Habakkuk 1-3: Question and Answer

I have had people ask me over the years if it is OK to question God. While I would say that making a habit of questioning God is probably not a good idea, especially if your questions are born our of doubt of God’s character, power or sovereignty. But scripture does show us that part of working through our faith is asking God questions. Habakkuk is a great example of this. The entire book describes how Habakkuk sees the situation in Judah and then wonders where God is in it all. What is truly wonderful about Habakkuk as a book is that God’s answers to the prophet’s questions are recorded for us.

Verses 1-4 find Habakkuk wondering why God seems to indifferent to everything that is happening with His people. The perversion of justice, the vicious enemy camped at their gate and God’s seeming indifference to their cry for help. In essence, Habakkuk is wondering when God was going to send a revival upon his people.

God answers this question in verses 5-11 when he explains that he is in deed at work in the nations, but not in the way Habakkuk wanted or expected. It was God directing and empowering the Babylonians, a godless and terrible people, to bring chastisement on Judah. God was in fact very concerned with the injustice, abuse of power and rampant sin in Judah, but his solution was not what Habakkuk wanted. Boice comments: “It would be like crying out to God about the state of the visible church in America and hearing that God is going to destroy it by a Communist invasion.”

This then leads  Habakkuk to express his confusion: how can a holy God use a wicked nation to punish his chosen people? This question is the remainder of chapter 1 as Habakkuk first explores God’s holiness (verses 12-13), the helplessness of the people (verses 14-15) and the haughtiness of the enemy (verses 16-17).

There is a pause here as Habakkuk waits for God’s answer. This is an important little side-lesson for us in our attitude towards God. We often will ask God a question, expecting an immediate answer. But Habakkuk shows us that we must develop an attitude of patience when waiting for God. He is not our own personal valet that comes when we ring the bell. God is the cosmic King who works in his own ways and in his own time. Our attitude in prayer must reflect this.

God’s second answer to Habakkuk is a bit convoluted. Basically, His answer to Habakkuk that there is no inconsistency in God using Babylon to punish his people, because in the end Babylon’s own sins will be exposed and punished. God was not condoning or endorsing Babylon’s activities, but was instead using them for a time. After that time, Babylon itself will be brought down by God. In the end, God’s people must live by faith in him and his control of history; a control that is laid out for Habakkuk as God explains his future judgement on Babylon based on its sins (verses 6-20). Those sins are: greed, injustice, violence, seduction/perversion and idolatry.

The real lesson for us in this section comes from Habakkuk 2:4. This verses has been called the great text of the Bible. It explains the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. It is the key to understanding the Gospel and Christians life. And it is the key for remaining faithful to God in times when we don’t understand why things are happening and where God is in the midst of it. We must live by faith.

But what happens when fear gets in the way of living by faith? That is essentially the heart of Habakkuk chapter 3.  There is a wonderful description of intense, bone-shattering fear in Habakkuk 3:16, a fear brought on by God’s description of Babylon’s invasion. We must all admit to feeling fear from time-to-time in life, but how to deal with that fear is the difficulty. Habakkuk’s response to fear is really key for all of us. Even in the midst of his fear, when nothing seemed to be right in life (Hab 3:17), we must rejoice in the God of our salvation, in the one who is our strength.

Boice writes: “What is it that makes this chapter (Habakkuk 3) so forceful? In my judgement it is the courageous way in which Habakkuk embraces all the calamities he can imagine and nevertheless triumphs over themin the knowledge and love of his Saviour.” (Boice; The Minor Prophets Vol. 2, Baker Books 1986, pg. 433)

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Jeremiah 41-45

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