Chapter One.
The Prophet Worrying

Habakkuk 1

One of the modern "Christian myths" that ought to be silenced says that when you trust Jesus Christ, you get rid of all your problems. You don't.

It's true that your basic spiritual problem—your relationship with God—has been solved, but with that solution comes a whole new set of problems that you didn't face when you were an unbeliever, like: "Why do good people suffer and evil people prosper?" or "Why isn't God answering my prayer?" or "When I'm doing my best for the Lord, why do I experience the worst from others?"

Christians who claim to be without problems are either not telling the truth or not growing and experiencing real life. Perhaps they're just not thinking at all. They're living in a religious dream world that has blocked out reality and stifled honest feelings. Like Job's uncomfortable comforters, they mistake shallow optimism for the peace of God and "the good life" for the blessing of God. You never hear them ask what David and Jesus asked, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46).

Habakkuk wasn't that kind of a believer. As he surveyed the land of Judah, and then watched the international scene, he found himself struggling with some serious problems. But he did the right thing: he took his problems to the Lord.

1. "Why Is God So Indifferent?" (Hab. 1:2-11)

Being a perceptive man, Habakkuk knew the kingdom of Judah was rapidly deteriorating. Ever since the death of King Josiah in 609 B.C., his religious reforms had been forgotten and his son and successor Jehoiakim had been leading the nation closer to disaster. (If you want to know what God thought about Jehoiakim, read Jer. 22:13-19.)

The prophet's concern (Hab. 1:2-3). Habakkuk's vocabulary in this chapter indicates that times were difficult and dangerous, for he uses words like violence, iniquity, grievance (misery), spoiling (destruction), strife, contention (disputes), and injustice. Habakkuk prayed that God would do something about the violence, strife, and injustice in the land, but God didn't seem to hear. In verse 2, the first word translated "cry" simply means "to call for help," but the second word means "to scream, to cry with a loud voice, to cry with a disturbed heart." As he prayed about the wickedness in the land, Habakkuk became more and more burdened and wondered why God seemed so indifferent.

The basic cause (Hab. 1:4). The nation's problems were caused by leaders who wouldn't obey the law. "Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted" (v. 4, niv). The rich exploited the poor and escaped punishment by bribing the officials. The law was either ignored or twisted, and nobody seemed to care. The courts were crooked, officials were interested only in money, and the admonition in Exodus 23:6-8 was completely unheeded.

The Lord's counsel (Hab. 1:5-11). God answered His servant and assured him that He was at work among the nations even though Habakkuk couldn't see it. God gave Habakkuk a revelation, not an explanation, for what we always need in times of doubt is a new view of God. The Lord doesn't owe us any explanations, but He does graciously reveal Himself and His work to those who seek Him.

What God was doing was so amazing, incredible, and unheard of, that even His prophet would be shocked: God was planning to punish the Jews by using the godless Babylonians! They were a "ruthless and impetuous people" (v. 6, niv), "a feared and dreaded people" who were a law unto themselves and afraid of nobody (v. 7, niv). Their only purpose was to promote themselves and conquer and enslave other peoples.

The Lord then used a number of pictures from nature to describe the Babylonians and how they treated people. Their horses had the speed of leopards and the ferocity of wolves, and their troops swooped down on their prey like vultures. Their army swept across the desert like the wind and gathered and deported prisoners the way a man digs sand and ships it to a foreign land.

Could anything stop them? Certainly God could stop them, but He was the one who was enlisting their aid! Nothing human could hinder their progress. The Babylonians had no respect for authority, whether kings or generals. (One of their practices was to put captured kings in cages and exhibit them, like animals.) They laughed at gates and walls as they built their siege ramps and captured fortified cities. They worshiped the god of power and depended wholly on their own strength.

Habakkuk learned that God was not indifferent to the sins of the people of Judah. The Lord was planning to chasten Judah by allowing the Babylonians to invade the land and take them into exile. This wasn't the answer Habakkuk was expecting. He was hoping God would send a revival to His people (see 3:2), judge the evil leaders, and establish righteousness in the land. Then the nation would escape punishment and the people and cities would be spared.

However, God had warned His people time and time again, but they wouldn't listen. Prophet after prophet had declared the Word (2 Chron. 36:14-21), only to be rejected, and He had sent natural calamities like droughts and plagues, and various military defeats, but the people wouldn't listen. Instead of repenting, the people hardened their hearts even more and turned for help to the gods of the nations around them. They had tried God's longsuffering long enough and it was time for God to act.

2. "How Could God Be So Inconsistent?" (Hab. 1:12-17)

As far as Habakkuk was concerned, God's first answer hadn't been an answer at all. In fact, it only created a new problem that was even more puzzling: inconsistency on the part of God. How could a holy God use a wicked nation to punish His own special people?

The holiness of God (Hab. 1:12-13). The prophet focused on the character of God, as Jonah had done when he disagreed with what God was doing (Jonah 4:2). "Men of faith are always the men who have to confront problems," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, for if you believe in God, you sometimes wonder why He allows certain things to happen. But keep in mind that there's a difference between doubt and unbelief. Like Habakkuk, the doubter questions God and may even debate with God, but the doubter doesn't abandon God. But unbelief is rebellion against God, a refusal to accept what He says and does. Unbelief is an act of the will, while doubt is born out of a troubled mind and a broken heart.

Habakkuk's argument with God is a short course in theology. He started with the fact of the holiness of God. The Babylonians were far more wicked sinners than the people in Judah, so how could God use evil, idolatrous Gentiles to punish His own chosen people? Yes, His people deserved punishment, but couldn't God find a better instrument? Would this mean the end of the nation? No, for "we shall not die" (Hab. 1:12). God had purposes to fulfill through the Jewish nation and He would preserve His people, but they would experience painful trials.

The prophet needed to remember two facts: (1) God had used other tools to chasten His people—war, natural calamities, the preaching of the prophets—and the people wouldn't listen; (2) the greater the light, the greater the responsibility. Yes, the Babylonians were wicked sinners, but they were idolaters who didn't know the true and living God. This didn't excuse their sins (Rom. 1:18ff), but it did explain their conduct. The Jews claimed to know the Lord and yet they were sinning against the very law they claimed to believe! Sin in the life of a believer is far worse than sin in the life of an unbeliever. When God's people deliberately disobey Him, they sin against a flood of light and an ocean of love.

Habakkuk reminded God that He was eternal, and therefore knew the end from the beginning and couldn't be caught by surprise. He was the Mighty God ("Rock," niv) who had all power and never changed. So, what about His covenants with the Jews? What about His special promises? As a holy God, He couldn't look with approval on sin (Hab. 1:13); yet He was "tolerant" of sin in the land of Judah and "silent" as the Babylonians prepared to swallow up His people! Habakkuk wanted God to say something and do something, but God was silent and seemingly inactive.

Keep in mind that this wasn't simply a national problem to Habakkuk, or a theological problem; it was a personal problem as he cried out, "My God, my holy One" (v. 12, niv). National and international events were affecting his personal walk with God, and this concerned him greatly. But wrestling with these challenges is the only way for our "faith muscles" to grow. To avoid tough questions, or to settle for half-truths and superficial pat answers it to remain immature, but to face questions honestly and talk them through with the Lord is to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18). His question "Why are you silent?" (v. 13, niv) has been asked by both saints and sinners for centuries. Of course, God is not silent, because He speaks through His Word to those who have ears to hear. He spoke the loudest at Calvary when His beloved Son died on the cross; for the atonement is God's final and complete answer to the sins of the world. Because of the cross, God is both "just and justifier" (Rom. 3:26). He has both upheld His holy law and manifested His loving heart. Sin has been judged and the way has been opened for sinners to become the children of God. Nobody can complain about such a wise and loving answer!

The helplessness of the people (Hab. 1:14-15). After presenting his case on the basis of the holiness of God, Habakkuk argued from the viewpoint of the helplessness of the people (vv. 14-15). Judah could never survive an attack from the savage Babylonians. To the Babylonians, life was cheap, and prisoners of war were expendable. People were like fish to be hooked or sea creatures to be trapped.

How could God allow His weak people to be invaded by such a heartless and ruthless nation? Of course, the false prophets in Judah were saying, "It can't happen here" (see Jer. 6:14; 8:11; 14:13ff), but their blind optimism would soon be exposed as lies. For forty years, the Prophet Jeremiah warned the people of Judah and begged them to turn back to God, but they refused to listen. What Judah needed wasn't great military strength but obedient faith in God.

The haughtiness of the enemy (Hab. 1:16-17). The prophet's third approach was to point out the way the Babylonians lived and worshiped. Their god was power (see v.11) and they trusted in their mighty military machine ("their net," vv. 16-17) and worshiped the gods of power and violence. The Babylonians were "puffed up," (2:4, niv) with arrogance and self-confidence. How could God honor them by giving them a victory over Judah? God was filling their net with victims, and the Chaldeans were emptying the net by destroying one nation after another (1:17, niv).

Habakkuk could have said more about the abominable religion of the Babylonians. They believed in a multitude of gods and goddesses, with Bel as the head of their pantheon. Anu was the god of the sky, Nebo the god of literature and wisdom, and Nergal was the sun god. Sorcery was an important part of their religion, including honoring Ea, the god of magic. Their priests practiced divination and consulted omens, all of which was prohibited by the Law of Moses. It seemed unreasonable that the Lord would allow such spiritually ignorant people to conquer Judah, the land that housed His own temple.

Habakkuk finished his defense and waited for God to speak. Like a servant, he stood waiting and watching (2:1), wondering how God would respond to his "complaint." The answer God gave is recorded in chapter 2.

But before we listen to God's encouraging reply, we must pause to examine our own hearts. Are we fully yielded to God and willing for Him to have His way with us and with those whom we love? There's nothing wrong with wrestling with the problems of life and seeking a better understanding of God's will, but we must beware lest we start debating with God and trying to change His mind.

We admire Habakkuk for being an honest man and wanting God to spare the people he loved. We want to imitate him in his openness and sincerity and in his willingness to wait for God's answer. But we want to remember that Paul wrote to the believers in Rome:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

(Rom. 11:33-36, nkjv)