Israel’s sin had reached critical mass and its society was rotting from the inside out. Habakkuk prayed for revival, but the Lord promised judgment. The punishment would come from an alien, evil people who had no regard for God or man. Habakkuk tries to make sense of this and cries out to the Lord. “Are You not from everlasting LORD, my God, my Holy One” (Habakkuk 1:12a). Like Moses and King David before him (Deuteronomy 33:27), (Psalm 90:12), Habakkuk chooses to focus on the unchanging and unending character of God. Notice that this is the first time he is praising God rather than complaining to Him. Not looking at the terrifying circumstances around him, which are temporary, the prophet chooses to focus on the eternality of the Lord.
It is one thing to know about God and quite another to know God personally. There are those who study theology for years and never trust in Him. Habakkuk has enough confidence in his relationship with God to use the word “my” which denotes an intimacy that can only be found in a relationship. This conviction is based upon God’s covenantal promise established with His people. No matter how severe the punishment God’s people suffer, they will not be completely destroyed. No matter how dark it seems, God saves His people to testify of His faithful promises (Genesis 12).
Habakkuk understands that the Babylonians are the means God uses to punish Israel for their sin. “You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct” (Habakkuk 1:12). Israel had heard the warnings as far back as Moses and as recently as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:27), but she refused to repent. Pastor Adrian Rodgers once said, “We are free to sin, but we are not free to choose the consequences of sin.” Israel will discover that sin carries a hefty price. As Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23).
Amidst the promise and the praise, Habakkuk still wants answers and wonders how God uses evil. “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor” (Habakkuk 1:13a). David echoes the holy character of God, saying, “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity” (Psalm 5:4-5). The Lord is separate and unstained by evil and His decisions are not affected by imperfect attitudes or motives, but His righteous character demands that He carry out justice. He would not be good, just, or loving, if He didn’t deal with sin, even in His own children.
Habakkuk takes his argument to its logical conclusion. “Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?”(Habakkuk 1:13b). How many of us can identify with this question? We see so much evil around us and watch as the perpetrators prosper without suffering the consequences. God chooses to use them as a means to chastise the righteous. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Peter gives us a hint when he says, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God…” (1 Peter 4:17a). As Christians, we are called to reflect God’s character. Therefore He has the right and responsibility to hold us to a higher standard. When we choose to ignore His warnings and His word, He uses drastic measures, even evil, to draw us back to Him.
As victims of wrong, we suffer pain and helplessness. Habakkuk knows that Israel will be like fish in a barrel to the enemy. He tells the Lord that with no one to lead or protect them, His people are an easy catch for the Babylonians. “Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them?” (Habakkuk 1:14).
The prophet is still building his case. “The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, Drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad” (Habakkuk 1:15). Can you hear Habakkuk? Are you sure you want to do this, Lord? Do you want to give our enemies the victory and make them happy? Habakkuk isn’t finished yet. “Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net And burn incense to their fishing net; Because through these things their catch is large, And their food is plentiful (Habakkuk 1:16). The prophet tells the Lord that if the Chaldeans successfully conquer Israel as promised and then give credit to their false god instead of the true God. what message does that send about Israel and about God Himself to the surrounding nations? He ends his complaint with a question. “Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?” (Habakkuk 1:17). Habakkuk wasn’t the first to ask this question. The Psalmist pours out his heart, “Rise up, O Judge of the earth, Render recompense to the proud. How long shall the wicked, O LORD, How long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; all who do wickedness vaunt themselves” (Psalm 94:2-4).
This is the cry of every righteous heart. Watching the predictable consequences of evil is hard, and being hurt by them is worse. But if we belong to the Lord, we have the privilege of crying out to Him, just as Habakkuk did, knowing He hears us. Though we are not entitled to answers, we serve a God who isn’t offended by our questions. When we, too, center our lives on the attributes of God we realize that in whatever situation we may find ourselves, our problems are small compared to the vastness of the purposes and the plan determined by His eternal nature.
The prophet ends his complaint saying this, “I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,And how I may reply when I am reproved” (Habakkuk 2:1). Habakkuk is finally finished (for now). He has had his say, and now he waits for the Lord’s response. There is a time to speak, and a time to be quiet. Sometimes we must wait, watch, and trust that the Lord is working in spite of what we see. It is in the quiet times of waiting that God refines our character. It is in those times He reveals to us what is in our own hearts.
Whatever circumstances disturb us, we know that they are only temporary in the light of eternity, and the God who ordained them does not change. He is bringing us through them while purifying us, and accomplishing His purpose. When we can’t see God’s plan, we can trust His heart. And we can say with the Psalmist. “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea…” (Psalm 46:1-2).
Note: The Prophet’s Cry Parts I and II can be found in the August and October archives.