Habakkuk Bible Study Commentary: The Book of Habakkuk - Then & Now
Habakkuk Chapter 1: God is moving and judgement is coming
by I Gordon
Alright... Confession time. When was the last time you have read the book of Habakkuk? Yes. Exactly. I thought so. Well, until recently I was in the same camp because it had been quite a while since I had read this great little book. And I didn't really know what the central message of the book was. So we decided to study it in our home group and I must say that I was very pleased that I did! But let's just back the bus up a little and begin, well, at the beginning.
Little is known of Habakkuk himself. But we do know that his name means 'embracer' and that he was likely to have written his book during the reign of the wicked king Jehoiakim who ruled Judah from 609 - 598BC. As to the message of Habakkuk, it is unique in that it records a conversation between the prophet and His Lord - God Almighty. Ok, it may start off quite high on the 'gloomy' scale (for difficult days ahead were foreseen by the prophet), but it concludes with tremendous hope and expectation that fittingly backs up the central message of the text - that
'The just shall live by his faith'.
Now as I studied this book I couldn't keep thinking how eerily reminiscent the topics of Habakkuk were to the day in which we live. Like, completely. So that is why I have called this study series 'the message of Habakkuk - then and now' for these timeless words of God and His prophet apply equally to today's world and situation as they did for the generation that lived 2600 years ago.
The Puzzled Prophet's Perplexing Problem
Habakkuk 1:1-4 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. 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.
Habakkuk was a prophet with a problem. Well, several problems. No, not personal problems like you and I, but perplexing questions that required answers from God. You see, as Habakkuk surveyed the world in which he lived, he saw unbelievable injustice, violence and inequality that never seemed to be judged. And this 'irked' Habakkuk very much  . Habakkuk's first question was 'How long God?' 'How long do I cry out without an answer?' 'Why don't you do something?' It is a question we all ask from time to time is it not? It was a question that was asked quite frequently by some of God's 'stars' in the Bible  and it is one that you have no doubt asked when faced with extended periods of difficulty and uncertainty  .
Now on a national or on a world scale, the same question can be asked. Like Habakkuk surveying the situation in his day, so we too look at the increasing immorality, injustice and violence of ours and say 'How much longer will this go on for?' 'How long Lord before you judge this world?' That was the cry of the souls under the altar in the book of Revelation was it not when they cried out "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" ( Rev 6:10 ) . It is a common question indeed asked by the saints of all generations.
The source of injustice in Habakkuk's day
Now let's look at the source of the question. Habakkuk states that '...the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.' The source of the problem was the 'paralyzing' of God's law in the days of Habakkuk.  Is God's law paralyzed in our day amongst our judicial system? What about in our schools when laws are passed to prevent prayer or study of the Bible in schools (yet the children are forced to learn about Islam, the Koran and other religions under the guise of 'multi-cultural studies')? As Western society moves further from the Christian foundation  the result is sadly the same as it was when Israel was departing from God's law in the days of Habakkuk.
'It is time for You to act, O Lord, For they have regarded Your law as void.' ( Psalms 119:126 )
God's answer - Prepare to be amazed!
Habakkuk 1:5-11 Look at the nations and watch-- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people , who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on-- guilty men, whose own strength is their god."
God's reply is not one that Habakkuk had been expecting. In fact it is a 'blow your socks off' type of answer! Habakkuk thought that God was strangely silent and absent yet the truth was quite the opposite. God told Habakkuk to 'Look at the nations and watch-- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.' The truth was that God was already raising up the nation of Babylon to come against Judah. And believe me that this was something of a bombshell! Habakkuk knew about the Babylonians. He had heard the stories. He had seen the results. And it is fair to say that to hear God describe them as a 'fierce, ruthless, dreaded, swift, devouring people 'bent on violence' did little to calm the nerves!  Yet what puzzled Habakkuk the most was that God was going to use them! Them... of all people! How could God use such a godless nation? Why would He do that? 
Before we see Habakkuk's response let's look at these verses as they relate to us today. While God's work in the days of Habakkuk was unthought-of to our prophet, in the last days God is going to do something far more radical. Daniel said that the last days would lead to a 'time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.' Dan 12:1 Echoing this, Jesus spoke also of that time saying that 'there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now-- and never to be equaled again. Matt 24:21 And 'men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.' Luke 21:26
Those times are not upon us yet but the shadows and storm clouds of the approaching days can be seen, I believe. So just as Habakkuk was instructed to 'look at the nations and watch' , so we too can see the hand of God working amongst the current upheaval occurring in so many nations of the world.  So keep alert! Watch! Habakkuk thought nothing was happening but the invasion and destruction of Judah, once it came, was swift and unexpected upon most.
Habakkuk's Response - Um, We're not going to die. Argh, are we?
Habakkuk 1:12-17 Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Youcan not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their fishing net; Because through these things their catch is large, and their food is plentiful. Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?
If we thought that Habakkuk had a problem earlier (when he thought God wasn't doing anything), after hearing God's response he really has a problem now! As He dwells on what Babylon has done to other nations he likens them to a large net that catches and drags all men away without mercy. And this is who God is going to use? As he mulls this over our good prophet struggles with two main issues:
- How could a pure, holy God, approve and use those that are wicked?
- How could God judge Judah using a nation that was more wicked than they?
J Vernon McGee gets to the heart of Habakkuk's problem when he writes the following... And note - this was written 30 years ago (1981). It is fair to say that we often look back on those days as 'the good ol'days'. The 40 years since haven't been kind ones to the place of Christianity within western society. McGee writes:
'This may be a new thought for you. You probably have heard it said - even from some pulpits - that God would never let Russia overcome the United States because we are the fair-haired boys, the good guys, the fine people. We are the ones who send missionaries to godless nations. God would never use Russia to chastise us. My friend, if you believe the Bible, you will see that God's method is to use a sinful nation to judge a people who are less sinful. If we could see what God is doing today behind the scenes, I am sure it would terrify us. I believe He is actually moving against our nation. Why? Because at one time our nation had a knowledge of God, superficial though it may have been. The Bible was once held in reverence. Very few people knew much about it, but it was respected. In our day the Bible is ignored and absolutely rejected by the nation. They may take an oath by placing their hand upon it, but they neither know nor care to know what is between its covers. Will God allow our nation to continue in its godlessness and in its flagrant sins? I don't think so. Will God use a godless nation to chastise us? Well, that was Habakkuk's question. Why would God, who is a holy God, use a pagan, heathen people to chastise His people?'
Following on from this thought, to update Habakkuk's questions to a modern example would be like someone in Europe or America crying out to God about the state of the Church and God replying 'I have seen it's state and I'm raising up Islam to use as a judgement against my people'. Not exactly what we would like to hear but it has Biblical precedent. 
As Habakkuk processes what he has heard, he rightly reminds God of the eternal promises made to the nation of Israel that they would not be cut of completely even though he understands that Judah requires judgement and correction. And thank God that He is always faithful to His promises. When it comes to His own people to whom He has given His promises, even in judgement He will remember mercy (Hab 3:2).
This chapter started with the puzzled prophet asking God why He isn't doing anything and ends, after God tells him what He is doing, with Habakkuk shocked at what God is going to do! You just can't please some people! Yet even Habakkuk's latest question will be answered for in Chapter 2 God outlines clearly why this judgement must come. And as we will hopefully see, it is a chapter that could have been written a month ago about our own world. And yet it is also a chapter that gives hope as it outlines that the righteous MUST live by faith in this difficult age and that yet, one day, the whole world will be FILLED with the KNOWLEDGE and GLORY of God.
 ↩ The Bible Knowledge Commentary has a very good intro to this book which touches on these problems and questions nicely. And you will no doubt see the relevance of the prophets questions for today's world as well. It reads:
'Planet Earth may look marvellous from a satellite, but for those who live on the dusty globe things tend to look rather grim. Increased turmoil, rising terrorism, mounting tragedies, unprecedented trauma, increasing pollution, deepening trials, and unparalleled tensions cast dark shadows over earthlings. The world looks more and more like some ominous black sphere with a very short fuse, a time bomb sizzling to explode. It is little wonder thinking people begin to ask questions. Why is there so much oppression? Why all the injustice? Why do evil men prosper? Why do the righteous suffer? Why doesn't God do something? Why doesn't God clean up this mess? Why? Why? Why? These penetrating questions are hardly new. Centuries before Christ visited this planet, an ancient prophet looked around at the violence and wickedness of the world and cried out to God, 'Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrong?... Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?' (Hab 1:3, Hab 1:13) The prophet not only asked the mysterious whys that plague mankind; he also received answers to his questions. The answers given by the Creator of the universe are carefully recorded in the little book called Habakkuk.'
 ↩ Apart from Habakkuk, a quick survey reveals some well known characters with the same questions and cry such as:
King David: How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? ( Psalms 13:1-2 )
Job: Though I cry, 'I've been wronged!' I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. ( Job 19:7 )
Jeremiah: Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. ( Lamentations 3:8-9 )
 ↩ It is a common question because God works to His own timetable. And He works to and for eternity. Always remember that. Thus things often seem to take a LOOOONG time yet His purposes are achieved. Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. And character, hope. ( Romans 5:3-4 ) So you say you want to have a godly character? Good. Then you will have to learn perseverance for that is its source. And perseverance my friend, takes time and leads to questions like the one Habakkuk had!
 ↩ J. Vernon McGee writes concerning the time of Habakkuk saying: 'Habakkuk... probably wrote sometime after the time of King Josiah, the last good king of the southern kingdom of Judah. After Josiah there was Jehoahaz, a bad one who didn't last more than three months; then Jehoiakim came along and reigned eleven years, and he was a bad one. It was a time of disintegration, deterioration, and degradation in the kingdom. There was a breaking down of the Mosaic Law, and the people were turning away from God.
 ↩ The age old question from the Psalm 11:3 comes to mind: 'If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?' - Which is a hard question to answer for the foundations of society are never destroyed overnight. They take decades to breakdown. But we do know from Habakkuk and Bible prophecy that in the end, God Himself will step in and judge just as He had to when the wickedness and departure from the truth got to such a terrible state during the days of Noah.
 ↩ The severity of the Babylonians is brought out in this note from the Bible Knowledge Commentary: ' I am raising up the Babylonians. Granted, sin had abounded all too long in Judah. But the sinners of Judah were but soiled saints next to the barbaric Babylonians. Babylon was a nation known for its violent impulses. Its people readily committed atrocities without forethought or remorse. The historical records present the Babylonians as a fierce and pitilessly cruel people. And God affirmed it to Habakkuk by calling them that ruthless (mar, 'bitter,' i.e., bitter in temper, or fierce) and impetuous (lit., 'swift') people. Ezekiel too called Babylon a ruthless nation (though he used the Heb. word ‛ārı̂ṣ , meaning 'terror-striking,' Eze_28:7; Eze_30:11; Eze_31:12; Eze_32:12). Furthermore, their conduct matched their character. They swept across the whole earth to plunder and possess. No doubt 'the whole earth' meant much of the then-known world, for Babylon did conquer many of the nations including Assyria, Judah, Egypt, and Edom. Judah was just a speck of loose dust before this gigantic vacuum cleaner.'
 ↩ God would use the ungodly Babylonians as He had other wicked nations to accomplish His purpose but that wouldn't mean that the Babylonians wouldn't reap what they have sown as well. They were still responsible for their actions! This is stated in the text we are looking at which ends in verse 11 saying concerning Babylon that 'they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their God' . Also in Jeremiah 25 the Lord says ' 'I will send to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them... 'Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,' declares the LORD, 'for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.' ( Jeremiah 25:9-12 ) We know from the book of Daniel that king Nebuchadnezzar was specifically judged severely. Yet afterwards he too through that difficulty learned to trust and praise the God of Heaven. Awesome. May that be the result amongst the nations that He judges in the last days.
 ↩ I write this on January 1st, 2012. It is fair to say that 2011 was one to remember! Even the newspapers are writing of the turmoil that occurred across the globe in 2011. We've moved from banks and financial institutions going bankrupt in 2008 to entire nations (especially in Europe) requiring 'ball-outs' to avoid bankruptcy. We've had the 'Arab spring' leading to dictators like Gaddafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt, who have ruled for decades, being killed or overthrown. And while the news makes that sound great for 'democracy', in reality the people aren't seeing freedom or democracy and it is only a win for Islam and possibly Sharia law. We had the 'Occupy' movement go global as people protest against financial inequality, inflation and joblessness. The youth unemployment rate neared 50% in Spain and Greece at the end of the year. We've had riots in Britain with youth ruling the streets, looting and setting fire to shops and houses. And let's not forget the devastation from earthquakes... tsunamis... tornados... flooding. Examiner.com led its review of 2011 by saying 'To say 2011 was a bit tumultuous would be like saying the surface of the sun is a bit warm to the touch.' Time magazine made 'The protester' its person of the year due to protests EVERYWHERE from the Middle East, to Europe, to the USA and Russia.
Yep... There is turmoil amongst the nations. ' Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed' God told Habakkuk. Well, keep watching for as we approach the last days and the return of Jesus Christ even greater 'shakings' and 'upheavals' amongst the nations will occur.
 ↩ And when you look at how God has allowed the Arab nations to have the majority of the oil in the world, it is obvious that He wants to keep them in a position of power in the last days. And He will use them for His purposes of judging, humbling and eventual drawing of Israel leading up to the return of the Messiah. This was God's way right throughout Biblical history as recorded in the book of Judges, Kings and Chronicles. And we know from prophecies such as Ezekiel 38 that nations such as Russia, Iran, Turkey, Libya and Sudan will be used to come against Israel in the last days. It is fair to say that what unites these countries is Islam with its inbuilt hatred of Israel. So God raises up nations and gives them positions of power, even though they are ungodly, for His purposes to be accomplished. In the case of the Gog/Magog battle in Ezekiel 38 it is God who 'puts hooks into their jaws' to bring them against Israel. But they are not innocent in the matter either and will be judged by God. Yet God has a purpose for those nations as well and we should expect many to come to the Lord amongst the nations judged. It is the message of Habakkuk replaying itself once again.