Return to Study Guide for Habakkuk -by Don Kugelberg
In his book, Man is Not Alone, Abraham Heschel wrote:
If we possess the vision of justice, it must eminently be in God. Even the cry of despair: There is no justice in heaven! – is a cry in the name of justice, a justice that cannot have come out of us and still be missing in the source of ourselves.
Heschel’s argument is simple: the fact that we have a sense of justice (and we all do) indicates to us that God Himself is just. Our sense of justice comes to us as one of the ways we are created in His image.
This sense is highly developed within the human race. I think one of the earliest sentences my children constructed was “That’s not fair.” The expectation of justice was born in their hearts before they could even articulate it. The American society I live in is based on the concept of justice for all from the lowest to the highest in the land.
Last week we opened the book of Habakkuk and studied the 1st four verses:
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
We discussed how the first verse cold be translated “The burden that Habakkuk received from the Lord” and how it was God who whispered in Habakkuk’s ear “What do you think about all of this stuff of life which surrounds you? How do you reconcile it with who I am?”
All the way through Scripture, we see God taking the initiative. Habakkuk’s case is no different. God is about rock Habakkuk’s world and he wants His prophet to realize it in order to adjust his thinking to match God’s. He is going to further school Habakkuk in who He is. God doesn’t want Habakkuk (and by extension Israel) to miss the lessons He has for him. So God opens Habakkuk’s eyes to the injustice around him. Habakkuk responds “How long – Oh Lord?”
This is a far different question than “Will you – Oh lord?” Habakkuk’s question carries with it a sense of expectation. He looks at the situation around him and reaches a conclusion – God is just, the situation that surrounds Habakkuk is not, therefore, God will act – the only questions are “How long before you act and why do I have to be caught up in the middle of it?”
We take up the text today, to find God’s response beginning in verse 5:
Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” His first answer to Habakkuk’s question “How long?” is “I am already working – you just haven’t grasped it yet.”
The Hebrew verb used in the verse for “work” is actually more encompassing than is first apparent. It indicates a diligent continuous action as in a cabinetmaker constructing a piece of furniture. The cabinet maker begins by drawing up his plan, he prepares a cutting list, purchases the lumber, rough cuts the pieces, prepares the wood to final dimensions, assembles the pieces, and applies a fine finish to the completed piece of furniture. All of these fall under the heading of practicing his craft. God literally says to Habakkuk “I have been practicing my craft all along, you just haven’t been aware of it.”
God goes on to explain that even if He took the time to explain it all to Habakkuk, he wouldn’t be able to grasp it. My heart resonates with that thought. How many times have I looked back on my life and marveled over what God has wrought, yet if He had told me ahead of time where I would be today, I wouldn’t have believed Him.
His reply teaches us a number of things. First, we are to look beyond appearances whether in our own lives or in international affairs to see the hand of God. Everything is under His control. I would use a stronger word picture here and claim it is all orchestrated by God.
God is in control of everything; He is both Creator and Sustainer and His power underwrites all things. Without God no action occurs, in fact, without God our very existence and the existence of all created things would cease.
Acts 17:28 – In him we live and move and have our being;
God does not simply create us and sit back to see what we will do. He does not simply create us and get involved only when we ask Him to, He creates, sustains, and yes, is intimately involved in all parts of our lives whether we ask Him to or not. How else would Romans 8:28 be operative. How can He work all things together for our good if somethings are out of His providence?
In A.W. Tozer’s landmark work on the attributes of God titled The Knowledge of the Holy, he discusses what is necessary for God to be truly sovereign over the universe:
“God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all powerful and absolutely free. The reasons are these:
Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all creation he must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign.
Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply He must be free to do whatever He wills to do anywhere at any time to carry out His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign.”
This sounds good to us on the surface but to attempt to get our minds around it fully requires an intellectually exercise which is rigorous in the extreme. Let’s ponder just two questions:
- If God is sovereign over all creation, what do I do with the existence of evil? Is God in fact, the author of evil? Perish the thought! Where then is the answer?
- If God is sovereign over all creation, how then can a sinner be punished if he is not free to make His own decisions, if it is God orchestrating his actions?
I do not believe a satisfactory answer lies on this side of heaven.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I think this is why God answers Habakkuk the way He does in verse 5 – “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.”
I am indeed crafting the solution but not in the way you think or would even desire. You will wonder at the wisdom my actions will take. You will be so astounded that you will be brought to the point of disbelief. My answer will look to you like no answer at all. “Look among the nations for your answer”
Read Habakkuk 1:6-11
God’s answer is not the one Habakkuk was expecting and hoping for. God promises Habakkuk that they will be invaded by a merciless foreign army. He further tells Habakkuk that he will be alive to see it all and that the whole nation will suffer, both the innocent and the guilty.
Is this God’s justice? He says the Chaldeans are coming to bring violence (vs 9) the very thing Habakkuk screams out to the Lord about in verse 2. God tells Habakkuk that things are going to get worse and not better. He doesn’t promise a light at the end of the tunnel, he simply tells Habakkuk that He will use the Chaldeans to punish the Israelites.
The only assurance Habakkuk receives at this juncture in the text is that God is in control.
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
It was not by shear strength of army that the Chaldeans were a growing factor in the world. Rather, God invites Habakkuk to look at the advent of the Chaldeans as His doing. What’s more, when they attack Israel it won’t ultimately be because the King has devised a plan of conquest but rather because God has moved his heart to such an action.
I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.
A failure to grasp this essential doctrine ruins our hope in a sovereign God. We must accept that even the wicked are under God’s control or there is no assurance that God will be victorious in the end.
It is astounding to me that God ends His discourse here. He has answered Habakkuk’s question concerning how long, he has not answered Habakkuk’s question as to why, only saying “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”
I am reminded of what Blackaby and King said in Experiencing God. They point out that when God shows us what He is doing, it creates a crisis of belief in our lives. We are forced to decide what we believe about God and adjust our lives to His actions.
Habakkuk is at that nexus as we leave him this morning. God has given Habakkuk some very bad news. How will Habakkuk react? Will he keep his eyes resolutely on God or will he choose to go his own way? The answer is in the balance of the book.
Return to Study Guide for Habakkuk -by Don Kugelberg