After experiencing the holocaust and the rise and fall of the Nazi empire, Corrie Ten Boom said,
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.. In darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”
Her words are an apt reminder for God’s people in South Africa. This week has seen anger and anarchy bubble over. The rape and murder of Uyinene Mretyana unleashed the nation’s fury at a society which allows a woman to be murdered every three hours. Xenophobic violence, looting and arson have caused untold personal tragedies. People are tired of politicians tweeting “deepest condolences” and platitudes, but providing no genuine protection. Tired of pampered MP’S flying past with their blue light brigades, but failing to provide rape kits at police stations for the violated. Leaders seem indifferent to the struggles of ordinary people– deaf, blind and inactive. With a murder rate equal to war-torn regions like Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, South Africans feel leaderless and vulnerable for the future. As Christians, we may wonder if God is like our politicians, standing in heaven with his hands in his pockets. Like Emperor Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned. We may even wonder if God sees the flames licking the tip of Africa.
The book of Habakkuk is only three chapters long, but it is like a prayer journal that speaks powerfully to God’s people living in perplexing times like ours. See if his complaint resonates with you.
1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 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.
4 So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted… (Habakkuk 1:1-4)
Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
“How long, Lord? Why do you idly look at wrong?”
The prophet Habakkuk lived in Judah in the reign of King Jehoikim. It was shortly before the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and took godly Jews like Daniel and his friends into exile in 586BC. Habakkuk witnessed a time of economic collapse, extreme social injustice and violence in Judah (Hab 1:1-4). It was about to get worse for the nation, as the ruthless Babylonians would soon swallow Judah like fish in a dragnet (Hab 1: 5-17). Habakkuk’s crisis in 600BC was not too different from our news in 2019AD.
Many of us are unconscious of how we process our national and personal crises. One person may choose to ignore the news and focus on feel-good stories. Another may rage, get depressed, or send funny cartoons on social media to soften the blow. Others with options make plans to emigrate.
But Habakkuk processed his honest questions with the Sovereign Lord. As he prayed with eyes wide open to his realities, God shone His truth into Habakkuk’s darkness.
Like most of our complaints, Habakkuk’s questions involved God’s timing, his apparent inaction and tolerance of evil. He voiced the big ambiguities honest Christians feel: How can a powerful and good God stand idle while wickedness flourishes and people suffer (Hab 1:13)? Why is God taking so long to answer my prayers?
David raised the same questions in Psalm 37 and 73, Psalm 13:1-2 and Ps 74:10-11. Please God, take your hand from the folds of your garment and crush the wicked! How long? It is the refrain of Christian martyrs as they wait for God to vindicate their deaths (Rev 6:10). These questions are not displaying a lack of faith when they are directed at the Sovereign Lord of history.
God is attentive to Habakkuk’s questions, but his answers are not simplistic, nor optimistic in the short term. The oracle is not good news, but a weighty ‘burden’ that God’s spokesman must bear (Hab 1:1 KJV): The sovereign Lord of history will do what is right and just in his appointed time. God will raise up a ruthless pagan nation, Babylon to punish his people.
This was hardly the ‘amazing’ intervention Habakkuk expected!
“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told (Hab 1:5).”
Habakkuk calls a spade a spade. There are only two kinds of people—The proud, whose hearts are crooked. And the righteous, who live by faith. (Hab 2:4). There are no euphemisms in his detailed list of evils. No silver linings to the final end of God’s enemies (Hab 2:2-20). It is a terrifying picture of humanity… and our hearts, if we lift the veil of self-righteousness. The arrogant and greedy. The man who piles up stolen goods and extorts from the poor. The man who builds his house by unjust gain and establishes a city with bloodshed and injustice. The porn user and sex abuser. The destroyer of God’s creation. The one who trusts in useless idols. It’s all there.
Habakkuk didn’t live in splendid isolation, disengaged or ignorant of the suffering and evil around him. Nor did he minimize it, like some did when Robert Mugabe died, calling him a colossus, a martyr and a giant of the African Revolution. God does not close his eyes when leaders commit genocide or rain terror on millions of people for decades. No, Habakkuk was burdened by the sight of suffering (Hab 1:3). As Jesus was (Mark 1:41). And as we should be, when we read of the rape of a 6-year old girl in a restaurant bathroom, just one of 60 children raped every day in our country. God’s eyes are wide open when the wicked hem in the righteous (Hab 1:4).
But Habakkuk’s journal does not end with his complaint. As his conversation with God unfolds, his perspective changes. His unknowns are slowly processed through the filter of God’s known character, what He has done in the past and what He has said He will do in the future. God’s truth penetrates Habakkuk’s confusion:
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay (Hab 2:3).
Habakkuk is finally able to trust in God’s sovereign purposes and sure revelation.
As Christians, we know the fulfilment of God’s greatest revelation in history– the appearance of Jesus as Saviour, his death and resurrection. We know the certainty of God’s written revelation–the Bible.
Now, we too must wait in hope for God’s “appointed time”–when Jesus returns to judge the earth and make all things new. In the meantime, we live by faith in what we know to be true.
Despite the political darkness, God directs Habakkuk’s eyes to the light: The righteous are saved and kept by faith (Hab 2:4). God’s kingdom will prevail, no matter what Satan and his forces throw at it. “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14). Six centuries before Christ the King appeared on earth, Habakkuk sees that God’s kingdom is not in retreat, despite the carnage on the battlefield.
He gazes at the Lord in his holy temple, before whom all the earth is silent (Hab 2:20). Habakkuk’s questions end, as he rests his case. Just awe and worship before the just Judge. His heart pounds, his lips quiver and his legs tremble before the Sovereign Lord. He glimpses the end of the proud, feeble kingdoms of the world and finds new strength and joy in his Saviour (Hab 3:18).
Habakkuk’s longings for safety and certainty are ours. God welcomes our honest questions too. But however dark and unstable our reality, our only safe haven is in our Sovereign Lord and Saviour, Jesus. He called himself the Light of the world. And if we are His, “in darkness God’s truth shines most clear…Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Please join us next week on The God Walk as we flesh out the spiritual journal of Habakkuk through the lens of the New Testament.
Oh My Soul, by Casting Crowns.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy…
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:2; 17-19)
Why not take this week to read the book of Habakkuk for yourself? Download the free Explore Bible Devotion App on your phone and buy Andrew Reid’s devotion on Habakkuk for R14. It will only take you six days to read it from beginning to end and will greatly enrich your understanding.