Be honest – when did you last look at book of Habakkuk? Or even try to spell it? It’s been a while since I last read it, but over the past few days the Lord has spoken powerfully through this little book and it has been a source of great blessing.
Habakkuk is a prophet with a very modern problem. Chapter 1, verse 2: How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Isn’t that exactly the sort of reaction we have when we see the terrible things going on in the world, or indeed in our streets and neighbourhoods? If the Lord is indeed Lord, then it is only natural that we ask for evidence of His saving power. Because the headlines seem to suggest that He is not as in control as we would like Him to be.
So Habakkuk lays his complaint before the Lord. But he certainly doesn’t get the answer he’s been expecting. Chapter 1, verse 6: I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling-places not their own. That’s not the sort of comforting promise that he was no doubt looking forward to. The Lord’s answer to violence and injustice turns out to send a foreign superpower to march through the land and wreak terrible havoc.
But to Habakkuk’s credit he doesn’t give up on the Lord at this point. Because somehow he still retains a faith that the Lord is in control, and that even though the news is terrible, somehow His purposes will prevail. Chapter 1, verse 12: O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.
Yet just because Habakkuk has faith, this doesn’t mean he is unafraid to ask questions. Indeed, it is through his questions that his faith grows and deepens. For in chapter 2 the Lord reveals that in His timing the Babylonians will in turn be subject to judgement. Verses 13 and 14: Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labour is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Even though the immediate and medium term horizons are injustice and invasion, there is another dimension to all that’s going on. Not even the corruption of the Israelites or the wanton destruction of the Babylonians is the final word. The ultimate reality is a world at peace when the Lord is over all and in all.
So how to live in the meanwhile? There is a clue in Habakkuk 2, verse 4 but the righteous will live by his faith. In the New Testament this becomes a key phrase for Paul which illustrates the proper response to the gospel – not to seek salvation in our works but through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:15-17, 3:10-11).
However, it is important to understand that a saving faith does not simply mean a theoretical belief in all that Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. It also means a faithfulness to Christ even when every circumstance is against us, and a commitment to pray against the greatest odds. And we can see that illustrated in the wonderful prayer of Habakkuk in chapter 3.
Listen to these wonderful words from verses 16 to 18: I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
If there was a nation about to invade my land, I am not sure I would be waiting patiently, let alone rejoicing in the Lord my Saviour. But Habakkuk has that eye of faith that sees beyond the headlines and understands God’s biggest picture.
And this doesn’t mean that he is simply passive. Listen to these wonderful words from verse 2: Lord I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.
This was the verse that I brought to our united prayer meeting last night (if you weren’t there, where were you?). For it seems to me the message of Habakkuk is so much a message for our times. The question is whether, like Habakkuk, we will wait, we will rejoice and we will pray.