Sympathizing with Habakkuk

“God, why aren’t You doing anything about the corruption in this country?”

It was around the turn from the 7th to the 6th century B.C. and the prophet Habakkuk looked around at his nation of Judah and had a question for God about the way He was handling things. Maybe you’ve looked around at our nation and had the same question. Habakkuk 1:2-4, “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted.”

Habakkuk looked around at his nation appalled at its moral and spiritual condition, at how rampant was injustice and immorality and violence and idolatry. It wasn’t safe to walk the streets at night, the courts ruled in favor of whoever was the highest briber, the poor were oppressed, people had no reverence for God or His word, and things were just proceeding from bad to worse. And he cried out to God, “Why aren’t You doing anything about this? Don’t You see what’s going on? How can You sit back and let the wicked prosper and carry on like they do?” He wanted God to reverse the trends and change society and restore law and order.

Can you sympathize with Habakkuk? Do you ever look around at America or watch the evening news and are grieved? Homosexuality has been embraced by this county and called it just an alternate lifestyle. A school board in Charlotte North Carolina recently told its teachers not to call any of their students boys or girls so as not to impose on them a gender identity. They are hoping they can get government funding to have gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms with showers… and it’s called not confusing them. The killing of unborn children is constant and it’s just called a woman’s right. Women and girls dress like prostitutes and it’s just called fashion. Parents don’t discipline their children and it’s called building self-esteem. People covet each other’s property and possessions and money is their god and it’s just called having drive and ambition. Amassing material wealth for self is called success in life. Pornography is one of the biggest industries in our country and it’s called just adult entertainment. One in every six Americans downs eight alcoholic drinks within a few hours, four times a month and it’s called having a good time. We have the highest divorce rate in the world and it just called people not being meant for each other. The idea that non-living chemicals spontaneously came to life and macro evolution took place to eventually produce us is taught as fact and it’s called higher education.   And our pride is great. We think we’ve been a great and prosperous nation, because of our wisdom and strength and bravery and democratic approach to government, that we’ve done it. And our presidential candidates, the 2 people amazingly out of all the people in this nation that we’ve exalted to be our potential leader, both claim to have the answer for how we will continue to prosper and their answers have nothing to do with revering God and walking in His ways;  they have to do with what we do about health care and foreign policy and homeland security and taxes and gun control and education and so forth. And the general population believes that, that those are the main issues, that what we do in those matters will determine whether we rise or fall. We don’t realize that we are clay in the hands of the Almighty, that God rules the kingdoms of men and He determines who rises and who falls. Do you ever wonder, “God, why do you let all this go on? Why aren’t doing anything about it?”

Well, God gave Habakkuk an answer and I think when Habakkuk heard God’s answer he wished he hadn’t asked. Here was God’s answer. 1:5, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days —You would not believe if you were told. 6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, That fierce and impetuous people Who march throughout the earth To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. 7 They are dreaded and feared; Their justice and authority originate with themselves. 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards And keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, Their horsemen come from afar; They fly like an eagle swooping down to devour. 9 All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. 10 They mock at kings And rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress And heap up rubble to capture it. 11 Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god.

In other words, “Habakkuk, I am doing something about the evil in Judah. I’m raising up the dreaded, fierce, terrible Chaldeans.” We may know them better as the Babylonians. “They will be My instrument in punishing this people.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen to America. I’m not privileged like Habakkuk to have God tell me His plans for our country. But I know God is the same today as He was in Habakkuk’s day and as He’s always been. God does not change, says Malachi 3:6. You look back at all the history of nations and you see as nations deteriorate morally and spiritually God brings them down. Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” I don’t know what will happen in America, but if we continue to deteriorate morally and spiritually, if we do not repent, I expect things to get worse… regardless of who we elect as president, because nations are not exalted by a man or woman’s wisdom and policies; they are exalted by righteousness, because God is in control. It’s scary to me to think about what it will be like for my kids and future grandkids if God gives me those.

Now, God’s answer to Habakkuk was shocking to him for, I think, 2 reasons. First, because Habakkuk could only imagine that if God gave Judah into the hands of the Babylonians there would be no Judeans left alive. The Babylonians from what I’ve read had a reputation for being cruel and merciless. I think Habakkuk thought delivering Judah over to them was too extreme to deal with the evil in Judah. It was like using a sledge hammer to just pound in protruding finish nail on piece of furniture. It was overkill in his mind. And the second reason it was shocking to Habakkuk was because as bad as the Judeans were, the Babylonians were worse. They were even more ungodly and unjust and greedy and violent. How could God let a more wicked nation triumph over a less wicked nation?

So Habakkuk’s first complaint was, “God, you’re not doing anything about the corruption in this county.” Then God told him what He was doing. Then Habakkuk’s second complaint was,

“God, that’s doing too much, and that doesn’t seem right.”

Let’s read his second complaint. 1:12, “Are You not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge [I would put a question mark there if I were translating this, so as to say, “God, You can’t be serious? You have appointed THEM to judge?] And You, O Rock, have established them to correct? 13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they? 14 Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, Like creeping things without a ruler over them? 15 The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, Drag them away with their net, And gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net And burn incense to their fishing net; Because through these things their catch is large, And their food is plentiful. 17 Will they therefore empty their net And continually slay nations without sparing?

“How could You bring the Babylonians against us? They will utterly destroy us. Surely, we won’t die. Surely, You wouldn’t get rid of Your people. And God, I know we’re bad, but You know they’re worse. Look at them! They treat human beings as subhuman, like fishermen treat fish.” The Babylonians literally sometimes from what I understand would use nets and hooks to capture and transport their enemies. Artifacts from the ancient Near East portray captives caught in nets as well as having hooks in their noses or lower lips. And Habakkuk says, “And God once they conquer us they won’t praise You or give You any credit. They will praise themselves. I don’t understand, Lord, how you could let those more wicked people triumph and then praise themselves?”

In 2:1 Habakkuk speaks to himself. He says, “I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.” Like a watchmen on a lookout tower, he’s going to station himself and wait for God’s answer.

God’s response comes in v2 and goes through the end of the chapter. 2:2, “Then the LORD answered me and said, “Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets [probably tablets to be placed in public places, like saying today write it on poster boards or billboards.], That the one who reads it may run.” The sense may be “that those who read it may run with the message, that they may spread the news.” Or some say it could be, “that the one who runs my read it,” meaning, “Habakkuk, write it in big clear letters and put it plain sight so that even people running by, hurrying along, not paying attention, will see it and get the message.” 2:3, “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.” “I am serious, Habakkuk. The Babylonians are coming. It’s been decided. Though it may take a little while, don’t doubt My word. They’re coming.”

And then God begins to answer Habakkuk’s concerns, 2 concerns from what I see. First, Habakkuk’s concern that no one of Judah will survive if they’re delivered into the hands of the Babylonians, because they were known to not let anyone survive. And then Habakkuk’s second concern was about justice. How could God favor a more wicked nation and let them triumph?

There is one statement in v4 that addresses the first concern that no Judeans will survive. To that concern God says, “The righteous will live by faith.” In other words, “Habakkuk, I know that there are still some righteous people in Judah. I know there are some people who still trust in Me and are trying to walk in My ways. And I will not forgot about those people. Those people will survive by their faith or faithfulness.” The word for faith and faithfulness is the same word in Hebrew, and in Greek actually. But the Hebrew word in OT usually has the sense faithfulness, steadfastness, stability. It refers to one who hangs on to his faith, who keeps on trusting God even when the worst happens and continues to try to walk in His ways. God is saying the righteous will survive the Babylonians by keeping their faith, by staying faithful.

Now, is this the way it always is when God destroys nations or cities, that the righteous and faithful few survive on earth? I don’t know. But it does seem to be how it is often. It was when God destroyed Judah by the Babylonians. The faithful survived and were taken into exile. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He spared righteous Lot and his 2 daughters. When God destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., it says in the early Christian writings that not one Christian was killed, because they knew it was coming, because Jesus told them and they got out of the area when the Roman armies started to move into the area. So suppose one day God decides to destroy America, it may be that the righteous who remain faithful will survive on the earth.

But whether that will be the case or not, the NT teaches us to apply this verse to how it will be ultimately, on the day when God finally and ultimately judges the world, the righteous who kept their faith to the end will survive.  Paul uses this verse from Habakkuk in Romans 1 saying, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who goes on believing [literally], to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” He is saying it is those who go on believing the gospel, those who not only start with faith but finish with faith that will be saved. It’s quoted at the end of Hebrews 10 for some Christians who are discouraged and being persecuted and on the verge of letting go of their faith. It says, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence [that’s like “Don’t throw away your faith], which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. [Then he uses the language of Habakkuk.] For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith…” He wanted them to see that no matter how they are persecuted, no matter how difficult it gets, no matter what happens they must hang on to their faith. If they hang on to their faith and stay faithful, God will not forget them and He’s see them through whatever happens and God will take care of them.

So “Habakkuk, they’re not going to wipe out everybody. The righteous will survive by staying faithful.” Then God addresses Habakkuk’s other concern about how He could let a more wicked nation triumph over a less wicked nation. To that concern God says, “I know the bad state of Babylon. I know their pride and their drunken foolishness and their greed, and how like death and Sheol are never satisfied with victims, they are never satisfied with power, wealth, territory and blood; they always want more and more. Don’t think that I’m overlooking that. And don’t think that Babylon will not reap what they’ve sown. Babylon will get what Babylon deserves.” There are 5 woes pronounced on Babylon here in ch2. Woe is the opposite of blessed. You know you have statements in the Bible like, “Blessed be so and so.” Well, “Woe to so and so” is the opposite . Woe means bad stuff is coming, sorrow, misery, calamity. Let me just summarize the 5 woes on Babylon. Woe to the plunderer for he will be plundered (v6-8). Woe to the one make his house secure by evil gain, for his house testify against him (v 9-11). Woe to one who builds a city with bloodshed, for he builds it for the fire (v12-14). Woe to the one who disgraces others, for he will be disgraced (v15-17). Woe to him who worships idols, for they can do nothing and they’ve spurned the Lord who is alive and well in His holy temple and ruling the earth. “Babylon will get theirs, Habakkuk. Don’t worry about that.”

Now, ch3 is…

Habakkuk’s Prayer

In response to what God has told him, a prayer written to be sung. 3:1, “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth [which was probably a certain style of singing].

3:2, “Lord, I have heard the report about You [or, “I’ve heard Your report”] and I fear. O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.” He saying, “God, I am frightened by what You said that You are going to do. But I pray that You act like You have in ages past.” In ages past God worked in mighty ways to glorify His name on the earth and to deal justly with the ungodly and to save the righteous. And he prays “In wrath, when You punish us, remember mercy, remember to spare the righteous who keep their faith in You.”

And then in v3-15 Habakkuk looks back at God mighty deeds in history. In poetic language He describes how God delivered them from the Egyptians. He recalls how the other nations were trembling with fear at what God was doing with Israel. He recalls the parting of the Red Sea and when God held back the waters of the Jordan River so they piled up in a heap and Israel crossed over into the promised land on dry ground. He remembers how God lead them in conquering the land of Canaan. He recalls in Joshua’s day when God made the sun and the moon stand still to give the Israelites an advantage in battle. So Habakkuk knows that God is fully capable and will do all that He’s said He will do.

v16ff He thinks about the coming Babylonians. He thinks about what they will do. He thinks of how they will probably desolate the land, take or destroy all the food. There will be no more figs or grapes or olives or grain, no more flocks or herds.  In v16 he admits he’s absolutely terrified at what’s coming in the future for his country, “I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, For the people to arise who will invade us.” Does it scare you a little bit what the future may hold for this country? It does me.

But listen to Habakkuk’s great statement of faith and hope. v17, “Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, [though the stock market should plummet, though the 401ks should be wiped out, though social security and Medicare be no more, though jobs be scarce, though drought and fire consume our forests, though war be on our own soil, though we lose the many many privileges for which we ungrateful, though the worst should happen], Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places.” Habakkuk believed God’s promise in 2:4, that no matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets, the righteous will live by keeping faith. He believed that God will never forget His people who trust Him and are faithful to Him. And on them He will have mercy. God will always take care of His people! Like a deer’s feet are swift to escape from their enemies, so God will make the feet of His people. And God will make them walk on high places of safety above the terrors below.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but no matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets, God does not forget His people and He will see them through whatever happens and take care of them. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation, there’s going to be hard times, there’s going to be trying times, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). And He said, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). Let’s determine that no matter what happens we will continue to trust God and walk in His ways though the society around us may not. And let’s rejoice that God will always take good care of His people.

– James Williams

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