The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you c“Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction cand violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
“Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
For behold, iI am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
sThey laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
Are you not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O zRock, have established them for reproof.
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?
You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
like crawling things that have no ruler.
He brings all of them up with a hook;
he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
so he rejoices and is glad.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
and his food is rich.
Is he then to keep on emptying his net
and mercilessly killing nations forever?
Have you ever accidentally, or maybe purposefully, come across someone’s personal diary, or journal, or secret note that revealed their innermost thoughts? I’m thinking of the real, honest, and raw emotions that someone has taken the time to put down on paper, revealing an experience they are having that you didn’t realize was happening. It could be the brother that digs out the diary of his sister that she hid in the bottom of her dresser drawer. It could be an email with sensitive content that wasn’t meant to be sent to you. Whatever it may be, when we come across these types of communications, there is an interest we have that spikes in reading it. What will we find out? We are about to read something secretive that we didn’t know before.
The book of Habakkuk is like that. We are entering into his conversation with God and hearing his real, honest, raw complaints to God about his situation. Habakkuk was prophet of God, yet in this journal of his, he is struggling to understand what God is doing. He doesn’t have it all figured out and his soul is a wreck because of the confusion he is feeling.
This type of dialogue between man and God is unusual for a book written by a prophet in the Old Testament. Most Old Testament prophetic books are ones written to the people of God and bring warnings of God’s judgement on sin and revelations of what he will do in the future. The book of Habakkuk is mixed with poetry and theophany (a divine revelation shown through God’s appearance to the writer).
This really matters because it shows us that God cares personally for his people. He is not standoffish and aloof in his sovereignty over the nations. He talks with Habakkuk, hears his complaints, and reveals himself personally to this prophet.
So let’s enter into this personal, intimate conversation between Habakuk and God over the next three weeks. The book contains the themes of evil and justice. It talks about what we see and what God sees in hard circumstances. It talks about violence and wrath, salvation and mercy, and an everlasting God that is working even when we don’t see it. So let’s walk through this together and see how God answers Habakkuk’s question- God, where is your glory in this?
The prophet Habakkuk lived around the times of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Daniel and maybe Ezekiel. We only know that he was a prophet and probably a member of the Levitical choir. He lived sometime between 641BC and 598BC.
At the time of Habakkuk writing this theophany, the Assyrians had been the superpower of the world. They were located in modern day northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, and southeastern Turkey. However, the Babylonians rose up as a new superpower and stormed through Egypt, Syria, and Israel. The attacked Judah three times in 605, 597, and 586BC.
It’s important to have this in mind as we begin working our way through the book. I’ll reference it, so keep in mind that at the time of this writing Assyria had been the superpower of the time but the balance of power was shifting as Babylon was beginning to invade surrounding nations.
This prophecy was probably written sometime between 612-605BC during the rule of King Josiah and King Jehoiakim. Babylon was not an imminent threat to Judah during the time of this prophecy. Habakkuk writes in chapter 2, verse 3 “Still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come.” It hasn’t happened yet. Right now everything is going fine in Judah and the judgements that God says will come haven’t arrived yet.
We are told in the Bible that King Josiah was a king that followed God and obeyed his commandments, striking down idols and bringing the nation back to God. But very quickly, as King Jehoiakim takes over, the worship of Baal returns, they disobey God’s law, and even sacrifice their own children to the false god of Molech). Great evil and sin was happening in Judah and Habakkuk is asking God when his justice and intervention is going to bring judgement on Judah.
That is the historical context you need to have in the back of your mind the next three weeks. Judah is now a separate kingdom from the rest of Israel. Assyria has been the superpower but Babylon is taking over. Judah is continuing its pattern of rebelling against God’s law and letting their hearts chase after false gods. Sin is everywhere in the land and it seems like God is doing nothing.
HABAKKUK’S FIRST COMPLAINT (VERSES 2-4)
Look at verse 1. “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” We are entering into his personal journal now. He is writing down something he saw. Keep the idea of sight and looking or beholding something in your mind, because it is a theme in these three chapters. What is Habakkuk looking at?
Habakkuk describes what he writes here as an oracle. That could also be described as a prophecy or a burden. This is a message that is weighing heavy on Habakkuk’s heart and he is writing it down. Why is he writing this down? It it is so personal why doesn’t he keep it to himself? He can’t! This is something God has revealed to him and he has to share this message with Judah because it is so important. So he writes it down. We are seeing a dialogue between Habakkuk and the very God who holds everything in the palm of his hands. How can this message not burden Habakkuk? He heard it directly from God.
What does Habakkuk write about first? Let’s look at verses 2-4. The first question we should be asking here is, from where is Habakkuk seeing this evil happen? Where is this violence taking place? Where is he seeing iniquity occur? Where is the destruction and violence happening? Where exactly are these wicked people? Are these people within Judah or people that are Babylonians or Assyrians or someone else?
I think Habakkuk is describing the state of Judah here and not talking about another nation. It seems to flow with the rest of the book to understand it this way. He complains about evil that is happening right before him. He sees the iniquity and describes it as being right before his very eyes. The tone of verses 2 through 4 have a personal and near affect on Habakkuk and God responds in the rest of the chapter by saying a nation will arise to strike down this evil. So for that reason, it seems like Habakkuk is describing wickedness and violence that is happening among his own people.
Habakkuk has two separate complaints in this book, both of which are found in chapter 1. In this first complain he asks God three questions. He asks God why he doesn’t hear his prayer, why is God not stopping violence, and why is God not doing something against those who are evil.
It doesn’t take very long in being a Christian to have at least one of these three questions rise up in your heart. It doesn’t take much looking around in our country to see evil happening and wonder where God is in it. Do you feel this? Have you asked God, where are you in all of this?
I felt it when over Memorial Day weekend 68 people were shot in Chicago and 6 were killed, including a 15 year old girl. I felt it when I read in the Chicago Tribune article that said over the course of 13 hours police responded to 20 people that were shot. Five of them were sitting on their front porch when bullets from a vacant lot came ripping across the street and into their bodies. Two men were killed on that porch. The list of people killed in the article almost reads like a grocery list, one person after another.
I’ve felt it after a night of working the streets and dealing with one wicked act of human beings after another. The father that molests his daughter, or the husband that continually abuses his wife in front of his children. The young girl that shows up at our doorstep in tears because her dad is constantly yelling at her day after day after day. I feel paralyzed to really be able to do anything about it. I wonder to God, where is your glory in this? What are you doing? Where are you? That is what Habakkuk is feeling as he writes this.
What conclusion does Habakkuk come to from this? Look at verse 4. Because of what he sees he feels like the law that is supposed to keep these things in check is paralyzed. It can’t do what it is supposed to do. The justice that is supposed to be dealt out to evil doers is perverted. It’s tainted. It looks like the commands and laws that God gave to Judah don’t really matter or aren’t functioning as they should. God gave his written law to Israel, entrusted it to them to show the rest of the world, and now God’s people are acting in sin like the rest of the world.
So Habakkuk looks around him and sees the righteous people surrounded by the wicked. It should be the opposite! The wicked people in Judah are overcoming the righteous people in Judah, of which Habakkuk is a part. He is in the minority. He feels overcome by the wicked. How does God respond to these three questions?
GOD’S RESPONSE: I WILL USE EVIL TO PUNISH EVIL (VERSES 5-11)
We have God’s response beginning in verse 5. This is really important to get- God does not answer Habakkuk’s questions directly. Instead, he shifts Habakkuk’s sight to something else.
In verse 3 Habakkuk asks God why he’s idly standing by while sin is happening. That’s a bold claim to make against God. To accuse God of idleness. Now look at verse 5 to see how God responds. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.” Here is what we need to get big time. When we look at evil and sin, we look through a very narrow window. Our perception is so small in what we are able to see. God has a wide angle lens by which he can take everything in and knows everything that is happening.
God responds to Habakkuk by telling him that he lacks faith in what God’s plans are. “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Even if God were to tell Habakkuk what his plans were, Habakkuk would not be able to wrap his mind around how gloriously just they are. He lacked faith in God’s ways.
Habakkuk asked where was God in what was happening in Judah, but God responds by saying I have plans not just for Judah but for other nations. Habakkuk just saw Judah. God saw every nation on the earth. We see our family, our workplace, our neighborhood, our state, and our country and even these things we only see slices of. God sees it all and he plans and orders it all.
When I get a 911 call at work I respond to a location and get the first side of the story, and think I may have an idea of what is going on. Than, I hear the other side of the story and need to talk to both people again and again to ask follow up questions to get clarity. I need to collect evidence and take pictures and dig into what happened to try and find the truth. God needs to do zero investigation because he sees it all immediately and completely. God has no investigation unit. He sees and knows it all.
Habakkuk and us make judgements, assumptions and conclusions based on what we think we believe and know. We know so little and yet conclude so much.
God tells Habakkuk that he is doing something that he wouldn’t expect. It was a work he couldn’t believe would happen even if God told him. This last half of verse 5 could be reduced to a nice, feel good slogan to slap on coffee cups and set on a glass shelf in a flowery Christian book store. God is doing a work in our days that we couldn’t believe. That sounds nice, but what does it really mean?
God tells Habakkuk part of what his plans are in verses 6-11. “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.” He is raising up the Chaldeans, which is really another name for the Babylonians. Remember them? They are becoming the next big superpower in the world at that time. That nice coffee cup slogan loses its fuzzy warmth now. The work that no one would believe is not a work of making everything right and fixing the problem that Habakkuk sees.
If you read about the Babylonians in a history book you will see that they enjoyed a rapid and unexpected rise to power. This was God’s plan as we see in verse 6. He raised them up. They gained freedom from the Assyrians and defeated them in 605BC. Nebuchadnezzar led them to quick victories and built the Babylonian Empire.
So what is God doing? We see in verse 6 that he is raising them up. God is the one in control of the Babylonian Empire, not Nebuchadnezzar. “I raise them up.” Kings and kingdoms rise and fall at the word of God’s command. We do not need to fret. We have no need to fret over who will be sitting in the Oval Office come January of 2017. Whether it Clinton or Trump, God raised them up to that office, and God will still be in charge when they leave that office. Babylon was once a small nation overtaken by the Assyrians. In God’s timing he raised them up to be the next empire.
Look at this. God is telling Habakkuk to look at his power, not the Babylonians. God empowers the Babylonians. History shows us that the Assyrians were overthrown by the Babylonians. The Persians overthrew the Babylonians. The Macedonians overthrew the Persians. And the Romans overthrew the Macedonians. God empowered them all when they rose and when they fell and God is still enthroned over the world. We see through a narrow lens but God sees through a large one. We have small views but God has big ones.
What kind of Babylon is God raising up? They are a bitter (fierce, savage, grim) and hasty (quick, skillful, fast) superpower. Verses 7-11 describe in detail the kind of judgement God is raising up against the wickedness in Judah.
First, we can see what Babylon believed in. They believe that their god is their might and who they worship is themselves. Verse 7: “Their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.” Verse 11: “Guilty men, whose own might is their god!” God is raising up a judgement on Judah of a people who believe whatever they want to believe and have no desire to submit to actual truth. These people define truth on their own terms because they believe they are mighty in their own strength.
Second, we see what they are like. They are dreaded, they are fearsome, They have horses that are swifter than leopards. You can’t escape from their might. They are more fierce than an evening wolf. Ask Eric Sivigny to describe what seeing a wolf is like at dusk. They are designed to kill and you don’t want to be their prey. The man that rides on the horse presses proudly on, destroying city after city in his ever increasing pride. They press on in confidence with no fear of failure. They come from far away places to destroy people (they are determined) and fly like eagles that are swift to devour.
Third, what do they do? They are violent. Their mission is destruction and enslavement. Habakkuk was describing to God the type of violence he was seeing in chapter one, verse 2, but Babylon is bringing another level of violence. The Babylonians gather prisoners like your hand gathers sand at the beach, and while they are doing this they laugh and joke about it. This is a sport to them. The Babylonians will look on at the once mighty Israel and laugh and mock them and then destroy them.
They are described as piling up the earth and building ramps and movable towers to scale the walls of a city and breach it. These were walls built by Solomon through forced labor during the height of Israel’s power. Babylon is going to sweep through these people like a hot summer wind blows across the desert. They will stop people in their tracks, destroy them, and move on.
In 597BC Babylon conquered Jerusalem and deported 10,000 people. Nebuchadnezzar captured and dragged them off. Some were slaughtered in front of him, some had their eyes gouged out, Jerusalem was ransacked and burned, temple officials were executed and the holy furnishings of the temple were brought to Babylon.
That’s a lot to take in. It’s not quite what I was thinking when I initially read that slogan on the coffee cup, sitting on the glass shelf in that Christian bookstore. God is saying that he plans on using evil people to punish evil people. Habakkuk’s problem is made more troubling to him now! He saw evil going unchecked and asked God where he was and God responded by saying he was going to raise up more evil to punish that evil. This is bewildering to me. God, where is your glory in that?
HABAKKUK’S SECOND COMPLAINT (VERSES 1:12 – 2:2)
What does Habakkuk do with this plan of God that he can’t wrap his mind around? Does he reject God and walk away from him? Does he tell God that a loving and caring God wouldn’t use evil to punish evil? He responds with three rhetorical questions in verse 12 that highlight five attributes of God. Let’s look at verse 12.
First we see that God is from everlasting, which in this passage means that he is from ancient times, times long since past. “Are you not from everlasting?” The God that is ruling now as the Babylonians are coming to power is the same God that was ruling when Abraham looked up at the stars and God promised to give him a family that was greater than the number of them. God is the same God that used Moses to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery and the same God that used David to slay Goliath. He doesn’t change. He is still present and active and working.
Also, Habakkuk uses the word “LORD” which is the proper name for the one true God. It is God’s unique identifier. It would be like me calling my wife by her personal name, Johanna, instead of saying she or her. It is the difference between me saying “Can you come upstairs and help me” and “Johanna, can you come up here and help me find something.” The LORD means the self-existent one, the sovereign one. This is Habakkuk’s God, the personal, sufficient ruler over the entire problem that he is wrestling with.
Habakkuk describes God as holy. He is set apart as the judge over the world. “O LORD my God, my Holy One.” He is outside and above and different from humans.
The phrase “we shall not die” is translated in the New English Translation as God being immortal. This we know from all over Scripture. God is the God from ancient times but he is also the God from outside of time. He always was and always will be.
Lastly, what we see about God in verse 12 is that he is a Rock. Why does Habakkuk use that word to describe God here? A rock can be protection. If you hide behind a rock wall it can stop a threat of an arrow or a bullet. We can stand on boulders and know that they aren’t moving. God will not be moved by the Babylonians siege. Even in the judgement brought about by God, Judah’s only refuge will be the God that brought it about. The one that brings judgement is the one that will save them from that judgement.
So we see in verse 12 that Habakkuk’s first response is telling God that he always was and always will be. He is set apart in justice and judgement which he causes, and he has brought about this enemy for correction and discipline of his people.
Yet this doesn’t simply solve the problem for Habakkuk. Verse 13 is the essence of chapter 1. “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallow up the man more righteous than he?” Habakkuk is now asking God how in the world can he use evil to punish evil? How is this right?
He says in verse 13 that God cannot look at wrong. What does me mean here? Does he mean that God is not aware of the evil or wrong that is happening or that he is turning a blind eye to it? Is God idle and silent at the acts of the wicked? Is God able to turn away from all this evil and not be aware of it? That’s not what Habakkuk means because we know from verse 5 that God told him that he is working and doing more than Habakkuk could believe. Habakkuk knows that God knows what is going on.
He goes on to describe what Babylon’s conquest will be like for Judah. Verses 14-17 use the metaphor of animals and fish to describe how evil Babylon is in that conquest. Look at verse 14: “You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler.” Imagine a world with no rules, but where the most powerful do what they want, when they want, with no concern or care or morals. That is Babylon. They are like fish that swim wherever they want or animals that crawl to where their base instincts take them. They are not constrained by a Bill of Rights. They bring chaos.
In verse 15 Habakkuk describes the manner and enjoyment Babylon takes in their evil. There is no sadness in what they are doing for they see Judah as merely people to be hunted like animals or caught like fish. It brings a state of joy and gladness to their souls by doing this.
In verse 16 we see that because they get enjoyment from this evil they worship the tools that bring them the joy. Their net and their dragnet are their gods and they see these things as merely an extension of themselves. They are worshiping themselves by doing this since they control the nets. This lifestyle will bring them luxurious lifestyles and fine goods and power. This is a big problem! Where is God? Why is God doing this?
Habakkuk is asking God where he is in all of this. “Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” Is there an end to this God? Where does it stop? Habakkuk isn’t seeing anything on the horizon that will change this. He starts his complaint with crying to the God that is from everlasting. He knows that God is in control. He explicitly says it in verse 12. But he’s also wondering where God is in it all.
There are two battles going on in chapter 1 for Habakkuk. What he knows is that God is from everlasting. What he feels is that Babylon will keep on killing for everlasting. Have you been there in your life? Have you felt the huge rift between what you know and what you feel? I think that is what is going on with Habakkuk as he cries out to God.
So what does Habakkuk do next after this second complaint? What does he do with the war that is going on inside his soul between what he knows and what he feels? Does he walk away from God in bitterness and rejection and anger and self-righteousness? Does he say that his God would never act like this?
“I will take my stand at my watch post and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint (2:1).” He stations himself on the lookout for what God is going to do. It’s as if he is wrestling with God trying to figure out what is going on but he refuses to walk away from God because he can’t figure it out. He is pressing in rather than running away. Habakkuk is saying, “God, I’m not walking away from you. I don’t understand why you are using evil to punish evil. Where is your glory in this? You seem silent, idle, and distant but I am pressing in. I need you to answer me! I need you to help me see what you want me to see.” We see Habakkuk changing from his first complaint at the beginning of chapter 1.
This is what we are to do when God seems silent, when life doesn’t make sense.. We need to press in rather than run away.
Matthew Henry describes this verse in this way: “Those that expect to hear from God must withdraw from the world, and get above it, must raise their attention, fix their thoughts, study the Scriptures, consult experiences and the experienced, continue instant in prayer, and thus set themselves upon the tower. His standing upon his watch intimates his patience, his constancy and resolution; he will wait the time, and weather the point, as a watchman does, but he will have an answer; he will know what God will say to him, not only for his own satisfaction, but to enable him as a prophet to give satisfaction to others, and answer their exceptions, when he is reproved or argued with.”
Grace Church, evil and wrong doing aren’t tolerated by God ultimately, although he may tolerate it temporarily. No one can stand before God and say they have the upper hand. God’s everlasting holiness will outlast and overpower and ultimately crush evil. There is a day coming when he will cast evil doers into hell at the end of the age and there is a longing here from Habakkuk for that day to come.
What Habakkuk is doing here is voicing his complaint to God. He is telling God that it looks like evil is rampant and God is stagnant. But God’s working is different than our looking, and how we reconcile those two will be shown next week. This was the same cry from Jeremiah when he said, “Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? (Jer. 12:1).”
There are times in our lives when God feels distant, silent, and idle. It can be because we don’t understand why God is allowing evil to happen or when we are walking through deep pains or mundane trials. Where was God when Jospeh sat in prison in Egypt? Where was God after Job lost his possessions, his animals, and his family? Where is God when 5 million Jews are killed in the Holocaust? Where is God when an earthquake cripples an already improvised nation like Haitit? Where is God when I see people around me not punished for sin? God seems silent at times and David describes God’s silence like being dropped into a pit. “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down into a pit (Ps. 28:1).” Have you been there in your life? Have you felt like you are in a pit and there is nowhere to go but down?
God’s silence is seen and written about in Scripture. Jesus felt the silence of God as he hung on the cross and cried out to God asking why he had forsaken him. Yet in the silence, what Satan means for evil, God means and uses for good. The silence of God while Jesus hung on the cross, brought the shouts of joy we have in his resurrection.
There’s much more to find out in this theophany. We are going to see what God plans for the Babylonians and what the most important thing to remember is when God feels silent and distant. This has been a heavy sermon that has focused mainly on the problem. The next two weeks we will start to unravel the solution more and more and see the glories of who God is.
For now, look to God this week on the high tower. There’s a temptation to numb the sting of our unanswered questions with the noise of the world. Don’t do it. Don’t drown out God with smart phones, Netflix, golf or business. When you are troubled and God seems silent, press in through his Word and in prayer. Be like Habakkuk and climb that watch tower this week and wait for God to answer.
Be like Job. At the end of the book, after God had proclaimed his attributes, he said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes sees you (Job 42:5).” What Job is saying is that after experiencing awful trials, he experienced a relationship with God on a much deeper level. He had known God but only through his years. After his trials he says that he had seen God with his eyes. We need spiritual ears and spiritual eyes to look and listen for God.
This kind of waiting brings the sweetest enjoyment of the presence of God. I’ve been there. I’ve tasted it. It’s good fruit. God is enough, even in his silence.
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the LORD, belong deliverances from death…Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel- he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” Psalm 68:19-20, 34-35