Have you ever finished watching the evening news with all the violence and
injustice in the world and in frustration asked, Why isn’t God doing
something? Why do the wicked and the dishonest people prosper? Why do they get
elected to the White House? Well, that is not a new feeling. A prophet named
Habakkuk felt that way around 620 B.C. and wrote a book about it.
name means to “embrace” or “wrestle.” As is usually the case, his name
has something to do with the message of the book.
I think it
relates to the fact that he was wrestling with a difficult issue. If God is
good, then why is there evil in the world? And if there has to be evil, then why
do the evil prosper? What is God doing in the world?
There is a
similar thought coming from the Israelites in Zephaniah 1:12. They said God did
not do good or evil. They thought God was not involved and so continued in their
one of the good guys. He fears God and does what is right, but it is getting him
Wiersbe entitles his book on Habakkuk as From
Worry to Worship. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls his, “From
Fear to Faith.” While
Habakkuk begins by wondering or worrying about the world around him and God’s
seeming indifference, he ends by worshipping God. When he heard who was
coming 3:16 says he trembled, but he certainly ends up expressing faith by the
end of the book. What they are trying to capture in the titles of their books is
the progression Habakkuk makes from questioning God to trusting God. So let’s
look at how he made that progression.
Habakkuk expresses the attitude that many righteous people have.
He is outraged at the violence and injustice in his society.
He lists six different problems. His list is repetitious, but it
emphasizes just how bad things were.
There was sin, wickedness, destruction and violence, no justice in the
courts, and the wicked outnumbered the righteous. Does this sound like our
In verse 4 he says, "the law is ignored." God's word was no
longer the standard. It is now illegal to have the 10 commandments hang on the
wall in a public school, so I think things are even worse in America.
Habakkuk is preaching against it, but he is having little effect.
Habakkuk raises a good question. Why does evil go unpunished? Why do the wicked
prosper? Why doesn’t God do something?
Look back to verse 2. Habakkuk has been praying. Evidently, he has been
praying for a long time because he says, “How long, O Lord, will I call for
help, And Thou wilt not hear?” He also thinks God is indifferent and inactive.
Some people think that men of faith never question God. They just sit and
wait faithfully and patiently. But one thing we can learn from Habakkuk is that
this is a misconception. Those who trust in God can
and do question God.
God is doing something. He is raising up a foreign nation, the
Babylonians, to come and destroy Judah.
He tells Habakkuk, “You would not believe if you were told.”
Why? Because they are really wicked. They were worse than the Jews.
Verses 6-11 describe just how evil they are. The reason for this
description is to show that they are so powerful, no one can stop them. They
will certainly destroy Judah.
We see in verse 11 that they will be held guilty for their wickedness,
but God is going to use them anyway.
Most of us have been praying for the evil in our society hoping for
revival. What if God sent the Soviet Union or China to conquer America, to
instill communism or a dictatorship, imprison all the Christians, etc. What
would you think about that answer? Would you say God didn’t answer your
This points us to another principle we can learn from Habakkuk. God
doesn’t always give us the answers we want or expect. We usually have it in
our mind how we want God to answer our prayers. When He does it differently, how
do you respond?
What is Habakkuk’s response to the answer?
If all we did were read verses
12-13a, it would look like Habakkuk accepted the answer and was content. But
13bf shows that although he accepts the answer, he doesn’t like the answer.
He began in verse 12 by
claiming that God is eternal.
I think the idea of immutability, that God does not change, is included
here. The fact that God does not change is important because it means God keeps
His promises and He has made promises to Israel. Habakkuk knows that God will
not totally destroy Israel because of his covenantal promises. That is
why he says, “We will not die.”
So, he believes God and trusts God, but he still doesn’t fully
understand the answer. In 13b Habakkuk knows God hates evil and is amazed that
God would use a nation even more wicked than Judah to punish Judah. After all,
even though Judah has her problems, she is still better than the Babylonians.
(At least that was true from man’s perspective.
If you remember Amos, the whole point of Amos was that Israel was worse
than all the rest of the nations because she knew better. She had been given the
law while the Gentiles had not. The same would apply to Judah here. They
weren’t better in God’s eyes.) And God’s answer indicates that things are
going to get worse, not better.
Verse 16 When he says, they offer a sacrifice to their net. The
"net" was the war machine or might of Babylon. The Babylonians thought
it was their own strength, which allowed them to be so successful (cf. 1:11).
They gave no credit to God. Habakkuk wonders how God would allow them to
continue like this. And he asks the question in verse 17.
can we learn from this section?
When you are talking with someone who has just experienced a tragedy,
don’t just tell them “God is good. He loves you and He will work things out
for the best and quote Romans 8:28-29.”
I think it is okay, maybe even necessary to cry with them, hurt with
them, question with them. Help them work through the pain, not ignore it.
Too often, Christians think the questioning part of the process is wrong.
In fact Martin Lloyd-Jones makes that statement in his commentary on Habakkuk.
He says, “There must be no querying, no questioning, no uncertainty
about the goodness and the holiness and power of God.” I disagree. This
is an impossible statement. People have feelings and questions. You either
suppress them or express them.
There is a balance between self-pity, hopeless resignation and staying
mad at God. As usual, the correct response is somewhere in the middle. I think
it was Howard Hendricks whom I once heard say, “Humans only occasionally
achieve balance as they are swinging from one extreme to the other.”
Habakkuk has received one answer, and he had more questions. Now 2:1 says
he is going to expectantly wait for another answer from God. He is searching for
the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables,
that he may run that readeth it. 3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time,
but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it;
because it will surely come, it will not tarry. 4 Behold, his soul which is
lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
5 Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth
at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be
satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:
6 Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting
proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!
how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! 7 Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and
awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them? 8 Because
thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee;
because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of
all that dwell therein. 9 Woe to
him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on
high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! 10 Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting
off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. 11 For the stone shall cry
out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. 12 Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and
stablisheth a city by iniquity! 13
Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very
fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?
14 For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the
LORD, as the waters cover the sea. 15
Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him,
and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness! 16 Thou
art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be
uncovered: the cup of the LORD’S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and
shameful spewing shall be on thy glory. 17
For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which
made them afraid, because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of
the city, and of all that dwell therein. 18 What profiteth the graven image that
the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that
the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?
19 Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise,
it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no
breath at all in the midst of it. 20 But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all
the earth keep silence before him.
Basically God's answer is this: Don't worry about the Babylonians, they
will get theirs too.
He tells Habakkuk to write this down. What is about to happen is so
certain, he should go ahead and record it.
It may seem to tarry (vs 3) but it will happen.
When justice tarries, we have the feeling that it will never come, but
God promises that it will.
It is faith in God, which makes us believe there is light at the end of
the tunnel. It is “the light at the end of the tunnel” which helps us make
It is the pregnant lady’s knowledge that the pregnancy will finally end
that helps her endure. It is the soldiers hope of escape or rescue that helps
him endure as a prisoner of war. It is when there is no hope that people commit
In 2:4 we have a much-quoted verse. God says, "the
just will live by his faith."
Faith is what you believe. Faithfulness is acting according to what
you believe. James deals with this principle in James 2.
What is the faith? It is trusting God for life. We saw this explained in
What does faithfulness look like? It is faithfulness to God's law. It is
following the moral standards of the 10 commandments, which we can summarize as
“loving God” and “loving one’s neighbor.”
There were still righteous people in Judah. There is always a remnant and
God always preserves them in the midst of his judgment. We see this point
repeated in several of the prophets. This verse tells them and Habakkuk what
they need to do.
Verse 2:5. Babylon is compared to a drunkard whose appetite for more wine
is never satisfied. In fact, the Babylonians were famous for their drunkenness.
It was during one of their drinking parties that the Cyrus and the
Persians were able to sneak into the city and defeat the Babylonians.
The Babylonians were never content with the size of their empire. They tried to
conquer more and more. Only a relationship with God can satisfy.
I think there is an important concept to think about in verses 4-5. The
proud person puts himself first and goes out using and abusing others. In
contrast the righteous have humility and put others before self and do things
for the good of others.
Next, Habakkuk gives a series of "Woe" oracles to describe how
bad Babylon is. But he doesn’t mention Babylon in these descriptions.
He may have done that so that they would be taken more as a universal
principle or description of evil. We can relate to many of the descriptions that
he gives. There is a progression here. I think among the first four, one sin
leads to the next.
to the Proud 2:4-5
Woe to the
Woe to the
Woe to the
Woe to the
Woe to the
The proud person thinks they deserve better. They want more. They will do
anything to get it.
The Sensual person is searching for fulfillment through experiences -
The Idolater looks to everything else but God to make life work. These
characteristics certainly apply to the 20th century.
Verses 2:16-17 show that their time for judgment would come too.
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.
2 O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy
work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath
remember mercy. 3 God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah.
His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.
4 And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his
hand: and there was the hiding of his power.
5 Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his
feet. 6 He stood, and measured the
earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains
were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. 7 I saw
the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did
tremble. 8 Was the LORD
displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath
against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of
salvation? 9 Thy bow was made quite
naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst
cleave the earth with rivers. 10
The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed
by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. 11 The sun and
moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went,
and at the shining of thy glittering spear.
12 Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh
the heathen in anger. 13 Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people,
even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house
of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah.
14 Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages:
they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the
poor secretly. 15 Thou didst walk
through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters. 16 When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the
voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might
rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade
them with his troops. 17 Although
the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour
of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be
cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and
he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my
In chapter one Habakkuk was low. He was despairing because of the evil
In chapter two he goes up to the watchtower to wait for the second
Now, in chapter three, we see him praising God
And the last phrase of the book is “and makes me walk on my high
places.” The book is Habakkuk’s steady progression upwards (spiritually)
Habakkuk now understands and offers a prayer of praise because God is in
for mercy in the midst of the judgment (1-2).
He is afraid of what is coming. He knows it will be awful. Undoubtedly he will suffer too. Maybe personally, but at least through witnessing the death and destruction of those around him.
God's majesty and power (3-15).
to wait on the Lord (16-19).
What is coming is frightening, but he commits himself to wait and trust in God.
: At the beginning of the book I mentioned that Habakkuk’s name meant
“embrace” or “wrestle.” We’ve see him wrestle with the tough
questions, but what is his final response? To embrace God and trust in Him.
sometimes seems to be inactive, but He is involved.
1:12 showed that the Babylonians were under God’s control, and He was using
them to achieve His purposes.
is holy. In 1:13 Habakkuk said that
God could not approve evil. This should be a sobering thought to us as we
struggle with temptations, sins, bad habits (which is a euphemism for sins),
hears and answers prayers.
sometimes gives unexpected answers to our prayers.
When we pray, we usually have in our minds the way we want God to answer. When
He answers differently, we think He hasn’t answered at all.
is Just and God is Good. He will
judge the wicked and he is concerned for the righteous.
righteous live by faith and faithfulness. This means we really believe that God is Good and God is just. And we
live accordingly. What are some situations where you might need to do that?
church? Instead of changing churches when things don’t go your way or there
are problems, perhaps you need be faithful to that church and try to minister to
them. That may not be the best option, but it needs to be considered.
Marriage? If a person is having troubles in marriage the current way of dealing
with it is to get a divorce. But the righteous and correct way to deal with the
problem is to remain faithful to the spouse and work it out. Even if it is never
worked out, you remain faithful to the spouse. (Eg. Hosea.)
summary, I think the message of Habakkuk is very comforting to us because we
live in a wicked society. We can look back at what Habakkuk wrote, see that it
came true, that God really is in control, that God did protect the righteous
even though they went to Babylon (eg. Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego)
and He eventually brought them back to the land. Therefore, my faith in God can
be bolstered by the prophecy and historical events that show God’s word is
is not just gee whiz information designed to tell us what is going to happen in
the future. It is good for my heart because it helps me see that God is in
control and God is going to preserve His people. It brings comfort for now and
hope for the future.
 Wiersbe, From Worry to Worship, p. 8.
 Some people take this to mean that the Babylonians were not a major power at that time and therefore Habakkuk was written earlier during Assyrian prominence. But the phrase “you won’t believe it ...” probably just refers to the fact that it is amazing that God would use such a wicked nation. Therefore, although the book does not give the date directly, we can assume the date is some time before the Chaldeans (1:6) invaded Jerusalem in 605 BC, and some time after the Chaldeans became famous as an oppressive world power. That would place the writing of the book somewhere between 605 and 625 BC.
 This is really only true as man sees things. The message of Amos 1-3 is that God thinks Israel is worse than the surrounding nations because Israel had special revelation and should have known better. Their sins, however, did not look as bad as those of the surrounding nations.
 Lloyd-Jones, From Fear to Faith, p. 50.
 Nobody is sure what this phrase, “that the one who reads it may run” means. It could mean, write it big “on a sign” so someone hurrying by could read it. It could mean - write it simply so someone reading it fast could understand. It might mean - write it down so those who read it can run tell others. One might think it is saying - write it down so those who read it may flee the Babylonians. But we know from Jeremiah that they were not supposed to flee the Babylonians. Those who fled, died. Those who stayed and took their discipline, lived. Anyway, this is just another one of those inscrutable sayings. Maybe it just means - write it down so that, when the time comes, you will know that the judgment is from God, not just fate.
 F.C. Cook, editor, The Holy Bible with Commentary, VI, 665. Cited from “An Exposition of Habakkuk,” Gordon Rasmussen, DTS Thesis, 1956. p. 47.
 Not technically a woe. The word is hinneh which means “look” not hoy which means “alas.”