I recently developed a love for the Old Testament Book of Habakkuk. In its three short chapters the reader will find a refreshing honesty and get an “inside” look at the sovereignty and character of God. I’ve been reading Habakkuk for a few weeks now and planned to share a post regarding it; however, I soon realized that one post wasn’t enough … so here is the first in what will be a short series.
Lessons from Habakkuk: Part 1 (Habakkuk 1:1-11)
Nothing much is revealed about Habakkuk in the pages of the Old Testament book that bears his name. The book opens with the following nondescript words, “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received” (Habakkuk 1:1). Perhaps as a result of vagueness of this opening, there are a few legends concerning this prophet. Ancient tradition suggests Habakkuk was the son of the Shunammite woman and was restored to life by Elisha in the Book of 2 Kings while others believe Habakkuk delivered a meal to Daniel while in the lion’s den. Aside from these legends, all we really know was that Habakkuk was a prophet who lived before Judah went into exile approximately six hundred years before Christ. The lack of description concerning Habakkuk’s background benefits the reader in that too many details would detract from the important lessons revealed within the pages of this particular Hebrew text. Habakkuk was a man with many complaints against the Lord and his interaction with God has much to teach the modern reader.
Habakkuk lives in a Judah that has run completely adrift in its sin. Idolatry, sacrifices to pagan gods, and wickedness were the norm amongst the Hebrew people. The wicked King Jehoiakim had done all he could to remove’s God’s influence from his nation. It was in the midst of this chaos that the prophet Habakkuk took his complaints straight to God:
“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? 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. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4).
There is a familiarity to the modern reader in Habakkuk’s complaints. We too live in a world where there appears to be no justice. In the aftermath of 9-11, many of us have wondered when the evil will get their just rewards. In our schools and workplaces it is often the wicked that get ahead while the righteous are left in their aftermath. In the media, it is even the Christians who are portrayed in the worst possible light. Often, things are completely opposite of how they seem they should be. Our troubles are too numerous to list. None of us can escape the stress of our modern existence.
Habakkuk lived in that world. If there was one nation that should have lived in God’s will it was Judah. The Hebrew people had been blessed with a special relationship with the living God and yet they still descended into a warped existence of pagan idolatry. There nation was filled with violence, strife, and conflict; everything was the exact opposite of how it should be … and Habakkuk was tired of it. He wanted justice to be served immediately. He wanted the evil people to get their just rewards. As such, he cried out to God and levied complaints that can be summed up in two words, “How long?”
There is a lesson here for modern readers. Habakkuk was honest when he addressed the Lord; he didn’t try to approach with religious “talk” and ceremony. He cut straight to the chase and presented his questions directly to God. We can approach God in the same way.
The Lord doesn’t allow Habakkuk’s questions to go unanswered for long. He responds by telling the prophet that he will be amazed by the plan God has to judge the Hebrew people.
“For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], A bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful; Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, and more fierce than evening wolves … they come for violence …” (see Habakkuk 1:5-11).
Much like Satan enjoys “roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it” (Job 1:7), the Babylonian army marched the breadth of the earth and took possession of lands that weren’t their own. They were an evil, sadistic, conquering people and would serve perfectly as God’s vehicle to deliver justice to the nation of Judah. There are those who would say this reveals an evil side to God; that He would allow the Hebrews to fall into the hands of such a vile nation. This isn’t the case; much more is revealed concerning the evil nature of the nation of Judah, however, we do learn much here concerning the nature of God.
First, God is sovereign. He rains on the good and the bad; the lawful and the unruly. Just as God created the heavens and the earth He created all mankind and will use them as He sees fit. When Jonah protested because God blessed the people of Nineveh, God asked him who he thought he was to question the Creator (Jonah 4:4, 9). The same applies here … God will bless whom He chooses, judge whom He chooses, and use whom He chooses. It is His right as God.
Secondly, God will not tolerate evil in His presence. Just a century before rising up the Babylonians to judge Judah, God had used the Assyrians to judge the modern tribe of Israel (2 Kings). Judah failed to take notice! The Hebrew people were God’s people; He had chosen to take up residence among them and simply refused to allow them to remain consumed by idol worship and evil practices. The same is true in the lives of the individual believer today. God has chosen to take up residence in the members of His church through the presence of the Holy Spirit and He will not tolerate evil to remain in His dwelling place. Thus the need for the justification found in Christ and sanctification (the process wherein the believer is transformed into the likeness of Christ) (Additional Reading: John 17:17-19, Luke 16:13, John 14:23, and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Principles for Our Christian Lives from Habakkuk 1:1-11
- Be honest and open with God: Like Habakkuk, We should feel free to take our concerns, questions and complaints directly to God in the form of prayer.
- We should understand that God is sovereign: The Lord is in charge and in control – even when we don’t see it or understand.
- We must submit to sanctification: If we are Christians, God will not tolerate sin to reign unchallenged in our lives. We must make a choice between sin and Christ. If we fail to make this choice, God will act to get our attention.
It is amazing how applicable a book written nearly three thousand years ago is to our lives. In just the first eleven verses, Habakkuk establishes itself as a wonderful piece of literature that can teach us so much. I look forward to exploring the rest of the book!