Habakkuk opens his prophetic letter lamenting about the deplorable state of Judah. This lament reflects a heart that is deeply concerned for his people and to see the Word of the Lord honored by God’s people. We need to understand that Habakkuk is “flaming angry” as R C Sproul says in his book “The Holiness Of God” with the present situation. He is so heated that he goes over the top a little bit when he laments and says “Justice never prevails”. Now! I’m sure there are some things where injustice is awaiting final overhaul, but to say that justice “never” prevails is going a little overboard. We sometimes feel that way that when justice seems silent and the wicked seem to get away with murder. Again, some cases fall through the cracks of the legal system, but a good number of crimes committed big or small, have been brought to justice. We have this idea that some people are getting away with sin and God has turned a blind eye to man’s behavior and destruction.
God has not changed that’s what makes Him immutable. His standards or His dealings, even though His executions against evil have not yet been performed against those who do such vile and evil things. His judgment is sure to come in God’s perfect timing, not ours. Have we forgotten what Paul said in Rome “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works:” Rom 2:5-6. Like Paul, Peter reminds us that sins done in private or the back yard will be revealed on the Day of Judgment. He said “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” 2 Peter 3:7. John penned these words in Revelation about the intensity of this judgement “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" Rev 6:15-17
Do not think for a second that those who do evil committed undercover of the backyard are now done openly in the front yard go without justice or unnoticed by God. What are we to do in the meantime? Paul told us what we are to do “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom 12:18-21. What Paul is saying is the “effect” of doing good to an enemy would be to produce pain. But the pain will result from …shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an fear of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance. Us like Habakkuk we want justice now, instead of later. But unfortunately God’s delay in justice comes a time of learning and shaping God’s children.
What is the best thing to do when you’re hurting and witnessing such destructive behavior? You go to the Lord with your petitions through prayer. As David Platt said “We can learn from this prophet’s example of lamenting alone. We can learn from this prophet’s example of a lament to God in the form of a prayer. When we turn to the Lord and present our complaints to Him in faith, He will hear us and respond according to His purpose.” We know this to be true in the verses that follow Habakkuk’s lamenting heart as he pours out his anger and sadness over the nation of Judah.
This lamentation prayer is very familiar with David’s plea. “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” Psalm 4:1. This is also a cry of relief from the sinful behavior caused by the present state of Judah. This opening verse of David reflects a deep sense of agony and desperation as the prophet Habakkuk is experiencing in his appeal to a holy God to deliver him and his people from such wickedness.
The question we need to ask ourselves is…… Are you ready to receive the answer from a holy God, even if it’s not what you want to hear? Look what God says! (v5-v11) Let’s break this down a little bit because God says some incredible things here in His response. God says “look”, “Observe”, and “be astounded” gives the idea that something amazing is going to happen. It’s like watching the fireworks, you hear the sound then “bam” you see the brilliance of the colors and lights and you are amazed and astonished to what you are witnessing. Just when you think you have God and the situation all figured out, God comes in and changes your plans for the His glory and you’re good. God is about to do something unthinkable and astonishing that will blow the mind of His minor prophet. It’s like what Isaiah penned “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
What is God’s plan to relieve His weary burdensome prophet’s pain? He’s going to send a mighty nation who are loving, respectful, honoring to God and loves to help the weak and the hurting. They are a people who care about children and women, who are wonderful protectors and outstanding citizens, who contribute much to society. A people you would love to have in your country, a people you would love to have over for dinner and to maybe babysit your children. NO! You think things couldn’t get any worse, but they do! God is going to send the Babylonians into the nation to overrule them and put them into captivity. God will employ the Babylonians as His instrument of divine judgement and justice against His people of Judah. This is not the answer I’m sure Habakkuk was hoping and praying for. He is probably thinking to himself “How this is good or how is this going to help us?”
What is wrong with this picture? This is terrible news for Habakkuk and the people that he loves. How did God who is transcendent, holy and sovereign, come up with this plan thinking it’s going to help His people? The state of Judah is already in a terrible place, and the Lord brings words of divine judgment that no one would have ever expected, not even Habakkuk himself. Again the Lord’s ways are much higher than mine and yours. This is terrible news for a prophet who is already feeling the pressure of a vile and wicked people who are insubordinate to the word of God. This only adds to the fire a whole new level of present and future suffering. Why? The Babylonians are a wicked and perverse people group, who has the imperial ambitions, aggressiveness and tactical skill to succeed such a task. The Lord uses “metaphors” (a figure of speech) to describe such a wicked and vile people group.
“Bitter and hasty nation” the Babylonians were a hostile, cruel, and without mercy and they applied these characteristics to their policies and practice. They knew how to inflict intense harm on their enemies and by doing that they developed a reputation for doing so. They were a brutal violent group of people that reflect the imagery of savage wild animals that will attack anything.
“They are dreadful and fearsome” (v7) they strike fear into their prey and this would be doubled for the Jews, considered they were most hated people in the land. They were an unstoppable; self-sufficient elite force that executing their own laws and practices on the land.
“their horses are swifter then leopards” (v8) this pictures a fierce majestic creature that has great speed and precision. Their military has the strength and size of a noble steed and the speed of a leopard.
“more fierce than evening wolves” (v8) this pictures long fasting by day as they come out at night hungry like a pack of wolves who haven’t eaten in days. Jeremiah a contemporary of Habakkuk uses identical language to describe the coming judgement at the hands of the Babylonians Jeremiah 4:13-14 “Behold, he comes up like clouds; his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles— woe to us, for we are ruined! O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?”
“They fly like eagles swift to devour” (v8) this pictures speed and swiftness in flight as they will never miss their prey from afar.
As an eagle hunger increases their flight becomes increasingly quicker, bolder and daring. They are unyielding in their assault, which makes it hard for the victims to react and respond.
“They all come for violence” (v9) refers to acts of physical aggression resulting in physical harm or death. “Violence” had been the sin of Judah from the very beginning of this letter (v3-v4) and now violence shall be her punishment. What this means is? God is going to give Judah a large dose of its own medicine as a means of discipline, correction and judgment.
“at Kings they scoff” (v10) they are battle hardened and unafraid of other nations who had reputations of military might or power. They also “scoff” this means they “mock, joke and laugh “at their enemies, which indicates a hardened attitude towards opposing forces in war. Kings, rulers, and fortresses were easy take downs by their military and they knew precisely how to conduct a successful siege against a city and its defense.
“pile up earth” (v10) the armies would pile up sand to construct earthen siege walls around the a city to take it captive. These ramps could be used to bring siege machines to make a breach in the wall and well to provide access to the boots on the ground to attack. They were skilled in siege warfare and experienced at making war and frightening their enemies.
And to top it off!
“whose own might is their god.” (v11) they were hell-bent and were known to sweep through areas like a hurricane force. They trusted in their own strength and their military might. They idolized their strength to subdue nations for themselves. This fantasy they lived makes them guilty before a holy God who is sovereign over the nations. What the Babylonians did was the exact same thing Paul was preaching to his generation and to us.
Paul said “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man…”Rom 1:22-23. They worshipped themselves and knowing that God is sovereign; this will be short lived by anyone who lives this way. Man’s power is temporal, but God’s power is eternal and infinite. Man’s power is limited, but God’s power is limitless. Man’s power is confined to space and time, but God’s power is not confined to anything or anyone. So these people were not a nice people!
But what makes us think we as a nation are any better than the nation of Judah?
The nation of Judah created idols for themselves.
The nation of Judah was the ones who turned their backs on the God.
The nation of Judah was acting in willful disobedience to a holy God who promised them so many things through the patriarchs.
The nation of Judah was the one willfully sinning against an Almighty God.
The nation of Judah was the ones who did what was right in their own eyes.
Are we as a nation much different than what you read in the opening prayer or concern of Habakkuk?
Think about! Do we not see these same things that concern our hearts and the next generation? Unfortunately we see things through me centered glasses. We tend to look at people and compare them with other people and come to a conclusion were not as bad as they are. We tend to watch the news, read articles, and say “they are wicked people”. We read about history and some of the worst most despicable people and we say “they are wicked and they got what they deserve.” We observe a person walking in the mall with tattoo’s and piercing thinking to ourselves “they must be wicked to do that to their body.” We see others as the problem because they are open with their sin and behavior. But! What about us? We may not do it on the front yard, but we do it in the back yard and in private? The danger you and I face when we see others as the problem we are no different than the Pharisee who went to pray. Jesus spoke this parable "The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'…." Luke 18:10-14
Are we obeying God with our lives?
Are we not covenant- breakers ourselves at times?
Are we not any different than the nation of Judah or the Babylonians?
We need to understand that God warned His people time and time again and all they did was laugh and ignore the warnings. Instead of repenting, all it did was hardened their hearts even more. 2 Chron 36:14-16 we read this “Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the LORD which He had consecrated in Jerusalem. And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy.” God’s answer to Habakkuk’s prayer is to use the Babylonians as a tool of discipline for His covenant breaking people.
What God said in the opening of His comments to Habakkuk were “For I am doing a work in your days..” (v5) Meaning! its going to be difficult for you believe it, but in the end it’s for your good and for God’s glory. This statement that God says reminds me of a story about two sisters in a concentration camp. “In the barracks where Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were kept in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested. They miraculously had been able to smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they read that in all things they were to give thanks, and that God can use anything for good. Corrie's sister Betsy decided this meant thanking God for the fleas. This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed to God, thanking Him even for the fleas. During the next several months, a wonderful, but curious, thing happened. They found that the guards never entered their barracks. This meant the women were not assaulted. It also meant they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp. Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ.”
Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter their barracks. It was because of the fleas. We hear stories like this and say “how terrible “and yes rightfully so. But behind the fleas and suffering we see God’s goodness and providence in the lives of His children. The same rule of thumb applies to each and every one of us today! So! Watch, observe and be amazed in your day to see God at work. Do you believe that God is at work in your life despite how things presently look? Rest here and know that a sovereign God has your life, my life and the rest of this world under His control; and He know exactly what He is doing even if we can’t see it today or tomorrow.
Remember! God is not obligated to explain anything to us, but He does graciously reveals Himself and His work to those who seek Him. The big problem we face is…. that we depend upon our own strength, our own power and our own ability. The only solution to this is repent, trust and obey and most of all rest in His sovereign grace to see you though for His glory and your good. “Then Job answered the LORD and said: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.' Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.' I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:1-6