What in the world is going on? Habakkuk wanted to know. Injustice overran Judah and nothing seemed to happen. It looked as if God did not care about sin. Finally, he prays his exasperation to the LORD Himself. “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence’ and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” Habakkuk1:2-4.
These are grave accusations to make to God. You ignore my pleas. I pray about the situation and you do nothing to change it. You, sovereign LORD of the universe, make me see the violence abounding among your people. Judgment and justice will never take place. Law is disregarded, your will means nothing, and we who seek to walk uprightly and please you are surrounded and judged. Why are You sitting there doing nothing God?
To many of us this rant sounds familiar. We have either thought it or actually prayed it to our God. While we do not live in a covenant relationship with God as a nation, we do as God’s people and God’s church. Sometimes out loud what is God doing in His world?
In reality, the LORD was not silent, ignoring Habakkuk’s pleas, nor unaware and uninvolved in the crises. While Habakkuk’s prayer is offensive to us, God never rebukes Habakkuk for it. He answered it directly. I wonder what Habakkuk thought when God spoke back to him. God’s reply is clear and to the point, but it definitely was not what Habakkuk wanted to hear. God says, “Look among the nations and watch— Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you” (Habakkuk 1:5). God describes how the Chaldeans were coming and would destroy Judah as Habakkuk knew it.
How do you act when you realize that your life is going to change irreparably? Do you remember how life was before September 11, 2001? America arrogantly thought itself immune to attack. Sure terrorist attacks and death and suffering happened every day in other places in the world. Americans were not totally calloused, but we did not care like we did when it happened here. Suddenly, without warning, everything changed. We woke up that morning and before we hit the sheets that night, the entire world had changed. Nothing would ever be the same again. Multiply our despair several times over and we begin to understand what Habakkuk was going through.
So, Habakkuk knew the end of the story before it came to pass. What do we do in the face of this truth? Habakkuk paused for a reality check and then expressed his confusion to God Himself. In view of the changing reality around him, Habakkuk stops to remind himself of what he knows to be true.
What is really real? God is. We may overlook this fact as we deal with the troubles that press upon us. Yet, the fact remains that God is real and He is concerned with our problems and needs. So, with the reality of who God is, Habakkuk starts his plea. “Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One?” (Habakkuk 1:12). The rhetorical question implies a positive answer. Yes, God was and is eternal. He has no beginning and no end.
There are several facets to this diamond of truth. God is the self-existent and self-sufficient One. Before time, before creation, before everything God was. He created the Universe. He sustains it. He runs it. Therefore, there must be an eternal reason for Habakkuk and Judah’s coming distress. The LORD reminded a King facing an impossible situation that even the invaders were in His control, “Did you not hear long ago How I made it, From ancient times that I formed it? Now I have brought it to pass.” (2 Kings 19:25). Habakkuk’s experience came directly as a result of God’s plan. This eternal sovereign God knew exactly what He was doing.
Habakkuk also spoke of God in Habakkuk1:12 as his Holy One. Holiness has at least three parts. First, God Himself is holy. He is unlike us, set apart to Himself, and totally sinless. Holiness also describes how things belong to Him. God had told Israel that they are His and His alone. In this way they were a holy people. Finally, holiness speaks of being set aside for God’s use. The land that Moses stood on at the burning bush was holy ground because God was there and using it for His purpose. These invaders were dealing with a nation and a land that were uniquely God’s and set aside for His use. Therefore, there were going to be consequences. God also could not act toward Habakkuk or the people of God with an unholy motive. This was not to see how much they could suffer before they broke down. It had a different and eternal purpose. Abraham gave voice to confidence built on God’s holy nature in Genesis 18:25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The unspoken answer is yes. He will.
Given these two realities about God, Habakkuk draws the conclusion. “We shall not die. O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction.” Whatever the purpose of the divinely appointed invasion and destruction of Judah, the devastation would not be complete. Judah would not cease to exist. The nation would somehow survive and live. He anchors these conclusions with two names of God. He is the LORD, the covenant keeping, ever faithful God of Israel. He is also the Rock, the stability and strength of His people.
Given these conclusions drawn from God’s unchanging character, Habakkuk still has a problem. “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13). This is a difficult question. To us it may seem that God can only bless holy people and should only exalt righteous people and use them to judge the sins of His people. Observation both in Habakkuk and in life shows that this is not the case. The LORD can make a scourge out of anything He pleases to cleanse the temple of His people and drive sin from them.
The second part of his confusion is the apparent limitless and unparalleled success of the Babylonian conquest. “They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their dragnet; because by them their share is sumptuous and their food plentiful. Shall they therefore empty their net, and continue to slay nations without pity?” (Habakkuk 1:15–17). Can God tolerate the credit for the victory going to another false god? Will He not stop this horde?
God answers His prophet in the second chapter. Three eternal truths tower over the blood, judgment and destruction found there. The righteous one shall live by faith. The glory of the Lord will fill the earth like the water covers the sea. Finally, the LORD is in His holy Temple, let the earth keep quiet before Him. In spite of what we might think, God is in absolute control.
What do we learn from all of us that can help us in our present struggles? To give these lessons their proper weight in our thinking, remember we have never and probably will never experience anything that approaches the trouble that Habakkuk knew. Yet, his taking time to remind himself of who God is got him on level ground again. God is still eternal, still sovereign, and still holy. Investing time thinking on these attributes helps us to see reality through the dust of the disaster.
We also must not cast away our faith in God when trouble comes. Too often we look to self and others before we seek answers from God about our situations. Habakkuk received an answer to his whys, we may not. God is not obligated to explain to us. Instead, He has promised, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Holding tenaciously to this promise, let us not cast aside our faith, for it has great reward.
Finally, we must continue diligently the struggle against sin in our lives. Sin destroys, Christ saves.