Imagine receiving the news from the Lord that he was going to use a vicious and wicked nation to judge our nation. What would be your reaction to hearing the news that God was going to allow communist China, a country known for its evil, its lack of concern for justice, and oppression of the innocent, to conquer the United States? What would you say to God? You have been praying for justice to come to the United States. But is this the way you wanted it to happen? This is the perplexity that Habakkuk has. Habakkuk has been praying for God to no longer sit idly by and allow the wickedness in Judah to continue. God has responded to Habakkuk with the news that the Babylonians are going to destroy the nation. Justice is coming and God is using the Babylonians as his instrument of judgment. In Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 we read Habakkuk’s reaction to this terrifying news and the lessons we learn from his reaction. In this lesson I want to encourage us to take our perplexities and complaints to God. But where is the line and when have we crossed over the line with God? I think Habakkuk shows us where the line is.
The first reaction that Habakkuk has from the Lord answering his prayer is utter perplexity and impossibility. In summary Habakkuk’s response is, “What?” This is not right. That cannot happen. Lord, your eyes are too pure to look at evil. You cannot look at wrong. You are the holy God. It is a funny way that Habakkuk talks to God because it is so often how we talk to God. Habakkuk complained about God’s idleness (1:3). God says he will act. Habakkuk now complains about how God is acting. Illustration: my children’s response to my intervention over their disputes. We do the same thing with God. We do not like how something is going so we pray to God. The situation changes and we are not any happier. We continue to complain. The only difference is that we have changed what we are complaining about. Habakkuk was first complaining that God is not doing something and now Habakkuk is complaining about how God is doing it.
We need to watch that we do not find our pleasure in complaining. Now we have noticed in our study of Habakkuk that God wants us to be open and honest before him. We can take our perplexities to God. We can give him our questions. God can handle our frustrations. I believe we might have difficulty accepting that we can take our complaints to God. In our first lesson we read about David taking his complaints to God. We read about the saints under the altar in Revelation crying out their questions to God. Jeremiah also took his complaints to God.
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? (Jeremiah 12:1 ESV)
What we want to make sure is that we are not always complaining and never satisfied. Sometimes we act like bratty children who can never be happy in any circumstances. There is much we can learn from our current circumstances and placing our faith in God despite our perplexities and difficulties. One way to know if you are a complainer is if you complain about how others complain. No one think he or she is a complainer. Yet we will complain about how others complain about their circumstances. We should carefully consider if we are ever happy with God or if we always have a criticism about our life and how it should be. When we become like the children of Israel in the wilderness, complaining no matter what God does, then we have crossed the line in our approach toward God.
The second response of Habakkuk is disbelief in what God says he is going to do. Notice what Habakkuk says in verse 12. “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die.” A couple translations like the HCSB and NRSV read, “You will not die,” therefore speaking about the everlasting nature of God. However, there are zero Hebrew manuscripts that read, “You shall not die.” A few translations have gone with the “You shall not die” reading because there are many scribal traditions suggesting such reading. But most translations use what is in the manuscripts and we will also. Habakkuk is all the more puzzled. This cannot be right. Verse 13 expresses why Habakkuk does not understand how this can happen. “Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” God, you are using a more wicked nation to destroy us. That cannot be right. I don’t think I heard you correctly. Now to be fair to Habakkuk, God said that Habakkuk would not believe what he was doing even if it was told to him (1:5).
Why do we always think that things are supposed to go according to plan? We even have an idiom called Murphy’s Law because we know that if it can go wrong it will go wrong. Yet for some reason as we live in this sinful, broken, and fallen world we think that everything will go according to our plans. We forget that God’s plan are not our plans. Peter fell into this trap as well after Jesus declared that he would be betrayed, arrested, and killed. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22 ESV) Isn’t that exactly what we are doing in our prayers and in our hearts? Lord, this isn’t right! Let me tell how things were supposed to go. Therefore we are suspended in disbelief unable to fathom how God can be working in times that do not make sense. Just because life is not going according to plan does not mean that things are not going according to God’s plan. Just because life is not going according to plan does not mean that God is not active and working. Life does not have to go the way we think it should. Most of the time life does not go the way we think it should. Who are we to tell how things must go? I love that Peter is so bold to pull Jesus aside and rebuke him and tell him that this cannot be right. Who did Peter think he was talking to? Who do we think we are talking to? We must remember that we are the clay and that the Lord is the potter. The clay does not have the right to speak back to the potter and tell him how things are supposed to go. We cross the line when we suppose that God should do what we tell him to do. Tell God want you want him to do, but remember your prayers are always with the understanding, “If the Lord wills.”
I Don’t Understand
I think we must recognize that God has given his answer to Habakkuk’s prayer and God’s answer did not make anything better for Habakkuk. Habakkuk still does not understand what is happening. Notice verse 13. How can God idly look at traitors? How can God remain silent when the wicked swallow up the more righteous? We are reminded that God does not have to give us the answers we are looking for. God does not have to explain himself as if we can understand the mind of the eternal God. God’s answer is simply, “I know you don’t understand.” In fact, it seems that God does not expect Habakkuk to understand this. We can find ourselves having a faith only based on the answers. What I mean is that we will only follow God if we can understand what he is doing in our lives. Yet we are repeatedly told that we would not be given all the answers but simply what we need.
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29 ESV)
God says that there are hidden things. There are things that we are not going to understand. There are many concepts in the scriptures that defy human logic and comprehension. For example, trying to explain how God is one consisting of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Or trying to explain how Jesus was God and yet became a human and was tested in every way. There are many difficult concepts but God says he has revealed what we need to be able to obey the words of the law. Our lack of understanding God or understanding what has happened in our lives is not an excuse for not serving the Lord. Why would God use a more wicked nation to judge the nation of Judah? God does not solve this problem. God does not respond to this human difficulty. Why do we think that we are supposed to understand everything that is going on? Who said that God owes us any explanation? We cross the line when we think that we are owed the answers. I believe sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes there are no reasons. Ask your questions of God but understand that you may not be given the answers. Either way, God has given us what we need to keep the words of his law.
Waiting For The Lord
Before we think that Habakkuk has gone out of bounds in his complaint to God, the first verse of the second chapter reveals that Habakkuk is remaining humble as he talks with his Lord. Habakkuk pictures himself as taking his post in the watchtower.
“I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved.” (Habakkuk 2:1 NASB)
I believe the NKJV and NASB best describe the stance Habakkuk is taking with the Lord. After questioning God and not believing what God is going to do, Habakkuk anxiously awaits God’s response knowing that God will set him straight. God is going to have an answer for Habakkuk’s complaints. God is not going to be confounded by Habakkuk’s reasoning. Further, Habakkuk understands that God will not only have an answer, but the answer will put him in his place. And Habakkuk desires that. Habakkuk wants God’s answer even if it does correct him, which Habakkuk knows will happen. Habakkuk is not approaching God in arrogance. Habakkuk is not approaching God in rage. Habakkuk has maintained humility in his perplexity. I believe this is the critical characteristic needed in our raw honesty with God that keeps us from crossing the line.
Finally, I would like for us to consider the perseverance of Habakkuk. He does not give up on God. He does not walk away from God when God responded with these perplexing answers. Habakkuk shows his continued perseverance when he says, “I will take my stand at my watchpost.” The faithful take their stand patiently waiting for God to answer. We wait as we look for God to sort out the various circumstances we find ourselves in. Watch for God to answer the prayers of the faithful. Do not offer prayer assuming that God will not act. James reminds us that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (James 5:16). In humility look to God to answer. Wait on the Lord. God’s answers are often not quick solutions. The faithful patiently wait for the Lord. Habakkuk is left with a difficult question. How can God fulfill his promises to his people when he is about to devastate them? The divine answer will be looked at in the next lesson.