A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
The prophet Habakkuk wrote about the same time as Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. It was just before the Babylonians swooped down upon Judah to punish them for their idolatry, finally carrying them off in 586 BC after 19 years of siege and failed diplomacy. As they left, they destroyed the city and the Temple, taking its priceless artifacts along with their captives to Babylon for 70 years of servitude. All this had been foretold by Jeremiah from Jerusalem and Ezekiel from Babylon, where he and Daniel had been held as hostages since the early stages of the conquest.
First, A Summary
Habakkuk’s message differs from the other prophets in that it consists solely of a dialog with God. It opens with Habakkuk’s complaint that God would allow so much evil to prosper in the land without doing anything about it.
In response, Habakkuk learns that God is finally going to act, but has chosen the Babylonians, a people much more evil than the Israelites, to do the job. He can’t believe it. Sure, Judah deserves to be punished, but how can a righteous God justify using such an evil force as Babylon against His own people? Instead of being judged themselves, the most depraved and unjust nation on Earth is going to be rewarded with the chance to punish God’s people. How is that fair? Now Habakkuk is really upset!
Throughout, he gets the benefit of God’s perspective and finally, as is always the case when we question God, Habakkuk ends up apologizing.
Now, The Application
While the prophecies of Habakkuk were largely fulfilled in the Babylonian conquest, there’s a striking similarity between conditions in Judah in 600BC and those in the Western World, especially America, today.
Commenting on Israel’s history, the Apostle Paul said, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11) In other words, events in Israel’s history had the dual purpose of instructing them through experience and us through observation.
I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “The only time experience is the best teacher is when it’s somebody else’s experience.” This is exactly what God had in mind for us, to learn from Israel’s experience. And that includes the events of Habakkuk’s time.
Someone else said that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it, so as we go through this study let’s remember that, like ancient Israel, much of the West at one time claimed to believe in God and pledged our fidelity to Him. But now we’ve denied that belief in large part, and have withdrawn our fidelity.
Like Israel, we began by first tolerating and then following other gods. Like Israel, we started out by including them with Him in our worship and moved from there to excluding Him altogether in favor of them. As we’ve done this, our system of justice has failed and evil is triumphing over good all too often. In short, we’re as ripe for judgment as they were.
Is it merely coincidence that a powerful force from the very region on Earth that spawned the Babylonians, a force we consider to be much more evil than we are, has arisen with the stated goal of judging God’s people both Jew and Christian? Or is history repeating itself? If it is then the Prophecies of Habakkuk could have easily been written for our time as well. Let’s find out.
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:1-4)
As it was in Habakkuk’s time, concerned believers bemoan the current state of affairs in the world wondering why God puts up with it. They witness the break down of family, the increase of violence, the systematic perversion of justice, and the seeming triumph of evil over good, and shake their heads in bewilderment.
The Lord ‘s Answer
“Look at the nations and watch- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence. Their hordes] advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on— guilty men, whose own strength is their god.” (Habakkuk 1:5-11)
Many wonder if the dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters is signaling God’s displeasure, but very few have defined the sudden rise of Islamic terrorism as a judgment from God. Even considering the possibility provokes the same question from us as it did from Habakkuk. How could a righteous God use such an evil force against His people? And yet in the past He’s used the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Romans, the Germans, the Russians and others, all godless in their time and all evil in their motivations. The only difference is that He came right out and told His people He was using many of those others, and so far as we know He hasn’t said anything like that about Islamic terrorism. (Of course the terrorists have said it, but nobody believes them.) Again I ask, is it just coincidence or are we supposed to draw conclusions about this from history? Maybe we’re just like the people of Habakkuk’s time in that we wouldn’t believe it even if we were told.
Habakkuk’s Second Complaint
O LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O LORD, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy? (Habakkuk 1:12-17)
Surely the Lord couldn’t be behind the rise in terrorism. He’s too pure. He couldn’t possibly condone that kind of evil, could He? But somehow, like the tentacles of some giant yet invisible octopus, Islamic terrorists have slithered into every western society and according to some have positioned themselves undetected at our most vulnerable points, awaiting the signal to strike. And we admittedly have no certain defense against what will surely be a devastating attack. “It’s inevitable,” we’re told. How did they accomplish this? Will the Lord really permit this to happen to his own people?
And if He does, will the terrorists then acknowledge Him as their benefactor after they’ve struck? Will they proclaim Him as their God? Or will they give the credit to the one they worship, offering sacrifices and burning incense to him as if he had brought them the victory?
The Israelites expected God to protect them from the Babylonians. They convinced themselves that He would never permit any harm to come to them, even as the Babylonians were camped outside their gates. They were His people, after all. Never mind their unfaithfulness, their lusting after false gods, their disrespect for the fatherless, the downtrodden, the widows. Never mind that they only gave lip service to their beliefs, that their worship had become form without substance, ceremony without meaning, that they sacrificed their children in the name of prosperity, and worshipped the idols of the harvest.
It’s different now, we say. But is it? We sing, “God bless America” playing lip service to our relationship while our sins pile up to the heavens just as theirs did. And even now, as our leaders admit the inevitability of further attacks and as our countries suffer storms and earthquakes and the threat of pandemic disease, are our churches and synagogues full of repentant worshipers, praying as Habakkuk did, “In wrath, remember mercy”? (Habakkuk 3:2)
For over 50 years Christians have looked with concern on the plight of Israel while Islamic enemies periodically tried to wipe them off the face of the Earth. Now the fight’s come to us, just as they promised it would, and we seem surprised. We don’t even consider that this might be another, stronger warning from God.
A few conservative preachers call terrorism an attack on our religion, but not even they suggest that it might be more than that. They join the secular voices demanding stronger fences on our borders, bigger weapons in our arsenals, and tighter restrictions on our populations, but where are the voices calling for repentance from our lifestyle, or for mass prayer vigils in our auditoriums and stadiums? Are we already so far gone that God has spoken to them as He spoke to Jeremiah. “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you. (Jeremiah 7:16) We’ll find out next time in the conclusion of our study in Habakkuk.