The book of Habakkuk probably isn’t the first book you turn to when you open your Bible in the morning (at least, it’s not my first choice). In fact, many have never even read this short, three-chapter book before because Old Testament prophecy isn’t thought to have any real relevancy or significance today.
This past week, I had the opportunity to sit through an overview of the Old Testament prophets and discovered that the section of my Bible I’ve largely ignored is rich with meaning and application for my life today. The prophetic books are filled with much more than just pronunciations of judgement, and the book of Habakkuk in particular answers many questions that are still being asked about God today.
This book is different from the other prophetic books. Instead of proclaiming God’s word to the people, Habakkuk records a private struggle he has with the Lord. Habakkuk wrote around 625 B.C., just before the Jews were taken into captivity by the Babylonians. He saw the impending destruction of his homeland and questioned God as a result of this.
Habakkuk 1:2 says, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” How many times has this been my own prayer? “God, do you see me? Do you hear me? And if so, why aren’t you answering?” Habakkuk cries out because of the injustice he sees his own people committing, writing “the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth.” He asks God the question that people have continued to ask for the past 2500 years. If God is good, why does He allow evil? Why do the wicked go unpunished? God replies to Habakkuk and tells him that He is raising up the Babylonians to execute judgement and punish the wicked Israelites, which raises even more questions in Habakkuk’s mind. “Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” “God, the Babylonians are even worse than we are! How can you let them judge us?” What kind of God are you? This is a hard truth for us to swallow, but God demonstrates that He can use evil people to judge evil people. The Israelites were His chosen people and that would never change, but they had broken their covenant with Him and would be disciplined in order to turn them back to the Lord. A Babylonian captivity was the method of discipline the Lord would use in this instance. Babylon would not continue in their sin, though: in chapter two of Habakkuk God declares that He’ll judge them even more harshly than He did the Israelites because their sin was worse.
The book ends with Habakkuk’s declaration of unwavering trust in the Lord: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the field yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Habakkuk does not fully understand the plans of the Lord, but he rests quietly and assuredly in the fact that God is unchanging, He is strong, and He is working for His own glory. One day, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). And on that day, all those who put their trust in Him will begin an eternity of glory with their Father. We cannot know the plans of the Lord, but Habakkuk can help us to understand that the wicked will not go unpunished forever and that God loves justice; He just executes it in His own way at the perfect time.