Return to Study Guide for Habakkuk -by Don Kugelberg
As the book of Habakkuk opened we found the prophet in the depths of despair. He was troubled by what he saw going on around him. He accused God of being inactive and indifferent. God answered Habakkuk in a way that rocked his theology. This caused the Prophet to question God again: “How is it that you will use an evil nation like Babylonia to judge Israel?” Chapter two opens with a statement from Habakkuk:
I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected.
God answered by showing Habakkuk that he was fully aware of the evil that existed in Babylonia and pronouncing five woes on the invading army. This section creates a very dark background of sin and judgment that we looked at in the last lesson.
But I want to be perfectly honest with you. Telling the prophet to be patient, that someday God will judge Babylonia is at best cold comfort. It does nothing to alleviate Habakkuk’s present suffering. It reminds me of Abraham’s response to God in Genesis 15. God appears to him and says: “Fear not Abram, I am your shield and your reward shall be very great.”
But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
The verse is one of my favorite in all of Scripture. Abram, the patriarch of our faith, speaks to God in his frustration. In modern day vernacular he says “Big deal God, I’m tired of hearing about what you will do for me in the future, what about now, I’m not getting any younger you know!”
God doesn’t strike Abram down for his impudence but instead He clarifies the promise He made to Abram and tells him to look for its fulfillment.
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram’s response is one of the foundational texts in Scripture. “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6
Faith is always the proper response to God’s revelation about the future. It is, therefore, no coincidence that God speaks to Habakkuk about this very thing before He pronounces the woes.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end — it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
Verse 3 acknowledges that the fulfillment lies in the future. Habakkuk is instructed to wait for it and is told in verse 4 that the righteous live by faith. No coincidence here – Abraham had faith and it was counted for righteousness. The same thought transposed.
For the first time in the Old Testament, we have explicitly stated the driving force of Old Testament life, a requirement that God has always demanded, namely that men live out their lives on earth by faith.
In the statement “The righteous shall live by faith” the Hebrew word for faith refers to the faithfulness of God. We do not create the faith but trust in One who is trustworthy. Habakkuk teaches us that that a life of faith lived in the here and now (with all of its tensions, trials and problems) is successfully accomplished by depending on the faithfulness and reliability of God and not on our own or others’ skills.
A few weeks ago we discussed how the “righteous shall live by faith” lies right along side Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” God requires us to stop striving and trust in Him.
On what basis do we trust Him? The verse says “by knowing He is God”. The verse doesn’t end there, however. Look at the full statement:
Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
We see this same thought in a parallel passage in Habakkuk which is parked in the middle of the passage on woes.
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
Why is this verse where it is? As a reminder of who God is as an anchor for our trust. When all looks dark and the enemy seems to have triumphed, we are to remember that the earth will be filled with God’s glory. If the enemy (whatever that represents) were to be victorious, God would have to necessarily share His glory.
I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
How do you define what God’s glory is? The Hebrew word translated as “Glory” literally means “weight”. God’s glory can be defined as the culmination of all those things which give Him “gravitas” or weight. God’s glory is the combination of all of His attributes.
God says to Habakkuk, you can live by faith because I will not betray myself. I will redeem you from the Babylonians and restore you to your lands because I am concerned with my Glory.
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations.
When Moses had found favor with the Lord, he asked the Lord for a bold favor. He asked “Show me your Glory.” God answered in a profound way.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Here we see God’s gravitas as caught in His attributes of love, faithfulness, and mercy caught in dynamic tension between his attributes of holiness and justice. He exercises love, faithfulness and mercy towards those who He has chosen (Israel) and justice against the others.
Habakkuk is to live in the light of this truth. He can only do so if he knows God is indeed sovereign over all His creation so God closes the loop in verse 20 after completing the last woe.
But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.
God is indeed sovereign. He is not like the gods of the Babylonians who God describes as “having no breath at all.” He is alive and well and our proper response is to be silent before Him. This is such a graphic picture which cannot be fully appreciated without looking at Isaiah.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
When a man realizes that God’s judgments are unsearchable and His ways past finding out, that all things are of Him and through Him and for Him and that He who sits upon the throne is the Almighty God of the Universe, there can be only one response.
Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.
In the end this vision of God in all of His Glory upon the throne is the answer to Habakkuk’s problems and our own. God rules and no one else; His purposes will be accomplished.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
D.A. Carlson in his book How Long, O Lord? put it this way:
The point, then, is that the Bible insists that God is entirely just, and that therefore ultimately justice will be done and will be seen to be done. Because it entails appealing to the end, that is, to what has not yet taken place, it involves walking by faith.
This type of faith can be illustrated by the American cowboys who rode the range without GPS or compass. When blinding fog or snowstorms obscured the way home, they learned to relinquish control of their horses. They slackened the reins and allowed their horses to find their way home. They did this because experience had taught them this way was the best. The type of faith which allows us to follow God’s path even when the storm clouds of circumstance have blinded us is built step by step in our daily walk with the Lord.
Habakkuk understood this. Let’s briefly look at Habakkuk 3:2:
O LORD, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O LORD, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
It is hard for us to realize but nonetheless true, the Jews of the Old Testament looked at the events of Exodus in the same light that we look at the Cross in the New Testament. The prophet says, in effect, “You have always been faithful in the past and the God that could yank a nation from the grip of the Egyptians can preserve us and ultimately rescue us from the grip of the Babylonians. As you discipline us Lord, please be merciful.” He is done asking questions, Habakkuk’s heart is at rest.
Have we reached that point in our lives?
Return to Study Guide for Habakkuk -by Don Kugelberg