Background: Habakkuk was commissioned to prophesy the Chaldean invasion of Judah shortly before it happened in 605BC taking Daniel and others as captives to Babylon. As he prophecied Habakkuk wrestled with two questions: 1.) Why did God allow the increasing evil in Judah to go unpunished? (1:2-4) and, 2.) How could God justify using the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the Jews, to punish the Jews? (1:12-2:1). The book, like Job, is a theodicy; a defence of God's goodness and power in the face of evil. Job and Habakkuk, though many centuries apart, show amazing resemblances in struggle and trust.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Habakkuk (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
God will not allow His people to continue to do evil but will punish them (v. 5-6) to bring them back to Himself and their redemptive mission. Sometimes in fact, God will punish His own people more severely than the surrounding peoples who don't know Him. This is because 1.) the sins of His people are not done in ignorance. They have His Law, which expresses His will, and they know Him, while others have the benefit of neither. 2.) As His people know Him, He prepares them to be channels of His redemptive purposes on the earth. It is more urgent, for the sake of the lost, that they not reject His purposes. (The problem of God's people rejecting their Redeemer is what Paul also wrestled with in Romans 9-11 as he observed the Jewish people reject Christ.)
God deals with evil in unexpected ways, in this case through the Chaldeans (v.6), a Semitic people who became dominant in the Babylonian Empire. God has also used the Red Sea (Exodus 14), the turning of the heart of a foreign king (Ezra 1:2) and many other "natural" and supernatural events which we need eyes to see. I can have confidence that though the evil of this world often continues unabated for long periods of time, God will interfere, punish, and/or restrain evil, though sometimes from unexpected quarters. Ultimately Christ will come again, unexpectedly and in an unexpected way and we will see "a new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13).
Hard Questions while Waiting in Trust: Habakkuk asks in v.13: "Your eyes are too pure to approve of evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do you look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" It is ok to ask God hard questions but we must do so, like Habakkuk and Job, without loss of trust in Him. I will trust God as He works out His plan to overcome evil.
A prayer: "Father, help me, when I don't understand, to trust You in the midst of my questions. Thank you that your victory over evil is demonstrated in Christ and is sure for us also."
Habakkuk's second question is essentially, "I understand why God must punish evil, but why does He use people more evil than those He is punishing?" God's answer, like that to Job, is to reveal His glory and ask Habakkuk to wait for the fulfilment of the vision of v. 14: "For all the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
God's victory over evil is sure. The vision of 2:14 is frequently expressed in the OT (Num. 14:21; Ps. 72:19; Isa. 6:3; 11:9) and we can have confidence that "it will certainly come" (v.3). Therefore I will "live by faith" (v.4) and not be shaken by the evils of vs. 6-20 as we follow the Lord in His just and righteous mission towards the day when "all the earth is silent before Him." (v.20).
The evils condemned in vs. 6-20 are expressions of pride and arrogance (v.4-5) which God will punish whether they assert themselves among heathen people such as the Babylonians or His own covenant people who reject Him, including:
gaining riches at the expense of the poor through interest ("usury") (vs.6-8)
extortion (vs. 9-11)
those who build on the sweat and blood of others (vs. 12-14)
those who use alcohol as prelude to perversion (v.15-17)
those who worship inanimate objects (vs.18-20)
God's answer to Habakkuk's second question is essentially that He wants to use His covenant people towards His redemptive purposes but shows no partiality to those who do evil and will bring righteousness to all the earth.
A prayer: "Father, thank you that Your redemptive, righteous purposes "will not fail" (v.3). Thank you that despite evil and it's irrationality I can work and wait in confidence, hope and expectation. Thank you that the whole world will know Your glory and evil cease."
Habakkuk's vision of God: Habakkuk, like Job, witnesses some sort of Theophany (appearance of God) which he attempts to describe in this chapter. This vision both weakens him (v.16) and increases his confidence in God (v.17-18) in the face of the pending evil of Babylonian invasion.
Our experience: Though we too may tremble before the power and majesty of God (v.3-15) and the birth pangs of righteousness in this evil world, we are invited to rest in Him (v. 16) and trust Him (v. 17-18) in difficult days, confident that He is at work for good and that He has invited us to be light and salt in Him in the world.
Our ministry: For this reason we may lift up the heads of the weary and distressed, pointing them the to goodness of the Lord and urging them, with Habakkuk, to be satisfied that God's ways, though not fully comprehensible, are best.
What an example of faith!
17 "Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights."
A prayer: "Father, it seems only Theophany satisfies the anguished questions of Job and Habakkuk and with a vision of You, we are struck silent (2:20). How difficult this is, yet how confident we emerge. Show us Your "splendour over the heavens (v.3)!" And thank you for Your revelation in Christ to all!
God is good and to be trusted in the most difficult circumstances, even when He righteously punishes evil, rebellion or unfaithfulness against Himself. In this fact Habakkuk and we may come to rest.