I am amazed by the honesty and sophistication of the book of Habakkuk. First, Habakkuk comes to God with a complaint:
Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?…why do you idly look at wrong?… Justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Hab 1:2-4)
He looks at his own nation of Israel and sees the rampant evil and injustice. He questions God and asks why it’s taking Him so long to respond, when he knows that the actions of Israel are an affront to God’s character. Then God responds to Habakkuk:
I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. 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. They are dreaded and fearsome… They laugh at every fortress… [They are] guilty men, whose own might is their god! (Hab 1:5-11)
God tells Habakkuk that he is going to use the idolatrous, ruthless, and powerful nation of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to attack Israel and teach them that disobedience to the Almighty God has consequences. Habakkuk understands that this is God’s plan when he says,
Oh Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, oh Rock, have established them for reproof. (Hab 1:12)
But then Habakkuk asks a very logical question, which reveals not only the sophistication of biblical thought, but also the honesty and willingness to tackle life’s difficult questions:
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?… Is he [the Chaldeans] then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever? (Hab 1:13-17)
Habakkuk says, “God, I know that you are righteous and hate evil. How can you use the Chaldeans, who are even more wicked than we Israelites, as your instrument of judgment? Will you let them continue in their evil forever?”
Here is God’s answer:
Write [the following] vision; make it plain on tablets… 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. (Hab 2:2-3)
God tells Habakkuk that he will give him a vision of what will happen to the Chaldeans. He tells Habakkuk to be patient and remain confident that the vision will one day be fulfilled. Here is the beginning of that vision:
Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own– for how long?… Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them. (Hab 2:6-8)
God says through the vision that soon enough the Chaldeans will be punished for the blood they have shed, the violence they have created, and the plunder they have taken.
By the end of the book, Habakkuk’s attitude has changed. He has gone from questioning God to trusting him, no matter what happens:
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. (Hab 3:17-18)
What can we learn from this?
- God is completely in control, even on a national level. He makes nations rise and fall.
- God sometimes uses bad things (the wicked Chaldeans) to accomplish good purposes (disciplining Israel so that they would once again obey God).
- Injustice will not continue forever. We can be confident that eventually it will be punished and justice will be served, according to God’s good timing.
- Like the prophet Habakkuk, we can and should be honest with God in our prayers about our struggles and questions, even when we already know what the “right answers” are.
- Since we know God’s character (as Habakkuk did), we can trust him, even when we do not understand why he is doing/allowing the things that he does/allows.