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Habakkuk 1:1–4; 2:1–4

30 October 2022

Exploring the Scripture

The early prophets each had their understanding of the reasons Israel and Judah suffered conquest and exile. Isaiah proposed God was not only punishing the people for their faithlessness, but also refining and purifying them, so a faithful remnant would be spared. Ezekiel affirmed that God was punishing the people for their offenses, and therefore their suffering was deserved and understandable.

Other prophets said God was disciplining or teaching the people. Habakkuk, on the other hand, cries out against not only the injustice the Jews visit on one another, but also the injustice of God’s chosen method of punishing them by allowing the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to conquer. He loathes the injustice perpetrated on the wider world by the Babylonian armies.

The Book of Habakkuk begins with a conversation between God and the prophet. Habakkuk demands to know how long God will turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the violence, destruction, and conflict the Jews perpetrate on one another. God doesn’t seem to be listening or paying attention while people ignore laws and pervert judgments.

Although the rest of chapter 1 is not part of today’s lectionary passage, it is important to understand what occurred before the beginning of chapter 2. In verses 5–11, God answers that he will punish the Jews for their injustice by using the Chaldeans to conquer them. With graphic detail, God outlines the fearful power, violence, and warring efficiency of the Chaldeans, praising them as the perfect tool to punish the Jews.

Horrified, Habakkuk protests God’s use of a pagan nation to discipline God’s holy people. While his words uphold God’s power and authority to do whatever God wishes to do, the prophet subtly tries to convince God the intended punishment is more evil than the injustice of the Jews. He says God is too holy to see clearly how terrible and wicked the Babylonians are.

Chapter 2 opens with Habakkuk standing on his watchtower to see what unfolds under the will of God. He made his complaint to God and now must trust in God’s just response. God assures his prophet an inspired answer is coming, but he must wait in faith, even when circumstances are difficult.

If Habakkuk is patient and faithful, everything will be made clear and understandable when the time is right. In partial answer to the prophet’s protest, God assures Habakkuk the proud (and faithless) Babylonians will not always be strong and victorious. The day will come when God will humble them and punish them for the wickedness they perform on other nations.

Today’s passage opens with the question, “O Lord, how long…?” (v. 2). Our passage ends without an answer. The time will be in God’s hands, and we must simply wait in faith.

Habakkuk is among those who no longer find satisfactory answers to the old covenant explanation of suffering. The concept that if you are disobedient, you will be cursed (punished), is inadequate to explain the extreme pain and horror of conquest, devastation, and exile.

Among the writings of Job, Ecclesiastes, and apocalypse, the question of God’s relation to suffering continues to surface. Throughout the Hebrew writings, there is no satisfactory answer. God alone understands the “why” of suffering. 

Central Ideas

  1. Habakkuk protests the injustice among the Jews, the injustice of the Babylonian conquerors, and the injustice of God using the Babylonians to punish the Jews.
  2. Having cried his complaint (lament) to God, Habakkuk is willing to wait and watch for a reply.
  3. God doesn’t provide a timeline for justice, or an answer to the injustice of using conquest as a tool for discipline.
  4. God reminds the prophet the righteous live by faith, even when circumstances are difficult and the result unclear.

Questions to Consider

  1. When have you felt like protesting against the injustice you see in the world? What did you do?
  2. Do you believe God uses armies, conquest, and war as tools to punish the wicked? Why or why not? How does Habakkuk’s struggle mirror our own?
  3. What does it mean to be “righteous” in today’s world? What does it mean to “live by faith”? How successful are we at being righteous and living by faith?

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