There’s this tiny book towards the end of the Old Testament named Habakkuk that I’ve always been fascinated with.
For years I would say I loved this book mainly because I loved to say the name of the book (I know, kinda dumb but it is super fun to say!). I also loved the book because I had heard Habakkuk 1:2, “For I am doing something in your days that you will not believe when you hear it” quoted out of context but it sounded so appealing to my ears that I latched onto this book and claimed it as a promise from God.
Then I actually read the book of Habakkuk and realized that promise wasn’t actually about me….or Habakkuk. This verse was actually God letting Habakkuk know that he was going to use evil people to step in and destroy Israel and send the Israelites into exile. It wasn’t a promise of prosperity or getting out of suffering. It was a promise of suffering to come.
And just like the rest of the Bible, when I finally realized the Bible was not a book about me but a book about God, I realized what a gift the book of Habakkuk was to those of us walking through suffering. Not because we can claim verses out of context but because we see God step in and meet Habakkuk where he was and open his eyes to the bigness of God.
If you’ve never read Habakkuk, I have a cheat sheet at the end of this post for you, and here are 3 practical things you can learn from Habakkuk to help you get started.
God is just and merciful even when we don’t understand his ways
The book of Habakkuk begins with a complaint from Habakkuk. He is crying out to God asking “how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” He goes on to lament about why God isn’t stopping the violence, punishing the sin, and showing his justice. To Habakkuk, Judah seems to be able to get away with sin and destructive behavior, and God is not stepping in to stop them. The rich are abusing their power. The people of Judah are not following the laws of God. This feels very unjust to Habakkuk.
But then God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint by stating, “I am doing a work in your days…” God immediately contradicts Habakkuk and lets Habakkuk know that God’s justice and mercy are always at work, even when Habakkuk can’t see it.
However, the fact that God is choosing to use the Chaldeans to bring about justice to the people of Judah also feels very unjust to Habakkuk.
The idea that God would use a wicked nation to punish his chosen people didn’t line up with Habakkuk’s concept of justice either. Habakkuk responds to God’s statement by saying “why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” He could not understand how God could allow a more wicked nation (the Chaldeans) victory over a less wicked nation (Judah). While Habakkuk wanted God’s justice, he didn’t want it at the hands of his evil enemies.
God starts to open Habakkuk’s eyes to the justice of God in chapter 2 when he states, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” This is the beginning of Habakkuk beginning to understand God’s justice may not be a linear action like what we envision. God is trying to give Habakkuk a bigger vision for God’s justice by letting him know God’s timing will always be perfect.
As Habakkuk continues to listen to God, he is reminded of the sovereignty of God and the past injustices that God has brought to pass. It is in the remembering of who God is that Habakkuk is finally able to utter “I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon the people who invade us.” As he listened and drew close to God, he remembered that God’s justice can always be counted on. He remembered that God is trustworthy and will always punish the wicked. And in that remembering, Habakkuk was able to worship God.
Just like Habakkuk couldn’t see God’s justice, we often feel the same way.
Currently, as you turn on the TV, all you see are political ads demeaning and slurring other’s names. You see evil programming and ungodly behavior celebrated among the rich and influential in the world. As you look at the world around you, you can’t help but ask yourself “how long” before God steps in with his justice.
But like Habakkuk, we would do well to remember God’s response as he stated “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” We often can’t see God’s justice play out in the world. But we can hold onto the promises in scripture that remind us God is just. Hebrews 1:8 reminds us that Jesus reigns with a “scepter of justice”. His justice is a part of who he is. Just like Habakkuk didn’t understand or see God’s justice, we often don’t understand or see his justice as well. But we can have confidence that God’s justice always reigns.
Wickedness will eventually be punished
Habakkuk struggled to understand why a wicked nation could conquer Judah, God’s chosen people. As God revealed his plan to use the Chaldeans to bring justice upon Judah, Habakkuk began to question if wickedness ever really gets punished. He compares man to the fish of the sea who have no ruler implying that wickedness will continue to go unchecked if the wicked nation of Babylon can simply continue to exist.
God is quick to challenge Habakkuk on this belief. God reminds him that wickedness is always punished. It just is not always punished in the timeframe humanity desires. God encourages Habakkuk to “wait for it”. He then goes on to a series of “woe” statements letting Habakkuk see the eventual punishment the Chaldeans will experience because of their wickedness.
Life can often feel overwhelming, out of control, and as if wickedness is rewarded more than righteousness.
Dishonesty and immoral behavior can often lead to prosperity and promotions. But as we look to Christ, we can have confidence that the wicked will be punished. In Matthew 25:44-45 Jesus gets asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help you?’ … ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me…” “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In this statement, Jesus is giving us the assurance that the wicked will be punished in eternality. That though we often would like wickedness to be punished immediately, we can have confidence that God has an eternal punishment awaiting those who do not follow Him. It is because of this promised eternal life or eternal punishment that we know the wicked will always suffer the consequences of their choices.
Wait and Trust in God
The book of Habakkuk ends with a beautiful prayer of trust in the Lord. Nothing had changed in Habakkuk’s life. The Chaldeans were still going to invade. Judah was still going to be in exile. The wicked were still prospering. However, Habakkuk encountered God and realized God could be trusted, regardless of the circumstances surrounding him.
Habakkuk spends a good portion of chapter 3 stating aloud all God’s trustworthy actions. Leading the Israelites through the Exodus, giving the law on Mt. Sinai, splitting the Jordan River and the Red Sea, giving Joshua victory, and fighting for his people are just a few examples.
As Habakkuk remembers all God has done to rescue his people, Habakkuk responds with “my legs tremble…yet I will quietly wait…” Habakkuk is still scared of the future and what is to come. But he also knows God has not changed. God has always been trustworthy, and he will be again.
And so the book of Habakkuk ends with “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Regardless of the circumstances, Habakkuk has learned that God is trustworthy, and he will wait on the Lord.
We need to understand this concept as well…especially during this Global pandemic.
Currently, the world is shut down, the president has been in the hospital, the election is coming up, the members of the church are fighting over masks, and the world seems to be in an upheaval. The circumstances of our world, just like Habakkuk’s, seem to be out of control and a bit scary.
However, John 16:33 reminds us that although we will have suffering in this world, Jesus has overcome the world. The world does not get the final say on what happens to us. In addition, as we feel the weight of the world and the brokenness surrounding us, Romans 8:23-24 reminds us that “we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits—we also groan within ourselves… Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” We have the confidence, as believers, to hope and wait on the Lord.
Habakkuk is a story about God’s faithfulness, his trustworthiness, and the need for us to draw close to him. This book is such a beautiful picture of being honest with God in prayer and letting the truth of who God is change your mindset. Habakkuk never denies the suffering we all endure but instead shows us how to respond to God in the midst of our turmoil. What a gift to us this book of the Bible is!
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