The Message of the Prophet Habakkuk – 02 (“My Father is in Control”)
The previous time we looked at Habakkuk, we learnt that he was deeply disturbed with the national sins of Judah. He frequently and earnestly cried to God for relief, but no deliverance came. He had taken the matter before the throne of God, but no improvement appeared. It seemed as if God did not hear his prayer or that He refused to answer it. What began as an appeal for God’s salvation for his nation, ended as a personal protest about God’s inaction. We could also sense the deep frustration and perplexity in the prophet’s lament before the Lord (Afrikaans = “rouklaag”). He was asking how long the spiritual and social disintegration of the nation will continue before the Lord does something to stop or change it?
In response to Habakkuk’s lament, God told him to… ~ “Look among the nations, and see…” (1:5a). God wanted Habakkuk to understand that He was at work among the nations even though Habakkuk couldn’t see it. God gave Habakkuk a revelation, not an explanation. Habakkuk needed this and it is what we need in times of doubt, a new view of God. The Lord doesn’t owe us any explanations, but He does graciously reveal Himself and His work to those who seek Him.
The sad and shocking news to Habakkuk was that, contrary to the prophet’s personal conviction, God was already very active in pursuing His purposes. It is why He says in 1:5 ~ “I am doing a work in your days.” The “work” God was doing was actually going on at the very moment Habakkuk complained. God’s work maybe invisible, but it is in operation (it’s the same in our case – it might seem as if the Lord is totally absent, but “behind the scenes,” He is indeed busy accomplishing His plans for our country, for our Church, for us personally). But even more shocking to Habakkuk was the fact that the Lord was busy preparing the ruthless Babylonians as an instrument in His hand to punish the nation.
Today we are looking at Habakkuk’s second complaint.
2. SCRIPTURE READING:
Hab.1:12-17 (ESV) ~ “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. 13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? 14You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. 15 He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. 16Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. 17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever? Hab.2:1 ~ I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”
3. WHY LORD? (vss.12-17):
In vss.12-17, Habakkuk caries on with this same reasoning and questioning. He questions the Lord about His method of solving the problem – Habakkuk still wants it his way and he starts off by asking the Lord in vs.12 ~ “12Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One?”
- Why employ a people of iniquity? (vss.12-13): The way Habakkuk challenges God in this opening sentence of his second prayer, is to say the least, shocking. He does not approach the Lord here with any reverence or courtesy and respect. He starts off by questioning God’s character. It is as if Habakkuk says: “How can you as an everlasting and holy God, use an unholy and idol worshiping nation to discipline Your people Judah? At least use holy methods Lord!”
This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? People often ask: “If God is sovereign, holy, just and loving, how could He allow so much adversity, calamity and pain the world? If God is sovereign, why are there so many abortions, diseases and plagues?” The prophet Habakkuk understood this point well, and that is why, in the second complaint, he focused on the nature of God and how God is working in the present situation. He simply asked the question: how could the holy and righteous God bring a ruthless, ungodly people to wreak havoc on His own people? That does not, according to the prophet, fit his concept and understanding of the God of Israel.
Despite these questions, Habakkuk affirms his covenant relationship with God, by calling Him “Lord” in vs.12 – that is Yahweh. Yahweh is the personal name for God, expressing His relationship with His people and by calling God on His covenant name, Habakkuk stresses the fact that the Lord is his God and to further emphasise this, he twice employs the possessive pronoun “my” ~ “O Lord (or Yahweh) MY God, MY Holy One.” Habakkuk is calling on the holy, righteousness Judge – his holy and righteous Judge, to act according to His nature in the present circumstances – Habakkuk felt that the Lord was not acting according to His nature in other words. The conclusion, according to vs.1 ~ “We shall not die.” But, if the Lord sends the Babylonians, they shall surely die and that is contrary to his covenantal Lord’s character, on the contrary, he (and Israel for that matter) also knew the Lord as the “Rock.” Not only does the name “Rock” indicates strength, but it also means permanence. God is the Israelites permanent Covenantal Lord. How can He now turn His back on His people? Employing (use) a nation of iniquity to wipe them from the face of the earth!
Habakkuk continues in vs.13 in the same vein (Afrikaans = op dieselfde trant), by saying that he does not understand how a God “with pure eyes”, who cannot look at iniquity, because it is abominable to Him, can use the Babylonians against Israel. This reminds us of Paul’s words in 2 Cor.6:14 ~ “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” How can God use ungodly people to wipe out His children? How can God use corrupt, self-righteous and worldly political leaders to persecute and even martyr His children?
- Why endorse a people of injustice? (vss.14-15): In vs.14 Habakkuk compares Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar (the king of Babylon) as a fisherman catching helpless fish.
Like the helpless fish, there is no one to protect the people of Israel. Kings in the ancient Near East were seen as the protectors of their people ~ “…that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam.8:20). An implicit accusation may also be present here, since the Lord is the ultimate king and protector of His people (Deut.33:5; 63:18-19). It does seem as if their King, Yahweh, is not going to protect them. Habakkuk is therefore using the imagery of fish hooked and gathered in dragnets – there is no escape for any of them. Some of you might remember that I told you about the Assyrians a 100 years earlier. They use to drive a hook through the lower lip of their captives from Israel, “stringing” them along in single file towards their exile in Assyria.
We also find a similar imagery in Micah 7:4 where the prophet Micah warned the Israelites when he said ~ “The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.”
It is interesting to note how Jesus later takes the fisherman’s metaphor (used also in Jeremiah 16:16 and Amos 4:2 as a metaphor for judgment) and reverses it into a metaphor for deliverance and salvation (“I will make you fishers of men” Matt. 4:19).
Habakkuk was protesting, saying that God was treating human beings, whom He had created in His own image and after His own likeness, like fish in the sea – fodder for a vicious, ruthless tyrant who trawls for people as though they were like crawling things that had no ruler. There is a double nuance here: God is the ruler of people and of nations, especially of Judah; and human beings are intended to rule, or “have dominion,” over fish, not be treated like fish.
- Why excuse a people from idolatry? (vss.16-17): Still Habakkuk did not stop. Vs.16 starts with “therefore.” Habakkuk wanted to say that the capturing and destroying of God’s children will be like pagan offerings brought to the Babylonian’s gods – victory would provide encouragement for their idolatry, their pagan rights and their religious beliefs. They will just pay homage to their own victory and their own power.
Habakkuk continues to say that their conquest will result in economic prosperity. Military invasion in the ancient Near East was not merely for conquest and subjugation (Afrikaans = oorwinning en onderwerping), but often for the purpose of plunder and other economic interests. Babylonia at the time required much trade and plunder to sustain itself.
In vs.17 the prophet asked if this cruelty and warfare would go on forever. The seemingly endless propensity (Afrikaans = “geneigdheid”) of men to wage war. Habakkuk was therefore very troubled. The whole first chapter of his prophecy is concerned with ever-increasing perplexity (Afrikaans = “radeloosheid”).
4. HABAKKUK’S TURNABOUT (2:1):
We find, what we call, a transitional verse in 2:1. After Habakkuk “washed his mouth” about the whole situation, convinced that his complaint on behalf of the nation, was justified, he suddenly made a turnabout. He realised that he was speaking to God Almighty. He decided, no matter how great his confusion (or befuddlement), he will wait patiently until he received further revelations form the Lord. He continued to watch vigilantly from his tower on the city wall for the time when God would be pleased to answer his questions.
5. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
What can and must we learn from Habakkuk?
God had promised never to wipe out Israel (vs.12b). After acknowledging the Lord’s faithfulness, Habakkuk reminded God of His promise, His eternal covenant with Israel.
God’s promises to the nation were sure. He knew God’s character, that the Lord is faithful and that His Word stands forever. He affirmed that the Lord is a mighty God and that His promises are solid. He acknowledged that the Lord is steadfast and unchanging, that He never goes back on His Word. Therefore, God would keep and protect the faithful, those who truly trusted and loved Him, no matter how many others rejected and rebelled against Him. The Lord would make sure of it. In spite of the coming judgment, these true believers (and all believers who followed) would inherit the promises of God. God’s people would not be wiped out completely.
Despite our circumstances, God will always keep His promises as revealed in His Word. He will protect us, those who trust and love Him, even if we have to suffer with “the rest of the nation” – God will still be with us.
When we face problems or when we don’t have answers, we must follow Habakkuk’s example. When he was confronted with problems he forgot for a moment the immediate problem and asked himself what it was he was sure of about God. We see that in vs.12 when he asked ~ “Are you not from everlasting.” He pondered on God’s attributes and realised that His Father has everything under control. Habakkuk’s God (our God), is not like the gods of the Babylonians; He is not like the gods of the world; He is the faithful, sovereign and eternal God. He is the covenantal and holy God who we may call Father through Jesus Christ.
Habakkuk retired to his watchtower to see how the Lord would answer him. He wanted to be alone in order to gain God’s perspective. This is applicable and a most important principle for us today. Whether we call it our “quiet time,” “devotions,” or by some other term, daily communion with God is crucial for every Christian.
We must realise that we may be kept in a desperate situation, or problem, or position for a week or months, or years. It happens often. But leave it with God! This was also the attitude adopted by the Son of God Himself when He was in this world. The problem for Him was that He was being “made sin” for man’s salvation. He knew that His Father could have delivered Him out of the hands, not only of the Jews, but of the Romans too. He could have commanded 12 legions of angels and escaped. But if He was to be made sin, and sin was to be punished in His body, it meant that He had to be separated from the Father. What did Jesus do? Precisely what the prophet did; He prayed and said ~ “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt.26:39).