When I was young, I wrote in a diary that had a lock and key, but I never actually used the key to lock it. I always wanted someone to pick it up and read it, but I don’t think anyone ever did. Goodness knows, I always read everything I came across, locked or not. But that’s another story.
Writing is a way to share your thoughts with others, but it’s also a way to process them for yourself. Habakkuk does both with his book.
Habakkuk lived in Judah during the time of King Jehoiakim, around 600 BC, (NIV Study Bible notes). He was perplexed that wickedness and injustice thrived there, and that God seemed to do nothing about it. His book isn’t addressed to God’s people or to God’s enemies, as other minor prophets’ books are.
It reads more like his private prayer journal with God. It’s the account of two sincere questions that Habakkuk asks him, the answers God gives back that Habakkuk doesn’t like, and his response of faith, anyway.
First question, “Why do you tolerate wrong?” Ha 1:3.
Habakkuk faced community-wide violence and injustice, a whole society wicked and bent on mistreating one another, “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted,” Ha 1:3-4.
God tells Habakuk he’s about to do something big, something he won’t understand, “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people who…deride kings and scoff at rulers.” He will send these infamous people as his agents of judgment against Judah, Ha 1:6, 10.
The Babylonians are the ones who are “feared and dreaded…they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor…They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on–guilty men, whose own strength is their god,” 1:7, 10-11.
Their horses are faster than panthers, “fiercer than wolves at dusk.” Their cavalry flies like vultures “swooping to devour…bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand,” Ha 1:8-9.
God was right. Habakkuk is rocked and doesn’t understand. Maybe God overdid their description? Intimidating.
Habakkuk had wanted God to do something about Judah’s wickedness, not send in people even more wicked. So while he was upset about the local bad guys when he asked the first question, God’s answer made him grapple with a much more disturbing one–why a holy God would let bad people swoop in and hurt better ones.
Second question, “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” Ha 1:13.
Habakkuk says the godless gather men and their wealth like fish in nets. And then they worship their nets because they live in luxury and “enjoy the choicest of food” because of them. Will they always be allowed to fish and keep what they catch, destroying others as they go? Ha 1:14-17.
God’s answer is this: he will judge the Babylonians. They won’t profit unendingly at the expense of others. Because the Babylonian is proud and “his desires are not upright,” he will one day be required to pay for his wrong. God warns Babylon, “Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion!…Because you have plundered many nations, the people who are left will plunder you,” Ha 2:4-8.
Even the stones, woodwork, and beams of their homes cry out their guilt, because they’ve been bought with stolen wealth. God says, “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime!” Ha 2:10-12.
The Babylonians will drink God’s cup of wrath and be filled with shame–drunk and exposed. “Disgrace will cover your glory,” but the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of God’s glory, because he will do what no one else can do. He will stop them, 2:14-16.
God’s word for Habakkuk is though the wicked aren’t upright and seem to prosper, God’s got his eye on them. Leave the wicked to him, God says, “but the righteous will live by his faith,” Ha 2:4. God will deal with bad guys and bring them down; they’re his business. What he wants from Habakkuk and other good guys like him is to live a life of faithful trust.
Because God is in control, the righteous can focus on living their best lives. Rather than worrying about bad guys, God implies that Habakkuk’s best, next step is to worship instead. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him,” Ha 2:20.
And Habakkuk does just that, in an outpouring of heart and soul in prayer to God. His book is called an oracle, which means a description of a vision, and in this prayer, he describes what he sees: God’s glory in creation as he rules over it and saves his people from their enemies, (NIV Study Bible notes).
Habakkuk prays and says he’s heard of God’s mighty acts. He asks God to renew them for Judah against Babylon, and to remember to be merciful to Judah while he’s pouring out his wrath. “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy, Ha 3:2.
Habakkuk sees God’s power that “splits the earth with rivers” and how the “mountains saw [him] and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high.” This sounds like what happened when God parted the Red Sea. Habakkuk says “sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows and the lightning of your flashing spear,” Ha 3:9-11.
God strode through the earth and threshed the nations and delivered his people. He crushed the leader of “the land of wickedness” and pierced his head with his own spear. God trampled “the sea with [his] horses, churning the great waters,” Ha 3:12-15. Maybe this was how God humbled the Egyptians or how he will humble the Babylonians or maybe this has still a future fulfillment. (Prophecies aren’t clear or neatly organized.)
From Habakkuk’s response, I’d say he saw something of what was ahead for Judah. He says his heart pounded and his lips quivered at the sound of his vision, “decay crept into my bones and my legs trembled.” He was emotionally and physically moved to the point of weakness, but his fear doesn’t prohibit faith. He chooses to trust God despite his feelings. He says, “Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us,” Ha 3:16.
Anticipating a catastrophic event for his own nation, knowing it will come as surely as the sun rises, as surely as the God who speaks to him and gives him this heads’ up, would be overwhelmingly dreadful. It’s not a vision of what will happen to another nation; this one will happen to his own friends and family.
And though he doesn’t know when it will come exactly, God has hinted that it would impact his own life, “…it will certainly come and will not delay,” Ha 2:3. Many prophets prophesied events that weren’t fulfilled until after they died. Habakkuk would live to see at least the beginning of the fulfillment of his, (NIV Study Bible notes).
Along with being afraid for one’s life, an enemy siege means food and water are in short supply. There will be deprivation and suffering on every level. Habakkuk’s testimony of faith at the very end of his book is inspiring. He’s already admitted he’s terrified of what he sees that’s coming, but despite his terror, he says,
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights,”
God’s daily-bread faithfulness means relatively little when you’re living in a nation at peace with a stocked pantry and fridge. But at a time of siege when food is gone, food suppliers have stopped coming by, and you’re not able to get to fields outside, God’s promises are all you have to rely on and mean everything.
I’m glad to know that when crunch time came, Habakkuk chose to be joyful and trust the Sovereign God to be his strength, “I will rejoice..I will be joyful.” Nothing can happen that God doesn’t control. He can rest in his care, even if his pantry and fridge are bare.
This for me is when it’s hardest to trust, when I’m tempted to freak out about a future I can’t control. This is when we choose to trust–or we don’t. Habakkuk chooses joyful praise before the event. This is what centers his heart and bolsters him. A lifetime of chances to trust grows deep roots of faith. If God is my strength, what do I have to fear? All of my life is on him.
But is God enough?
We don’t get to peek into what happens to Habakkuk once the Babylonians come, but I’m guessing that God gives him the feet of a deer and enables him to meet him on the heights like he said, wrapping him up in such love and peace and joy, that he has some to share with others.
It’s only in times of pain that God’s love really runs deep enough for me to feel. It’s only when I’m afraid, that my faith steps up and grows. It’s only by rejoicing in God when I’m down that joy bubbles up. While I don’t choose to live with painful or fearful circumstances, there’s no way to avoid them that I know. And I’ve gotta admit, those deeply loving, faith-growing times are by far my favorite days.
God gave Habakkuk strength to trust him on the day of his fearful vision. I’m guessing that when the reality came and Babylon broke through their walls, God didn’t forget him. I bet Habakkuk already had the habit, and that he met God again on those heights.
And I bet he found joy.
From chapter 8 on, the prophecies in Revelation escalate into greater destruction as wickedness grows. I just read through the rest of the book, and it’s intense. I’m thankful that when these days come, God will still rule and be on his throne, and heaven will come to earth, all as he’s planned.
It sounds like a tremendous amount of suffering will happen before then, but God is our hiding place. I know he will protect his people and surround them as he always does. I wish we could be done with Satan and his demons without the showdown. Help me to trust you with what’s ahead.
In chapter 9, there’s a lot of dark description of surreal things like locusts who wear crowns and have human faces and lions teeth, bound angels who are released to kill 1/3 of mankind, and mounted troops whose horses have heads like lions and tails like snakes. Another third of mankind is killed by the three plagues that come out of their mouths of fire, smoke, and sulphur.
The thing that grabs me in this chapter is that even after all of these awful things come, John writes that “the rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues, still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood–idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts,” Re 9:20-21.
And I think, whoa. That’s pretty hardcore. I didn’t summarize everything in that chapter–there’s actually more. If the people who are still alive in that day make it through all that’s described and still don’t repent of their sin, then they’re made of much sterner stuff than I. I’m afraid just reading this chapter.
I’m trying to find the love, and I think I found some.
Here’s the scene: trumpets are sounding and stars are falling and Jesus has returned to earth. The sun and sky are dark. Locusts are stinging folks like scorpions.
I’m thinking, well it’s no secret at that point that the end times have come. When all of these things start happening, a person’s gotta sit up and take note that something different is going on. The end times are here, they’re now. I’m guessing that nobody’s gonna sleep through them.
Any one of the events in this chapter–a dark sun, trumpets, falling stars, Jesus’ return, horses with snake tails…(you get my point)—say that something big is going down. Now’s the time to get yourself on your knees and repent before the God who has the power to throw you into the Abyss that opened up. (It’s mentioned here, too).
And this is where the love is: people are still given the chance to repent at this wild time on earth. I know, because John says they don’t repent. If they don’t, it’s because they have the offer in front of them, and they don’t take it.
God’s patience to give people every chance to turn to him, even in that very late hour, blows my mind. I’m also blown away that some choose not to take it. They’d rather hang onto worthless idolatries than get down on their knees.
God’s judgment isn’t gruesome. People’s refusal of him is what’s gruesome. It’s not his choice, it’s theirs. I cannot imagine how hard a person’s heart would have to be at that point not to choose him.
Here’s more sad news. From the dark days of the end times we jump back into Bible times. Judah has been overthrown by Babylon and has been carted off to exile there. This psalm says that God’s people are by the rivers of Babylon where they weep when they remember Zion, their homeland.
Their captors demand that they sing their joyful praise songs from home, but they can’t. They’re homesick and desolate, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”
What gives them hope is remembering home–Jerusalem. There were many prophecies that they would eventually return home. These promises would have become very dear.
What else seems to give comfort is asking God to payback their enemies. The Edomites rejoiced and celebrated when Babylon broke down Judah’s wall, “‘Tear it down,’ they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations!'” They ask God to remember what Edom did against them.
And there’s one last grisly thought that gives comfort–payback for the Babylonians.
“Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us.
Happy is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks,” Ps 137:8-9.
I’m stunned reading this in the Bible, but there it is. Trying to understand it, I see that the singers are only suggesting doing what’s been done to them already. I can understand this better now. That’s a level of pain I haven’t experienced, for which I’m very grateful. I can only imagine how it would feel to watch babies brutally murdered, but my baby? Who can survive that? While wanting something awful to happen to someone else isn’t “nice,” well, it’s honest.
I also see that they aren’t saying they will do the dashing, but are bringing the desire for payback to God for him to handle. They said “Remember Lord…” when they began this section about enemies.
My take away today is hanging out in the heights with you, God, like Habakkuk did. It was where he processed his pain and fears and sorrows and found joy in you through praise. And he did it with prayer and being filled with your words, ordinary things I’ve already got, things I can do anywhere, anytime.
Thank you for handling our questions. Thank you for being so easily accessible, always available, and for sharing your strength. Thank you for letting us meet you “on the heights” where you are when we pray and read your words (Habakkuk).
Thank you for caring about our sorrows and for not demanding we sing joyful songs when we’re broken-hearted (Psalms).
And thank you for giving people every last chance to repent and believe you (Revelation).
You are very great.