Vijai Singh: Habakkuk 3:17-19 (12 January 2020)
Introduction – I wonder how the last year was for you. It may be good for some but not so good for others. Some of us also faced sicknesses and deaths in families. Some of us had moments of celebrations. There must have been unexpected and unplanned things that happened to us, bot pleasant and unpleasant.
We don’t know how this year would be like. It has also certainly not been a happy start for many in Australia with the bushfires having destroyed so much and causing suffering and pain, even questions about God. Probably you personally know friends and families affected. Some of them are also Christians. Natural disasters don’t simply spare Christians.
My own country has been facing unrest and uncertainty about the future of millions of people amid violent protests and deaths of many in connection with the new citizenship law and the pro-Hindu ideology driving it. Many Christians have been wondering and praying for God’s intervention to overcome evil.
In fact, if you look around, things are not going very well globally. The year ended with some terrible things – we saw the unrest continuing in Hongkong, along with the mystery disease there and in China; the tension between the US and Iran – shooting in the church in Texas – attacks at the Jews in the US – and so on. This confronts us with the reality that we live in a very broken world, full of uncertainty, suffering, pain, evil, injustice, and despair. We cannot escape these no matter how positive and certain and well-prepared we may feel about the future. Life is always a mixed bag of both joys and sorrows, probably more of either for some than others.
Particularly amid suffering, as Christians, it is very natural to ask difficult questions about God or wonder where God is. Why doesn’t he do something? Why is He so silent? Does He really care about what has been happening in the world with so much of suffering and pain? Oppression of the weak and the poor, corruption, injustice, poverty and killings continue to grow in many parts of the world along with the moral. Where is God in all this?
Even when everything seems to go wrong in our own lives, some of us wish that we could talk to God face to face and ask him why. Some of us also feel tempted to give up. Some of us go through feelings of hopelessness or confusion or angry at God or simply scared of life (my own cousin, not happy with God – asking where was God when I was suffering because He let me suffer even when I called Him in prayer?).
Habakkuk was also asking similar questions to God when he saw injustice, oppression, imminent exile, suffering and pain around in his own land. He saw the righteous suffering at the hand of the wicked. And he wondered why God was so silent, also unsure if what God is doing is the right thing. So, he brings two complaints to God (Hab. 1:1-4; 12-2:1), expressing his frustration and questioning God’s ways and plans. God answers both of his complaints (Hab. 1:5-11; 2:2-20). And at last, Habakkuk submits to God’s sovereignty and justice and offers a prayer of praise to God as a changed person. READ Hab. 3:17-19
The book of Habakkuk is quite different from other prophetic books since it does not address a nation directly but rather records a two rounds dialogue between God and the prophet Habakkuk. Little is known about Habakkuk as well. Probably a contemporary of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, possibly Ezekiel and Daniel. Mentioned only twice in the book (1:1; 3:1), not mentioned anywhere else by other prophets although Paul quotes from Hab. 2:4 (“The righteous shall live by faith”) in Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11 (also Heb. 10:38).
The book records Habakkuk’s struggle with God allowing the wickedness of His chosen people to go on and later using an evil foreign nation to punish His own people. At first, like Job, he is unable to understand God’s ways, but by the end of the book, he is a changed person who has learned to wait and trust in God because He is Sovereign over evil and suffering, and works out all this for His glory.
Background – Things were not going well within Judah during Habakkuk’s time. Judah had turned away from God under the wicked kings – morally and spiritually corrupt, worshipping Baal and offering its children to other gods (e.g. Molech). There were corruption and injustice everywhere. Wickedness was growing. Politically turbulent time for Judah. Judah had been ruled by Assyria for over a hundred years with a heavy hand, and now Babylon, a more wicked power, was about to take over it. Habakkuk probably lived to see the Babylonian invasion of Assyria and the fulfillment of his own prophecy of the Babylonian invasion of Judah in three stages (B.C. 605, 597, and 586).
Habakkuk’s Complaints and God’s Answers (1:1-2:20) – The first compliant of Habakkuk concerns God’s silence in face of evil, wickedness, and injustice prospering, and the righteous suffering at the hand of the wicked within Judah. Habakkuk is confused and frustrated because He had learned and read that God is righteous and just – that He defends the poor and the oppressed and punishes the wicked. But the present circumstances of his life were contradicting God’s revelation concerning His power and purpose. God seemed to be silent and ignorant, even when Habakkuk has been praying for help. (READ 1:1-4) – Habakkuk is struggling in his faith when he sees wicked men fearlessly violate God’s law and distort justice on every level without fear of divine intervention. He wants to know why God allows this growing iniquity to go unpunished. He pleads to God to do something.
But when God responds to his first question, Habakkuk is more puzzled and troubled – this is not the answer that Habakkuk had expected from God (READ 1:5-11) – which also leads to his second compliant – how can a just and good God use a more wicked nation (Babylon) to punish a less wicked one? How can a holy and just God use a non-Christian nation to punish a so-called Christian nation? READ 1:12-17 – God using wickedness to punish wickedness
Habakkuk waits for God to respond – he wants an explanation for this strange decision of God – he cannot understand God’s ways — at last God does answer but again not what Habakkuk had expected (READ 2:2-4). God tells the prophet that He is only using Babylon as a means to punish the wickedness of His own people because God’s justice demands that wickedness be punished, whether found in pagan nations or in his own people – but He will also punish Babylon (more severely) for its own wickedness and godlessness. He is the God of justice and purity – He would not tolerate sin – but He is also a Sovereign God who can use evil to punish evil – sin to punish sin – wickedness to punish wickedness – which shows not His injustice but His Sovereignty over evil. And so the earth need to be silent before Him and His ways because they are beyond comprehension (READ 2:20)
Habakkuk’s Prayer and Praise
By the end of the book (CHAPTER 3), Habakkuk is a changed person. He thinks of God’s greatness and works in History, and is filled with praise and awe. He meditates on the past events and concludes that God is unfathomable, sovereign and Almighty. His ways are higher than our ways – His plans beyond compare! Wisdom is in submitting to the Sovereignty of God and wait for Him to act and work all things out according to His perfect plan and wisdom (READ 3:16).
So the prophet learns to wait and trust in God, who works out all things for His glory. Habakkuk, like Job, questions God’s justice and ways of doing things, but in the end, realizes that God is sovereign and His justice is far beyond their comprehension. God’s coming judgment upon Judah also shows that wickedness is always punished in God’s appointed time, whether found in pagan nations or in His own people. God makes it clear that both nations are to be judged and appropriately punished for their evil ways. Although Habakkuk may not fully understand, he has learned to rely totally on the wisdom and justice of God to bring about the proper resolution in ways he could never have imagined. God reminds the prophet that He has always been in control and never overlook evil.
God’s answers at last satisfy Habakkuk that he can trust Him even in the worst of circumstances because of His matchless wisdom, indisputable goodness, and power. God’s plan is perfect and nothing is big enough to stand in the way of His ultimate fulfillment. In spite of appearances to the contrary, God is still on the throne as the Lord of history and the ruler of the nations. God may be slow to wrath, but all iniquity will be punished eventually. He is the worthiest object of faith, and the righteous man will trust in Him at all times.
Principles and APPLICATIONS
God is never silent or ignorant of evil, injustice, suffering, pain happening in the world. He is not only fully aware of it but also in control of it. God never lets wickedness go unpunished. God takes note of from the smallest evil to the largest. God takes note of every injustice that takes place on earth, even done in secret– whether of non-Christians or Christians – He is not partial. Be patient, pray and rely on Him. Remind yourself of this every day when you watch and hear of sad and depressing news around the world – take comfort and courage in this truth when you feel like giving up and overwhelmed with evil. God’s silence is not His ignorance but His patience with sinners to repent.
God’s ways and plans are beyond human comprehension. We cannot always understand and find reasons for God’s actions. In somethings, there are no explanations given to us by God and we must just accept them by faith in the eternal goodness of God. Don’t try to probe into the mysteries of God not meant for us to know. Submit to Him in humility, trusting in His wisdom.
God can and does use evil and wickedness to achieve His plans and purposes. This should not surprise us although puzzling. It is important to remember especially when we face natural disasters and heinous crimes where many innocent people die, including children. We must remember that our world is broken and seriously affected by sin. Things are not as they were meant to be, and pain and suffering and death will continue until the day of our final redemption when Christ comes and renews the whole creation.
God welcomes our questions and doubts. Nothing wrong in asking God difficult questions when life is incomprehensible. In fact, genuine faith always asks such questions and struggles with them. Note that God was not angry at Habakkuk questions. His questions are of a genuine believer and worshipper of God. Be honest with God about your confusion – bring it to Him and seek His answers. But we must also guard against losing faith in Him and turning away from Him. Throughout his struggle and questioning, Habakkuk still believes in God and recognizes that God’s greatness and power. He does not become an atheist but learns to trust in God’s infinite wisdom and grows in his faith.
Note how Habakkuk ends the book – from mystery to certainty
– from questioning to affirming
– from complaint to confidence
Illustration – a boy was traveling on a ship. The ship got trapped into a storm. During the storm, all were afraid and shouting while the boy was peaceful and confident – when asked why he wasn’t afraid – replies “my father is the captain of the ship, he won’t let it sink … I know my dad; he won’t let me down.” That’s the confidence we should have in God’s sovereignty in face of evil and confusion – the storm may come but we know who is riding our lives.
We don’t know what will happen this year – whether suffering or joy – success or failure – poverty or riches – sickness or health – life or death – but we can be sure of God’s goodness and power over our lives – He watches over us and is concerned about us – we may not understand all His ways but rely on them – He never wants our harm but good – Bring your doubts and questions to God and rely on Him. Like Jesus did when He was afraid of the cross … Amen!