Faith When All Seems Lost: The Prophet Habakkuk
The Seeming Triumph of Evil
The man who became known as the 'Prince of Preachers', Charles Haddon Spurgeon, once said:
"To trust God in the light is nothing. But to trust Him in the dark-that is faith!"
This is so true! It's always easier to have faith in God when things are going well. But we all go through times of struggle when it seems that the Lord has abandoned us. When the lights go out in our life, it is so much harder to trust God in the dark.
And this is even more true when evil seems to triumph over the good. When those who hate God and everything that He stands for start to take control over the society in which we are living, we begin to ask: "Is God still there?"
In the movies, it's so simple. The bad guy may cause all sorts of pain and misery but the good guys always seem to win in the end. When I was growing up, there was a Western on television called Gunsmoke. It was a long-running series that had originally been on the radio. The star of the show was Matt Dillon and he was the Sheriff of Dodge City. And no matter how bad things looked, in the end, you knew that Matt would always come to the rescue and make sure the bad men got what was coming to them. One way or another, that was always how it was going to end. Matt Dillon may even have been near death at times. Still, he would manage to survive and come back to make sure justice was done. It wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when it would happen.
But we aren't living in Dodge City and this isn't the television of yesteryear. In the real world, the bad guy doesn't always lose. Sometimes crimes go unpunished, the good guy dies and evil triumphs over good.
For example, according to FBI statistics, approximately 30-40% of all murders go unsolved each year. And a recent 2018 study indicates that there have been more than 220,000 murders unsolved since 1980.
The question is, where is the Lord in all of this? We who believe in a holy God have to have faith that this cannot be the end of justice for these crimes. A just God cannot let the sins of evil people go unpunished. There just has to be judgment for the atrocities of life.
In the short biblical book of Habakkuk, the prophet was wrestling with some of these same problems. He was struggling with why evil people abounded in his nation that was chosen by a Holy God to be His special people. And the really interesting thing is that God answers him.
I. Habakkuk and His Times
When trying to piece together the history surrounding this book, we find that the prophet Habakkuk is a bit of a mystery. Little is known of him. We only have his book to tell us about him and he calls himself "the prophet."
There are two possible dates that could be given for this book. One date simply assumes that Habakkuk was written after the Chaldeans, or Babylonians came to power. During this time they were threatening the freedom of Judah. If this is the case, then this would place it during the reign of the evil King Jehoiakim who reigned from 608-597 B.C.
The other date builds upon Habakkuk's reference to Babylon as so unexpected as to be unbelievable in chapter 1, verse 6. If that is the case the book would be placed during the reign of King Josiah, between 639 and 609 B.C. Neither of these dates affects the outcome and the theology of the book or what we can learn from it. However, many scholars go with the earlier date under Josiah.
We know from history that the Northern Kingdom of Israel broke off from Judah and then in 722 B.C. went into captivity under Assyria because of their sins and the fact that they ran after other gods. Now we have the Southern Kingdom of Judah doing the same thing. Many prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah saw injustice going on in their society and spoke out concerning it. They had condemned the sinfulness of both Israel and Judah and warned that God was going to judge all such behavior.
Under good King Josiah, there were a lot of religious reforms due to the rediscovery of the Law. The people of Judah were worshipping under a restored temple and were holding all of the festivals that the Law required.
Yet it all seemed to be a surface revival. The hearts of most of the society had not changed. There was oppression in the land and much sin in the lives of God's people. Habakkuk was searching for answers to the moral and theological questions that plagued him. And he asked God about them in the form of complaints.
II. Habakkuk's First Complaint: The Wicked Surround and Overwhelm the Good
Habakkuk's first complaint has to do with all of the injustice in the society around him. The wicked surround and overwhelm the righteous (1:1-4). Because of this, justice is perverted. And beyond all of this, God doesn't seem to care. At least He doesn't appear to be doing anything about it. It is the age old question: "If you believe in an all-powerful and good God of justice and mercy, then why does He allow so much evil in this world?
We in 21st Century America today are not immune to the evil of society. Human trafficking, for instance, is believed to be the third largest criminal activity in the world. Trafficking includes forced labor, domestic servitude and commercial sex trafficking. And it is going on under our own noses in our country. It is believed that there are 20 to 30 million slaves worldwide. And, in America between 14,500 and 17,500 are being trafficked each year.
According to the FBI, here in our land, thousands of people are being bought and sold, beaten and even starved and forced to work as prostitutes, and take jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant or factory workers with little or no pay. And this illegal industry tends to take advantage of the most vulnerable among us.
The average age a teen enters the sex trade industry is between 12 and 14 years of age. Of those that are abused, it is believed that many were runaway girls who were sexually abused as children. Of course many are boys as well.
It is reported that this industry generates 32 billion dollars every year. And 15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries such as the U.S. Sadly, this is just one of many sins going on as we live our comfortable lives in America. We are indeed surrounded by wickedness.
III. God's First Answer
The good thing for Habakkuk is that he didn't have to guess about an answer from God or wait for the answer's in eternity. He got a response directly from the Lord Himself about the problems that Judah was facing. In 1:5-11 of the book we see that God was not inactive and uncaring about their plight. And He wasn't tolerating the injustice that was taking place. In fact, The Lord told Habakkuk that He was about to do something about it that: "you would not believe even if you were told." (5)
God is raising the Babylonians, or Chaldeans. They are about to swoop down on many nations and are bent on violence and conquest. They are a fierce and evil people whose strength is their god and no fortified cities will be able to stand against them. And the Lord will use this nation to judge His people Judah.
There is a biblical truth that God is not mocked. A man will reap what he sows. And the same is true of a nation. God doesn't let evil go unpunished. He didn't do it during the time of Habakkuk and He's not about to start now.
Though we don't have the insights today as to how God is working, nevertheless, we can be assured that He is. And we have the assurance that: "All things work together for good to those who love the Lord" (Romans 8:28).
God uses the bad things and sometimes bad people to bring about His gracious loving and good purposes in His people's lives. We may, like Habakkuk, have to undergo many evils caused by our own sins and the sins of those in our nation. However, God promises that, if you belong to Him, then He is the final judge and will make all things right. No injustice will go unpunished and none who remains faithful to Him will ever go unrewarded.
In the case of Judah, the punishment meant that they were to be defeated and scattered by this evil nation of Babylon.
IV. Habakkuk's Second Complaint: Why a More Evil Nation to Judge a Less Evil One?
Habakkuk, knowing full well that God's eyes are too pure to look upon evil and can tolerate no wrong, lodges a second complaint: "Why would you use the evil Babylonians to judge nations that are more righteous than they are?" (1:12-17). Indeed, God once again seems to remain silent as the people of Babylon swallow up whole people groups. It makes men seem like nothing more than fish in the sea or like sea creatures who have no ruler (14).
Habakkuk is jealous for the glory of God here. How can He stand idol and let these vicious men take advantage of other people. And it makes other nations worship these power-hungry Babylonians and not the God of Israel and Judah.
Habakkuk is so determined to find an answer that he seeks out an isolated spot and waits for the Lord to reply. And reply He does.
V. God's Second Answer
The Lord explains that the Babylonians aren't going to get away with their wickedness either, as He spends all of chapter 2 pronouncing woe after woe against them. He begins, however by telling Habakkuk a few things. Here are the words of God as recorded by the prophet:
"Then the Lord answered me and said: Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. Behold as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But my righteous one will live by his faith." (2:2-4).
These words are popular in the New Testament. They are quoted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 to talk about justification by faith. And the writer of Hebrews quoted them in 10:38 to refer to sanctification by faith. And these words about faith are also are the essence of what the Lord wanted to tell Habakkuk and us.
No matter what happens in life, faith is the answer. We must have faith that God is in control of everything that happens in this universe, even if we don't always see His hand in things. Whether evil or good, the Lord is the Sovereign God who uses things and people to work out everything for His purposes and the benefit of His loved ones.
God also speaks directly to the Babylonians in this chapter and in one place warns them:
"Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, who mix in your venom even to make them drunk so as to look on their nakedness! You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor. Now you yourself will drink and expose your own nakedness. The cup of the Lord's right hand will come around to you and utter disgrace will come upon your glory." (2:15,16).
The Lord later talks about the worthless idols of the Babylonians, the ones that they carved themselves. He pronounces a woe to those who: "say to a piece of wood: 'Awake' and to a mute stone, 'Arise!'. He makes fun of them because they call that stone their teacher even though it is overlaid with gold and has no breath in it. (2:19}.
In contrast to all of these He states: "But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him!" (20). God is there, He is alive and He is Sovereign!
VI. Habakkuk's Final Response: A Prayer of Faith
Habakkuk finally realizes that God is indeed in control of all that is happening and reacts in faith. But realizing that this also involves judgment, He says to the Lord:
"Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy!" (3:2).
At the end of his prayer, the prophet expresses complete and utter trust in the God of judgment and mercy by telling God that he, Habakkuk, will wait quietly for the day of distress to come and for the people to invade them. Then he utters these words of resignation that all God's people that are going through hard times must be able to say:
"Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places!" (3:17-19).
Like these hinds, or deer, God may take us through the rough and high places, but he gives us the feet to stand and not to fall!
Dr. Gene Getz
If we could summarize the message of Habakkuk it would go something like this: "Though it looks like all is lost and you do not understand why God has not responded, keep on serving, seeking, waiting and living by faith. Though all you see is evil, violence, strife, and destruction do not lose heart. God will triumph in the end."
What a marvelous Old Testament book is the prophecy of Habakkuk. It is definitely an untapped resource that is missed by most Christians. We learn from it that, if you do evil, then God is not to be mocked. You will stand before Him in judgment.
And if you are righteous and are going through hard times then God is your redeemer and vindicator, who will not allow you to go unrewarded for your faith. Faith indeed is the answer to our lives in good times and in bad.
We need simply believe that God is for us and wants to bring us, in the end, to a wonderful place where He is and where we cannot be harmed by anyone again- whether by man, nation or demon.
There is an old Christmas song that God's people have sung for years, written by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, entitled: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas day." What most people don't know is that Longfellow wrote it after his personal peace was shaken to the core.
His second wife of 18 years, to whom he was extremely devoted, was burned to death in a fire. Then during the American Civil War, his oldest son joined the Union Army, without his blessing. He was later severely injured and almost died.
So, it was from personal tragedy that the beautiful words of this hymn came on Christmas,1863, while the war that nearly tore apart a nation was still raging in our country.
The first line says:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
However, like Habakkuk, Longfellow realizes that there are lots of problems and people on earth who are disturbing the promised peace. In the next to the last line the song says:
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
However, finally, once again like Habakkuk, he comes to this conclusion which makes all that is happening make sense and gives him hope again. Longfellow concludes:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
No matter what you are going through right now, or what is happening in the world around you, realize this. God is not dead! God does not sleep! He is in His holy temple, which, in this day and age, is your body. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, you have the glorious hope of a bright future ahead.
And those who live by faith will one day say: "Whatever has happened to me, it was worth it all. To God be the glory, for He rules and He reigns over my life! And thank the Lord that I now know that His will was right! And His way was best!"
© 2019 Jeff Shirley