We know nothing about the prophet Habakkuk and we are not explicitly told the time of his prophecy. What makes this prophecy unique is that Habakkuk is not preaching to the people the oracles of God. Rather, this books records a dialogue between God and his prophet Habakkuk. Based on his complaints and the responses from God it is likely that Habakkuk is having his dialogue with God around 609 BC. Under King Josiah, the nation of Judah had undertaken many moral reforms. Under Josiah’s rule he purged the nation of the altars to the false gods (1 Chronicles 34:1-7). The book of the law is found and Josiah restores the Passover celebration (2 Kings 22:8-20; 23:21-27). However, Josiah dies in battle against Neco, the king of Egypt in 609 BC. Upon Josiah’s death, all the reforms of the nation are erased and the subsequent kings commit evil in the Lord’s sight. With the death of Josiah and wickedness on the rise, Habakkuk receives his prophecy and engages in a dialogue with the Lord. It is with the loss of the king who was reforming the nation and the decline of the morality of the nation that Habakkuk engages the Lord.
The Questions To God
Notice the two questions center on “How long” and “Why.” “How long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” “How long shall I cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” Then Habakkuk goes to the “why” questions. “Why do you make me see iniquity?” “Why do you idly look at wrong?” Habakkuk has been praying for his people and for the morality of the nation but it seems that nothing is happening. Don’t forget that these are supposed to be the people of God. This is not a worldly, Gentile nation yet they are acting like it. These people who are supposed to be the holy people of God are filled with violence, sins, and injustice. Habakkuk says that all that he sees is destruction, violence, strife, and contention. There is no justice. The law is paralyzed. The righteous are surrounded by the wicked. Everything is perverted. Habakkuk’s cry is simply, “What is going on around here?” “How long are you going to continue to let this go on, Lord?” “Why is nothing being done?” “God, how can you idly sit by and let these things happen?” Habakkuk is just honest with God.
Have you ever ask those very same questions? I think all of us have encountered the “how long” and “why” questions at some point during our discipleship journey. Something happens that causes us to wonder what God is doing. What we are experiencing or witnessing does not correspond to the righteousness of God. We want to know why this is happening. We want to know why God is tolerating such wrongdoing. Habakkuk is not the only godly person to ask these questions to God.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9–10 ESV)
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1–2 ESV)
Even angels have asked God, “How long?”
Then the angel of the LORD said, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years?” (Zechariah 1:12 ESV)
We learn that true faith often finds itself perplexed at God. The faithful do not know all the answers. Spiritual beings do not have all the answers. Being a follower of Jesus does not mean that we will never have questions or that we will always understand. We must not think that there is something wrong or that we are thinking inappropriately when we have these kinds of questions and perplexities for God. Job reflects the same questioning of God in Job 21:7-34. Job said the same words as Habakkuk about his own situation rather than the evil around him.
Behold, I cry out, ‘Violence!’ but I am not answered; I call for help, but there is no justice. (Job 19:7 ESV)
To Habakkuk, it feels like God is not listening and that God is not doing anything.
Honesty With Your God
Habakkuk shows us that we have can have an honest conversation with God. God can handle our raw emotions and our raw thoughts. It is okay to ask God what is going on. It is appropriate to turn to God in prayer and tell him that we do not understand. There are many events in my life that I could say, “I don’t understand what is happening.” But there is an important aspect of Habakkuk’s faith that we must not overlook. Habakkuk talks to God about these things. Habakkuk does not leave God or turn away from God. So often that can be the response that occurs when trials crush our lives. We simply give up on God. Rather than give up on God, talk to God. Tell him what you are experiencing. Tell him the pain you have. Tell God about how you are perplexed. Consider the many psalms of David and other writers who speak to God with such raw emotion. Listen to the words of Psalm 38.
LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. 2 Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me. 3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. 4 My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. 5 My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. 6 I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. 7 My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. 8 I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart. 9 All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. (Psalm 38:1–9 NIV 2011)
Honesty with God is important in developing our faith. We are not going to grow our faith in the Lord if we are not honest with our faith and our thoughts before God. Do not expect to be able to understand or explain the mind or the actions of God. There are things that happen in life that we are not going to understand that we must take to God in prayer.
The Necessity of Prayer
We may not fully understand the function of prayer. Too often we think of prayer as merely a request line to God. We ask him for stuff or things to happen and then wait for it to happen. By the way, this is a false view of prayer. God does not answer our requests simply because we ask. Habakkuk has been praying to God but has not received the answer he was looking for from God. We can have a false expectation of prayer that if I offer prayer God is compelled to respond. Rather than thinking of prayer as a request line, we need to see prayer as a dialogue with God. When we have times of doubt, prayer is the best solution. When we do not understand, the most useful tool we have is prayer. The scriptures are not going to give us answers as to why or how long we are in this specific trial in life. Prayer is the tool to communicate to God about what is happening, express our perplexity, ask our questions, and then wait for God to respond.
These moments of perplexity and questioning are opportunities to draw us closer to God. In these times we become aware that we are not all-powerful, all-knowing, or in control. We are put back into our place and made to realize how small we truly are and we need to rely upon the great Creator God. When we were in the Black Hills of South Dakota and looking over the vastness of these amazing canyons, we did not stand back and think about how great or powerful we were. We just quietly stood at each overlook and soaked in the scene. It is a moment when you feel small and see God as great. We did not go through those hurricanes thinking how great we are but how small we are. Difficult times have the same impact to our lives. We stop seeing ourselves as something great and turn to the One who is truly great. We cannot approach God or begin to understand God until we take in these moments of smallness and turn to the Lord in complete dependence. Habakkuk is not taking matters into his own hands. He is praying to the Almighty God to act.
False Reason For Faith
It is important to notice that Habakkuk’s faith is not, “Everything happens for a reason.” This is the common mantra of Christian faith today. When people do not understand what is happening, people who claim to be Christians often assert that everything happens for a reason. This is not the viewpoint of Habakkuk. Habakkuk does not soothe his concerns and perplexities by thinking that everything happens for a reason. Habakkuk sees these events in opposite terms. Habakkuk is asserting that there is no reason for these things to be happening. There is no reason for the violence and destruction that he sees because God can do something about it. This is an important point as we go through our study of the book of Habakkuk. The answer is not that everything happens for a reason.
Turn To God
The answer is to turn to God. Habakkuk teaches us not to come up with false reasons that soothe our spirits temporarily but to turn to the Lord. Understand that God is ruling. Understand that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. Never forget that God cares about you and has shown that he cares about you in the cross. The cross is a perpetual reminder to us how much God loves us. It is so easy to forget when life doesn’t make sense that God has done everything to prove his love for us so that we would remain faithful to him. God is not trying to destroy us. God is not trying to personally punish us for our sins. God is not shooting his lightning bolts of wrath upon you. God is not slapping us with payback for our errors. Our diseases and syndromes are not because God is trying to exact some revenge on us. Whatever happens to us the cross remains the firm fixture to hold on to the knowledge that God loves every one of his children. God loves your children more than you do. God loves your family more than you do. When suffering and when life does not make sense, look to the cross as the eternal monument of God’s love and mercy for you. Life does not make sense. God has not promised to give us the answer. God has given us the cross as the answer of his love in spite of life’s perplexities.