Summary: Habakkuk was perplexed why god seemed inactive when both church and state of Israel was corrupt but was assured that God was working his purposes out.
Do you sometimes get frustrated? If so, you’re not alone. The prophet Habakkuk did! The golden days for Israel when King David and King Solomon ruled a united and prosperous nation were long gone. The nation had split in two and was held in scorn by its powerful neighbours. But what was worse, it had lapsed into heathen practices.
Habakkuk was in a minority of those who still held to the old truths of God’s revelation to Abraham and Moses, but it was hard to be a servant of Jehovah. Everywhere he looked there was violence and corruption in church and state. Justice and honesty were regarded as being old-fashioned. Habakkuk could stand it no longer! There was a pressure building up in his spirit and like a volcano which suddenly erupts, Habakkuk’s frustration exploded into words which astonished his hearers, "O Lord", he cried, "how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?" (1:2). It’s almost an accusation of God’s indifference, but in reality it was a confession of the prophet’s momentarily wavering faith.
I’m sure Habakkuk felt better after his probing, perhaps impertinent question to his God - at least it relieved the tension! Faith in God is a developing experience and its pathway sometimes comes across rough stretches when hard questions have to be asked. Habakkuk asked this question of God, not because he didn’t ultimately trust God, but because he was honest before him. Faith is all about relationship, and for a relationship to survive it must be real. God has no time for those who are merely acting a part in their religion - Jesus called those people hypocrites. So, if we are believers, we must be honest; and if we are honest there will be times when there will be questions to ask, even doubts to express. Habakkuk had his.
The problem that nagged Habakkuk is one that confronts all believers in God. Why does God allow evil to continue? In Habakkuk’s time it took the form of God’s apparent inactivity in a world of increasing wickedness. This is how Habakkuk summed it up: "the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails" (1:4). It’s the old problem that the Christian finds hard to answer: Why does the wicked prosper and always gets away with it and God never seems to intervene? Why does God tolerate the false religions and cults? Why does he permit the tremendous inequalities that exist in the world? The famine, the suffering? If we want modern day examples we have only to think of Darfur in Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Why didn’t God appear to be listening to Habakkuk’s cry for help? Was God unmoved by the injustice and wrongdoing? Why, oh why?
But then a word from the Lord comes to Habakkuk telling him that he is to "look among the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed." (1:5). God was working out Habakkuk’s problems even as he uttered his words. How? God’s solution was in a most unexpected means. It was through the invading army of the Chaldeans, poised to sweep through the countries of the whole region, including the Assyrians who were the traditional enemies of Israel.
We must never underestimate the power of God. In the last decades we’ve seen how the Communist regimes have crumbled. I stayed at a hotel in Monaco and was surprised to see a chunk of the infamous Berlin Wall as part of its decorations! It seemed impossible that the cruel East German regime could collapse almost overnight and the same happened with the Soviet Union - but they did! God went on to say to Habakkuk, "I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told" (1:5). Let’s never lose hope of seemingly impossible situations - God can do it again and again! He can do it in this Church; he can do it in our lives.
God’s message startled Habakkuk and his people, but eventually what had been predicted was confirmed by travellers from the East. The Chaldeans were the rising force and what terrible stories were told of their brutality and ruthlessness. But it posed a problem: how could a holy God consider using such unholy and idolatrous instruments to do his will? Habakkuk puts the question like this: "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" (1:13). It’s a good question!
Habakkuk looked at this problem but he could see no light. He was faced with the fact that God was going to take up those appalling Chaldeans, people altogether worse than his own nation, and was going to use them for his own purpose. God sometimes uses evil people to accomplish His purposes. But He never condones evil, and those who do evil He holds accountable for their actions.