions and arrived at an amazing conclusion. Life seemed to be falling apart, but his heart was fixed on the eternal truth that God is in control.
So the next time you think that God has forgotten about you, remember Jesus Christ and what He did for you. The next time you feel like demanding that God do something about the evil out there, just try falling to your knees instead and thanking Him for doing something about the evil in here – in your own heart!
Take Habakkuk’s prayer at the end of this brief prophecy, and apply it to your own life: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights.”
Homegroup Study Notes
In preparation for your meeting this week, read the whole of the book of Habakkuk.
Try to avoid getting into discussions about politics and corruption!
The purpose of our study is to be reminded of God’s sovereignty and that He remains in control.
How are you able to identify with Habakkuk’s sadness and frustration?
Habakkuk was shocked when God told him He was going to use the evil Babylonians as His instrument of punishment against God’s chosen people.
How do you feel when you see evil being punished by what appears to be an even greater evil?
How does this challenge your belief in God’s sovereignty?
If you feel able, share with your group a time when it felt that God was silent, or that He didn’t hear your prayers.
What do you think He was teaching you through that experience?
We have an advantage over Habakkuk in that we know how God chose to deal with the problem of human sin at Calvary.
How should the atoning death of Jesus affect how we view evil in the world?
Read the closing 3 verses of the book of Habakkuk.
Close by praying that the Lord would teach us to praise and trust Him, regardless of whether our lives are easy or full of turmoil and strife.