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Habakkuk (2): Chapter 1

J Riddle, Cheshunt

As we have already noticed in our introduction, the book of Habakkuk can be divided into five sections: Habakkuk speaks three times, and God speaks twice.

Habakkuk’s Problem (1.1-4)

"The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

His calling (v.1)

"The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth" (3.1). He firmly recognised his calling from God. Like Habakkuk, we must recognise our calling from God, and actively pursue it. "Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given unto us, whether prophecy, let us prophecy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation" (Rom 12.6-8). The prophet recognised two things.

i) He had received a vision from God. "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." Compare Isaiah 1.1. So the word of God was revealed to him. He was unlike the false prophets who "speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord" (Jer 23.16). This reminds us that "if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet 4.11).

ii) He felt the weight of the word of God. "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." The word "burden" means a heavy or weighty thing, and is used in the Old Testament to describe a heavy or weighty message or oracle. Compare, for example, Malachi 1.1: "The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi". The message was weighty in itself, and its weight was felt by the servant. Habakkuk was unlike the false prophets described by Zephaniah as "light and treacherous persons" (Zeph 3.4).

So the prophet related what he saw (hence the word "seer", 1 Sam 9.9, etc), and what he saw was a burden to him. This raises two questions for us: first, are we conveying the word of God without addition or amendment? and, second, do we feel the weight of the word of God? We can never expect to convey it effectively to others unless we feel its weight and value ourselves.

His concern (vv.2-4)

Habakkuk’s description of civil disobedience leads us to the conclusion that he preached during the reign of Jehoiakim (see Jeremiah 22.18, etc) rather than the reign of godly Josiah. Habakkuk’s problem centred on three things.

i) Unanswered prayer (v.2). Habakkuk took far more than a casual interest in his circumstances. He felt the situation acutely. "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!" Habakkuk did not go to the people with preaching: he went to God in prayer. He kept on grappling with the problem.

The believer who goes through life without asking questions must live on another planet! Habakkuk was perplexed by what he saw. Why did God allow such conduct? There was no answer to his prayers. We can sympathise with Habakkuk. We all have this difficulty at times! Problems are inevitable when we approach God with fixed ideas and prescribed answers! We think we know how God ought to work! As we shall see, God answered Habakkuk’s prayers in a most unexpected way! He answered his prayers by allowing things to become even worse, before they became better. At the end of it all the man who prayed gave himself to praise!

All this reminds us that we can trust in the Lord. We must also remember that in some circumstances, He may say, "No". This is as much an answer as any other! We must also remember that "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Ps 66.18). It has been said that "there is no such thing as unanswered prayer, but there is such a thing as unheard prayer". In this connection, we must notice:

ii) Unanswered questions (v.2). "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear...Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance?" We often feel like Isaiah when he said, "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself" (Is 45.15). Matthew Henry observes: "He may hide Himself, but He does not absent Himself!" "If God were unkind enough to answer some of our prayers at once, we should be very impoverished Christians" (M Lloyd-Jones).

iii) Unrestrained evil (vv.3-4). As we have seen, the prophet felt the situation deeply: "I cry" (v.2). Evil was not restrained (v.3), and law was not exercised (v.4). Those entrusted with the law did not implement it properly and justly. Righteousness and judgment were not exercised and, even worse, wrong judgment proceeded. Habakkuk uses a chilling vocabulary: "grievance (vexation)...spoiling (devastation)...violence...strife…contention...". He was concerned for righteousness. The righteous were in the minority, and therefore proper judgment was not upheld. We are all too familiar with the situation. This is precisely the position in our own land.

We can hear the despondent notes in Habakkuk’s voice. Just listen to his weariness - "how long?"; to his frustration - "wilt not hear"; to his perplexity - "Why dost thou?"; to his indignation - "the wicked doth compass about the righteous". Here, then, is Habakkuk’s problem.

God’s Answer (1.5-11)

Habakkuk had cried, "How long?". God answers, "Now!" "I will work a work in your days."

The certainty of divine judgment (v.5)

"Behold ye among the heathen, and regard...For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans". Prayer had been heard: God was doing something about the situation! It is as if God said, "Stop, Habakkuk. You have used your voice, now use your eyes!" - "Behold...regard". We can be certain that He will always act. He is longsuffering, but He does act. Compare 2 Peter 3.9-10: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come".

This was not quite the answer Habakkuk expected. God was going to use foreigners to correct his people. "Behold ye among the heathen". We might have expected God to intervene in judgment on the judiciary. We might have expected divine intervention by plague, or perhaps the withholding of the dew and rain, as on other occasions (1 Kings 17.1 etc.). We therefore learn (a) that God achieves His purposes in unexpected ways, and (b) that evil, whether in the world or amongst His professing people, will not remain unpunished. God is not inactive when His word is flouted. We must notice His sovereignty in human history. "I raise up the Chaldeans" (v.6). The Babylonian invasion was not a quirk of fate! As we have noticed, Habakkuk would not have to wait too long before it happened: "I will work a work in your days" (v.5). Divine intervention was imminent.

The effect of divine judgment (v.5)

It would cause intense wonder and amazement. "I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you." How would it cause wonder and amazement? Through the Chaldeans, God would bring overwhelming devastation and captivity upon His people. The words, "which ye will not believe", mean, "God wouldn’t do a thing like that! What, use the Chaldeans? Impossible!". People just would not believe the prophet.

This passage is cited in Acts 13.40-41: "Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets: Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you". The reason for coming judgment is found in Acts 13.27: "For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him". Through Habakkuk, God announced the overwhelming destruction of His people, and this was exactly what Paul announced in Acts 13. In the Old Testament, God raised up the Chaldeans to judge His people; in the New Testament, God raised up the Romans.

To be continued.


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