Why does God let nations get away with their godless actions? Why does God allow evil on the earth? Why does God allow me to suffer when my unconverted neighbor is enjoying life? Why doesn’t God listen to my prayers and do something now?
These are penetrating questions that every one of us has asked at some point in life. In fact, it can be healthy for us spiritually to wrestle with life’s problems and to seek an understanding of God’s purposes. But whenever we begin a sentence with, “Why does God . . . ?” we should think about Habakkuk, who framed these same questions 2,500 years ago.
The answers which Habakkuk received are written in the small book that bears his name. God has graciously given us this book as part of Scripture so that we can read and understand His purposes. Habakkuk is as relevant and contemporary as this morning’s headlines.
As is the case with most of the “minor” prophets, we know almost nothing about Habakkuk as a person. We are given his name and his office. Beyond that, we are left to speculation. The date of the book is not certain, although it was likely in the seventh century B.C. The happy result of all of this unsatisfied curiosity is that we can easily identify with him and his queries, even though the circumstances of our lives are so dramatically different.
Habakkuk is unique among the prophets
a. Its literary style is lyrical, similar to the poetry of the Psalms.
b. This book is a written two-way conversation between a perplexed Habak-kuk and a responsive God.
c. Other prophets warned their audiences about God’s coming judgment and despaired about its expected impact on Israel and Judah; however, Habakkuk pleads with God to bring judgment on sinners immediately. He was puzzled as to why judgment was delayed.
Chapter 1 – Habakkuk’s Questions
With no preamble, Habakkuk dives right in (verses 1-4) by asking, “Why does God not respond to the evil in the world, and in particular, my nation?” He points out the violence, iniquity, spoiling, strife, and contention rife in the world. He worries that if God does not act, God’s justice will be called into disrepute and God’s name will be dishonored.
To paraphrase God’s response, “I will amaze you by using the Chaldeans to bring judgment” (verses 5-11). We can be sure that Habakkuk was pleased that God intended to judge the sins that he had described. But God’s answer was most unsatisfying to him. Incredulously, he snapped back a series of follow-up questions that collectively asked, “How can a holy God morally use such an incredibly sinful nation such as the Chaldeans as His righteous tool?” (verses 12-17).
Chapter 2 – God’s Answers
Habakkuk goes to a watchtower to pray and wait for God’s responses. God explains that He has a plan for the nations, a timetable in which to work out the plan, and He wants Habakkuk to be patient in watching the plan unfold.
First, God answers the question of why the wicked are allowed to prosper (verses 2-4). Any success that sin brings, including the coming success of the Chaldeans, only inflames the desire for more sin, a spiraling circle of emptiness that brings no satisfaction. The supposed “success” of sinners does not blemish God’s glory. In fact, by contrast God’s glory is enhanced.
Second, God explains that the “success” of sinners is temporary since it comes by taking advantage of others (verses 6-8).
Third, God explains that those seeking power and wealth are outwardly manifesting an internal drive for security which is illusory. Power and wealth do not produce security; they produce envy in others and dissatisfaction and guilt in the acquirer (verses 9-11).
Fourth, God states the obvious – all material gain eventually decays. Only the glory of God endures (verses 12-14).
Fifth, God introduces the principle that how you treat others will rebound in the way you are treated. In this case, God gives examples of how aggrandizing material goods at the expense of others will have negative consequences (verses 15-17).
Lastly, God explains that those who worship idols, including material goods, are morally and spiritually bankrupt. God is on His throne, He is the Judge, and only He will speak with authority. “But the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him” (verse 20).
To summarize, Habakkuk had asked the question “Why?” and God answered with, “Who.” Habakkuk was originally concerned that the sinner’s “success” would tarnish God’s glory and justice (ch 1:4), but God demonstrates that no one needs to be concerned about Him.
3 Resonating Truths in Chapter 2:
1. “The just shall live by his faith” (verse 4). This verse is the bedrock of three New Testament books: Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews.
2. “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (verse 14). We know that in the future, all the earth will wonder at the glory of the Lord realized during His peaceful and righteous reign.
3. “The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him” (verse 20).
At the end of the day, God is the Judge on the throne and His authority rules.
Chapter 3 – Habakkuk’s Acceptance and Worship
Hearing God’s response changes Habakkuk’s perspective:
a. He realizes that God is indeed working in the earth and encourages Him to continue (verses 1-2).
b. He acknowledges that God has worked in the past in Israel’s history so it gives him a basis to trust God for future involvement.
c. He praises the Lord and rests in God’s good judgment (verses 17-19).
Implications for Christians Today
We have already seen that the questions asked by Habakkuk and the answers supplied by God are timeless. As we ask the same questions today, God’s answers remain valid and we will profit by reading this book more often.
In our world of terror, war, disease, and suffering, there is a tremendous comfort to be found in relying on God’s timing and care. Like Habakkuk, I can overlook the failure around me. Instead “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation: The Lord is my strength…” (ch 3:18-19).