Habakkuk 1 – The Prophet’s Problem
A. The first problem: “How long, O LORD?”
1. (1) Habakkuk and his burden.
The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw.
a. The prophet Habakkuk: We don’t know much about the prophet Habakkuk from any other book in the Bible. Since he prophesied the coming Babylonian army and its destruction of Judah, he prophesied some time before that invasion. Many think that Habakkuk ministered sometime during the reign of King Jehoiakim, perhaps around the year 607 B.C.
i. It’s hard to say with certainty when Habakkuk prophesied. Since he speaks of God raising up the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:6), we can guess that he wrote in the 25-year period between the time when Babylon conquered Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire (612 B.C.) and the time when Babylon conquered Jerusalem (587 B.C.).
ii. We don’t know how old Habakkuk was when he gave this prophecy, but it is likely that he lived during the time of the godly King Josiah (640 to 609 B.C.) and then gave this prophecy during the reign of one of Josiah’s successors. Habakkuk knew what it was like to live during a time of revival, and then to see God’s people and the nation slip into lethargy and sin. “Habakkuk had a problem. He had lived through a period of national revival followed by a period of spiritual decline.” (Boice)
b. The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw: Habakkuk had a burden – not only in the sense of a message from God but also in the sense of a heavy weight. It was heavy in its content because Habakkuk announced coming judgment on Judah. It was also heavy in its source because Habakkuk brought a message from God, and every word of God is heavy with meaning and relevance.
i. The name Habakkuk is derived from the Hebrew verb “embrace.” His name probably means, he who embraces or he who clings. It is an appropriate name for both the prophet and the book because Habakkuk comes to a firm faith through grappling with tough questions.
ii. The prophet: “This title is rare in book headings (see Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1), and is taken by some to indicate that Habakkuk was a professional prophet, one who earned his living serving as a prophet at the Temple or court, unlike Amos (cf. Amos 7:14).” (Baker)
2. (2-4) Habakkuk asks God why He seems to delay judgment.
O LORD, how long shall I cry,
And You will not hear?
Even cry out to You, “Violence!”
And You will not save.
Why do You show me iniquity,
And cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me;
There is strife, and contention arises.
Therefore the law is powerless,
And justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
a. Even cry out to You, “Violence!” and You will not save: Habakkuk looked at the violence and injustice around him in the nation of Judah. He wondered where God was, and why God did not set things right.
b. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? This was, and is, an excellent question. Why does God allow us to see iniquity and trouble, in ourselves or in others?
i. Some reasons why God allows us to see iniquity in ourselves:
· To keep us humble.
· To keep us submissive to Him in the hour of trouble.
· To make us value salvation even more.
ii. Some reasons why God allows us to see iniquity in others:
· To show us what we might have been ourselves.
· To make us see the wickedness of sin, that we might pass by it and hate it, and not indulge in it ourselves.
· To make us admire the grace of God when He saves sinners.
· To set us more earnestly to work that God can use us to save others and extend God’s kingdom. “Ah, my brethren, we need to know more of the evil of men, to make us more earnest in seeking their salvation; for if there be anything in which the Church is lacking more than in any other matter, it is in the matter of earnestness.” (Spurgeon)
c. Iniquity…trouble.… plundering and violence…strife…contention.… the law is powerless…justice never goes forth…perverse judgment proceeds: Habakkuk saw trouble and sin everywhere, from personal relationships to the courts of law. This distressed him so much that he cried out to God and asked God why He didn’t bring judgment and immediately correct things.
i. Habakkuk dealt with the questions that come up when someone really believes God, yet looks around and sees that the world doesn’t seem to match up with how God wants it. Habakkuk saw this – especially remembering the prior times of revival under King Josiah – and asked, “LORD, why are you allowing this?”
ii. “This prophecy deals with the problems created by faith; and with the Divine answers to the questions which express those problems.” (Morgan)
B. God’s answer to the first problem.
1. (5-6) God’s astounding work: bringing the Babylonians to judge Judah.
“Look among the nations and watch–
Be utterly astounded!
For I will work a work in your days
Which you would not believe,
Though it were told you.
For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans,
A bitter and hasty nation
Which marches through the breadth of the earth,
To possess dwelling places that are not theirs.”
a. Be utterly astounded: God told the troubled prophet, “Don’t worry about it. Look at the surrounding nations and from them will come a nation that will be My instrument of judgment on sinful Judah.”
b. I will work a work in your days which you would not believe: We understand the idea of something “too good to be true,” but that isn’t what God meant here. This was something “too bad to be true,” a work of judgment so astounding that Habakkuk would have a hard time believing it.
c. I am raising up the Chaldeans: When the Babylonians (the Chaldeans) eventually came against Judah, they came as sent by the LORD. It wasn’t that they themselves did not want to come, but God allowed their sinful desire to conquer Judah to come to fruition. If God had not allowed them to do it, they never could have conquered Judah and exiled God’s people from the Promised Land.
2. (7-11) The strength and speed of the Babylonian army.
“They are terrible and dreadful;
Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses also are swifter than leopards,
And more fierce than evening wolves.
Their chargers charge ahead;
Their cavalry comes from afar;
They fly as the eagle that hastens to eat.
They all come for violence;
Their faces are set like the east wind.
They gather captives like sand.
They scoff at kings,
And princes are scorned by them.
They deride every stronghold,
For they heap up earthen mounds and seize it.
Then his mind changes, and he transgresses;
He commits offense,
Ascribing this power to his god.”
a. They are terrible and dreadful: Habakkuk wondered where God’s judgment was against sinful Judah. The LORD told him that the judgment would indeed come, and when it came through the Babylonians it would be terrible and dreadful.
b. He commits offense, ascribing this power to his god: When the Babylonians would come and overwhelm the land of Judah, they would wrongly give the credit to their false gods. The LORD knew and said they would do this before it ever happened.
C. The second problem: “Why do it this way, O LORD?”
1. (12-17) Habakkuk wonders why God would use a nation more wicked than Judah to bring judgment on Judah.
Are You not from everlasting,
O LORD my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment;
O Rock, You have marked them for correction.
You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,
And cannot look on wickedness.
Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
A person more righteous than he?
Why do You make men like fish of the sea,
Like creeping things that have no ruler over them?
They take up all of them with a hook,
They catch them in their net,
And gather them in their dragnet.
Therefore they rejoice and are glad.
Therefore they sacrifice to their net,
And burn incense to their dragnet;
Because by them their share is sumptuous
And their food plentiful.
Shall they therefore empty their net,
And continue to slay nations without pity?
a. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously: Habakkuk was first troubled that there was no judgment against Judah; God answered by telling him judgment was on the way. Then Habakkuk was troubled by the agent of judgment, the Babylonians – who were an even more wicked people than the people of Judah.
i. It would be like crying out to God about the state of the church in America, and hearing God respond by saying, “I’ll fix the problem by an enemy invasion of America.” We might say, “Wait a minute LORD – the problem is bad, but Your cure is worse than the disease!”
ii. Some people face crisis times like this all the wrong way. They withdraw from the church and from fellowship and they pull back into a little spiritual corner. Others give up on God altogether. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggested a better response (cited in Boice):
· Stop to think – before talking about it, think about it.
· Restate basic principles – as you think about the problem, don’t begin with the problem. Go back further to basic principles about God and His dealing with man.
· Apply the principles to the problem – now, think about your problem in light of these basic principles.
· Commit the matter to God in faith – whether you know what to do or not.
b. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness: This is even more problematic to Habakkuk because he knew the character of God. Since he understood the holy character of God, he was more troubled than ever as to why God would judge wicked Judah by exalting even more wicked Babylon.
c. Shall they therefore empty their net, and continue to slay nations without pity? Habakkuk wondered how long God would allow the Babylonians to continue their cruel conquest of nations. It was as if God’s people were conquered as easily as fish are captured in a net.
i. “Easily are we taken and destroyed. We have no leader to guide us, and no power to defend ourselves. Nebuchadnezzar is here represented as a fisherman, who is constantly casting nets into the sea, and enclosing multitudes of fishes; and being always successful, he sacrifices to his own net.” (Clarke)
2. (2:1) Habakkuk resolutely waits for God’s reply.
I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
a. And watch to see what He will say to me: Habakkuk has raised two important questions with God, yet he asked both with a proper attitude. He anticipated an answer from God and was willing to watch – that is, wait for it. Often when we question God we don’t expect Him to answer, but Habakkuk did. Other times we not only expect God will answer, but we demand that He answer, and answer according to our schedule. Habakkuk approached this with the correct attitude.
i. “How often God’s answers come, and find us gone! We have waited for a while, and, thinking there was no answer, we have gone our way but as we have turned the first corner the post has come in. God’s ships touch at our wharves; but there is no one to unload them.… It is not enough to direct your prayer unto God; look up, and look out, until the blessing alights on your head.” (Meyer)
b. And what I will answer when I am corrected: Habakkuk’s attitude was also right because he expected God to correct him. From this, we see that Habakkuk didn’t ask God this question because he thought God was wrong and had to explain Himself. He asked it because he knew that he was wrong and he needed to be corrected. His questions were his invitation to God saying, “God, I don’t understand what You are doing, but I know that You are right in all things. Please speak to me and correct me.”