Habakkuk 1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
Habakkuk wrote from Judah, around 605 BC, during a time of moral decline. Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians within a couple decades, and Habakkuk probably lived to see it. He could not understand the ways of God, but he learned to trust God, and even to rejoice in him.
Habakkuk 1:2 How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Habakkuk was bothered by the moral decline of his day, and he called on God to do something. Perhaps he prayed for years, without results, and was bewildered at God’s seeming indifference. How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1-2), wrote David.
God’s failure to act can be a serious test of faith. By one estimate, sixty percent of believers struggle with a problem for which they have no foreseeable solution. As a result, some even stop believing. Such a response is sad, however, since the only thing worse than suffering with God is suffering without him. With God there is always hope; without him is only despair.
Habakkuk 1:3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Like many before and since, the prophet thought he could do a better job running the world than God. The world is so full of evil that it could be greatly improved by simply removing the worst. If God is so good, and so powerful, why does he allow so much evil?
First, if God purged all the evil from the world, we would all be dead. Second, God overcomes evil with good. Jesus overcame the crucifixion through his resurrection, and he has promised a glorious future to all who believe (John 14:2). If God overcomes evil with good, evil will not have the last word.
One dear lady was raped, and conceived a child as a result. The pain could have ruined her, but she believes that God is in control, and is up to something good—for her and her child. The more we believe that God overcomes evil with good, the better we can handle evil when it comes.
Habakkuk 1:5 I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
God’s answer to the prophet’s problem, turned out to be worse than the problem itself. Habakkuk’s problem was that God was allowing evil to go unchecked among his people. God’s answer was that he would use the Babylonians to punish his people (Habakkuk 1:6). But the Babylonians were even worse than the people of God! How could God use a nation that was worse than the Jews to punish the Jews?
The unbelievability of this event reminds us of what Jesus did on the cross for us. So when Paul preached to an assembly of Jews he quoted Habakkuk. I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you (Acts 13:41). The gospel is hard to believe, but that doesn’t mean it is not true. Most of the natural world is not something we would imagine or invent. Why should the gospel be any different?
Habakkuk 1:8-11 Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like an eagle swooping to devour; they all come intent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. . . . Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—guilty people, whose own strength is their god.
With poetic flair, the prophet described the coming invasion of the Babylonians. But notice his conclusion: their own strength is their god. The Babylonians were a mighty force until they fell to Cyrus, king of Persia. That is what happens to those whose strength is their god—they are defeated by someone stronger.
An important part of biblical faith is relying on God rather than ourselves. We depend on him for breath, sight, memory, pulse and everything else. And when our bodies fail, we understand even better how dependent on God we are. That is why the Bible never approves of self-reliance, only reliance on God.
Habakkuk 2:4 [T]he righteous person will live by his faithfulness.
The word translated faithfulness can also be translated faith. The ideas are closely related since those who have faith will also be faithful (James 2:26). The Apostle Paul referred to this verse twice to support the idea that people are saved by faith (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11).
The prophet could not understand all that God was doing, but he did not stop believing. And those who believe in Jesus Christ will not quit the faith, even when they are confused. The righteous live by faith, and will remain faithful, even in difficult times.
Habakkuk 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
The glory of God is that which makes him praiseworthy. We enjoy the glory of art, the glory of sports, the glory of music, the glory of nature, the glory science, and many other things. The glory of God includes every other glory, and exceeds them all by far. Sin obscures the glory of God, but will not do so forever. For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The prophet knew better than others that difficult times were ahead. But he also knew that, even in the worst of times, he could rejoice in the Lord. That is why Paul and Silas were able to praise the Lord, even after being beaten and thrown into prison (Acts 16:22-25). Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4), wrote Paul.
If we wait until our problems are solved before we are happy, we will never be happy this side of heaven. Problems are a fact of life, but so is God. It is the duty of every Christian, by faith in the goodness, power, and love of God, to cultivate a cheerful frame of mind, even though this may be difficult by reason of afflictions.
Reflection and Review
How would you change the world if you were in charge?
What is the difference between having faith and being faithful?
Why can believers rejoice in the Lord, even through hardship?