Monday, June 19, 2006

Habakkuk: The Providence and Justice of God

A foremer professor of mine once told me that Barnhouse (or at least I think it was Barnhouse) would not set his pen to paper regarding a book of the Bible unless he had read it at least fifty times. I don’t think I’ve read any book of the Bible all the way through fifty times, but I know in recent days I have at least gotten into double digits with Habakkuk. Like most of the Minor Prophets, evangelicals generally ignore Habakkuk, but there is much to be learned from this book.

It comes as a surprise to some that a large part of Habakkuk’s first chapter is comprised by a complaint or questioning of God. In 1:2-4 we find the prophet complaining about God’s lack of action against a rebellious people. “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” he asks.

The book takes place in a time before the Jews were taken captive into Babylon. According to the study notes in the Reformation Study Bible Habakkuk prophesied during the reign of King Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:36-24:6; 2 Chronicles 36:4-8). This was a time marked by wickedness, as Habakkuk’s complaint indicates. The Bible gives little information on him other than the fact that he did evil deeds. Habakkuk was grieved, as would be any godly man. He saw violence and destruction (vs. 2, 3) and mourned the lack of justice that was found in the land (v. 4). Why wasn’t God doing anything?

As is always the case, God was doing something. The LORD answered Habakkuk’s question with words of impending judgment.
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.For I
am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if
told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter
and hasty nation,who march through the breadth of the earth, to
seize dwellings not their own. (vs. 5, 6)

The description of the Babylonians goes on to verse 11, but his is good news, right? God is not just allowing sin to pass by unnoticed. This is what Habakkuk wanted. Or…was it?

Therefore he sacrifices to his net
And makes offerings to his dragnet;
For by them he lives in luxury,
And his food is rich.
Is he then to keep on emptying his net
And mercilessly killing nations for ever? (vs. 16, 17)

Habakkuk is referring to the Babylonians here. The ‘net’ is a metaphor their ability to conquer nations and then attributing their victory to their gods and their power (see v. 11). He cannot understand why God would judge Judah using an even more wicked nation. Why allow God’s people to be conquered by someone who is not even going to give the glory to God?

God gives his answer in the form of a vision. The bulk of chapter two is a prediction of the downfall of Babylon. There are five woes pronounced upon them. Again, God will not let deeds of wickedness go unpunished. Perhaps I will write on the five woes later this week.

The close of the book is a prayer-song by Habakkuk. Though the book opens with doubt and questions, it ends with certainty.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines,
The produce of the olive fail
And the fields yield no food,
The flock be cut off from the fold
And ther be noherd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places.

To which I say, "Amen."

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