Getting Encouragement from Habakkuk
One of the intriguing dialogues between man and God is in the book of Habakkuk. As it opens, the book pictures prophet Habakkuk as burdened. The prophet has a personal struggle with reconciling God’s goodness and justice with the reality of evil and suffering in the world. He lodges this personal struggle as a complaint to God.
Primarily, the prophet has one complaint, and it concerns Israel (Judah). Lawlessness, injustice, corruption, and oppression was thriving among God’s people (1:4). Habakkuk tries to draw God’s attention to this issue. He also inquires of God’s action plan. LORD, how long shall I cry? Will you do something? (1:2-3).
God’s answer to Habakkuk’s primary concern comes in 1:5-11. He says that He knows about the predicament, and that He will work something out. “… I am going to do something in your days, that you would not believe, even if you were told,” (v.5). God then mentions that He was raising the Babylonians as a chastising rod for Judah.
Habakkuk had a problem with this answer. He was prompted to put in a second complaint (1:12-17). In His second complaint He begins by reminding God of how He [God] is holy and that His eyes are too pure to look at evil (1:13a). He then wondered and asked how God could use those who are more evil (Babylonians) as an instrument of correction for those who are more righteous (Judah)? In other words, isn’t God endorsing or at least allowing more evil? After this complaint, the prophet pictures himself as a watchman waiting for God to answer.
God offered an answer to this question, which we will here divide to two parts. Habakkuk is ordered to write down this answer.
The first aspect of God’s answer portrays His mercy. In 2:4, God acknowledged the cruelty and pride of the Babylonians. But in the same verse He offers a very comforting word to Habakkuk; “the just shall live by faith.” The LORD will indeed punish sin, but amidst the impending tragedy, He will remain merciful. Those among His people who will turn and trust Him will live.
The second aspect of God’s answer portrays His sovereignty and justice (2:2ff). Throughout chapter 2, the LORD points out that He is sovereign over all nations and He will justly deal with them. The LORD does not endorse evil, and in fact, all nations (literally all people) will be responsible before God for how they act. Judah was responsible for her lawlessness (Breaking God’s law) just as the Babylonians were for their pride and cruelty. 2:20 emphasizes that all nations shall be silent before the LORD.
The book closes with Habakkuk’s prayer (Ch.3). The prophet’s prayer is the turning of his questions and complaints to trust based on God’s answer. Habakkuk specifically recalls God’s glorious and mighty [saving] acts of the past and he trembles (3:2a). He acknowledges that God is merciful (3:2b), sovereign and all powerful (3:3-15). Indeed, no one will stand against Him when He comes to deliver his people (3:16).
What encouragement do we get?
The LORD hears and knows our personal groans (Ch.1): God’s dialogue with Habakkuk is a valuable reminder to us that God is aware of our daily burdens and struggles. Although it may be hard for us to understand and let alone accept the predicament, we can trust that the all-knowing God has the best way-out for us. Habakkuk also challenges us with a desirable attitude of raising our concerns to God and waiting on him to act. This is reminiscent of Peter’s admonition to “cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1Pet. 5:7). Even when it is hard to pray, God’s people can be confident that no prayer is too weak because of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26-27 declares that “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
The LORD’s merciful and gracious invitation (Ch.2): “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4) is an encouragement for the righteous to continuously rest in the LORD. At the same time, it is the LORD’s merciful invitation to the unrighteous. Judgment for sin is certain. The LORD has however provided a way out: In the face of this impending tragic day, those who have followed their own ways must turn and trust the LORD. Elsewhere, Paul quotes this verse to portray the big picture of salvation in Jesus Christ for both Jews and gentiles. For in the gospel [of Jesus Christ] a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). All nations (literally all people) have a common problem of sin. In Jesus Christ, God has offered a common solution for all. Those who trust in the person and work of Christ he sets free from the enslavement of sin. He credits them a righteousness with which they can stand before a holy God, whose eyes are too pure to look at sin. In light of God’s mercy and the impending day of reckoning, have you trusted the savior?
Rest in the LORD (Ch.3): As the book closes, it depicts Habakkuk as satisfied and joyful in the LORD. Not necessarily because his current situation or surrounding was changed, but because he came to know that the LORD will act consistent with His nature. In 2:2 the LORD told Habakkuk to write the answer as evidence that He will act accordingly. In 3:16 the prophet concedes that no matter how long it takes, he will patiently wait for the day when the LORD will punish the enemy (Babylon) and redeem His people (Judah).
In 3:17 the prophet puts into account the difficulty which may come within his time of waiting on the LORD. Yet he resolves to rejoice in the LORD who saves. “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Again, the bigger picture of spiritual deliverance can be seen. Since salvation is from the LORD, it cannot be undone by any calamities or suffering of the world. We rejoice in the LORD of this salvation because He has granted us that which is far more than anything.
Habakkuk himself presents us with a good picture of “the righteous living by faith.” Faith is more than a positive thinking, yet it is nothing short of a daily trust in God. Even when our “physical now” does not look pleasant, we can rejoice knowing that the glory which will be revealed in us outweighs our present situation (Rom. 8:18). In this life’s walk, when calamities strike, we can trust God’s faithfulness: He will bring us to His desired place, in his own means and timing. We can be confident at each given time to sing: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk. 3:19).