Habakkuk listened to the Lord’s plan for Judah in horror and confusion, but his knowledge of God’s character helped him work out his response. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk wrapping his brain around the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment in the circumstances of imminent catastrophe in order to save. He plead with God for mercy within wrath in verse 3, then described the Holiness and Glory of God before painting the picture of the ultimate destruction of evil. And then he recognized God’s purpose in the chaos: crushing the wicked and saving His people.
Habakkuk didn’t pretend to understand the hand of God. That’s good news for us. We don’t HAVE to understand. Habakkuk said, “I hear, and my body trembles” (3:16). He was not happy about what lay ahead. He knew it was going to be bad.
And yet. And yet. And yet, he made a choice to respond with joy in the salvation and strength of the Lord.
His circumstances didn’t change. History shows that Judah was captured by the Chaldeans who were then crushed by Babylon. It was a time of darkness and hardship and despair for the people, except for those who were faithfully committed to the Lord (like Daniel and his cohort). Habakkuk left his worry at the throne of the Lord, saying, ” Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength” (3:18-19). This is hard teaching. Does God want us to be happy? I have to say, not necessarily. He wants us to choose joy no matter what the circumstances, even when the circumstances do not make us happy. When we choose joy, we are looking beyond our current situation to God’s eternal plan, one of rich mercy, great love, and complete restoration in the fullness of time (Ephesians 2:4-9, Philippians 4:4-13; Titus 2:11-14).
One of the things I love about the prophets is that they are just like most of us. God had just told Habakkuk that the Chaldeans were going to ransack Judah to deal with the evil people there. Habakkuk couldn’t make sense of it. He put what he knew about the character of God (everlasting, holy, pure, and righteous) next to the prophecy (righteous people swallowed by wicked, merciless conquest) and found nothing but cognitive dissonance. While many people experiencing a similar cognitive dissonance become discouraged, despairing, or lose their faith altogether, Habakkuk chose to wait and watch for God’s explanation. He committed to standing at his watch post, standing at his tower, and looking out to see what God would say. How often do we give up on God when things are bad?
God DID answer Habakkuk. There’s no indication how long Habakkuk waited, but God’s answer came with both the ultimate fate of the Chaldeans AND the proper response of the faithful. The Chaldeans would eventually be conquered by Babylon. In the meantime, God told Habakkuk to wait for it (2:3), live by faith (2:4), be assured that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth (2:14), and that His character is unchanged (2:20). We, too, need to watch and wait for God’s long-term eternal plan to finally see true justice. It’s not easy. At all. We still ask, “how long will God stay silent while the wicked prosper?” I think part of the lesson of Habakkuk is that it’s okay to be confused. God doesn’t expect us to understand. And it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the questions, as long as we are committed to watching and waiting for the answers.
This is faith, living with insecurity while trusting God’s character. We are justified by that faith, which leads to peace even when life is hard and we can’t see how anything good can come out of our circumstances (Romans 5:1-5). Sometimes trusting God comes easily. Other times we hang on by the very tips of our fingers. We aren’t alone in questions and confusion, but when we are committed to waiting and watching, we will ultimately see God’s glory revealed (Habakkuk 2:14, Romans 8:18).
“How long?” Habakkuk asked the question sometime around 600 b.c.e. but we’re still asking. Why don’t you do something? Why do the wicked people seem to thwart justice and ignore the law without penalty?(My paraphrase of Habakkuk 1:3-4.) I read an article on Medium this morning that started with the notion that people really are pretty rotten by nature. Certainly Solomon thought so as he wrote Ecclesiastes. Our current era of anger, division, injustice, and violence is one in a steady stream of normal human affairs.
So, why doesn’t God DO something about it? That was Habakukk’s question, too. God told him, “Pay attention. It’s about to get real” (another ‘Loomisism’) and then laid out the plan. It was not exactly what Habakkuk expected (Habakkuk 1:5-11). In a nutshell, God was about to let the Marduk- worshipping, witchcraft-practicing, violence-loving Chaldeans conquer Israel. This conquest led to a Babylonian captivity that lasted a generation. Wait, what?
That doesn’t make sense (which Habakkuk says in verses 12-17), but that’s because Habakkuk (like all of us) was limited to a finite and limited understanding of human history and future.
Sometimes, when things look dismal, God’s work in our lives doesn’t line up with our expectations. It is during those moments that we need to remember that God’s thoughts and ways are so much more than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9.) The will of God is to draw each person into relationship, which can only happen through repentance (Isaiah 55:6-7). And sometimes we don’t pay attention to God’s holiness and ultimate justice until something drastic happens. It’s still really hard to wrap my brain around, to be honest. But that’s where trust in God and faith in His character has to take precedence over our own limited understanding. (Romans 3:21-26).