Wisdom from Habakkuk
November 10, 2016 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
A couple of weeks ago I highlighted that Habakkuk 2:4 was one of the most important verses in the Bible, as it has impacted thousands of churches across the world. Paul quotes this verse, “The righteous shall live by faith,” in Romans 1:17. Paul’s use and application of Habakkuk 2:4 was one of the key verses that awoken in Martin Luther a renewed understanding of God’s grace in salvation, namely, justification by faith alone. Let’s return to Habakkuk and delve deeper into the wisdom this little known Old Testament prophet has for us today.
Habakkuk wrote in the late 7th century BC (about 620-609 BC). The northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to Assyria 100 years earlier. The southern kingdom of Judah had been sinking deeper into idolatry, immorality, and other godless acts, although it experienced a brief, short-lived revival under king Josiah. Habakkuk starts by complaining to God about the evil surrounding him in his nation: “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (1:3).
God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint by drawing attention to his plan to judge the wickedness of Judah: “Behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation…” (1:6). Beginning in 605 BC, the Babylonians (another name for the Chaldeans) raided Judah three times, eventually destroying Jerusalem and the temple. God will not leave evil unpunished.
Well, Habakkuk replies to God’s plan with a second complaint: “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?” (1:13). In a nutshell, Habakkuk questions God’s plan to use the Babylonians to punish Judah. How could God use the Babylonians, who are even more evil than Judah, to punish the wickedness of Judah?
God does not “remain silent.” He speaks of the Babylonians, and all who harbor evil in their hearts, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4). God then proceeds to pronounce his judgment on the proud Babylonians, concluding by saying, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20).
Habakkuk concludes by taking heed and responding with a prayer of trust in God’s sovereign justice, even when success (or justice) is not apparent. He says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places” (3:17-19).
What can we glean from Habakkuk’s wrestling with God about a corrupt nation and seeking justice?
1. God is not silent or idle. Habakkuk’s main complaint was that, in his perception, God was idle about evil and injustice. God’s main response is that you do not, even cannot, see the whole picture. God has not wandered away from his creation and the current events of this world. Nothing takes him by surprise.
2. God’s justice never fails. Habakkuk’s second complaint centered on surprise over God’s justice plans (perhaps even the lack of true justice). God will not, however, allow evil to go unpunished. In God’s sovereignty, various nations, even ungodly nations, are used for God’s purposes, but they are never “off the hook,” so to speak, concerning God’s justice. We need never to fret over the injustices and evils of this world, as if they can or will thwart God’s plans.
3. God’s people are called to live by faith. The full verse of Habakkuk 2:4 shows the contrast between the proud and the people of God. Those who are “puffed up” interpret the world through their own perspective, trust in their own assessments, and put their hope in what mankind can accomplish. The “righteous” live by faith in God. They do not lean on their own understanding, but trust God’s truth and leading and put their hope in what God plans to do and will accomplish. So, whether we live in a corrupt evil nation or in a morally upright nation, the people of God are called to live by faith in God alone.
Let us learn, along with Habakkuk, that God is sovereign and just in all his dealings with the nations. Let us hope in God.