Habakkuk – A Man Transformed By God's Word
[ From The Editors: This article is the first in a series we will publish this year, calling attention to twelve people who though being dead, instruct us (Heb. 11:4). They speak to us through the testimony of their lives as written in Scripture. Over the next few months, we will develop a theme title. And, near the end of the year we are planning to publish these twelve articles in book form (Kindle, Nook and old fashioned print and ink). These passages and people can equip us and motivate us toward greater service to our Lord.]
It is somewhat disappointing that Habakkuk is remembered, for the most part, as an obscure “minor” prophet. His relatively short message (fifty-six verses) seems to be overshadowed by the lengthy messages of “major” prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Even among other minor prophets, Habakkuk gets lost in the shuffle. Zechariah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Joel all have more content. Habakkuk often gets lumped together with Zephaniah, Nahum, and Obadiah as books that can only be found by referring to the table of contents in the front of a Bible.
However, those who have read and studied the book of Habakkuk acknowledge that there is nothing obscure or minor about its content. Habakkuk is unique among the prophets. The usual formula of “The word of the Lord which came to...” does not appear in the book. Instead, Habakkuk spoke first and then God answered him. He is also a man that most people can relate to. Daniel and Isaiah stood before kings of world empires. Jeremiah and Ezekiel suffered through sieges and exile. Jonah was told to go preach to a capital city of a great nation. On the other hand, Habakkuk was a man who had questions, concerns, and complaints. There were matters that he did not understand. We can relate to that. The most unique aspect of Habakkuk, however, is the transformation (of the man and his thinking) that unfolds before our eyes. The Habakkuk of chapter one and the first part of chapter two is not the same as the Habakkuk that emerges in chapter three. His transformation and the cause of it has often been overlooked. It is something, however, that needs to be understood. A journey through Habakkuk reveals that he was a man who was transformed by the word of God.
Habakkuk is introduced to Bible readers as a man who was deeply disturbed by what he saw taking place in his nation. He was right to be disturbed by sinful behavior. The nation of Judah was plagued by violence (Habakkuk 1:2-3). It had been a part of their national landscape for many years. The prophet Micah, who lived a century before Habakkuk's day, spoke about rich men in Judah who were filled with violence (Micah 6:2). Strife and contention were sparks that ignited the violence (Habakkuk 1:3). Iniquity also ran rampant in Judah and justice was perverted and paralyzed. Habakkuk was right to believe that the wicked had surrounded the righteous in Judah (Habakkuk 1:4).
Habakkuk was also right in what he did about his concerns. He cried to God for help and prayed to him for salvation (Habakkuk 1:2). Many people in Judah were oblivious to the conditions of their country. The few that were disturbed by the havoc around them did not bother to pray. Habakkuk belonged to a small number of people who were disturbed by what they saw and asked God to do something about it.
Though right in his concerns and commendable for his prayerful actions, Habakkuk was wrong, however, in his assumptions concerning God's response to his plea. He assumed that God did not hear him. He asked, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2). He also concluded that God had decided not to do anything about the evil in Judah (Habakkuk 1:3). He assumed that God was idly sitting on the sidelines. Why did Habakkuk make these assumptions and come to these conclusions? He was limited by his concept of time. Habakkuk was not the first person to cry to God for help. God, in times past, heard the groanings of the people of Israel in Egypt (Exodus 2:23-25). He heard the plea of the psalmist (Psalms 6:8,9). God, throughout human history, has heard the cries of his people and acted. God acts, however, on his time schedule. Habakkuk was also limited in his knowledge. God was not sitting idly on the sidelines looking at sinful behavior. He was in the process of doing something about the wickedness in Judah. Habakkuk's assumptions were wrong. His complaints did not fall on deaf ears. God did know about the violence, havoc, and iniquity in Judah. He also determined to do something about it. What God determined for Judah, however, would astound and bewilder Habakkuk.
God informed Habakkuk that He was raising up the Babylonians to
seize the land of Judah (Habakkuk 1:6). They were well-known for their violent
ways. They were dreaded and feared by other nations. The Babylonians would sweep
through a nation like the wind and then go on their way (Habakkuk 1:11).
Habakkuk had several complaints about God's plan. How could a pure and holy God
use a wicked nation to punish Judah? What about the Babylonians? Would they be
punished for their evil behavior like Judah? Habakkuk asked, “Is he then to keep
on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” (Habakkuk 1:17).
God's response to these questions and Habakkuk's acceptance of God's will left
him a transformed man.
Habakkuk's transformation began when he quit talking and making assumptions. He finally stood back and allowed God to answer. God informed Habakkuk that His will would surely come to pass. He said, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3). Judah would be invaded by the Babylonians because of their wicked behavior. What about the Babylonians? God told Habakkuk that they would not go unpunished. They would be plundered by other nations because of their violent ways (Habakkuk 2:8). There are, however, two additional messages from God to Habakkuk that should not be overlooked. Habakkuk was disheartened because of the wickedness in his own nation. Conditions would get worse with the arrival of the Babylonians. Habakkuk was told by God that the righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4). People of faith should continue trusting God even when it seems as if the world around them is collapsing. God concluded his message to Habakkuk by saying, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). He reminded Habakkuk that He is on the throne; he is in charge. The wicked may appear to surround the righteous, but God is on the throne!
What effect did God's word have on Habakkuk? He was transformed by God's message. His complaints and assumptions disappeared. His attitude changed immediately. A submissive, reverent, and joyful Habakkuk emerged after God spoke. His final prayer of the book is remarkable. He said:
I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:16-19)
Is the book of Habakkuk simply about God's plan to use the Babylonians for his divine purpose or does it teach us something else-something more practical? Habakkuk was transformed when he listened to and accepted God's word. The fifty-six verses of the book that bears his name reminds us that we must stop assuming things about God and allow him to speak to us through his word. A great transformation will take place when that happens. Habakkuk teaches us that!
By Jay Taylor
From Expository Files 19.3; March 2012