Habakkuk’s questions rings in the hearts of all God-fearing people. The book of Habakkuk does not offer any easy answers to the problem of evil and injustice in the world. God did answer Habakkuk but not in the way Habakkuk had anticipated. Whether or not the prophet Habakkuk understood God’s answer and ways, Habakkuk learned he could wholeheartedly trust God and live by faith. In fact, the prophet Habakkuk gives everyone sound reasons to trust in the supreme, holy, and fair God. God ultimately brings justice to His world.
The Holy Bible does not give much background information about Habakkuk. Habakkuk was a prophet of Judah and a contemporary of the prophets Nahum, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah, during the reigns of good King Josiah (640-609 BC) and evil King Jehoiakim (609-598 BC). The prophet Habakkuk may have witnessed the decline and fall of the Assyrian empire and the rise of the Babylonian kingdom near the end of 600 BC.
The name “Habakkuk” is not a typical Hebrew name and occurs only two times in the Old Testament (Habakkuk 1:1; Habakkuk 3:1). The prophet’s name means "to embrace" or "to wrestle." In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet does both by embracing and wrestling with God. Habakkuk’s prophecy is a record of his wrestling with God on behalf of God’s people. Further, Habakkuk embraced God by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Habakkuk 3). The musical psalm in Habakkuk 3 suggests that Habakkuk may have been a Temple musician or singer as a member of the Levitical family. The prophet's famous statement "The just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4) is quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
During the time of his ministry, Habakkuk saw wickedness, cruelty, and injustice all around him (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Not only did the prophet see wickedness and evil from God’s people of Judah (Israel’s southern kingdom) but also from the Gentile nations of Babylon and Assyria empires. So, evil, violence, and corruption ran rampant in Israel and the Gentile world. Even more, the people were embedded in idol worship and not faithfulness to the true and living God. Even in the courts, morality and justice were no longer existence among the people as the leaders oppressed the poor, the weak, and the powerless.
The book of Habakkuk takes the form of a discussion or dialogue between God and the prophet. Seeing the evil, badness, and unfairness, Habakkuk had an open and honest talk with God. Habakkuk could not understand why God seemed to ignore sin and evil in the world. Habakkuk felt God was not listening to him, despite his repeated cries and prayers for answers.
Eventually, God did answer Habakkuk. God’s first answer to Habakkuk is that He would punish Judah’s sin by rising up the Babylonians to judge Judah and punish Assyria (Habakkuk 1:5-11). This answer from God did not satisfy Habakkuk because Babylon was just as evil, cruel, and ruthless as Judah and Assyria (Habakkuk 1:12–2:1). How could God, who is “too pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13), appoint the cruel Babylonians “to execute judgment” (Habakkuk 1:12). Moreover, God answered Habakkuk that He would also punish Babylon for their sins, pride, and violence (Habakkuk 2:2-5). Babylon also failed to maintain God’s standards of faith and morality and warranted God’s divine punishment (Habakkuk 2:6-20). The Babylonians worshipped their military strength and not God (Habakkuk 1:16). Although Habakkuk did not live to see, Babylon was destroyed.
God reveals two truths to the prophet Habakkuk. First, evil, corruption, and wickedness may dominate the earth but will NEVER win and ultimately be defeated! Moreover, God reveals to Habakkuk His character. God may be silent for a time but not forever. “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). In essence, God’s glory will fill the earth. In the meantime, God’s people must live by faith in God and have confidence that God is doing what is right.
There is a curious passage in the Talmud (the body of Jewish civil and religious law) which says that Moses gave six hundred laws to the ancient Israelites. As these laws or commands might prove too numerous to commit to memory, King David brought them down to eleven in Psalm 15. The prophet Isaiah reduced these eleven to six at Isaiah 33:15. The prophet Micah further reduced the commands to three at Micah 6:8. The prophet Isaiah once more brought them down to two at Isaiah 56:1. These two command the prophet Amos reduced to one (Amos 5:4). However, lest it might be supposed from this that God could be found only in the fulfillment of the Law, the prophet Habakkuk said, “The just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). See William H. Saulez, The Romance of the Hebrew Language (Classic Reprint), originally published 1913 and reprinted 2012.
The final chapter of Habakkuk involves the prophet’s prayer and praise to God. Habakkuk’s spiritual journey begins with honest doubts and frustration and ends with one of the most beautiful songs in the Holy Bible. The prophet declares that even if God sends suffering and loss, he would still rejoice and trust in God his Savior (Habakkuk 3:18-19; see also Psalm 46:1-5). Habakkuk “saw” the powerful glory of God as well as God’s sovereignty and goodness. The prophet gained strength to endure trials and wait on God in the midst of trouble. No matter how hard and desperate life might become, Habakkuk knew he could wholeheartedly trust in God and “live by faith.” In the end, Habakkuk rested in God and worshipped.
Habakkuk’s spiritual journey is similar to that of most people that struggle to understand the ways of God. When violence, evil, and corruption prevail, God’s people often question God’s power, holiness, and goodness and whether God is really in control. Habakkuk’s questions to God help us understand that God does not rebuke or punish such questions when these questions come to Him in prayer from an honest and concerned heart (see also Hanna’s prayer for a son at 1 Samuel 1:9-18). Some people believe that we should never question the ways of God. Some even feel that such questions borders on sin to ask God, “Why?” The book of Habakkuk teaches that we can also bring our genuine complaints and questions to God. In fact, the prayer for help and understanding in the Holy Bible often demonstrates trust in God (e.g., see Psalm 73; Psalm 102:1-2; Psalm 145:18; Isaiah 65:24). God’s people need to always approach God first and share their concerns and problems with Him. God wants everyone to come to Him with our struggles and doubts.
Furthermore, the book of Habakkuk teaches everyone that God is still in control of the world (see also Psalm 145). God’s people must be willing to trust God and His will with patience and obedience. With each passing day, Habakkuk and many other people recognized that God always rights all wrongs, comforts all pain, and brings His justice into the world! God is omnipresent and ever-present (Habakkuk 2:2-20). He sees the “big picture” of life. God sees and cares deeply for every pain, wrongdoing, and injustice. Although people may not see it, God’s sovereign Hand is at work in His world for His glory, salvation, and justice (Habakkuk 2:2-3, 14; 1 John 5:14-15). God acts sovereignly to correct wrongdoing and corruption, especially against His people, so that all people may ultimately see His glory (Habakkuk 2:3, 14; Habakkuk 3:2-15). Even more, God’s grace and blessings follow our trust and obedience. God alone will be worshipped for His divine goodness and holiness (1 John 5:21).
Habakkuk’s mission was to make it clear that even if God’s justice seems slow in coming, God’s justice will come (Habakkuk 2:2-5). Wickedness and evil will NOT win but righteousness will prevail. Judgment may not come quickly, but it will come. God’s people are to be patient! As God told Habakkuk, "Wait for it" (Habakkuk 2:3). God dislikes sin, wickedness, and evil and His punishment of sin will certainly come. God’s people are to patiently wait and trust in God and not in themselves, knowing that God will ultimately punish all violence, wickedness, and injustice (Habakkuk 2:5, see Hebrews10:35-38).
The key verse of Habakkuk is Habakkuk 2:4, “But the just shall live by his faith.” This verse is quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38. The apostle Paul takes Habakkuk 2:4 and makes it the heart of the Gospel message about Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or a right relationship with God) is reached only through faith. To live by faith means to patiently trust God and obey God's Word, no matter how we feel, what we see, or what the consequences may be (see also Hebrews 11). At Galatians 3:10-11, the apostle Paul says that no one is righteous before God by the Law. Paul cites Habakkuk 2:4 as proof that faith in God makes a person righteous in the eyes of God as opposes to keeping the Law (see also Romans 5:1-5; Ephesians 2:8-10). Continually trusting God during suffering and difficult times produces character, perseverance, and hope.
In essence, the apostle Paul declares by citing Habakkuk 2:4 that Habakkuk characterizes the righteous as a people of faith and a people who earned status with God not by keeping the Law but by trusting God even during tough times. In other words, people are not righteous by keeping God’s Law. People keep God’s Law because they trust God and believe in God despite the circumstances. The one who is faithful to God even during tough times will keep God’s Law and is righteous. God transforms the hearts of those who trust Him so they can faithfully follow God’s holy standards of living (Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:37-39). Therefore, one cannot separate having faith and being faithful. We are declared righteous with God by living a life of continually joy and trust in Him, despite troubling conditions (see also Habakkuk 3). God is trustworthy even when things are hard!
Living by faith is far more than merely following rituals and rules. Faith is a matter of the heart (Hebrews 10:22). The prophet Habakkuk encourages God’s people to persevere in their faith and conduct when facing persecution and pressure (see also Romans 5:3-5). The apostle Paul reveals through Habakkuk's declaration (Habakkuk 2:4) that by trusting God — believing in his provision for our sins and living each day in his power — we will ultimately win!
God’s people must patiently trust God in a difficult time. However, we are to never arrogantly trust ourselves and leave God out of our lives (Ezekiel 18:9; Isaiah 26:1-6). God is on His holy throne, and He is King of kings and Lord of lords (Habakkuk 2:20). Empires and nations may rise and fall, but God remains the same generation after generation. God’s people must trust that God is directing all things according to His glorious purposes when we do not understand why (Romans 8:28). The men and women listed in Hebrews 11 illustrate how ordinary people accomplished extraordinary things because they trusted and obeyed God.
Habakkuk is all dialogue between the prophet and God. The prophet had a crisis of faith. God does not speak through the prophets to the people. Instead, God speaks to the prophet and the prophet’s attitude. God declares with public notice to the prophet that everyone is to live by faith (Habakkuk 2:2-4). In other words, Habakkuk 2:4 states clearly that the righteous will live faithfully before God and trust God in the midst of hard times. Even more, God wants everyone to have continually joy and realize that God will bring peace and triumph as we trust Him with and during the suffering (Philippians 4:4-7; James 1:2).
Job was under God’s leadership and evil was the agent of Job’s downfall. According to the book of Job, evil attacks us to test us and we bring glory to God in the way we suffer. Evil wants us to curse and turn away from God. According to Job, we do not suffer because we have sinned; we suffer so we can sin. By not sinning, we bring glory to God. Also Job found restoration and restoration is the answer to suffering. As we enduring suffering, God brings restoration and glory. After passing through judgment, glory follows. God’s people are to endure testing (James 1:3) and temptation (James 1:13-14).
Moreover, God’s message to Habakkuk stresses that His people must live a life of faith, goodness (righteousness), and patience (Habakkuk 2:4). God’s people are to make God’s righteous standards their own and imitate God’s righteousness in their lives (see also Genesis 15:6). As God’s people, we are to commit to doing what is right even when we face suffering (1 Peter 4:19). Our suffering and troubles can always provide an excuse for sinning, but we must live holy lives, branded by love for God and others (Matthew 22:34-40). In trials, God is still sovereign and faithful (1 Peter 4:19). God controls everything of life and we do not need to fear (Joshua 10:25; 2 Chronicles 20:15; Luke 12:7). Because we know that God is faithful, we can trust in Him and His promises (Psalm 145:11).
Those who patiently trust God and faithfully obey Him will rejoice and find victory (Habakkuk 3:16-19; see also Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:35-39). The prophet Habakkuk calls all people to wholeheartedly trust God and to be faithful to Him. We can rise above our circumstances, and even rejoice in them, by focusing on God who stands above all. The prophet Habakkuk does not deny his problems; instead, he finds God’s glory and peace in the midst of his trials and troubles. God always draws close and answer those who love and trusts Him (Psalm 147:11).
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