We all wish we knew more about Habakkuk. He tells us nothing about his background; he simply announcesthat he is a prophet with only three short chapters! Why were these few words recorded for all the world to read for more than 2500+ years?
I will tell you why—Paul needed to read it, that learned young Jew in whom the Holy Spirit was leading out of the worn-out crust of God’s movement gone bad: “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Romans 1:17, etc). And Martin Luther had to hear it! And we today have to hear it! For we today surely need to hear it and understand it—it just happens to be the core issue that has divided the Christian church since the First Century, A.D. Every church even to this very day!
Habakkuk probably was written sometime after Nahum’s fiery message to Nineveh and after the northern kingdom of Israel had been dispersed by the Assyrians, perhaps around 630 B.C. He saw the rising threat of Babylon which had overthrown Assyria big time!
But listen to Habakkuk’s anguish! Wow! He regrets Judah’s sins and knows that his people deserve punishment—a situation so much similar to their sister Israel, now languishing along the Euphrates.
But, he can’t look back on history as we do today! He was weighing the punishment that Judah rightly deserved, but he is trying to make sense out of the instrument that God seems to be using—the Babylonians, who seem to be blessed with increasing prosperity! Didn’t seem to compute in Habakkuk’s mind.
Yes, the Holy Spirit uses Habakkuk to send a message to Judah and down the centuries—that God permits (not orders!) sinners to flourish. I have no idea whether Habakkuk ever knew about Job and his remarkable experience in the Great Controversy that was now going on in Habakkuk’s time. I wish he had!
But Habakkuk was another Job, just like there have been many Job’s through the centuries, even as there are many in our day! And that is why this Sabbath School lesson is so timely, so relevant, so precious in helping us work through the same questions and issues that perplexed Habakkuk!
Why does God seemingly permit the apostasy and crime of Judah to go unchecked and unpunished (Hab. 1:1-4)? OK, God tells Habakkuk that He has a plan and He will accomplish His plan (Hab. 1:5-11).
OK, but the prophet has another question: How can God use a nation more wicked than Judah to punish Judah. And another question: How can such a plan be reconciled with divine justice (1:12-17)?
But like Job, Habakkuk almost seems rash and demands an answer from God (2:l)! And God overlooks his honest rashness and assures the prophet of the certainty of His purpose (l:2,3) and then points out Habakkuk’s need for humility and faith (2:4).
God reassures the prophet that He is still in control of the affairs of earth (not that He predestines affairs but that He is still the master of affairs) and thus all men, including Habakkuk would do well to “keep silence” before Him (v. 20), (that is, not to push his questions beyond the wisdom of the great controversy that is evident in the OT scrolls that were available in his day.)
Ah, the prophet gets God’s message—that he overstepped in presuming to “challenge” divine wisdom—and he humbly repents. But, in the same breath it seems, in his expression of concern about Judah as God’s chosen instrument, he pleads that divine justice will be mingled with divine mercy (3:1,2).
But then that burst of song as Habakkuk sees the Big Picture that Job eventually saw, extolling God’s glory and power that show God at work in the salvation of His faithful ones and for the overthrow of their enemies (3:3-16).
And now, that part of the book that has galvanized my heart for more than seventy years! That Hymn of Faith! “Though the fig tree may not blossom. . . . Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength: He will make my feet like deer’s feet. And He will make me walk on my high hills” (3:17-19).
Many have been the times when I let Habakkuk water my soul! Yep, and what a watering!
Think about the questions I think the prophet settled!
1. First of all, he settled what faith meant—and thus what Paul saw was the essential truth in the Great Controversy. Faith is the core word that determines how each of us charts our life and the trajectory of our personal future. Faith is not what so many, even Christians, have made it out to be—some kind of mental response, some kind of doctrinal agreement with some church’s beliefs.
Such upside-down understanding was exactly what Paul was fighting in the Galatian letter. And what Ellen White and others were fighting in 1888 and throughout her writing ministry. No one has ever defined “faith” better:
“Faith in Christ as the world’s Redeemer calls for an acknowledgment of the enlightened intellect controlled by a heart that can discern and appreciate the heavenly treasure. This faith is inseparable from repentance and transformation of character. To have faith means to find and accept the gospel treasure, with all the obligations which it imposes.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 112.
This is also Martin Luther’s understanding of faith. But what Luther understood and what Lutherans after him understand has led to the enormous disconnect within so many Christians today who look at faith as some sort of “get-out-of-jail card” –salvation without transformation. Paul could never have written his letters or turned the Mediterranean Basin upside-down in only a few decades.
2. He asked, “Why don’t You do something about all the crime and corruption we have here in Judah?” (And in our world today?
3. “Why You are at it, why don’t you see to it that the bad buys get punished? After all, how can you use really bad guys to punish people who don’t look so bad by comparison?”
4. “How come someone does something bad for bad reasons—but it all ends well??
Then I learned something about Job and Habakkuk that sort of transcends all these questions: It’s OK to ask God questions. And if we don’t like the way He is running the universe, we can tell Him so!
In graduate work for my doctorate, I wrestled with the questions like all the others, Christians and non-Christians, and then to have some of them ask me, “How come when we are all finished, we sort of wait for you to sum everything up so that it all makes sense?” In private time, I explained to somehow God works in the Great Controversy. One of those men, later a professor in a popular seminary, wrote me in a Christmas letter regarding the Great Controversy theme in The Desire of Ages: “Now I know what you meant about it being self-authenticating.”
I know, that sounds like a radical idea—God listens to our complaints! If one grows up with the model that tells you “to sit down and shut up,” then reading Habakkuk can be scary, Once, however, anyone gets use to Habakkuk, lots of questions and issues suddenly become open season, especially when you find where God has already answered your questions and helps you to reframe them in a more logical fashion.
But we must stick around for the answers! We often hear others (and maybe ourselves) ask: “What have you done for me lately?” We live in a world of fast-food and “immediate mistrust” of anyone or anything that challenges our skin-deep emotions.
Habakkuk had to wait. How long, I don’t know. But he, like Job, kept listening. But part of listening is to put your brain into the “memory gear.” He ends his message with a poem, listing some of the dramatic ways in which God had been showing His care for His people.
Yup, God’s people had been through tough times; yet, God never failed; His people had. And by remembering how God had always been faithful, Habakkuk found the courage to wait for God’s deliverance! And that awareness brought present peace and understanding.
Because of all this, I look again at a literal translation of Mark 11:22: “And Jesus answered and said to them, “Continue to have faith in the faithfulness of God.”