Habakkuk – “O LORD, How Long Shall I Cry, And Thou Wilt Not Hear?”
The twelve prophetic books from Hosea to Malachi are an often-overlooked portion of Scripture. Although these books are sometimes called the “Minor Prophets”, they are minor only in the sense of them being relatively shorter than the books of the “Major Prophets” such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. The books of the “Minor Prophets” are an important part of God’s Word, and the things in them which were “written aforetime were written for our learning” (cf. Romans 15:4).
Over the course of this year, we will be reviewing each book of the “Minor Prophets”. In the month of August, we turn to the book of Habakkuk. This book, though short, nevertheless contains a powerful summary of how we ought to respond when we face suffering and injustice in our lives. When faced with life’s difficulties, we can emulate the example of the prophet Habakkuk, who pleaded, was patient, and praised God.
The first chapter of the book of Habakkuk opens with Habakkuk pleading with God: “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2) The prophet was living in Judah during a period of time preceding the waves of invasions by the Babylonians (Chaldeans) from 606 to 586 B.C.. The people of Judah had become exceedingly violent and the righteous were surrounded by the wicked (Habakkuk 1:3-4). For this reason, the prophet Habakkuk pleaded for God to do something about this evil situation.
God responded to Habakkuk’s plea, but it would not be an answer that Habakkuk wanted to hear. The LORD would “raise up the Chaldeans (Babylonians)”, a “terrible and dreadful” nation that would “march through the breadth of the land to possess dwelling places that are not theirs” (Habakkuk 1:5-11). This looked forward prophetically to the Babylonian captivity of Judah, when the Babylonians would enslave God’s people for seventy years (cf. Jeremiah 25:9-11). Habakkuk was understandably perplexed by this prophecy and pleaded a second time with the LORD: how could a God with “pure eyes” that “cannot look upon iniquity” (sin, wrongdoing) allow the Chaldeans, a wicked nation, to be the instrument of punishment on God’s people? (Habakkuk 1:12-17)
In the second chapter of the book, we see that to Habakkuk’s credit, although he initially did not understand the Lord’s intent to use the Babylonians to punish Judah, he was patient in waiting to see what the Lord’s reply would be: “I will stand upon my watch… and watch to see what he will say unto me” (Habakkuk 2:1) The image here is of Habakkuk patiently continuing to stand guard upon a watchtower, of him patiently waiting to hear from the LORD, instead of abandoning his post. The LORD rewards Habakkuk’s patience by revealing a series of “woes” that would come upon the Chaldeans (Babylonians). Although they would be initially allowed to take the people of Judah into captivity, they would subsequently be punished for their greed and covetousness (Habakkuk 2:6), they would be brought low because of their bloodthirstiness (Habakkuk 2:12), they would be destroyed for their idolatry (Habakkuk 2:18-19). History and the Bible reveal to us that the Babylonian Empire would eventually fall to the Medo-Persian empire (Daniel 5).
In the third chapter of the book, we see Habakkuk praising God. Having brought a plea before the LORD, and having been patient to hear the LORD’s reply, Habakkuk aptly concludes with a prayer praising and extolling the majesty of God (Habakkuk 3:1ff). He acknowledged the glory of God (Habakkuk 3:3), he remembered how none of the heathen nations could stand in opposition to Him (Habakkuk 3:7), and he recalled the miracle the LORD did in causing the sun and moon to stand still (Habakkuk 3:11; cf. Joshua 10:12-13). Most importantly, Habakkuk praised the LORD by declaring that although misfortune and tough times may come, he would “rejoice in the LORD and in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18). What a declaration of faith! Despite the looming threat of invasion from Babylon, despite the suffering and horrors of war that must surely come, Habakkuk confidently affirmed that he would continue to trust and rejoice in the LORD.
We will inevitably face troubles, difficulties, and suffering in this life. Some of us will experience health problems, some of us will experience financial difficulties, some of us will experience tensions in our relationships. With the passing of time, we will inevitably experience the pain of losing loved ones. Yet, despite the problems of life, we can manage them if we adopt the same attitude that Habakkuk had: an attitude of pleading with God, of being patient with Him, and of praising the LORD Almighty.
We ought to plead frequently with God in our prayers. Though the Father knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8), He still wants us to “ask, seek, and knock” (Matthew 7:7-11). He has provided us with the avenue of prayer through which we can plead with Him and make our requests known to Him, and in so doing, obtain peace knowing that we have a God who cares for us and will provide for our daily needs (Philippians 4:6-7; cf. 1 Peter 5:7; cf. Matthew 6:33).
Having pleaded with the LORD, we ought to be patient with Him. All too often, we treat God like a magic genie, who exists only to fulfil our wishes and requests instantly. Let us not forget that the LORD is the Master and we are merely His “unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10). Let us be patient like Habakkuk and trust that the LORD “will make everything beautiful in His time” (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11). Remember that those who trust in their own strength will inevitably fall, but “they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Above all, let us continually make use of every opportunity to praise God. Even when times are bad, let us be like Habakkuk who was determined to rejoice in the LORD (Habakkuk 3:17-18). Let us not praise God only when things are good and going our way, but let us remember to praise Him even (and especially) when the world is crumbling around us. We can lose our jobs, our homes, our loved ones – but let us never lose our faith in God. “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)
I hope that this brief overview of the book of Habakkuk was profitable for you. May God bless us as we continue to serve Him all the days of our life.