Who hasn’t grappled with understanding God’s word or trusting in His judgment? Who hasn’t felt despair in the midst of their trials or wondered where God was in their pain? As Christians, we all have. Habakkuk was honest with his feelings and we can be, too.
Habakkuk’s name means embrace. But this embrace is less of a gentle hug and more like clasping or grappling. Habakkuk grappled with the agonizing truth that God would destroy Jerusalem by sending a terrifying enemy to bring it down. But he also held tightly to the mercy of God, and so can we.
O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:2
Welcome to Hearts Unto Wisdom
A Bible Study of the Minor Prophets
I thank you for joining me as I share biblical insight into the twelve books commonly referred to as the ‘Minor Prophets’. These Old Testament books, starting with Hosea and ending with Malachi, are minor only in regards to their length, and not because they lack significance.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Psalm 90:12
[Underlines, brackets, and words in bold are added for emphasis to scripture verses throughout this study.]
“Where are you, God?” How many of us have cried out thus to God in our pain? Like Habakkuk, we question why wicked men get away with evil and the godly suffer because of it.
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? Habakkuk 1:13
Habakkuk is saying, “Could it be You don’t see what’s going on, God? Are You too pure to intervene?” This is nonsense, of course. Habakkuk knew God could wipe them out instantly but in his anguish, he posed the question “is that why the wicked prosper?”
A century before Habakkuk, in 722 B.C., God sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and Samaria because of their widespread disobedience, idol worship, and greed. And yet the southern kingdom of Judah hadn’t learned anything from their brother’s captivity during the succeeding 130 years. They continued down the same path of wickedness and violence and God raised the Babylonians, “that bitter and hasty nation”, against them.
These Babylonians (whom the King James version calls Chaldeans in Habakkuk) were a fearsome nation. They conquered the powerful Assyrian and the Egyptian empires, both of which had previously enslaved the Israelites, and believed there was nothing or no one that could master them. They were a law unto themselves (Habakkuk 1:7–10).
As a prophet of God, knowing ahead of time that his nation would be annihilated and his people destroyed brought Habakkuk great sorrow, sadness, and understandable feelings of despair. He cried out to God like King David and King Asaph had numerous times before recorded in the book of the Psalms.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. Psalms 22:1–2
Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah. Psalms 77:7–9
Yet, Habakkuk knew why the enemy was coming. He watched his people revel in sinfulness his whole life and it grieved him.
Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth. Habakkuk 1:4
Habakkuk understood that God was sending the Babylonians for Judah’s judgment and correction. He also knew God wouldn’t destroy His people completely. He had hope in the long-term promises of God and comforted himself with the words “we shall not die”.
Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Habakkuk 1:12
We are God’s children and He corrects everyone He loves. Correction is exceedingly painful while we’re going through it. Spiritual pruning hurts, but we will not die. On the contrary, what we learn from and repent of because of this God-touched correction will bring us everlasting life.
Paul quotes Habakkuk twice
Our self-righteous attitudes, often ones we don’t realize we have, are what condemn us. We think we are good, but we’re not (Romans 1:10; Psalm 53:1–3).
Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. Habakkuk 2:4
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. Romans 1:17
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. Galatians 3:11
Paul makes it clear the impossibility of being justified by the Mosaic Law throughout his letters to the churches. It is only through our faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, that are we justified. When you are faithful, you are just. You are just (righteous, innocent, and holy) only because you abide in Christ by faith.
God makes provision for us now through His word. He teaches, warns, comforts, and prepares us, throughout the Bible (especially in the epistles of Paul, Peter, and others) for how to live and what God promises for our future.
The people of Israel and Judah were repeatedly warned to change their ways and return to God (or else) but they wouldn’t believe the dire proclamations of the prophets God sent. Habakkuk declared to the men of Judah, “for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you” (Habakkuk 1:5).
Paul, preaching at Antioch, quotes Habakkuk 1:5 to the disbelieving Jews.
Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you. Acts 13:41
The majority of the Jews Paul spoke to refused to believe the good news of the Messiah; the Gentiles did not. No matter what the Jews had seen or heard concerning Jesus Christ (His miracles and words of undeniable truth and power), they stubbornly refused to believe. They hardened their hearts.
Long before Paul stood preaching, Judah sought idols over the law of Moses and now the Pharisees, in Paul’s day, sought the law of Moses to justify them and be their god.
Idolatry has been around forever. The prideful Babylonians gave credit for their power to their gods (Habakkuk 1:11) and Israel and Judah often trusted in their “teacher of lies” more than the Most High.
What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?
Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. Habakkuk 2:18-19
In our modern days, we read about this practice of idol worship in our Bibles and shake our heads thinking how could they be so foolish? It’s just a hunk of rock or a chunk of wood! But what do we hold in our hands, in our hearts, that has the same potential to steer us away from God and replace His glory?
- Anything we turn to first in the midst of a trial other than God is an idol.
- Anything we expect to fulfill us more than God is an idol.
- Any aspiration we serve more than God is an idol.
- Anyone we love more than God is an idol.
We really are no different than the Israelites. We make idols out of things that have no hope or love or power in them. Yes, God gave us desires to pursue and people to love and things that make us happy—all good gifts to enjoy—but none of those things take precedence over the Giver Himself.
While Habakkuk grappled with the burden of what God told him would befall Jerusalem, God told him to be patient and believe.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Habakkuk 2:3
We, too, must have patience and believe in the promise of Christ’s return. For this gives our life hope and meaning.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. Hebrews 10:36–38
God sent the Babylonians to humble Judah, but Babylon would not be drunk on their ‘glory’ forever. The cup of the Lord’s right hand would spew shame upon them (Habakkuk 2:16). Like the Assyrians before them, God pronounced Babylon’s doom for their insatiable covetousness and violence (Habakkuk 2:5). What they meted out would come back upon them!
Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. Habakkuk 2:8
God doesn’t want us enslaved by the world laboring in vain for things that can’t give life. Only the knowledge of God can do that. The world loves to suppress the knowledge of God but someday nothing else will remain (Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 11:9).
Teman and Paran
God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. Habakkuk 3:3
Teman means “from the south” and is a poetic reference to the Sinai desert where the Israelites traveled through after God rescued them from the Egyptians and gave them the law. God then lead them north past Mount Paran toward the promised land. Jesus Christ is our promised land. Paran means “to gleam, beautify, and to make clear”. Christ is that shining beacon of beautiful perfection and clarity we seek to give us freedom from death and shame.
The song of Habakkuk
In this third and final chapter, after Habakkuk waxes eloquent on the brightness, glory, and power of God, he makes a profound statement:
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17–18
When all is taken away, when we’re left with nothing to look forward to, when all our happiness has disappeared in the things we once had; it all comes down to this: will we still praise God?
Are you surrounded by devastating losses and dead dreams, my friends? Praise God, anyway.
Has the herd of prosperity left your stalls? Are you feeling alone, cut off from the fold? Praise God anyway.
For when your body fails you like a blossomless tree, and the vine of your hopes has withered; when your hard work yields nothing but sorrow and the fields of promise you sowed lay fallow:
Praise God, anyway.
THAT IS HOW YOU KEEP GOING without despair consuming you.
You may see nothing that looks like a blessing right now. (Yet, your very breath is a blessing.)
But that nothing cannot be compared to the everything waiting for you in the kingdom of God.
Look beyond the pain and disappointment of this life, and the dreams that don’t come true, and keep your eyes on the greatest of all dreams come true: eternal life.
Joy is possible in the hardship and the ugliness of your life when you focus on the undeserved gift of salvation God has lovingly saved for you.
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom . . .” Especially now, dear Christian, when everything is amiss in our lives, we need to praise God and rest in Him. As Habakkuk sought rest in his day of trouble (Habakkuk 3:16), so can we.
We hear frightening news every day. Predictions of doom are spewed out by those who see no alternative to the fear they feel in the current world they worship. This world is their god, and they will fight for its continuance by their humanistic governance and will rally others with their fear, whether it’s ‘climate change’ or ‘gun control’ or a worldwide pandemic to control them. But we know God’s prophecies are the truth and not theirs. We, as Christians, have no reason to fear when we put our trust in God.
Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah. He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death. Psalms 68:19-20
God alone is our escape from death. Plagues and disease did not exist in the Garden of Eden but came after man chose to be his own god. People try to escape death by their own means of putting trust in medicines or doctors or a healthy lifestyle. But eventually, everyone dies.
Habakkuk’s words, ‘we shall not die’ in Habakkuk 1:12 referred to protection from national extinction, but God protects us as individuals from spiritual extinction with promises of eternal life through faith in Christ.
The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. Habakkuk 3:19
Habakkuk quotes King David’s words from 2 Samuel 22:34 and Psalm 18:33.
Our strength does not stem from our good health, our bank accounts, or positions of prestige. These temporary things could disappear overnight. It is God who strengthens us spiritually so we can walk with confidence in our trials, not stumble but stand firm in His promises.
Hinds, as deer were called in the Bible, walked treacherous rocky paths with confidence. God’s Spirit gives us mental and emotional stability to navigate our rough and chaotic world.
He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet: and setteth me upon my high places. 2 Samuel 22:34
Our high places are where we worship God. In congregations large or small, quiet moments on the back porch, sleepy in our beds at night, or in the bustle of keeping house and raising children.
God makes it possible for us to worship Him even in the midst of disaster and deprivation. In difficult times, we tend to seek temporary fixes—social media, food, alcohol, entertainment—to soothe our frayed nerves and troubled minds. But God has much more to give us if we seek Him first and foremost.
The whole of Psalm 13 sums up the struggle that Habakkuk faced.
Like Habakkuk, we might start out grappling with doubts of God’s love, but if we proclaim the truth of God’s mercy and salvation, we will end up at rest, praising His name.
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me. Psalms 13:1–6
Abiding in the Vine,
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