“The righteous will live by his faith!” Habakkuk 2:4 NIV
Waiting Habakkuk was a prophet to Judah (southern Israel with its capital at Jerusalem) around 600 BC. Things were really bad in his day. There was oppression of the poor and other social injustices. The laws were either ignored or twisted and manipulated in favor of the “filthy few.” There was violence in the streets, and corruption abounded. There was unrest of every sort. Moral values were up for grabs. Only a small minority was still holding on to faith in God. A breakdown of society was taking place before Habakkuk’s very eyes (1:1-4). No wonder the sensitive heart of this faithful prophet cried out “How long, O LORD, must I call for help?” (Hab. 1:2 NIV). How could God allow such open sin to go unjudged? Certainly the Christian today can identify with Habakkuk. What better description of the contemporary conditions in our communities and our country can we get than in Habakkuk 1:2-4? “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”
The soul of the sensitive Christian questions along with Habakkuk, “Why do you make me look at injustice?” (1:3). God answered Habakkuk’s question, but the answer was a real mindblower for the prophet: “I am going to do something … that you would not believe” is the Lord’s answer in 1:5-11. He was told that the wicked, violent and dreaded Chaldeans (the rising Babylonian empire) would overrun Judah. God would actually raise up a pagan nation to judge the sin which was rampant in the land. Again the parallel is too close to avoid mentioning. does God permit the rise of godlessness for the express purpose of judging a country which is rapidly departing from the faith that once characterized it? Habakkuk got the message, but didn’t quite grasp it. He realized that God had chosen this method of discipline when he responded, “O LORD, You have appointed them (Chaldeans) to execute judgment … You have ordained them to punish” (1:12). But what Habakkuk couldn’t understand was how God could do such a thing! “Why then do You tolerate the treacherous? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous?” (1:13). How could a holy God permit an even more wicked nation than Judah to flourish and take over? Yes, Judah deserved her punishment, but why not also punish the Chaldeans? They were much worse. does this thinking sound familiar?
Habakkuk was not the first to wrestle with these questions. A man named Asaph, for example, had really struggled with this before (Ps. 73). nor was Habakkuk the last believer to wrestle with the question of evil. At some point every growing Christian must grapple with this issue.
The position that Habakkuk took as he reflected upon his unanswered question was beautiful. That’s what chapter 2:1-4 is all about. He said, “‘I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.’ Then the LORD replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith.’”
Habakkuk decided that he would wait patiently and watch intently for the Lord’s answer. He didn’t get up tight and frustrated and demand answers of God. He didn’t say “God doesn’t care about my problems.” No, he waited and watched. if only we could do the same!
The guard post or watchtower was a place from which the watcher could see all around and better discern what was happening as well as guard his own position. This pictures for us the attitude that God would like us to take as we wait for answers to situations we can’t understand. Don’t stay down on the plain where you can’t see very far. Come up to the tower where it’s a little easier to get God’s view of what’s happening down there. It was only when Asaph went into the sanctuary that he perceived the answer from the Lord (Ps. 73:16-17). It is possible to turn unanswered questions over to the Lord and wait and watch for His answer. And while we’re waiting on Him, let’s not give up on our faith just because we have unanswered questions. The watch tower is also a guard post where the truth that God has given you is guarded.
God answered Habakkuk just as He always answers the waiting and watching Christian. He didn’t say, “Did He really answer me, or was it only my imagination?” God doesn’t send cryptograms for answers! The answer God gave Habakkuk was so clear it could be written down and passed on to others. In fact, God wanted the answer to be broadcast without any waste of time (2:2).
Here’s the answer God gave to Habakkuk regarding the perplexing problem of evil. Evil does exist; it is not imaginary. But it will exist for a limited time only – and that time is appointed by God. History is not haphazard, but is moving towards a goal, and there is no way that God’s purpose can be thwarted. It will certainly come to pass according to His schedule (2:3). When verse 3 here is quoted in Hebrews 10:37 the “it” becomes “He.” The goal of history is centered in a person – the Lord Jesus Christ. All evil will be overcome by Him and He will be Lord of all.
What is the Christian to do in the meantime? He is to “live by his faith” (2:4). We may not understand how a holy God can tolerate the existence of evil, and why the wrong person always seems to get the best deal, but the righteous person will walk by his faith.
There is a universal principle contained in the five woes pronounced upon the Chaldeans – their lust after aggression, covetousness, exploitation, shamelessness, idolatry (2:5-19). God assures us that everything evil is under the judgment of God. The seed of self-destruction is in the soul of the person who is not right with God (2:4). Final judgment is sure to come, but in the meantime the Christian is to walk by his faith (2 Cor. 5:7).
in chapter 3 of Habakkuk we see the prophet worshiping the Lord. This should be the outcome of all our wrestlings with God, but too often we become bitter and angry because we don’t like to wait, watch and walk. Habakkuk’s worship really began in verse 2:20: “The LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.” He learned to silently submit to God’s divine rule and judgment – this was worship. He realized that his only approach to God was a plea for mercy (3:2) – this was worship. He was awed by the glory of God (3:3-4) – this was worship. He reflected on the great acts of God in history (3:5-15) – this was worship. He trembled because he had gone through a deep spiritual experience and he had come to know the reality of a living God who was coming in judgment (3:16) – this was worship. He rejoiced because he knew that in spite of the hard times and difficulties that are a result of evil, the Lord was still his strength and salvation (3:17-19) – this was worship. “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD” (3:18). This kind of worship comes only from the heart of one who waits, wrestles, watches and walks with the Lord.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org