Summary: God teaches us to trust in him and in his Son our Saviour. God tells us that anxious care and bitter sighing won’t help. Discontentment will get us nowhere, but only humble trust and steadfast faith.
Have you ever felt like complaining against the LORD? Maybe you’ve prayed and prayed, but the answer that you wanted hasn’t come. Or you don’t like what God has brought into your life: lots of disappointment, lots of frustration. Or maybe you look at all the wickedness in the world, and you fear that God is sleeping on the job. So you want to complain. Maybe you have complained. But are we allowed to?
Keep that question in mind as we turn to Habakkuk. This is a unique book in Scripture, because we’re allowed to see development in the prophet—we might say that there’s a growth in faith. The first two chapters are a dialogue with God, where Habakkuk lets loose his complaints. He begins forcefully, “O LORD, how long shall I cry?” (1:2). He’s upset, because he sees evil among God’s people. The church is full of hypocrites, and it looks like God’s letting them get away with it!
But then his complaint changes. For Habakkuk learns that God has plans to punish his people, and He’s going to use the Chaldeans to do it. For the prophet, it’s now a question of justice. Because weren’t the pagan Chaldeans far worse than God’s covenant people? Why should heathens get the pleasure of terrorizing God’s children?
You might think that Habakkuk’s a hard man to keep happy, running from one complaint to the next. A lot like us, actually! If it’s not this, then it’s the other. But God answers the prophet, an answer that’s essential for us also to listen to. The LORD calls Habakkuk to that hardest of activities, the most challenging thing when things are tough and life is unsettled: to trust. To rest yourself in the perfect character of God. To believe his promises, no matter what.
And that’s the growth we see in Habakkuk by the time we reach the beautiful chapter 3. It’s the prophet’s closing words: after beginning with an attitude of demanding complaint, he ends with a spirit of humble submission. This is our theme based on Habakkuk 2:2-4,
Through Habakkuk, God calls His people to the hard work of trust:
1) waiting for His promises to be fulfilled
2) resisting the arrogance of the proud
3) living in the humility of faith
1) waiting for promises to be fulfilled: Sometimes people will say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Because sometimes the things that we think we want, can end up being more trouble than we expected.
That’s probably how Habakkuk felt. We said that he first complained against the sin of his own people. And rightfully so, “For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises… the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth” (1:3-4). As a prophet, Habakkuk had to expose these things in Israel, to admonish and warn. Habakkuk took this part of his calling very seriously—he couldn’t stand seeing this evil! He’s ready to witness God’s judgment on the church.
But that righteous indignation gets toned down after the LORD’s first reply. “You’re sick of hypocrisy in Israel?” says God, “Well, so am I!” Therefore, “‘I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation, which marches through the breadth of the earth’” (1:6). Those mighty armies will come, and bring destruction to the land of Judah.
This isn’t what Habakkuk expected. It’s more than he bargained for—indeed, it’s more than he can understand. Which is why he makes that second complaint, when he says: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (1:13). To send the wicked Chaldeans seemed below God, like it was out of keeping with his holiness.
Let’s think of a modern equivalent. What if God raised up some activist Muslim group and brought them against us? What if they persecuted this congregation and closed down our building? Or what if the church lost some of our freedoms to a government without regard for the LORD? Wouldn’t that seem totally unfair? Wouldn’t it seem like God was tolerating evil to the harm of his own people? We would complain too. What’s God doing?
Habakkuk wants an answer to this thorny question, so he says in 2:1, “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me.” He’s going to wait for God to speak, and clear up this unfortunate situation. And in his mercy the LORD does give his prophet an answer. Is it a tidy answer? Is it one that ties up every loose end, and makes God’s ways seem perfectly logical? That’s the kind of answer we want: straightforward and simple. But God doesn’t give it.
The answer comes in God’s revelation, starting in verse 2. He orders his prophet, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets” (v 2). There’s a few things to notice here. First, it’s a vision that the LORD gives to Habakkuk. We’re not always told how the Old Testament prophets received their messages from God—sometimes it was in a dream, sometimes it was by a voice, and sometimes it was through a vision (like here): when the prophet is still awake and able to see things unfolding before his eyes.