A study of Habakkuk’s encounter with God. [i]
Wrestling, Round 1, Part 2
In Part 1 of this first round in the wrestling match between Habakkuk and God, Habakkuk has expressed in no uncertain terms his frustration with the wickedness of the people and his impatience with the what appears to be the apathetic response of God.
In the second part of Round 1, God answers Habakkuk’s complaint. As we will see from his response, Habakkuk had no idea of what God was about to reveal in His response to Habakkuk’s plea for action.
You can read God’s answer in Habakkuk 1:5-11, but, if I may be permitted, I am going to take some liberty here and paraphrase God’s words for dramatic purposes.
“Keep watching because I have a plan for dealing with the sin and iniquity and injustice of this nation. When you see my answer, it is going to astound you. You will not believe it even when you see it happen. Habakkuk, you may want to sit down before I tell you the rest.
“Moses warned you earlier of my intentions, but either you ignored it or you have simply forgotten. If you remember he wrote, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” (Deut. 32:31)
With this preamble and in light of his already excited estate, you might imagine that Habakkuk’s anxiety may be nearing its peak. Instead of hearing a message of compassion, salvation and deliverance, he gets a message of judgment and destruction through means no prophet could ever have imagined.
The Lord’s answer to the violence and wickedness of Israel is the application of even more violence and wickedness. It is the principle of lex talionis, the legal term for “an eye for an eye,” the law of retribution.
The Lord is sovereign, not just over Israel, but over all the nations of the world, including the Chaldeans, more familiar to us as Babylon. He has chosen Babylon to achieve His purpose of judging and disciplining his chosen people, Israel.
“My answer to this problem of iniquity and sin within the nation will come from outside of the nation. So look – keep your eyes open. It will come without warning from a direction you did not expect. It is such a dramatic thing, that even when I tell you, you won’t believe it.
“Habakkuk, here is how I am going to solve the iniquity and idolatry of Israel. I am already at work raising up the Chaldeans – the Babylonians – who will march over the land and destroy it entirely.
“I have chosen as my instrument of righteous judgment the most wicked, the most vile, the most prideful people that have ever populated the earth.
“They will sweep over the land of Israel like a hot, burning eastern wind straight off of the desert and will carry the people off into captivity like grains of sand.”
In verses 7-11, God goes on to detail what will happen during the fulfillment of the vision. He relates how proud and how dreaded and fearsome these Chaldeans are, scoffing at kings and covering the earth as a violent sandstorm. He recounts the methods they will use to destroy and punish Israel, riding horses swifter than leopards and eagles. The point is that, not only will God’s judgment be swift and horrible; it will be unstoppable.
If we were to put this prophecy in modern-day terminology, it would be as if a contemporary pastor stood in the pulpit and announced that God had said that the USA would be destroyed in the very near future by the forces of Iran.
At this point, I believe Habakkuk had become a bit apoplexic. He probably felt his heart pounding in his chest and his breathing shortened due to the unexpectedness of such a pronouncement.
This was nothing like he had ever heard and nothing like what he had expected. This pronouncement from God ran counter to everything he and all of Israel believed.
Habakkuk’s questions might have brought to light a national crisis, but God’s pronouncement created a theological crisis. It was the same response that Israel had to the teachings of Jesus.
They had believed a particular way for so long, that even when God himself told them they were wrong, they refused to accept it because it contradicted all that they had previously been taught and had believed.
Yet God is not finished.
He wants Habakkuk and all of Israel to know that the Babylonians are His chosen instrument. They will carry out the destruction and perform the acts of evil, but it will be as a result of God’s sovereign design. This is what God meant in verse 5 when He said, “I (God) am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
These verses reveal to us something of how God works. He achieves His sovereign will and eternal purpose through the willful decisions of men, yet holds men accountable for those decisions.
The Babylonians have no consciousness that Jehovah God has already chosen them as His instrument of judgment and discipline of the nation of Judah. In the minds of the Chaldeans, they will not come on Judah as disciplinarians. By the exercise of their own wills, they will come down hard on Judah as conquerors.
Yet God makes it clear that He will hold them accountable and will judge them as guilty for this decision that they are making of their own volition.
Their own success will fill the Chaldeans with pride – so much so that they will begin to see themselves as gods, and thus be guilty of idolatry, the same sin for which God will punish the nation of Israel. There is in this pronouncement a statement that God will not tolerate idolatry from anyone – from either His own people or their enemies.
Carl E. Armerding:
The Lord’s sovereignty over the Babylonians, whom he has raised up, is thus implied for the corresponding situation in Judah (vv. 2-4). Evil and calamity do not exist independent of the sovereign rule and redemptive purpose of God…but this truth is apprehended only by faith in God as he reveals himself…The truth applies equally to Judah or Babylon: the Lord’s judgment of sin in his own people is thus extended to the same sime among the Babylonians…The sovereignty of God does not eliminate human accountability…(The character of the Babylonians) was rooted in a self-sufficiency that acknowledged no superior authority and no dependency, which was tantamount to self-deification. [ii]
By their very character, the Babylonians had usurped the place of God. Their source for justice and honor came, not from God – the standard-bearer of all that is righteous – but from within themselves.
The Babylonians were guilty because their strength became their god. There was no respect for accountability to any authority higher than themselves and no recognition of the need for repentance, “even while violating the most fundamental order of created life.”
Verse 11 – the final verse in this first round – is a statement of hope, because God is letting Israel know that, though this time of discipline will be hard, it will not last forever. There is the seed of deliverance and redemption planted in His words.
Habakkuk expected – even required – a pronouncement of judgment against the people of Israel because of their wickedness. However, God’s method of judgment was a hard saying to bear – for Habakkuk, for the nation of Israel, and probably even a hard saying for most of us today.
Our reaction to such a hard message is very much the same as that of Habakkuk. We struggle to understand things that we have not been taught or have been taught incorrectly or incompletely. Therefore, we argue our point and, when we still cannot understand, we simply choose to ignore it or condemn the teacher as a false prophet.
Like most of us, Habakkuk was looking for a simple answer that would speak of the love and the care of God for His people. He was quick to reject any concept of God that did not fit his preconceived idea of how God is supposed to act based on all those things he had been taught before.
This was a lesson that he did not know if he could take and certainly one that he would have a difficult time relating to the people. Nevertheless, Habakkuk realized that God had called him to be a prophet to the nation, and he could not ignore it.
Because of that, he pitched into round two of his wrestling match with God.
[i] Picture source: pixabay.com
[ii] Armerding, Carl E., “Habakkuk,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8, p. 613. I removed several Scripture references from the quote to make it easier to read.