Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4,14, 3:17-18
Preacher: Rev Kevin Kim
Habakkuk may have written his book in the 7th century B.C., but he is asking some of the same questions the people in the pews are asking today. How can a good God allow evil? Why does God not seem to answer when I cry out to him? Habakkuk teaches us that we can reflect on the Lord’s past faithfulness to trust him with our futures, even when he doesn’t make sense. Kevin will explore how we can remain joyful in God even during times of crisis.
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Questions for reflection or small groups
- What is your first or most vivid memory of crying out, “That’s not fair!”? What would have been more fair? What injustice have you experienced since then? How do you react now?
- Have you ever been angry with God? What about?
- When told, “Wait for it,” how do you respond? What’s tough about waiting for different things, such as dinner, a bus, a buyer and Christmas?
- Contrast the voice of despair (1:2) with the voice of trust in God’s presence (3:19) How deep is each?
- Read 2 Kings 23:31-24:7 for the (probable) historical background to this book. What was the social, political and theological climate at that time? (Recall that in 2 Kings to “do evil in the sight of the Lord” usually pointed to idol worship.)
- How are the Babylonians and their army pictured (1:7-11)? How does Israel respond? How would you respond?
- What other ‘waters covered the sea’ to God’s glory (see Exodus 14)? When will the Lord do this a “second time” (see Isaiah 11:9-11)? What final fulfillment of this prophecy do you see in Babylon’s fall at the end of history (see Revelation 17-18)?
- What does Habakkuk’s irrepressible joy (3:17-19) mean in the context of injustice (1:2-4)? Of God’s use of wicked Babylon (1:12-17)? Of expectation (2:2-4)?
• Rewrite 3:17 to include your own struggles with injustice. What are the “fig trees” in your life that you wish would blossom, but haven’t yet? What is the “Babylon” or other unorthodox method God may be using to accomplish his sovereign purpose?
• What things are barren in your life, as in Habakkuk’s day (3:17)? Are you ready to yet rejoice in the Lord, anyway? Why or Why not? What promise does 3:19 hold for your present situation? For your future?
The book Habakkuk reflects an exceedingly traumatic time in Israel’s history. Not long before, the mighty Assyrian army destroyed one city after the other, brutally killing people. And we know that not long after Habakkuk was written, the Babylonians under king Nebuchadnezzar would three times attack Jerusalem, taking the leaders and skilled citizens into exile, and in 587 BCE, destroying the city and the temple. Indeed, violence is all around.
Within in this context of violence, we hear Habakkuk’s lament: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” In the midst of this nightmare, the only thing the prophet can do is to help his people voice their pain, to help them to cry over the anguish they are experiencing.
“How long, O God? How long?” This is the question that Christian faith must ask. It’s a very shallow faith if it does not ask. Some people worry that asking such a question is like opening a door to not believing in God at all. But the people of the Bible do ask, directly and bluntly. The questions are asked over and over again in the Psalms. The silence of God, the absence of God, is a major theme of scripture and a common struggle in the Christian life.
Covid-19 has been an unexpected storm, and, if we are looking for guidance on how to handle unexpected storms in life, we should look no further than to the prophet Habakkuk. In the 3rd chapter of his short book, Habakkuk drafts a God-given framework of how to weather life’s unexpected storms.
Habakkuk is the prophet of faith. His name means “Embrace,” or “one who strongly enfolds.” He tells us nothing about himself except that he was a prophet, and we may infer from Habakkuk 3, that he had to do with arranging its services, and was probably a Levite.
Most prophets speak to the people. Habakkuk speaks to God. Habakkuk may have written his book in the 7th century B.C., but he is asking some of the same questions the people in the church are asking today. How can a good God allow evil? Why does God not seem to answer when I cry out to him? Habakkuk teaches us that we can reflect on the Lord’s past faithfulness S to trust him with our futures, even when he doesn’t make sense.
The structure of Habakkuk is relatively straightforward. The book can be outlined broadly as follows.
(1:1-4) Habakkuk’s First Question: Why don’t you do anything about the evil in Judah?
(1:5-11) God’s First Answer: I am!
(1:12-2:1) Habakkuk’s Second question: How can you use a people more wicked than us to judge us?
(2:2-2:20) God’s Second Answer: I will judge them too.
(3:1-19) Habakkuk’s Prayer of Faith: I will rejoice and trust in you.
Chapter 2 contains five “Woes” against the prideful Chaldeans. These are “taunt-songs” God says will be sung by their victims, mocking them for the judgments they will receive for their particular transgressions. Patterson artfully summarizes these sins as “Plundering,” (2:6-8) “Plotting,” (2:9-11) “Pillaging,” “Perverting,” (2:15-17) and being “Polytheistic” (2:18-20).
Habakkuk’s prayer song in chapter 3 could also be divided into smaller units, such as 3:1-2, 3:3-15 and 3:16-19.
Habakkuk is the only OT book consisting entirely of a dialogue between God and a man. Other prophetic books consist mainly of a record of the prophets’ message to the people.
Habakkuk moves from burden to blessing, from wonder/worry to worship, from restlessness to rest, from a focus on the problem with God to a focus on the Person of God, and from a complaint to consolation. Instead of complaining, he is praising the Lord.
The saying, “the just shall live by faith,” is a familiar one to Christians. It originally comes from Habakkuk 2:4, which says, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”
This verse is quoted in several places in the New Testament:
Romans 1:17 – “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
Galatians 3:11 – “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.”
Hebrews 10:38 – “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
And prophet points forward to the Day of Christ when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
Habakkuk’s lament join laments from all around the world in which people have found the words to name the situations of violence and injustice in their lives, so resisting whatever is threatening their well-being and happiness.
Toward the end of World War II, during the liberation of Europe, Allied troops found a crudely written inscription on the walls of a basement in Koln, Germany, by someone who was hiding from the Nazi Gestapo. Here’s what it said:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love even when feeling it not.
I believe in God even when God is silent.
There is a well known song “I believe” based on these words. I will add the link of this song in our website.
The silence of God descended upon the cross on Good Friday—and on the morning of the third day the sun rose upon the empty tomb.
Habakkuk reminds believers centuries later how important it is to keep on believing in a God that will bring deliverance. This belief in God’s ability to make an end to violence is precisely the reason why the book Habakkuk was banned in Nazi Germany — the idea that God will end unjust power considered too dangerous to be tolerated.
The book Habakkuk also in South Africa’s history served as an important source of resistance against the apartheid regime of the time.
God hears the cries of those who are suffering under the yoke of unjust regimes and will bring an end to violence. Good news for those who are being oppressed. Not so good news for those who are abusing their power.
However, the examples from Apartheid South Africa or the Nazi regime show us, situations of violence can last many years and even decades. Also in our personal lives, we may find ourselves in a situation of pain and suffering without end.
Even the beautiful confession of faith with which Habakkuk ends acknowledges that the situation of violence and suffering is long not over. The fig tree does not blossom. There are no fruit on the vines. There are no livestock in the stalls. And yet the wonderful thing about Habakkuk’s confession is that the believer can still say, I believe in a God that gives me strength.
God does not choose to love us and place His faith in us when we are at our best. Rather, God chooses to love when we are at our worst, when there is no indication that we will ever return that love. It is a decision more than a desire. And at times during our faith life, and especially during challenging times, we are going to need to make a decision of our own to place our faith and trust in God, even when we do not see any evidence of God’s deliverance.
As we face the challenges of today and the challenges of tomorrow, we have a choice to make. My prayer is that we will follow the example of the prophet Habakkuk and choose faith, choose to trust in God, even when we see no sign of God. Choose joy—recognizing that God is at work even now in our lives and in His world.
May God help us grow these deeper roots of faith.