After a long hiatus (also known as a very busy time when the supervising Pastor goes on holidays and family comes to visit) I am continuing my series of reflections on the Minor Prophets, coming now to Habakkuk. I know you probably thought that I had forgotten but I haven’t! Every time I post on this site, I’ve been reminded that I need to finish up what I started. So here we go.
I must confess that Habakkuk was a bit of an odd book for me understand, I couldn’t quite get a handle on it for the longest time. The book of Habakkuk is comprised of two complaints from the prophet Habakkuk and then two answers given by God.
The first complaint regards the violence and destruction the people of Judah do against the righteous, or the faithful of Judah. Habakkuk says that the wicked surround the righteous and justice goes forth perverted (1:4). In a way it doesn’t sound all that different from the stories that we sometimes hear today, where people will go through the courts, or the Human Rights Tribunals here in Canada, to sue or punish Christians for preaching God’s Word. The faithful Christian preacher is punished for being a Christian and delivering God’s message which condemns sin and delivers the forgiveness given through Christ. It may be that the faithful Jews are being prosecuted for remaining faithful to Yahweh and proclaiming God’s Word to the people, which would condemn their unfaithfulness. Like the faithful Jews of that time, we might look to God and say, “What are you doing? Don’t you see that justice is being perverted and the gospel is being impeded by these wicked men?” And rather than trust in God and His will for us and rejoice in our suffering as Christians, as Peter tells us to do (1 Peter 4), we doubt and question our God and whether He really has everything under control and whether He really does care for us. “He promised blessings if we followed His covenant, where are they,” we might ask, arrogant of our wickedness and sin and thinking ourselves so great as to deserve those blessings.
God answers the complaint by saying that those who punish the righteous will be brought to justice through Babylon who will be much more violent and wicked than Judah. So, God is going to punish Judah by using a nation that is even worse against them…I think you might be able to see some of my difficulty as I read the book. God will punish the wicked by putting them under the heel of the even more wicked. I sense a cycle beginning to form. Sort of. What God is making clear is that the wickedness of Judah, the wickedness of Babylon and the wickedness of the world will all be punished for their sins. Where we might wonder just what God is doing and whether He is actually going to do anything, God is active and at work in the world, judging and punishing the world for their sins. I know, not the greatest comfort but it gets better.
The second complaint is related to the first, because with all this wickedness and corrupt justice going on it can seem like God is just looking on idly while the traitors and the wicked swallow up the righteous (1:13). God answers the complaint with one of most famous verses in Paul’s writing, “the righteous shall live by faith.” That by faith God’s people will overcome the injustice and suffering and rejoice in their Lord who has promised them the victory over this world and sin. Habakkuk tells the people that now is not the appropriate time for all of this to come true yet, the vision of the righteous reigning over earth hasn’t happened yet. It’s still not the appropriate time, but the injustice of the world won’t stop it from coming. There will be a time when God will swallow up wickedness and His people will reign in righteousness. That time is both now and not yet. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God has taken the wickedness of the world upon Himself on the cross and died for it all. He defeated sin and wickedness and rose from the dead to proclaim His victory and declare that we too will share in His reign. Jesus will return to complete His victory over wickedness, to defeat the greatest wickedness of the world—death—and call His people forth from the grave.
In His wrath on the world, as His judgement destroys this sinful world and all sinners who refuse the forgiveness of Christ, He will remember His mercy for His people. He will save us from the judgement, since Christ has already gone through it for us and has covered us with His righteousness. This is the great comfort Habakkuk offers and ends his book with prayer and rejoicing to God for the great gift of our salvation in times of suffering. That nothing can steal His salvation away from us and that in our suffering we can trust in Him who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God!