Summary: It seemed as if the Lord would not even lift a finger to save the righteous from the oppression of violent men. And so, Habakkuk wanted to know why God wouldn’t listen, why God wouldn’t help, and why God even tolerated all this.
Habakkuk’s Disturbing Burden
The story is told of a man who was washed up on a small, uninhabited island after being the only survivor of a shipwreck. Every day the man prayed feverishly for God to help him. Every day he sat at the beach, scanning the horizon, waiting and wondering if he would be rescued. And every day, there was nary a ship in sight.
The man became quite skilled in the art of survival. In fact, he even managed to construct a shelter out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements and to keep his few possessions clean and dry.
One day, after returning from his lookout on the beach, the man discovered that his hut was in flames and smoke was billowing up to the sky. His shelter from the outside elements was completely destroyed along with all his possessions.
The man was devastated, stunned with grief and anger. He had been marooned for weeks on this island, alone and gradually losing hope. Now he had nothing left. “God, how long must I suffer on this island?” he cried. “Why did you let this happen? What am I supposed to do now?” These questions weighed on his mind like a heavy burden.
A dreadful thing had occurred. The man was worse off now than he was before. His circumstances just didn’t make any sense at all. In his despair, the man returned to his lookout on the beach and waited to see what would happen next.
The Burden Defined:
The prophet Habakkuk was burdened by these same questions. The book of Habakkuk was written during one of the darkest periods of Jewish history. The Northern tribes of Israel had already been defeated by the Assyrian army. You would think that the Southern tribes of Judah would be more concerned about following God’s Law after seeing the consequences of God’s judgment on Israel.
Not so. The situation in Judah was treacherous. From Habakkuk’s point of view, sin was abounding everywhere. Habakkuk had seen iniquity and wickedness. He had observed destruction and violence. He had seen strife and contention. He had seen the total corruption of his people as well as the consequences of that corruption.
The situation in Judah seemed just as bad as the deplorable conditions which existed on the earth prior to the Flood. Wickedness and violence seemed to go unchecked. The wicked outnumbered the righteous and forced their will on them. They attacked and punished the righteous.
The righteous were innocent of wrongdoing. There was no legal protection for innocent people who were sentenced as guilty. The courts were manipulated by selfish lawyers and cruel officials. In fact, the power of the government was used to victimize the innocent. Justice was perverted by bribes and prejudice.
The whole nation was suffering because of the evils of government. The righteous seemed to be locked up and the judicial tyrants had thrown away the key. Wickedness was the uncontested victor. The situation in Habakkuk’s day was indeed disturbing.
Habakkuk’s concern erupted into a series of complaints to God. It seemed as if the Lord would not even lift a finger to save the righteous from the oppression of violent men. And so, Habakkuk wanted to know why God wouldn’t listen. Habakkuk wanted to know why God wouldn’t help. And Habakkuk wanted to know why God even tolerated all this. “Why doesn’t God hear? Why doesn’t God do something? Does God even care?” Habakkuk wondered. God seemed so idle, so indifferent, so insensitive. It just didn’t make any sense at all.
Even today, it may seem that the sovereignty and grace of God is lost in the depths of human pessimism and despair. We look out on our world and see war and terrorism. Despot rulers hold nations hostage. Suicide bombers kill innocent people. Christians are martyred throughout African and Asian countries. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and other catastrophes kill vast multitudes of people.
We look at our own nation and see the wickedness that seems to run rampant. God’s standards are ignored or altogether eliminated. The law is not enforced. Judicial tyrants pervert justice. The righteous are oppressed. In fact, even in our own nation, several legal cases involve situations in which the rights of Christians are being compromised.
For example, a second-grade student in New Jersey was told that she could not sing “Awesome God” in an after-school talent show. An Arizona pastor was ordered to stop holding meetings or Bible studies in his private home. Five men were threatened with arrest for sharing their faith on a public sidewalk in Virginia. A nurse at a hospital in New York was forced to participate in a late-term abortion, even though her workplace had agreed in writing to honor her religious convictions. A university student in Missouri was threatened with having her degree withheld because she refused to write a letter to the state legislature expressing her support for homosexual adoption.