Old Testament Walk Through: Habakkuk

This Book is written as a dialogue between the prophet and God. The great question in this book is why God was allowing the wicked to have their way? And God’s answer to this question.

Comment: “Habakkuk, in all his difficulties, went to God in prayer and waited patiently for His answer (2:1). He went onto the watchtower and listened to God. G. Campell Morgan says that when Habakkuk looked at his circumstances he was perplexed (1:3), but when he waited for God and listened to Him, he sang (3:18—19)­­ — Dr. Henrietta C. Mears, What the Bible Is All About.

I A Godly Man’s Perplexity (Habakkuk 1:1—4)
The question why the wicked prosper has troubled almost all godly men and women for centuries. Habakkuk is no exception. He struggles with this question (suffering and injustice) and takes it to God. He asked, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help?” (1:2). Even though the prophet is crying out to God against wickedness, he finds that God is not acting; perhaps at the speed at which he wanted God to act.

That is also our problem too. We expect God to act in certain ways, especially against the wicked. But we find God not acting. And we are perplexed about it. But like Habbakuk we can take our complaint to God in prayer.

Comment: “Habakkuk’s whole problem arose because he had a clear idea of who God is. See the way that he describes him as holy (1:12, 13; 3:3), just (1:12), sovereign (2:20; 3:19), unchanging (1:12; 3:6), merciful (3:2), saving (3:13, 18), judging (2:13, 16; 3:3—15), and revealing truth (2:2).­­ –The Bible in Outline by Scripture Union

II God’s Unexpected Answer (Habakkuk 1:5—11)
God, in answer to Habakkuk’s question, tells him to “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed.” God said that He was going to raise up the Babylonians who were “a feared and dreaded people” to execute judgement on Judah. The surprising element is that the Babylonians are more wicked than Judah, “guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (1:11b).

III Habakkuk’s Next Complaint (Habakkuk 1:12—2:1)
Tribute to God: Habakkuk does not meet God in a light­-hearted fashion. That is something for us to learn. He treads on holy ground with reverence. He talks to God with awe and respect; not with disrespectful familiarity. He address God as the One who is from everlasting, “My God,” “My Holy One,” “O Rock,” and says “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

The Complaint: Habakkuk wonders how God who cannot tolerate wrong is allowing the Babylonians to execute judgement on Judah. He asked this question: “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13b).

Habakkuk Waits: After having made the complaint, the prophet decides to wait for God’s answer. He said, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1 NIV). This is a good lesson for us. On most occasions we love to speak to God and rush on with our work and priorities. But like the prophet let us learn to watch and wait for God’s answer.

IV God’s Answer
The answer is not what Habakkuk had expected. God wanted the answer to be made plain and written so that all will easily understand. The key message is that in the midst of all suffering and injustice, “the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4). This means that the godly will live by putting their trust in God and being loyal and faithful to their God in troubled times. God was here pointing to the grace that He will make available to all who trust in Him to continue to do so when times are evil.

At the same time, God told Habakkuk that He will judge the Babylonians for their wickedness. So He proclaims many woes, “Woe to him . . .” (2:6, 9, 12, 15).

A powerful contrast is made between the efforts of man and the glory of God. Woe is proclaimed on him “who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime” (v. 12). But in God’s scheme of things “the people’s labour is only fuel for the fire.” And “the nations exhaust themselves for nothing.”

Now the prophet is given a vision of the future, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). While man’s efforts in building a name for himself through crime and bloodshed is going to be wasted, the glory of the Lord will fill the earth fully. This is in contrast to the glory of man, the Babylonians in this context. God said that when the cup from the Lord’s right hand would come, “disgrace will cover your glory (v. 16b).”

God also condemned the uselessness of idols. Instead the prophet is shown a vision of God in His holy temple and the need to approach Him with reverence, mentioned: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (2:20).

Easy to Remember:
Some preachers use this mnemonic to easily remember the message of Chapter 2.
The Grace of God: “The righteous will live by his faith” (2:4)
The Glory of God: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (2:14)
The Government of God: “The Lord is in his holy temple” (2:20)

V Prayer and Praise (Habkkuk 3)
Complaints soon give way to prayer and praise. Like Job (Job 42:5), Habakkuk also says, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds” (3:2a). So his prayer is that God would renew His mighty deeds of old now, i.e., during the prophet’s lifetime. He wants God to remember mercy in the time of His wrath.

Then the prophet speaks of God’s glory covering the heavens and His praise filling the earth (v. 3) and says that “His ways are eternal” (v. 6b). He talks in figurative language the mighty deeds of God in the past. The prophet had started of his prayer by saying, “I have heard of your fame” (3:2). He continues that thought now and says that he heard and “my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled” (v. 16). This was because God had said that the Babylonian army would come and destroy Judah in judgement. Yet the prophet said that he will “wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.”

VI An Inspiring Piece of Praise (3:17—19)
Like many Psalms that begin with trouble and complaint; but ends with praise, Prophet Habakkuk also closes with music and praise. But the content of this praise surprises us. He first of all painted a picture of desolation; conditions that are possible as an aftermath of war: He talked about the fig tree not budding, about no grapes on the vines, about the fields failing to produce food, about no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls! These images speak to us of total devastation.

But the prophet, even in these conditions, is prepared to say, “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour” (3:18). This is a challenging lesson to us. Even when times are bad, even when everything seems to go wrong, it need not prevent us from finding joy in God. And this joy comes when you are sure about your relationship with God, which does not depend on outward circumstances whether good or bad. The prophet therefore said he will be joyful in God MY Saviour [emphasis added].

Habakkuk finally expresses confidence in God who is his strength. He uses the picture of God making his feet like the feet of a deer and enabling him to go on the heights.

VII The Lesson of the Book

“The lesson of the book is, Man shall live by Faith, 2:2—4. Faith is the ability to feel so sure of God, that, no matter, how dark the day, there is no doubt as to the outcome. For God’s people there is a GLORIOUS FUTURE. It may be a long way off. But it is absolutely sure. Thus in the midst of his gloom and despair, Habakkuk was an optimist of the first magnitude”­­ — Halley’s Bible Handbook.

VIII Application (from the Bible in Outline by Scripture Union)
This world is a fallen place.
We must be realistic about human wickedness, whether in society or in international affairs. Men and women do not care for God or his law and, given the opportunity, will trample on others in order to gain wealth, security, power or pleasure.

It is not wrong to ask.
Habbakuk’s questionings were not sinful doubt but believing perplexity. We must also think through our faith, facing up to the hard questions which life throws at us, even though we may not have ready­-made answers.

We can trust in God too.
Even when we cannot understand what God is doing, we can be confident that he is working things out in his own way and time. We can also learn to rejoice, not in our circumstances, but in him, in who he is and in what he will do.

History demands a judgement
So much of man’s wickedness never gets what it deserves in this life or in this world. If God is just there must be a judgement one day. The problem of suffering points us beyond this life to the next.

Related Posts:
Habakkuk 2:14 The Knowledge of the Glory of the Lord
Habakkuk 3:6z His Ways Are Eternal
Habakkuk 3:17,18 Joyful in God When Fig Tree Does Not Bud
Habakkuk 3:19a The Sovereign Lord Is My Strength

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