In the light of so many threats, upheavals and turmoil on every side in the world, I have sensed the Lord drawing my attention to the prophet Habakkuk as a model to ponder and learn from. Here is a prophet who brings his lament to God, rather than the word of God to the people, as we more usually come across in the writings of the prophets. And what the Lord says in reply are things we can all take to heart.
Stunned and dismayed by all that was going on in society around him, Habakkuk pours out his heartache and lament, pressing God to know why there should be so much injustice, why the wicked should be permitted to hem the righteous in, pervert justice – and why the the Lord his God, his ‘Holy One’ does nothing about such an intolerable situation? ‘How long must I call for help but You do not listen?’ he cries out. ‘Destruction and Violence are on every side; the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails!’ (See Habakkuk 1:1-4)
In response, the Lord initiates the sort of intense dialogue with one of His prophets that He specialises in. In answer to Habakkuk’s impassioned cries, His answer runs along the lines of, ‘You think I’m doing nothing, Habakkuk, but if I were to tell you what I really am doing, you wouldn’t believe it anyway.’ What an invitation and what a challenge for a prophet, one that Habakkuk could hardly fail to take up. ‘Well go on, Lord, don’t keep me in suspense: what are You doing?’
The Lord’s answer brings neither comfort nor enlightenment; it is not in the slightest what he had been hoping for or expecting. So far from bringing peaceful resolutions to these troubling situations, it is the Lord Himself who is bringing about all these great and terrible convolutions, and it will become worse still, for He will bring the deeply feared and dreaded Chaldeans to sweep across the land and seize dwelling places not their own.
Now Habakkuk is reeling, and cannot believe his ears. He doesn’t want to believe what he is hearing, for that would make the nation’s present difficulties seem like little more than a storm in a tea cup. The dreaded Babylonians (also called the Chaldeans) to be the scourge of the nation? What could be worse?
God keeps His servants the prophets in His loop. He holds them fast even as they stagger at His word. He strengthens them by His Spirit and He enables them to stand. Habakkuk, as David Pawson imaginatively puts it, ‘says the creed.’ He steadies himself by reaffirming what he knows to be true about the Lord and what he knows to be happening in his own land. After all, there is no way he can deny the violence of the ways his nation has chosen: he has just been telling God all about it. In which case, why should God not bring an infinitely crueller and still more ferocious invading force to ravage the land?
The nature of biblical laments, many of which we find in the psalms, is that they ‘lodge a complaint to draw God’s attention to the suffering and injustice in the world and then demand that God does something about it.’ Effectively, the Chaldeans would become the agent by which Israel would reap the harvest of its sowing. That the Chaldeans themselves had no sense of their role in God’s purposes, they were yet permitted to take advantage of a nation that had yielded so much spiritual ground to the enemy through its injustices and idolatry, and its foolish forgetfulness of the Lord God.
The UK does not have the calling upon it that belonged to Israel. But we too have opened our hearts to so much that dethrones God. Will He turn a blind eye? Or will He allow us to reap the consequences that come from indulging in wrong ways and a our refusal to look to Him, the Source of Life?
To his credit, Habakkuk resolves to do what the Lord asks of him: namely to stay true to his calling and remain faithfully at his post on the ramparts, watching and praying as every true watchman always must do; affirming and declaring his belief that God’s justice will prevail, no matter how long and convoluted the process before it it is seen to come to pass. May we likewise take hold of faith and resolve to live by it in the face of so many and such great upheavals.
Unlike many of the other prophetic books, Habakkuk is given no compensatory vision or prophecy of blessing toward a brighter tomorrow. Even amongst the dreadful ‘jeremiads’ of Jeremiah we find cause for hope. But Habakkuk has only a series of woes (judgements) that he must faithfully write down and record concerning those who do evil – God is never wishy-washy or afraid of calling evil, evil. And it is in the course of fulfilling this costly ministry that the prophet’s confidence is re-ignited: the Lord is still in His holy temple; He has not fallen off His throne just because the nations are raging in commotion. (Hab. 2:20)
Responding to the burden the Lord brings him with first, grief-laden prayer and a plea that the Lord to remember mercy, and even send revival, Habakkuk’s heart then springs forth in worship, a glorious paean of praise to the sovereign and very present God of Creation. Yes, there is great trembling and even decay, but God will still bring about His purposes in His appointed time, even to bring distress upon those invading His land. Continuing to rejoice in the Lord despite the shops being empty, and all doors and prospects being closed as war breaks out on every side, Habakkuk chooses to embrace a wonderfully faith-filled response.
These are far-reaching words that many of us will be familiar with. The third chapter of Habakkuk is indeed a song to be sung in troubled times – though it is often a challenge to remember to do so when the heat is on. But if we are able, then we too can reach that same place of acquiescent and profound trust in the Lord, even in the midst of the chaos, as the word and work of God goes ever deeper in our hearts.
What a vital word for those who love Him at this time when wars are laying waste to so many towns and cities around the world. And because it was written as a song, we would like to share with you Mitch Wong’s song ‘Still on the throne,’ whose words in their own way Habakkuk’s. What a testimony!
For further study
To accompany this post, I would recommend:
1)this brief but excellent introduction to Habakkuk by Eugene Peterson in The Message;
2) this short video overview of the book from bibleproject;