Written Word

Habakkuk – Part 1

Frustration with God is expressed in the writings of some of the ancient prophets. It surfaces in the life of the prophet Habakkuk.

It’s amazing to me that God allows man to vent his frustration and make serious allegations against him. Listen to Habakkuk: “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 1:2-3) The prophet expresses his frustration in three areas:

The silence of God. “I call for help, but you do not listen.” You are silent! We never hear from you! The psalmist was not shy in venting the same frustration: “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?” (Psalms 13:1-2) His fervent pleas to God were not getting any response.

The inactivity of God. Habakkuk cries out to God and laments, “you do not save”. You do nothing! You neither hear nor act. Jeremiah expresses similar words: “Why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveller who stays only a night?” (Jeremiah 14:8) The prophet is asking why God doesn’t stay around a bit longer and help resolve the problems. To Jeremiah, and to us on occasions, God is so unlike the movie hero, Superman, who can detect the faintest cry for help and respond by flying “faster than a speeding bullet” to rescue a cat trapped in a tree or save a man in a burning building or foil a bank robbery. Superman’s “ministry” involves him in immediate and effective interventions when people call his name. It is God’s apparent inactivity, God’s failure to respond immediately to the cry for help, that creates frustration.

The indifference of God. When we feel God is silent and inactive it’s only a short step to accusing him of being indifferent. “Why do you tolerate wrong?” the prophets asks, and repeats himself a little later, “Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Habakkuk 1:13)

Fortunately the book of Habakkuk does not end after the prophet has concluded his tirade against God. God does respond.

God Answers the Prophet (Habakkuk 1:5-11)

God tells Habakkuk he is wrong about all three charges: God is not silent, inactive or indifferent. Behind the scenes God is at work preparing the Babylonians to come in judgement upon the very people Habakkuk sees living in rebellion against God. There are times when it looks like God is doing nothing, as Habakkuk and others have thought, when in fact, God is doing extraordinary things. For example:

  1. From an old couple, Abraham and Sarah, God raised up a nation of people at the time when it looked like he was doing nothing.
  2. God raised up Moses to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery when it looked like he had forgotten them.
  3. God raised up Esther to be queen so that the Jews could be saved from extinction when it looked like they didn’t have a friend on their side.

But why does it take God so long to do something? Why doesn’t he move at the pace expected by Habakkuk? We must remember that God’s judgement is tempered with patience and designed to lead sinners to repentance. For example, God delayed his judgement on the Amorites “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure”. (Genesis 15:16) God was giving them time to repent. And Paul reminds us that our salvation is due to the patience of God: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4)

What the Prophet Teaches Us About God

Habakkuk teaches us that God’s “slowness” in bringing judgement, and in responding to his pleas, is in fact a display of his gracious love towards sinners. He delays so that people have a chance to repent and turn to him. The prophet teaches us that God does not operate on our schedule or follow our agenda. God has his own timetable and he has everything under his control.