“How long? And Why?” Lessons from Habakkuk
“How long, And why?” Invariably, all of us are asking such questions in these days of COVID19; “Unprecedented times” they call it. Life was always uncertain. However, the reality of the pandemic and the precarious nature of life suddenly brought anxiety and fear.
The politicians, the bureaucracy, doctors, researchers, philosophers, prophets, gifted God’s servants including the common man are trying to understand the times we are living. But no one has come up with any answer for the question “how long and why?”
The uniqueness of our Holy Bible is that it fits for all times. People who lived in the Biblical times asked such questions. Nothing that is happening in our world surprises the Bible. The prophet Habakkuk is asking such questions (Habakkuk 1:2,3).
Therefore, it is appropriate for us to go through this small prophetic book. We encourage you to read all 3 chapters in one go and reread it again. You can read it in eight minutes.
Let us look at who Habakkuk was and what his questions were and how he got the answer that changed him.
Habakkuk the chatter: The entire book is a conversation between Habakkuk and God. He questions God and God answers him. His question is, “Why does the evil Judah go unpunished? (1: 2-4).
God's answer is, “The Babylonians will punish Judah” (1: 5-11). As he was not satisfied by the answer, he puts another question, “How can a just God use the wicked Babylonians to punish people more righteous than themselves? (1:12-2:1).
God's Answer, “Babylon will be punished, and faith would be rewarded” (2: 2-20). God admits the wickedness of Babylonians but declares that they will destroy themselves finally by their own evil. With this, he stops his chatter and starts singing (3:2-19).
Can we chat with God as we do with others? Yes, the Lord is not upset when you ask Him questions. God allowed Abraham to ask questions (Genesis 18:20-33).
Habakkuk teaches us that we have the privilege to interact with our God with all questions and doubts of our hearts.
Habakkuk, the clinger: There are 12 prophetic books in the Old Testament that are called minor prophets, not because they are less important but because of the length of their prophecy. Habakkuk is one among them. Habakkuk means ‘one who embraces’ (1:1; 3:1).
True to his name he is a clinger, he clings on to God, holds on to God and wants answers from God. He clings on to God for 20 years for His answer. It is like a baby monkey clinging on to the mother monkey while it jumps from one branch to another. When my son was two or three years old, he used to come and ask questions. He will ask the same question again and again until I answer him.
Luke 18:1 says, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” Every believer has the privilege to have a child-like faith to cling on to our heavenly Father, as there is no other person to go except God. Habakkuk did not go to any other person with his question, but to God.
Habakkuk, the complainer: Habakkuk complains to God and not to a man. Justice had essentially disappeared from the land; violence and wickedness were pervasive, existing unchecked.
During these dark days, Habakkuk cried out for divine intervention. We are familiar with the intercessory prayer, which means praying to God on behalf of others and their needs. This is unique to Christian faith.
The Bible teacher David Pawson (25 Feb 1930 – 21 May 2020), referring to Habakkuk’s prayer, he called it, “Interrogatory Prayer.” He engaged with God praying unceasingly and waiting patiently but asking questions to God while praying. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?... Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? (1:2,3). This is about being open and pouring out our hearts to God. This encourages that we can be real with our prayers.
However, this should not be associated with lack of faith, but in full awareness of the sovereignty of God. Jesus prayed on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” expressing the sorrow and regret. This prayer is a conversation between a real human being with a real God, stripping of all pretence and hypocrisy, struggling and wrestling with God like Jacob (Genesis 32:24-30).
What a friend we have in Jesus, carry everything to God in prayer, trials, and temptations, take it to the Lord in prayer, because He knows our every weakness.
Habakkuk the communicator: Chapter 1:1 says, “A burden” of Habakkuk. This can be translated as an oracle, a lamentation, a tribute, a porterage, an utterance, or a song, which tells the prophet’s ability to communicate. In this small book there are many quotable quotes: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness” (1;13);
“But the just shall live by his faith” (2:4) This statement has been mentioned in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38. “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14); “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let the earth keep silence before Him,” (2:20). “In wrath remember mercy” (3:2b). “His ways are everlasting” (3:6b). “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD. I will joy in the God of my salvation” (3:18). “The LORD God is my strength” (3:19). We could take each quote and meditate on them.
The response of the Lord is amazing and affirming: “For I am doing something in your day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it (1:5). “I am not a God who is made of wood and overlaid with gold and silver who has no breath. But I am in the Holy temple. Therefore, let all the earth be silent before me” (2:19,20)
In other words, Habakkuk was asked to shut up and keep quiet. Right now, what we are going through, we may not fully grasp, but we should recognise that ultimately the LORD is in total control. Ecclesiastes 5:2 says: God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
Habakkuk the chorister: Another interesting fact about the prophet is that he was one of the Levitical choristers in the temple (Habakkuk 3:19). He was helping in arranging the services. He must have been a musician who played stringed instruments.
In the third chapter, his argumentative tone of the previous chapters in which he cried for divine interference is transformed into a plea of God’s mercy (3:2) a review of God’s power (3:3-15) and a chorus of praise for God’s sustaining grace and sufficiency.
As the tone changes a strong thematic connection remains; first he was wrestling but now he is resting in God; first he was miserable but now he is happy; first he was shouting but now he is singing, his prayer becomes praise, first he was impatient but now he is patient; first he was demanding justice but now asking for mercy and now he is encouraged and in high spirit he is exalting God. When we wait patiently for God, He shall strengthen your heart (Psalm 27:14).
Habakkuk the convinced and content: Dear reader, when you read Habakkuk, you should be encouraged. The news headline in News18 on 23rd May was “Reckless Netas, Bad Economic Policies, Dishonestly Dishonest Media: The evil is our saviour in this Pandemic.”
Further it said, “The filth all around that most Indians suffer also seems to have strengthened their immunity against flus. This perhaps explains the relatively lower effect of the coronavirus,” writes Ravi Shanker Kapoor.
We live in such a hopeless and chaotic world. God seemed to be doing nothing but tolerating violence, injustice, and destruction of the righteous. Why does God wait so long to punish evil and why are our prayers generally not answered quickly?
Like Habakkuk, we may not understand what exactly is going to happen, but we need to confess that we heard the voice of God, therefore we pray, “In wrath remember mercy” (3:2). Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation (3:16).
Our rejoicing is not based on the agricultural produce and the prosperity, but in the Lord in whose hand my salvation is. Our security and hope are not based on temporal blessings but on the Lord Himself (3:18,19). This is the essence of 2:4 “the just shall live by faith.”
In moments when we do not understand God's ways, we need to trust His unchanging character. That is exactly what Habakkuk did. He concluded, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength.”
Bible teacher John MacArthur says: As sure-footed deer scaled the precipitous mountain heights without slipping, so Habakkuk’s faith in the Lord enabled him to endure the hardships of the imminent invasion, and all his perplexing questions. How is our faith in these Pandemic days?
Rev John P. Wesley is the Former General Secretary of Indian Evangelical Mission
Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash