Today: [Habakkuk 1] Why God Doesn’t Always Deliver. In our introduction to Habakkuk, the prophet sees the coming invasion of the Babylonians, and questions God as to how He could ever allow such monumental suffering among His people. These are the same questions we ask ourselves during times of difficulty, therefore Habakkuk is a very relevant study for anyone facing contradiction to God’s promise in their lives.
[Hab 1:1-17 KJV] 1 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. 2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! [even] cry out unto thee [of] violence, and thou wilt not save! 3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause [me] to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence [are] before me: and there are [that] raise up strife and contention. 4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth. 5 Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for [I] will work a work in your days, [which] ye will not believe, though it be told [you]. 6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, [that] bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces [that are] not theirs. 7 They [are] terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves. 8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle [that] hasteth to eat. 9 They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up [as] the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. 10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it. 11 Then shall [his] mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, [imputing] this his power unto his god. 12 [Art] thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. 13 [Thou art] of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, [and] holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth [the man that is] more righteous than he? 14 And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, [that have] no ruler over them? 15 They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion [is] fat, and their meat plenteous. 17 Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?
The book of Habakukk was written by the prophet of that name around 605 BC. We can estimate the time it was authored as it clearly speaks of the impending invasion of the southern kingdom by the Babylonians. By fixing the date at such a time, we can see that it falls historically after the time of Nahum, when the Babylonian kingdom is a rising power and the Assyrian kingdom is waning and about to be extinguished. It is thought that Habakukk lived in the south, possibly in Jerusalem during the time of Jehoiakim, the third in the last three kings of the line of Judah before the captivity. He was likely then a contemporary, with Jeremiah, and Daniel.
Traditions hold that Habakukk may have been the son of the Shunamite woman, who was barren and promised a son by the prophet Elisha, and was later raised to life by him. One non-biblical story depicts Habakkuk being translated from Judea to Babylon the night that Daniel was cast into the lion’s den. Habakkuk takes a meal to Daniel, speaks to him briefly and then is translated back to his home in Judah. We cannot prove any of these stories of Habakkuk’s origin by they reflect ancient beliefs about him and add color to his account, which gives little or no information of who this man is, or where he came from.
The theme of the book of Habakkuk is that of the prophet arguing with God because he doesn’t understand how the Father would allow the Babylonians to overrun Judah, destroy the temple and sack the city of Jerusalem. This has not taken place at the time of Habakkuk’s writing, but it all but a foregone conclusion as there is no avoiding the dominance of Babylon in the region, and their obvious intent to take the southern kingdom of Judah by conquest. In v. 1 Habakkuk is complaining that God does not answer his questions, even though violence and death are impending over the city of Jerusalem like a dread specter. It is unthinkable to Habakkuk that God would allow such a terrible thing to happen. He acknowledges that the kingdom of Judah is corrupt and cruel, but contends that the mercilessness of the Babylonians is so much worse, why would God allow Judah to fall to them?
God’s answer to Habakkuk in v. 5-6 do not address the prophet’s contention, but simply state that He has raised up the Chaldeans, as a bitter and hasty nation and that they will march on Judah and completely destroy it. For Habakkuk to prophesy such things is very dangerous, as Jeremiah was cast into the king’s dungeon and starved veritably to death for saying the same things. To the king and the ruling elite of the city of Jerusalem, this was treason, and Habakkuk would have realized this, yet faithfully declares the account of His conversation with God about what is coming.
In the first part of the chapter he describes the violence and deceit of the nation of Judah, contrasting it by pale comparison in v. 9 to the utter abandonment to violence, cruelty and brutality that typified the armies of Babylon in every nation that they invaded. In other empires, when nations fell the conquerors would respect their traditions and laws in order to make the fallen people more manageable for their occupying armies. The Babylonians were different in this respect as v. 10-11 describe, showing absolutely no respect for fallen kings or their laws, and showing no mercy to vanquished peoples. All of these cruelties were perpetrated as v. 11 states, because they felt that the gods they served empowered the Babylonians to do no less. Habakkuk objects to the pagan beliefs of the Babylonians in v. 12 asking God “are you not from everlasting, O Lord?”. In using the name “Lord” Habakkuk is invoking the covenant name of God, reminding Him that He has obligated Himself to preserve and defend the people of Israel, which as far as Habakkuk was concerned, wasn’t happening.
Thus, we come to the crux of the issue that the book of Habakkuk centers on, which is why does God seem to fail to act in times that we think His promises have failed us? The people of Judah saw themselves as God’s covenant people. They knew that the promise to David was that a king would sit on the throne of Israel forever, yet now the fall of Jerusalem was immanent, and no deliverance from the hand of God was forthcoming. Habakkuk’s challenge to God, (while admitting that the people were cruel and sinful) was how could God let this happen? These are questions that we all ask during times of difficulty. We all experience in our lives gaps of contradiction between what God has promised and what we are experiencing at any given time.
Sometimes things take place that are final in nature and God has not come to our aid. Some teachings, by cowardly leaders simply suggest that God’s ways are mysterious, and even though (allegedly) there is no question that the sufferer is a good and godly person, nonetheless God saw fit in His inscrutable sovereignty to suspend the clear promise of His word from some ineffable purpose. This is a very common teaching today but does it hold water? The prophet Isaiah addresses this very question when prophesying about the same impending invasion that is about to take place in Habakkuk’s day:
[Isa 59:1-16 KJV] 1 Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: 2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid [his] face from you, that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness. 4 None calleth for justice, nor [any] pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity. 5 They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper. 6 Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works [are] works of iniquity, and the act of violence [is] in their hands. 7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts [are] thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction [are] in their paths. 8 The way of peace they know not; and [there is] no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. 9 Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, [but] we walk in darkness. 10 We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if [we had] no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; [we are] in desolate places as dead [men]. 11 We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but [there is] none; for salvation, [but] it is far off from us. 12 For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions [are] with us; and [as for] our iniquities, we know them; 13 In transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. 14 And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. 15 Yea, truth faileth; and he [that] departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw [it], and it displeased him that [there was] no judgment. 16 And he saw that [there was] no man, and wondered that [there was] no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.
Notice what v. 16 concludes: the sin condition is what occasions human suffering, therefore because there was NO MAN who could rightfully inherit the unbroken protections of God because man is inherently sinful, God will send a savior to accomplish the deliverance that man under the law could not earn or be worthy of. The nation of Judah was sold under sin because of transgression. They are under the law and as Gal. 3:24 tells us, the law was our school master to bring us to Christ. These things that befell the Old Testament peoples (1 Cor. 10:11) happen to them to demonstrate to you and I that we cannot save ourselves, we cannot merit our own deliverance, that only the Christ and the righteousness of Christ is salvation merited and extended.
Therefore, when we suffer, and in our minds, contend that it is unjust, we must remember the words of Isaiah, reflected as well in the book of Romans, that there is none righteous, no not one other than through the shed blood of Calvary. We must then be willing to examine ourselves during times of duress, to see if we are in the faith, and be willing to transparently see our shortcomings and repent in humility and honesty before God. This is utterly repugnant to most Christians, who are so averse to having repented once to receive salvation are loathe to repent on an ongoing basis, rather choosing to believe that the shed blood of Christ constitutes a cloak or a pass on all behaviors that come after. In Habakkuk’s contention with God, he doesn’t deny the sinfulness of the people, he just thinks God should overlook that and spare them anyway – which God declines to do – outside of Christ. Sin must have its penalty, which is why ultimately Jesus came to stand in between us and the consequences of human iniquity.
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