‘Daily life…is the painful reality of starvation, AIDS, and violence. There is no food on the shelves, there are no medicines in hospitals, and no one can afford to buy from the drugstores.
We have become a nation of beggars who spend more time looking for food than working. Most employees’ monthly wages would not be enough to meet their transportation budget to get to and from work.
State schools have lost almost all qualified teachers. Most factories have closed down.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of elderly destitutes and children living on the street. Retirees are the most affected because over the last 10 years they have lost all their savings and pension benefits.
The government has banned voluntary organisations from distributing critical food and medical aid.
More and more people are getting killed and beaten up in both rural and urban areas. The general population has become hopelessly fearful. This terror campaign by the ruling party has claimed hundreds of lives.’
That was written by a Christian pastor in 2008 about life in Zimbabwe. He adds:-
‘Over the last five years, I have preached often from the book of Habakkuk. We’re getting lots of practice in living the life of faith to which this prophet points us.’
We can all find ourselves asking the kind of questions that troubled Habakkuk, and going on a journey with him from frustration to faith. Compare 1:2 with 3:18f.
The year c 600 BC, the place Judah. The ten northern tribes had been overun by the Assyrians over 100 years earlier. The two southern tribes limped on. Josiah had implemented many reforms. But his good work had been undone by his son Jehoiakim.
The situation is described in v3b-4
We find Habakkuk questioning, listening, disputing, and watching.
1. Questioning (Hab 1:2-4)
V2-3a ‘How long…Why…Why?’
We might ask:-
- Why do the good suffer, and the wicked get away scot-free?
- Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?
- Why, when we try our best for God, does everything seem to go wrong?
- Why, after we have prayed for peace do we still see so much violence?
- Why, when I’ve longed for my son, daughter, husband, wife, to come to faith in Christ, do they seem further away than ever?
- Why, after praying for spiritual renewal for so many years, do we see the nation going from bad to worse?
Let’s get real with God. Let’s be thankful that we have a God to whom we can take our questions.
2. Listening (Hab 1:5-11)
“I’m going to do something…in your own days…something unbelievable…I am going to raise up…the Babylonians.”
Described in vv6-12
Even in the OT, God is Lord of the nations. The God who seems unable or unwilling to control little Judah is, in fact, pulling the strings of the mightiest nation in the known world.
Think of the forces today that are most antagonistic towards the good news of Jesus. Militant Islam, strident atheism, unprincipled commercialism. Can God use these very forces for his own purposes?
3. Disputing (Hab 1:12-17)
V13 – ‘So your plan is to use Babylon to judge Judah? You’re going to let the less righteous swallow up the more righteous?’
Good doctrine seems to make the problem worse.
If we had bad doctrine – if God were believed to be fickle and capricious, or remote and uncaring – there would be less of a problem.
But Habakkuk knows, v12f, that God is eternal (‘from everlasting’), holy (‘my God, my Holy One’), faithful (‘we will not die’), and pure (‘too pure to look on evil’). That’s why he finds it so hard to understand what God is up to.
Still, he’s onto something. He’s clinging on to what he knows about God. It’s good to show God his own hand-writing. Moving from what we know to what we do not yet understand. ‘I cannot tell – but this I know.’
4. Watching (Hab 2:1)
‘I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.’
I will go up, he says, to a place from which I can see the bigger picture, take the longer view.
So there’s more to come. We’ll look next week at the joy he discovers even when he can see no obvious reasons for rejoicing in the world around him. And the following week we’ll explore the life of faith of which this joy is the outcome.
But for now, let’s fix our eyes on one greater than Habakkuk. But one who, in his hour of greatest anguish, also cried out, “Why?”. One who,
Heb 5:7f ‘…during the days of [his] life on earth, offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.’
And let us thank God that for Habakkuk, for Christ himself, for our suffering brothers and sisters around the world, and for us ourselves, there is set before us a life, not only of questioning, listening, disputing, and waiting, but also of trust in God, and joy unspeakable, and full of glory.