In the first four verses of the book of Habakkuk we were introduced to the prophet who does not understand what is going on around him. He cries out to the Lord wanting to know how long will he keep crying out to God and God does not act. He cries out to God why there is injustice and destruction and God does nothing about it. Habakkuk is perplexed at God because of the moral condition of the nation and why God does not intervene. In verses 5-11 God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint.
God Sees The Affairs of the Earth
Implicit in God’s response is the fact that God has seen all that is going on. Habakkuk has implied that he is seeing injustice and wickedness that God must not see because God is not acting. However, Habakkuk has not told something to God that he did not know. Prayer is not our tool to wake up God so that he will see what is happening. It is not that God is asleep and does not know all that is going on. God is fully aware of everything that is happening on earth. If you think you are sick of evil and injustice, what do you think our holy God feels concerning these things? Our Lord sees the problems and understands these issues far more than we do. David declared in the psalms:
From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth— he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. (Psalm 33:13–15 NIV11) It is not like God doesn’t know what is happening in this world. Not only this, God knows what is happening to you.
God sees your suffering and sees what you are experiencing. Do we think that the God who sent us his Son and revealed his deep love through the cross has now decided to leave you alone and does not know what is happening to you? I enjoy watching a television show called Shark Tank. It is a show about people with business ideas pitching them to investors. The people come to the investors asking for money to grow their business. There is an important point the investors have to make to these business owners. Once the investor gives you the money, he is going to help you out in any way you need later on. This is not a one time investment. Once he has given you $100,000 the investor is not going to watch his investment crash and burn in flames. The investor will give you want you need to make the business successful. We need to see this same truth with God. God has made an enormous investment in our lives. God has killed his Son on the cross. Is God now going to ignore us and not pay attention to our needs after giving his only Son? Of course not. God is invested in our lives. He is going to see us through to the completion of this life. Therefore the writer of Hebrews shows us the confident ground on which we stand.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6 ESV) The cross proves to us that our Lord continues to watch over us and knows what is happening to us. God is in control. He knows you.
God Will Act
The Lord begins by telling Habakkuk that you are going to see something you won’t believe. Four different words are used to proclaim the amazement of what God is about to do. “Look,” “See,” “Wonder,” and “Astounded.” God is doing something big. God is doing something amazing. He is going to bring the justice that Habakkuk is crying out for. It is interesting to notice that God essentially agrees with Habakkuk. There is injustice and violence. There is destruction and wickedness. God does not dispute these charges by Habakkuk. God agrees. God does not have a different code of justice. God does not tell Habakkuk that Habakkuk is just seeing things. God agrees with Habakkuk. What we learn is that God’s time frame is not our time frame. God does not act when we think he should act. Habakkuk has been looking around at this situation for years. God seems to tell Habakkuk that the time was not right yet, but it is coming. God is doing a work in the days of Habakkuk even though Habakkuk cannot see it right now. God is acting in the affairs of this world. Often the problem is our limited vision and knowledge. God is acting, even if we do not know it or see it. God is aware of what is happening and he responds. But God does not act on our schedule. God does not need to act when we think he does. To deal with our times of perplexity we must remember that God is acting in ways that we may not see and acts on his own time frame not ours. There is a song that we sometimes sing from our songbooks called In His Time. The first and second verses declare, “You make all things beautiful in your time.” Those words must sink into our hearts. We will worship and praise the Lord as he works in his time. We act like we want the words to say, “In Our Time.” We want God to make all things beautiful in our time. But that is not how God operates. He moves in ways that we cannot see on a schedule that is not ours. Habakkuk charges God with idleness (1:3). God responds that he is not idle but is in the process of sending his judgment.
God Acts In Unexpected Ways
What God tells Habakkuk is astounding. God will use the Babylonians, a fierce, powerful, and wicked nation to execute wrath against the people of God. God even points out the sinfulness of the Babylonians, particularly in verse 11. Their own might is their god (vs. 11). These Babylonians serve themselves and have no regard for God. God is going to use them to be an instrument to judge. God does not always answer prayer the way you think he should answer prayer. Sometimes what happens is similar to how parents must deal with their children. A child asks the parent for intervention only to not like how the parent intervenes. I have had one of my girls ask for me to settle a dispute by telling them that no one gets the toy and to go to their room. I am sure that is not what she had in mind when she came to me. She wanted me to give her the toy and punish the other. I did something different that I believed to be the wise and just act. When we pray to God be ready for God to act in a way you never expected, sometimes in a way you do not like.
What is potentially shocking is that God used a more wicked nation to judge the wicked people of God. God has chosen not to use a godly nation who follows him but a wicked nation that has no regard for God. This puts a wrench in our view of world affairs. God is not necessarily supporting a “more righteous” nation against a “more wicked” nation. God can use a nation that we would classify as “more wicked” to judge a nation that we would classify as “less wicked.” We always want to assume that the United States is the righteous country and others are the wicked nations. Even if our assessment is correct that does not prevent God from judging us before he judges the other nations. God is the just judge who will judge every person and every nation.
New Testament Implications
The implications of this text weighed heavily on the Qumran community. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal their commentary on Habakkuk. How much the Qumran thinking was part of the general Jewish consciousness is not known, but it is interesting to see what some of the Jews from 100 BC to 100 AD thought about Habakkuk’s words. The Qumran community interpreted the Chaldeans as a representation of the Kittim (the Romans) in their day (1QPHab). The description of this wicked, terrifying nation easily fit the power of the Roman Empire. The reason why this is interesting is because I think the apostle Paul was aware of this thought process when he quotes Habakkuk to the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia.
Turn to Acts 13:26-41. Paul quotes Habakkuk at the end of the paragraph. First notice what Paul is preaching. Beginning in verse 26 we see Paul preaching the arrest, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the good news bringing salvation from God to the world that was originally promised to Abraham (13:32). It is through Jesus that forgiveness of sins is offered (13:38) and all who believe in Jesus are set free from the curse of the Law (13:39). Now Paul uses Habakkuk to conclude his point.
“Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.”
Paul’s point reaches to the same point Habakkuk was told by God. Habakkuk was told that God was going to destroy the Jewish nation because of the sins of the people. The people were full of violence, oppression, wickedness, and destruction. Therefore God was going to use the Babylonians to judge the people. The Qumran consciousness (and perhaps the Jewish consciousness) understood the Chaldeans as referring to the Romans. Paul’s warning matches God’s warning to Habakkuk. The first century Jewish nation is full of the same wickedness and God is going to use the Romans to wipe out the nation if the people do not believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. God’s message is clear throughout the scriptures. Justice will come from God’s hand. God will act. God will vindicate the righteous. God will deal with the wicked. But the people of God must be patience. God sees the affairs of the earth and God will respond. God is in action even when we cannot see his hand at work directly.