“How long, O Lord, must I cry for help…Destruction and violence are before me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict abounds…the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked hem in the righteous; therefore justice is perverted.” Habakkuk 1:1-4; Berean Study Bible (BSB)
Impending doom. We don’t like the sound of it. We’ve experienced it before, each time relative to our perceptions–from punishment for childhood disobedience to awaiting layoff or a court hearing or a doctor’s prognosis.
Hanging over the prophet Habakkuk is the lengthening shadow of impending doom for a whole nation. Some scholars believed Habakkuk’s grief was over the wickedness of the unbelieving nations. But this is not the burden of Habakkuk’s prayer. He is not grieved over the violence done to Judah, but of the violence of Judah against God. Habakkuk steeps in anger and grief over the sins of his own nation.
A Greater Loyalty
The ancient prophet Habakkuk was grieved of heart, for the rebellion of his own people against God were great. Habakkuk had pleaded with them to turn against their violent blasphemies, but they had only turned deaf ears to him and would not listen. They thought they were invincible because of who they were: God’s “chosen” people. So the prophet turns to the Lord full of zeal for God’s own holiness.
There comes a time when true justice and integrity burns far deeper than tender loyalty. Truth divides. It cleaves and prunes. Our own true loyalties are revealed–what will we choose?
Our God is eternal and sovereign. That last word means “sole reign”. He is all. This holy and terrible righteousness of God, His infinite mercy and grace, and the eternal scope of His Being overrode the attachment Habakkuk had to his own people. He was jealous for God’s glory alone.
Immediately, I must ask myself, “Am I so jealous of God’s glory?” Or is there a part of my loyalty to others that really hides a loyalty to self? that in losing the one, I will suffer some loss in the other as well?
Because I am mortal, I am guilty in heart also. I don’t worship God alone all the time. Though I don’t bow down to carved chunks of brass, bronze, wood, or stone, I commit idolatry whenever I put something or someone else in front of my worship and obedience to God. My zeal for truth and justice gets swallowed back in personal shame.
I am not unlike those I judge, whether friend or foe. I stand with them, even as I stand for God apart from them. I cannot escape this when I come to God to intercede. I bring them to God, but I must also stand as God’s messenger.
Ultimately, my own repentance must step forward in the Lord’s forgiveness. I must, then, enter the mighty halls of prayer to ask for the Lord’s justice against hardened, spiritual rebellion, even when they are my own “people” that I love so greatly. Even when I stand with them in my own mortality. This is what Habakkuk does with his “burden” of care. This is what it means to intercede for others.
The miracle: God responds
God answers Habakkuk, and I think we often overlook the miracle of this. The God whom we serve is not remote and uninvolved with our lives. He sees and hears our distress as well as our sin. God is active and alert to our prayers, though sometimes it may feel like we’re talking to the ceiling or thin air. What seems is not always what is true.
God is not put off by Habakkuk’s mortality. God has not turned His back on Judah or mankind. God looks upon us, sees the heart, and He responds. Do we believe our own prayers?
When we don’t understand God’s ways…
Of course, Habakkuk does not relish the cure. To the plea for his people’s return to justice, he receives the bad news of increased injustice; grief and terror are coming.
Habakkuk wanted an end to ungodliness, and instead he is told that God is raising up a people group to come against Judah to serve her punishment. Ungodliness is about to increase and great suffering is to come. What are we to say to this?
Does this not ring true with us today? We want a return to godliness, and an end to injustice, but our corporate sin has already exacted a cost–in ourselves and our families, in the church, in our communities, in our nation, and in our world. We want God’s response, but are we able to bear it? The truth is that we are not always happy with God’s answer.
We don’t understand when we or our loved ones are mapped for continued and even increased suffering. We don’t have answers for this on our own.
- A man is in prison on trumped up charges and his sentence is prolonged.
- A girl awaits violent death for her allegiance to her newfound Lord and Savior.
- A son or a daughter sinks deeper into violation and despair after days, months, and years of petition for a saving return home.
- A relationship will not reconcile, it will end.
- The prognosis not only is not healing, it is terminal.
- A nation hard of hearing careens toward demise amidst ongoing subterfuge and it plays and debates as the sky darkens.
What do we do at this point in our hopeful prayers to God?
Surely, Habakkuk believes, the Lord is going to uphold justice. Can God actually favor evil and forbear the wickedness of those who deny His name? Is God just going to leave us in the pit of terror with no hope of light? Can a good God see such violation and suffering and ignore the death of justice and truth? Can a good and all-powerful God see evil and do nothing?
…Trust His Character
Habakkuk is a game-changer. He doesn’t wallow in charges against God for His actions, nor does he despair thinking God is inactive and defunct.
Habakkuk comes back to God for a greater understanding.
Habakkuk continues to holds God to His character of righteousness. He is committed to engaging with a real Person whom he believes will act and act justly and compassionately.
Habakkuk never turns from God in disgust or disbelief or hopelessness. I have.
When Habakkuk doesn’t comprehend God’s ways, he stays with Him. I have let go of God in the silences.
Habakkuk knows that if God truly is good, holy, just, and true, God has a good answer. I have had my doubts.
Habakkuk asks for wisdom and then waits for the understanding he is sure God will give. Can I?
“I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the ramparts. I will watch to see what He will say to me and how I will answer my reproof.” Habkkuk 2:1 (BSB)
Habakkuk uses the language of warfare. He is up on the watchtower with God, awaiting the Commander’s orders.
Do I have this kind of faith? Can I trust God’s character when I can’t see His plan? Do I believe God is still in control when all I see says otherwise?
This is where we leave Habakkuk today. But before we leave, God has dropped a hint. God has winked torward us in His love. He planned for Habakkuk to ask for more wisdom, and through this faith, God draws Habakkuk, and Judah, into His far greater plan:
“Look at the nations and observe–be utterly astounded! For I am doing a work in your days that you would never believe even if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5 (BSB)
This is part one of a series of reflections on the book of Habakkuk.
© May 2019 by http://www.ReadPsalm119.com ✞ Revised May 2019.
Photo Credit: "The Intercession of Noah", a photo I took of an exhibit at The Ark Encounter, in Williamstown, Kentucky (AnswersinGenesis.org). See Gallery for info.
Be Very Near
When all is black and my way is blind
When hounds are pacing close behind
Lift my eyes, my soul alight
Be my refuge, be my sight.
Let me see Your chariots 'round
As Elisha's panicked servant found
As You, with three, once bore the flame
Stand beside me -- just the same.
And as I pray on bended knee
I hear You in Gethsemane
Alone, and where on earth was I
When you pled the cup pass by?
You drank the cup to clear my stain
Betrayed and beaten, bearing pain
Alone, and hungry dogs stood ‘round
To lick the blood-soaked sacred ground
Alone they laid you in the tomb
As quiet as a mother’s womb
So dark in death; yet Morning’s come!
Black fear of night yields to Your sun
By conquering shame You bought release
No sting in death, just inward peace
So hold me fast, be near me still
As I relinquish to Your will
And if by watching, others see
Your Risen Life in breaking me
Then I am blessed, the meaning clear
Only hold me close, stay very near.
© Nov 10, 2015 by www.ReadPsalm119.com