Planet Earth may look marvelous from a satellite, but for those who live here things tend to look rather grim. Increased turmoil, rising terrorism, mounting tragedies, unprecedented trauma, increasing pollution, deepening trials, and unparalleled tensions cast dark shadows over earthlings. The world looks more and more like some ominous black sphere with a very short fuse, a time bomb sizzling to explode.
It is little wonder thinking people begin to ask questions. Why all the injustice? Why is there so much oppression? Why do the evil prosper? Why do the righteous suffer? Why doesn’t God do something? Why doesn’t God clean up this mess? Why? Why? Why?
These penetrating questions are hardly new. Centuries before Christ visited this planet; an ancient prophet looked around at the violence and wickedness of the world and cried out to God, “Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrong?… Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab. 1:3, 13) Habakkuk’s faith was strengthened through his dialogue with God. He may not have received the detailed explanations from God that he was looking for, but he received a revelation of God’s power and wisdom that gave him a better knowledge of God and a determination to remain faithful to him.
AUTHOR: Habakkuk. His name means embraced by God. Some scholars believe it might also suggest wrestling with God, since Habakkuk did this in behalf of the people. Habakkuk was unique among Old Testament prophets. Rather than speaking to the people on behalf of God, he spoke to God on behalf of the people.
Though Habakkuk is specifically called a prophet, his book resembles the literary style of the Psalms. The concluding note, “For the director of music, on my stringed instruments” (Hab. 3:19), suggests that Habakkuk may have been a trained musician, one well-acquainted with the worship and musical traditions of Israel. He was well-educated (probably a priest), deeply sensitive and penned one of the most penetrating books of the Old Testament.
DATE WRITTEN: between 615-598 B.C. The prophet was familiar with the rising power of the Babylonians (1:6-10), but apparently the brutal nation had not yet invaded Judah. The book was likely written during the evil reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah (608-598). It was during such a time—a time when Judean society was utterly corrupt—that Habakkuk wrote.
1. The people of Judah. God’s own people were living wickedly, greedily exploiting and oppressing one another. The leaders were especially corrupt, abusing their power and abusing the people. Habakkuk was overwhelmed by these injustices and wondered why God was doing nothing about it. With all this in mind, he spoke to God on behalf of the people—pleading with the Lord for justice. Habakkuk longed for the Lord to act, to protect the righteous and to punish the wicked for their terrible crimes.
When Habakkuk begged God for an explanation of why he permitted the wicked to sin and the innocent to suffer, the prophet was given an answer. God, even then, was shaping the Babylonians into a world power. The Lord would use these pagan armies to punish His own people. Habakkuk understood, for the use of enemy nations to discipline Israel and Judah was a well-established precedent. But there was still a moral issue that troubled the prophet. How could God use a less righteous people to discipline the more righteous? How could God permit the Babylonians to succeed?
2. All people:
This book is very relevant for us today as well. We all are troubled in one form or another by these same questions: Why does God permit the wicked to succeed in this world? Why doesn’t He act, so that the good rather than the wicked prosper? The answers we find in Habakkuk show us that the wicked do not succeed—and that no one, good or bad, can avoid the disciplining hand of God.
There are moral and theological questions raised by sin’s presence, in our own lives and in the ways of the wicked. Perhaps the best and most satisfying answers to be found in Scripture are revealed here in this small, but vital, Old Testament book.
Also this book:
- gives an example and warning to us (1 Co. 10:11).
- teaches us how to live and gives us hope. (Ro. 15:4).
1. The Historical Purpose: to comfort the faithful and righteous, the true believers of Judah. Those oppressing others would be judged by God. The nation as a whole was going to be judged as well, but God would also judge the Babylonians, their persecutors. Habakkuk’s message to believers in Judah was clear: live by faith (2:4); that is, keep living righteously and trust God to right all wrongs.
2. The Spiritual Purpose: the book of Habakkuk raises questions that are of vital concern to every generation, questions such as…
- Why does God allow suffering and injustice?
- Why do the wicked prosper and go unpunished?
- Why do the righteous suffer?
The courageous prophet confronted these troubling questions head on, but with integrity and passion. He was vitally concerned about the injustices he saw in his nation, and he longed for the Lord to do something about it.
The great lessons of Habakkuk are found in how the prophet wrestled with God, how he asked questions that troubled him, how he patiently waited and watched for the Lord’s answer, and how he responded when the Lord answered.
a. Habakkuk teaches that believers should be most concerned about the things that trouble the Lord: sin, corruption and injustice.
b. Habakkuk teaches that believers should take their deepest troubles, hardest questions, and most pressing concerns directly to the Lord in prayer.
c. Habakkuk teaches that believers should wait patiently and confidently for the Lord to answer. He approached the Lord with a sincere desire to understand God’s ways, what the Lord would do for His people. By doing so, the prophet boldly declared that he would stand watch and wait for the Lord no matter how long it took.
d. Habakkuk teaches that believers should respond with praise and thanksgiving when the Lord answers—no matter how He answers our prayers. If He chooses to judge, then, like Habakkuk, we must stand in awe and remember the sovereignty of God. And if the Lord chooses to show mercy, we also need to stand in awe and remember the great love of God for His people.
e. Habakkuk teaches the true meaning of faith—that the righteous must live by faith, trusting God to do what is best. Only by such utter confidence and trust can people praise the Lord even when times are difficult.
f. Habakkuk teaches that God is sovereign, that He rules the world and history according to His own plans and purposes.
3. The Christ‑Centered Purpose: Christ is foreseen in the great book of Habakkuk in several profound ways. Throughout the book, Habakkuk looked to God for justice and salvation. Although the prophet did not receive a direct revelation of Jesus Christ, his whole book anticipates the salvation that only God’s Messiah could bring.
a. Christ is the ultimate answer to life’s most troubling questions. He is God’s answer to the problem of sin, suffering, death, and all the injustices of the world.
b. Christ is the justice of God. To satisfy God’s justice the first time, Christ went to the cross and died in our place, reconciling God and man. When Christ returns He will judge the world—every person and nation—and establish perfect justice in God’s kingdom.
c. Christ is the salvation of God. Through Christ—His death and resurrection—God offers all people the gift of salvation. Christ would bring salvation to Israel even though judgment would come first. Judah’s earthly judgment would be temporary, but God’s salvation in Christ would be eternal. Christ is God’s answer to all of life’s problems, the great hope for which all men should long. He is the salvation and justice of God.
This book is very important in its relationship to the New Testament. It is generally conceded that the three great doctrinal books of the New Testament are Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, all of which quote from Habakkuk (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38. ) In fact, Habakkuk 2:4 is the background of their message: “The just shall live by his faith.”
Habakkuk begins with an interrogation of God but ends as an intercession to God. Worry is transformed into worship. Fear turns to faith. Terror becomes trust. Hang-ups are resolved with hope. Anguish melts into adoration.
What begins with a question mark ends in an exclamation point. The answer to Habakkuk’s “Why?” is “Who!” His confusion, “Why all the conflict?” is resolved with his comprehension of who is in control: God!
Next time we’ll look at Habakkuk Chapter 1,