Bible Text: Habakkuk 1:2-11 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Haba-Who? Habakkuk: A Study of God’s Unexpected Work | This morning we will be continuing in our sermon series, “Habakkuk: A Study of God’s Unexpected Work”, as we move deeper into the first chapter of the book. Last week we focused solely on only the first verse of the chapter and what we know, or think we know, about the prophet Habakkuk. We examined his character based on his actions and words, finding him to not only carry a very strong religious conviction for God, but also a strong sense of social awareness and justice.
As we now dive deeper into the first chapter, we are finally able to witness some of Habakkuk’s character through his words, as well as read how God responds to Habakkuk’s words. So, this also is our first venture into beginning to understand how Habakkuk understands God’s relationship with humanity and God’s position and feelings about justice and injustice in the world.
This piece of Scripture is broken into two separate headings and sections. The first section, containing verses two through four, are titled, “The Prophet Complains”. The second section, containing verses five through eleven, are titled, “The Lord Responds”. So, let us first focus on the section that contains verses two through four and see just what Habakkuk was complaining about.
“Lord, how long will I call for help and you not listen? I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you don’t deliver us. Why do you show me injustice and look at anguish so that devastation and violence before me? There is strife, and conflict abounds. The Instruction is ineffective. Justice does not endure because the wicked surround the righteous. Justice becomes warped.”
Sounds like Habakkuk is pretty upset with the what the Babylonians, or Chaldean, are doing to the people in Judah does not it? Well, actually, Habakkuk was not talking about the Babylonians in this section of the text. In fact, this conversation between Habakkuk and God is happening before the Babylonians even attack and take over. No, in fact Habakkuk is calling for judgment in regard to the very condition of Judah itself.
The injustice, anguish, devastation, and violence he mentions are referring to the oppression of within the people of Judah themselves where power is not equal, but also where the power is equal that leads to fighting between people as well. Habakkuk is complaining about the general social disorder that seems to be plaguing God’s people, and by their own hand no less.
Habakkuk then laments that the Instruction is ineffective. The “Instruction” to which he is referring to here is the Law given to the people through Moses. Habakkuk complains that the Law is no longer effective in securing justice and punishing the wicked, which he then states makes justice become warped. But how can God’s Law be ineffective? Well, in this case I think Habakkuk meant it more that the Law cannot be effective if the people do not follow it and are not held to it.
So, Habakkuk laments, or complains to God about how bad things have gotten with the people in Judah and he wants God to intervene. Have you ever lamented or complained to God about anything? Or maybe rather prayed? Perhaps you have been witness to some injustice in your workplace and you want God to intervene. Or maybe you have seen oppression or violence in places that seem too close to home and have asked God to do something.
I think most of us can say that we have at some point reached out to God, asking for a wrong to be made right again. We pray for our country and for areas that are struggling with things like mass shootings, or destructive weather, political tension, or, of course, the pandemic. I think we can all probably at some level relate quite well to the prophet Habakkuk in that way. We see something that seems to be out of control, and it feels beyond our ability to impact, or we have tried to make an impact and been unsuccessful. And we cry out to God to come and make things right again, to raise up justice once more.
Now that is not to say we should just sit around complaining to God about things we think are unfair or wrong in the world. Yes, we should pray about these things to God, but we can also be active in trying to change them. We do not exactly what kind of actions Habakkuk had taken before he cried out to God, but it is believed that he was a minister or priest and I believe that he would have been trying to convince people to change.
Well, if we go back to our reading, we find that Habakkuk gets a response from God. But one has to wonder if it was what Habakkuk had in mind about how to address his complaints. Is he prepared to get what he asked for from God on God’s terms? This second section, verses five through eleven, is headed with the title “The Lord Responds” and responds the Lord does.
In verse five God warns Habakkuk that something is beginning to happen that is unbelievable, something that Habakkuk would not believe if someone were to tell him, but that he will see. And in verse six God tells him exactly what is coming. “I am about to rouse the Chaldeans, that bitter and impetuous nation, which travels throughout the earth to possess dwelling places it does not own.” Oh…well that sounds kind of bad…
But God goes on, “The Chaldean is dreadful and fearful. He makes his own justice and dignity. His horses are faster than leopards; they are quicker than wolves of the evening.” Okay now that sounds bad, definitely bad. “They come for violence, the horde with all their faces set toward the desert. He takes captives like sand. He makes fun of kings; rulers are ridiculous to him. He laughs at every fortress, then he piles up dirt and takes it.” Wow…yeah that is really, really bad.
So here God tells Habakkuk how he will use the Babylonians to bring judgment upon Judah. And given the description of both what is going to happen and the people who will be doing it, it sounds like it will be a harsh judgment. But did you notice while God answers Habakkuk’s question of what will God do about Judah’s wickedness, God never answers Habakkuk’s question about why God has tolerated evil in the world.
But there is another thing to take note of here. God is at work. God tells Habakkuk, “Be astonished and stare because something is happening in your days that you wouldn’t believe even if told.” He does not just say that he is going to do something, but that something is already happening. God tells Habakkuk to look among the nations because God’s work could already be seen by someone attuned to what God is doing. God is at work here. Just like the prophet has been busy at work, so too has God been at work.
Do we still believe that God is at work in our world today? I know I do, if for no other reason than I do not believe our world could survive if God was absent. One of the struggles we tend to come up against is that we live in a world that only considers, and I am including all people in this including Christians, but a world that only considers that humans are at work. But God is at work. Right next to the “men at work” signs there stands also another, more important sign that reads “God at work.”
And while it is imperative to acknowledge that God is at work in our world today, we must be cautious in assigning things we witness to God’s hand. For instance, blaming a bad storm that destroys a town or city on their sinful nature and claiming that God was punishing them – that is not within our authority to make such a claim. Habakkuk may have been able to converse directly with God and hear God’s response, but we are not setup in such a manner today.
I add this caution because when we start assigning actions to God that may or may not have been intentionally carried out by God, we begin to become oppressors and bringers of injustice ourselves. We end up condemning others unfairly and without the authority to do so in the first place. We lose the inclusivity of the love that Christ displayed and instead turn into an exclusive club of people who are not living into the life that Jesus led.
And to be honest, when we let that happen, when we become exclusive instead of inclusive and when we let condemning others replace loving others – then are we any better than the people of Judah who Habakkuk was crying out against to God? Not that we should change because we fear God will send another country to come and exile us and rule over us. No, we should avoid becoming like the Judean people of Habakkuk’s time because we have the example of Jesus Christ.
The people of Israel began with the Instruction, or the Law of Moses, by which to live. And they failed to stay true and honest to the Law. They failed in the eyes of the Law over and over and over again. And so, would each of us today. We would all fail in the eyes of the Law if we were still held to it by God. But we do not have to worry about that anymore. We do not have to continue to see our failings in the Law, day after day.
And that is because Jesus Christ came and suffered, died, and resurrected to save the world. Jesus took our place in regard to answering the Law for our sins and transgressions. Jesus made it all a moot point. Because on the day Jesus died for the sins of the world, on the day the curtain in the temple tore in two, that was the day that love won. Love came when Jesus was born and entered the world. But the day he died, love won.
So, what can we take away from our reading from Habakkuk? Is the message “be careful what you wish, or complain for”, because you just might get it? Probably not. I think the most important message we can take away is that God is at work. Even when we may not see it or are unsure if what we are witnessing is God at work, regardless God is at work in the world. And God is at work in the hearts of humanity.
The key for us, is to never use the idea of God being at work as a way to oppress others or become exclusive of others. We should never use the idea of God being at work as a way to condemn and harm others. Instead, we should look for ways to become active WITH God through loving actions that mirror the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Because when we are active with God, we can truly make an impact in the world and in the lives of others.
Habakkuk complained to God for action and reform. Today we pray for those same things, in many places in the world and in our own lives. And while things may not always play out the way we want or expect, we must remember that God is at work. I am not sure Habakkuk was thinking of an exile by the Babylonians as the solution to the things he complained about, but he too saw that God was at work. We must open our hearts and ask God to lead us to that work. Amen.