the Minor Prophets


the Thinker


Nineveh had fallen and once again, God’s people had quickly forgotten God. How dense and dull is the natural man. Habakkuk had something on his mind. It is called a "burden." He was troubled when He compared what he knew about God with what was going on around him. Why was God allowing evil to run rampant? Why was not God doing something about sin? Why were sinners getting away with murder? In chapter one he is wondering, in two watching, and in three we find him worshiping. Habakkuk is the thinker. He goes farther and has dared to ask what others have only thought. Why doesn’t God do something about evil? Evil men, violent, sinful men seem to rule the world while the righteous suffer. Good ever goes to the gallows while evil sits on the throne. Why does God do nothing? The weak are "spoiled" by the strong. God’s laws are ignored and violators are indifferent to justice. Why doesn’t God intervene?

Every lover of God has thought such questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Lone individuals have posed the same questions to God, from the beginning. It has also been the collective cry of the Jew as a people from the days of Egyptian salvery. Habakkuk ministered during the turbulant twilight of Judea. Josiah was killed while attempting to halt the advance of Egypt at Megiddo. Pharaoh-Necho became the political power behind the Jewish throne, imprisoning one of Josiah’s sons and installing another. Jehoiakim was weak, and wicked, the world was chaotic and Judah was sinking back into darkness.

Habakkuk had a good sense of who God was in his holiness. Habakkuk had a high regard for the laws and commandments of the LORD. But why was God allowing people to trample on his law and his Word as if God did not even exist? Here are questions that the righteous have asked for millennia. David also was well aware of the dilemma of evil parading proudly before the righteous. He wrote "Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity" (Ps. 37:1). The Psalm of Asaph spoke about the problem as well, "Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world, they increase in riches. Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. If I say, I will speak thus; behold I should offend against the generation of thy children. When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me," (Ps. 73:12-16).

The book of Habakkuk breaks into the prophet’s life as he carries on a dialogue with God. If it sounds like he is complaining; it is important to realize that he is complaining to God and not about God. There is a big difference. Real, genuine, and honest prayer often sounds like this. This is not the prayer of a self-righteous pharisee, it is more closely in tune with the breast-beating publican in the back of the temple (Lk. 18:13). Many prayers of believers begin with the question, Why. We don’t like to question God in public, but who is so perfect that they have never struggled with the weight of this question in secret prayer?

Another question God has heard many a saint pray comes next, "How long?" (1:2). Whether uttered by a Hebrew slave in Egypt, or by a sister named Mary waiting for help to come for Lazarus, this is a common prayer. "How long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!" When we pray, God does not always come running. He hears, yet "to everything there is a season." Habakkuk’s frustration will teach us more about faith than all the prophets. There is a hidden treasure in every trouble. Instead of running from trials we should search the rushing streams we must cross for golden nuggets. As Habbakkuk pans the murky bottom of a troubled faith he finds a piece of gold so large that it has enriched the saints for centuries. The precious truth he found shines throughout the church history and shines brighter still: "The just shall live by faith" (2:4). This valuable truth is also a glowing truth that has shined in our doubt's darkest hours. It is like a polar star that has helped many a saint get his bearings while traveling through this world. This truth became the centerpiece for Pauline theology (Rom. 1:16-17), it was also used in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:11) and is found in the letter to the Hebrews (10:38-39). The righteous shall live (exist, survive, endure) by (in, through, because-of) his faith. This was the touch-stone that ignited the light of the Reformation when it was discovered by that monk named Luther. Habakkuk’s problem is found in the first verse of the first chapter. It is solved in the fourth verse of the second. This holy man was vexed by what he "saw." What he saw weighed heavy on his heart. We must all learn to live by faith and not by sight.

Life, at times, seems so unfair. Evil people seem to thrive and prosper. Wicked people seem to get away with wrong and righteous people seem to suffer. Do "nice guys" really finish last? So it would seem, until Habakkuk got a revelation that would become the Rosetta Stone of all moral theology.

Jesus put it another way when he said, "the kingdom of God is within you." Taking care of the evil around us is God’s business. What is important for our survival is the kingdom within us. God will take care of sorting out each of the players that have a part in and around our lives. No one will escape answering to God. We have no way of knowing how an evil person, or nation is being used by God in the greater equation of life. As a single number in a formula can transform the final solution, so too, God employs many elements and complex factors to bring about his ends. God is working. We react, God only acts. He is never taken by surprise by political cataclysms or moral catastrophe. The fall of the Assyrians or the rise of the Chaldeans do not alarm the Almighty any more than the injustice of a neighbor or the failure of a friend. We are often shaken, troubled, or confused by events. If we could climb into Habakkuk’s watchtower we would see life from the lofty heights of faith. God is our watchtower, when we are in Him we see things through the eyes of faith.

The name Habakkuk means "embrace." Some see a saint struggling with difficult moral questions and the "embrace" like that of one wrestling with an opponent. Better is the embrace of a parent holding a troubled child. Or even better still, is the believer who embraces God’s truth: "the just shall live by faith."

Habakkuk did not like the answer God gave him. God said that he was about to do something beyond the wildest imagination of the Seer. God’s answer offered no relief. God was about to raise up the Chaldeans (1:6) and use that bitter and hasty nation to bring a terrible and dreadful judgment. How could a righteous God use unrighteous men to accomplish his ends, and more importantly, punish the righteous? How could a God who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil" use evil to such an end? Habakkuk is the doubting Thomas among the twelve ancient seers. He retreated to his Old Testament equivalent of the upper-room and like the Apostles of Christ waited for the filling of the Holy Spirit, so to speak. He "will watch to see what [God] will say" (2:1). As Christ instructed his followers to "tarry" at Jerusalem so Jehovah told this troubled seer to wait for his answer for "though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" (2:3). The answer that came was simple and yet brilliant: faith. Pride will never triumph, faith never fails. "The just shall live by faith."

Descendants of the Babylonian captivity and Disporia were visited in their synagogues nearly five hundred years later by an Apostle once named Saul who would preach another message that must be accepted by faith. Paul on his first missionary journey quoted the words of Habakkuk while preaching to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia. Far from Jewish soil, the great-great grandchildren of deported Jews listened "Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses; Beware, therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no way believe, though a man declare it unto you." (Acts 13:38-41).

It was beyond the scope of Habakkuk’s wildest imagination that Jewish Apostles would carry a light to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47) and the descendents of Babylon would bow before the Lord Jesus Christ.

By faith Habakkuk is assured that crime does not pay. Every sin will have its judgment. Every evil will have its end. The woes of the second chapter are severe and awful and the tears of a sinner's sorrows will know no comfort. The cries of the righteous will be quieted with God’s embrace not unlike a mother who picks up her troubled babe, holds it close, and softly whispers "hush" 2:20.

The final chapter of this little book is a song. One would have to read in Hebrew to appreciate the beautiful alliterations and the poetic form it takes. It is a song of faith. It is the equivalent of Luther’s "A Mighty Fortress is our God." It speaks of God’s love, and mercy. It sings of his glory(3:3-4), and tells of his might (3:5). Faith is able to sing as God "measures" and judges the earth (3:6). Faith stands trusting though the world tremble. Faith, like Paul and Silas in a Philipian jail, sings in the night.

One of the most beautiful expressions of faith is found in this ode. Faith needs nothing but God to survive. Many times in history the Jewish people were stripped of everything yet so many fail to find this truth. "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation."

Habakkuk’s faith survived his doubts. He climbed into his watch tower and waited for insight and assurance. His faith endured as seeing him who is invisible. His faith discarded the human scales of what men think is "fairness" and trusted God’s goodness, wisdom, and integrity. His faith finally learned to lean on God alone and learned to trust in the giver more than the gift. Like every other giant of faith he discovered the peace that comes with trust. Elijah learned it when Cherith dried up, Moses learned it in the wilderness, Job on the ash heap, God is working on the problem of good verses evil and when he is finished we shall all bow in astonishment, ashamed that we could ever have doubted at all.

To Modern Preachers and Teachers

The best teachers think. Some are afraid to look to closely at what they believe for fear that it will not survive such close scrutiny. They are afraid to think. Habakuk was a thinker. The best students, ask hard questions. There was a day when anyone who dared to ask a question was quickly crushed. Those were dark ages indeed. Truth fears no inquiry. Real faith needs no inqusitions.

The best teachers embrace God's words and cling to them as a vine climbing the lattice. The best teachers hold on to God's promises and never let them go. But the best teachers also embrace in love all whom they teach. The best teachers do not teach lessons, they teach people. It is not until a man has doubted and dared to ask the hard questions, that his faith has come of age. There was a time when a man was not considered a real sailor until he had "rounded the horn" and experienced the fury, wind and waves in the straits of South America. Once he had endured the treacherous currents, icy gale force winds, frozen canvas, and colliding oceans, then and only then could he be said to truly be a sailor.

Faith that never had a doubt is feeble. It is untried and untested. Habakkuk faces our doubts and helps us destroy each with an honest answer. Thank God for the thinker.