Bible Text: Habakkuk 1:1 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Haba-Who? Habakkuk: A Study of God’s Unexpected Work | This morning we are beginning a new sermon series based on the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. This is a book that most people are not familiar with, but one that carries important messages and perspectives, for both Christians and for the world. Each week we will take a section of the book and look at it more in depth including the historical perspective, as well as what it tells us about our relationship with God, or how the author of this book understood humanity’s relationship with God.
Now today we are using what may seem like a very small section of the book, that of course being only the first verse from the first chapter. But we will also be using the information we have about the book itself to form our focus and learn from. And that is where we will begin today, looking at what we know, or at least what we think we know according to scholars and historians, about this book and its author of the same name.
Habakkuk was an actual person and the author of this eighth book of the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. Now the exact meaning of the name Habakkuk is not known, but some believe it was derived from a Hebrew word that meant “to embrace”. Now interestingly, we know nothing about Habakkuk other than what has been inferred from this book. It is widely accepted that Habakkuk lived during the reign of the Judean king Jehoiakim. The probable dates for his writing and activity as a prophet were around 605 to 589 B.C.E.
There are several legends that purport to tell accounts of his life, but those are generally believed to not be trustworthy or accurate. For instance, we find some of these in the apocrypha of the Bible, which are works that the authors are unknown, or the authenticity is in question so they are therefore not part of the cannon. One example in the apocrypha is found in the book Bel and the Dragon that describes a miraculous transporting of Habakkuk to Daniel while Daniel was in the den of lions.
There is another Jewish legend that makes Habakkuk the son of the Shunamite woman that is mentioned in 2 Kings chapter 4, verses 8 through 37. This legend seems to be based on the fact that it is said that this Shunamite woman would “embrace” a son, and therefore connected to his name meaning “to embrace”. However, there are chronological difficulties that make both this, as well as the story about Daniel, extremely unlikely.
So just who was this man Habakkuk? What kind of person was this prophet that is so often skipped over in our worship and studies? Well it can be argued that this Book of Habakkuk reveals to the reader a man of great sensitivity. It shows his deep concern about injustice. And it is this concern and the prayer he offers up in chapter 2 that show that Habakkuk was characterized by rather profound religious conviction, as well as social awareness.
And this conviction towards faith and social awareness will be continued themes throughout our series. It can be said that the main purpose of Habakkuk’s prophecy is to explain just what a godly person’s attitude should be towards the presence of evil in the world. It can also be argued that in addition to this, it addresses the nature of God’s justice in punishing moral evil. But to be clear, these writings do not attempt to explain why God has allowed evil into the world.
So, let’s venture back really quickly to our reading for today. One simple sentence, or so it would seem. 7 words, nothing more. “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” Not much there huh? This line basically says what you are about to read is what the prophet Habakkuk saw from God. You may be thinking right now, “Pastor, you should have extended your passage selection for this week. What are we going to do with just this one sentence?”
Well I would like to focus again on what we know, or think we know, about this book, this prophet, and what was going on in the world at that time. And we take that, and we look at it through the lens of our own world right now today. So far, I have already told you about the book and its author. Let us now look at what was going on all around this prophet and what may have helped to inspire his words and writings.
During this time, the kingdom of Judah had just experienced the amazing and exhilarating times of the reign of King Josiah. These were days that were marked by freedom for the people, by prosperity for all, and by a great religious revival throughout the land. All seemed well under the reign of Josiah. The people were happy, they had returned to a focus on worshiping God, and they were a free people.
But while their enemies the Assyrians were now only a shadow of their once former selves, the scourge of the Middle East, taking their place and rising up were the mighty Babylonians. Now Habakkuk refers to them as Chaldeans because of the region their rulers came from, but they were Babylonians to be sure. And their armies were led by the energetic Nebuchadnezzar, who would soon be succeeding his father as King.
And in 609 B.C.E. disaster struck the kingdom of Judah. While attempting to block the Egyptians from aiding the struggling Assyrians, King Josiah was killed in northern Palestine. In his place, the Egyptians put his son Jehoiakim on the throne. But unlike Josiah, Jehoiakim was a petty tyrant and an Egyptian vassal who allowed the land of Judah to be forced into paying heavy tributes and lose its independence.
Over the next decade, Jehoiakim tried to pit the Babylonians against the Egyptians until he finally pushed too far past the patience of Nebuchadnezzar. In 598 Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem and Jehoiakim died, leaving his son Jeohiachin to be taken prisoner in 597 when the city fell to the Babylonians. And not just the king was taken, but people from the upper classes and skilled tradesmen were also taken to Babylonians as captives. These were dark times.
And as we continue with this book over the next three weeks, we will see Habakkuk’s reaction and cries against what was happening under Jehoiakim’s rule. Habakkuk would have lived under the good times of King Josiah’s reign, and then seen the dark days ahead under the supposed leadership of Jehoiakim. And it is under this reign of this puppet king that Habakkuk would prophecy about the lack of social awareness and faith.
A lack of social awareness and a lack of faith. Sound familiar at all to anyone? Isn’t that one of the primary complaints that we carry in the world today? Despite the efforts to bring them to light, there is still a lack of social awareness in our world. Even with the rise in technology and communication, even with cellphone footage and social networking, people still turned a blind eye to things that are happening in the world around us.
For instance, look at everything going on during this pandemic. In our own country, unrest has led to people protesting in large groups, despite the real threat to their own health and the health of others. There are other places around the world where governments and their people are struggling with the realities that this pandemic brings. In some places, populations are under even stricter orders than our own country. Some places people are beaten if found outside during curfew or restricted hours. There are also many questions about people who have seemed to “disappear” in some countries after outing failings of their governments in regard to this pandemic.
Or what about the injustices here in our own country? As recently as 2018, it was reported that on any given night there were over 552,830 people experiencing homelessness. In 2014 the Census Bureau reported that more than 38.1 million people, or about 12 percent of all Americans, were living below the poverty line. Comedian Stephen Colbert once said, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
And what about a lack of faith for the world? We only need look at a newspaper or news website to find stories of continued fighting amongst Christians in our country and around the world. People are crying about the fighting between Christians and Muslims or other religious groups, but we cannot even get along with other Christians. You can pick almost any topic you might find in a newspaper and you can get two or more Christians arguing with each other over it to the point of shouting and name calling and condemnation.
Where is the love? Where is the trust in God? Where is the compassion for our fellow human beings, for our brothers and sisters in Christ and all children of God? Well, there is some hope. We can look close to home and see acts towards social awareness and justice. Places like food pantries that help feed people who are hungry and cannot afford food. In places like Flint where there is still injustice happening, but social awareness continues to rise, and efforts are being made to set things right again.
We can even look globally and find hope in things like the Imagine No Malaria campaign of our own United Methodist Church. There are also amazing efforts being made by groups like The United Methodist Committee on Relief or UMCOR as many of you know it, Lutheran World Relief, the United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries, and countless more.
So when we look at the kind of world in which Habakkuk lived, we do have the advantage that we can say that there are a lot of people working towards social awareness and justice, where he may not have been able to make that claim. But we are also looking at a much wider spectrum of the entire world, whereas he was focused on the people of Israel. So yes, we have more working towards justice, but we also have more working towards injustice.
But I think the lesson here is to not give up our focus on social awareness, or on justice, or on faith. We need to press on, to continue the ministries that Jesus started. We need to continue to put our whole faith in our God who loves us and loves his creation. We need to continue to reach out to the stranger. We need to continue to feed the hungry. And I believe that we can do it. I believe that we can make a positive change. Because I believe in the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ. Amen.