Friday, February 17, 2017

The Structure of the Old Testament Book of Habakkuk


Habakkuk is a small, but important book in the Old Testament. This little book was written by the prophet Habakkuk, whose name means either “the embracer” or “the wrestler.” Interestingly, Habakkuk wrestled with the question of why God would let evil go unpunished and why God would bring tragedy and misfortune on His own people. But at the same time he embraced salvation by faith.
Let’s read Habakkuk’s 1st complaint in chapter 1, verses 2 through 4 (New International version):
2 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?

 3 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.
 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
       and justice never prevails.
       The wicked hem in the righteous,
       so that justice is perverted.
Well, people just don’t seem to follow God’s rules and Habakkuk doesn’t seem to understand why God allows this to go on. The law is paralyzed and justice doesn’t prevail. The evildoers are surrounding the righteous and justice is perverted. This sounds pretty current to me. Think about it. Here are the same verses in a really modern translation (The Message):
1-4 The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it: God, how long do I have to cry out for help
   before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, "Help! Murder! Police!"
   before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil,
   stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
   quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
   Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
   and stand justice on its head.

   
We find God’s answer in verses 5 – 11 and essentially God says He is going to use the Babylonians to punish Israel.
What’s Habakkuk’s next complaint?
He cannot believe that the most Holy God would look at, let alone use, the evil Babylonians to punish Israel. Habakkuk is incredulous and waits for the Lord to answer him.
In Chapter 2 God gives his answer.  He points out the 5 things bad people (bad nations) do: thievery (verse 6), dishonesty (verse 9), murder (verse 12), drunkenness (verse 15) and idolatry (verse 18). There’s a sermon in each one of these. Babylon is guilty of these things and God will eventually punish them, too. He says that someone will destroy Babylon. In verse 5 we read, ‘wine will destroy Babylon.’ Read the book of Daniel and you’ll find out that this really happened, about 70 years later.
God may use bad people, but be in no doubt that He makes sure that they will get their punishment at some point. It always happens because God is in control.
Chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer or psalm, complete with musical direction as you can read in verses 1 and 19. I especially like verse 2 (NIV):
 2 LORD, I have heard of your fame;
       I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
       Renew them in our day,
       in our time make them known;
       in wrath remember mercy.
Habakkuk expresses a strong faith in God despite the adverse situation. In the rest of the chapter he sings of the great events of 800 years before when God led them out of Egypt. He remembers the plagues and pestilences that God used to punish the Egyptians. I think he has grasped the concept, which is that God will do what God reasons to be righteous and just at the exact time that He, in His infinite wisdom, deems to be the right time.
Finally, Habakkuk sees that, although he (and we) may question God’s actions and timing, he (and we) must be patient and, in all things, praise God. If things are bad for us (verse 17) we should still rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in God, or, as written in verse 18 of The Message translation:
I'm singing joyful praise to God.
   I'm turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God's Rule to prevail

Amen.