Summary: Be careful what you ask for when you make a complaint to God. Sometimes God delays bringing justice to the world because the price is so high. Sometimes justice is brought about by unjust people. Be prepared to let God decide when's the right time to act.
The cry for justice is a common occurrence in our world isn't it? Injustice takes place at all sorts of levels and we wonder, why does God allow it? It's like what we saw in Psalm 73 a few weeks ago. Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the powerful get away with taking advantage of the weak and helpless? Why doesn't God do something about it if he's the good and powerful God that we think he is?
Those are the sorts of questions that Habakkuk struggles with as he looks at the nation of Israel. And as we'll see in a moment there's an even more difficult question that needs answering. That's the question that arises when we see evildoers being punished at the hands of those who are just as evil if not more so.
We occasionally see on the news stories of bikie gang members being shot by members of rival gangs and you think that's justice - yet it's justice carried out by someone whose as wicked as the one receiving the punishment.
It's sometime around the end of the 7th century BC. The nation has gone through a period of revival under Josiah but now he's dead and the rich and powerful are back to their old tricks.
Habakkuk describes himself as a prophet, that is someone who brings a message from God to the nation, yet his prophecy turns out to be a dialogue between him and God. As you read through it you may notice certain parallels between this and the book of Job. Habakkuk sees injustice and he turns to God and complains bitterly. God replies. Then Habakkuk complains further.
And what is it he's complaining about? Violence! And God's apparent disinterest. He says “2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?” Notice he isn't asking for God to save. Clearly he's been doing that for some time. No, he's asking God what's going on? What's the hold-up? Surely this is something that God wants - to see justice in the land. So why doesn't he do something about it?
And then we see something else about this complaint. He says: “3Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.” The violence here isn't being done to him; he's just an onlooker seeing its effect on other people. But it's such that it causes him distress.
What is this violence that he's so concerned about? Well, the other prophets may give us an idea. They speak about the rich and powerful taking advantage of their power to steal land, to enslave poor people, to increase their wealth through unfair trade arrangements or through bribery and corruption.
And here we see a similar thing. Those two words, strife and contention are both legal words. It implies that these people are using the law to wrong those who either don't understand it or simply don't have the wherewithal to fight their case. Sounds familiar doesn't it? What happens when the legal aid system has its budget cut so poor people can't afford to go to court any more or can't afford to be defended by a barrister?
What happens when the rich and powerful become the ones who control the legal system; when it's the people in authority who are the wrongdoers and manipulators of the justice system?
He tells us in v4: “4So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous- therefore judgment comes forth perverted.”
Habakkuk's reference to the law here may refer to the Book of the Law that Josiah found in the Temple, which initiated his reforms of the nation. But now the manipulation of the rich and powerful has even countered those reforms. The law has been paralysed. And so he complains to God. Surely the book of the law, as God's law given to his people, should be one of the things that God cares most about. So why does he let it be made impotent, paralysed by the violence of evil people? Why is justice, the determining of the straight and narrow, why is it allowed to be twisted, perverted?
It's a good question isn't it? It's a question that people have long asked. Why is God so slow to act when evil appears to be triumphing.
Well, God gives Habakkuk an answer, though it's probably not the one he was hoping for.
He begins by telling Habakkuk to look and see; to watch what's about to happen. And it's going to be a shock. He says: “Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.”