Habakkuk 1:9 – 2:1
By: Warren Henderson
In this second installment of a three part series, Warren Henderson takes us through the personal struggles that the prophet Habakkuk experienced in the life of faith – valuable lessons for believers in any age as they work through the problem of evil.
The book commenced with the prophet lifting up his burdens to the Lord: Why was wickedness going unchecked? Why was God not punishing evil doers and upholding the righteous? The Lord responded by telling Habakkuk that He was aware of His people’s sin and was about to severely punish them through a Babylonian invasion. The Lord then describes the coming sorrowful conquest.
Babylon is Coming (1:9-11)
The Babylonian army, bent on violence, would advance unhindered, like the hot desert wind from the east and they would take many captives (1:9). They would be afraid of no one; but rather scoff at kings, and ridicule their fortifications (1:10). The proud Chaldeans would be high on themselves and since no nation could impede their progress, they would assume that they were being empowered by their pagan deities (1:11).
However, their ignorant boasting was an offense against God, the One who had lifted them up as an instrument in His hand. Puffed up in their successes, Jehovah would punish the entire nation for their vanity and brutality in a future day. But for the present, He would use Babylon to chasten and refine His covenant people and also to punish surrounding nations for their wickedness.
A Perplexed Prophet Responds (1:12-17)
Although delighted to know that God was not disinterested in Israel’s doings, God’s answer perplexed Habakkuk. To Habakkuk it seemed wrong for a Holy God with pure eyes to permit the wicked to prosper at the expense of those more righteous (speaking of Judah; 1:12-13). The prophet responds with a mixture of confidence and bewilderment.
Habakkuk had reasoned that even in their backsliding, the Jewish people were more righteous than the Babylonians. However, the prophet was wrong in his assessment. True, the Babylonians were more wicked than Judah, but God’s people had much more revelation and were under a covenant to be a holy people. To have been given more light and then choose to walk in darkness is more offensive to God than having limited light and still being ensnared by darkness. More revelation means more divine accountability – unto whom much is given, much is required (Lk.12:48). The Jews had ignored Jehovah’s Law and He was rightfully angry with His wayward people.
The prophet realized that the Jewish nation would be on their own before their invaders. They would be like a school of fish erratically darting here and there in the sea without sound leadership to guide or protect them (1:14). Yet, God would limit the severity of His judgment through the Babylonians in such a way to manifest His justice, but also display His mercy. God would not permit the end of the Jewish nation – “We shall not die” (v. 12). The prophet understood Jehovah’s intentions were to refine His people, yet, why would God use such a distasteful foul rod of correction to accomplish this objective?
On this point, Habakkuk offers two objections. First, the Babylonians had no regard for the welfare of the nations (1:15). Second, they would exalt their own gods for the successes they had in despoiling the nations and enslaving those they conquered (1:16). The Babylonian fishermen were relentlessly depleting the nations of resources and life; thus, the prophet cries out to the Lord, “Shall they therefore empty their net, and continue to slay nations without pity?” (v. 17). Indeed, Babylon would go too far, and God would both limit their exploits and punish their ruthlessness.
Waiting for God’s Answer (2:1)
Understanding God’s response to Habakkuk’s questions in chapter 2 (i.e., “the just shall live by faith”) is foundational in comprehending how God works to accomplish His purposes and better His people. It suffices here to say that trusting in God and His Word results in life and that pride and rebellion lead to death.
Habakkuk did not have the answers, but knew that One who did. Like Habakkuk, we too must get alone with God to learn His mind and His ways. The Lord Jesus emphasized to His disciples the vital importance of watching and praying to accomplish the same outcome (Lk. 21:36). Watching does not mean focusing on what men are doing or will do, but rather how God will answer and direct our steps by faith. Waiting for answers is not wasted time; rather, intentional stillness before God leads us into deeper serenity and an understanding of God Himself (Ps. 46:10).
The prophet’s questions indicate an acknowledgement of ignorance, a strong desire to be taught, a willingness to wait for God’s correction, and a great confidence in God’s character. Habakkuk had issued inquiries to the high court of heaven and now He eagerly waited for a response. He was like a sentinel perched in a watchtower observing the far horizon for the first hint of an invading army.
Lord Correct Me (2:1)
In the stillness and with alertness Habakkuk prepared his heart to receive God’s word. While he waited anxiously for God’s answer he also thought about what his response might be, that is, “what I will answer when I am corrected” (2:1). This statement indicates that although the prophet fully trusted the Lord, he was still wrestling with comprehending His ways. He longed for an answer that he knew would both correct his flawed human reasoning and enhance his appreciation for God. To pray, “Lord correct me when I am wrong and teach me what is lacking” indicates a faith that is settled in God’s sovereignty.
Believers in love with the Lord Jesus do not want to err from God’s best for them. Telling God that though we do not understand what He is doing, but that we trust Him anyway because He is just, holy, and true is the essence of faith. If we ask the Lord to reveal the reasons for what He is doing, He may do so, but often the fullness of divine elegance is revealed in time, so that we will have a greater wonder and appreciation for God’s accomplishments. Life’s best lessons are learned in the journey with God, rather than knowing how He has plotted our course in time.
The prophet had questioned God’s method of chastening Israel, so he expected to be corrected by the Lord. Although nervous about God’s response, Habakkuk was willing to receive God’s reproof to better understand His mind. God honors such an attitude. Though waiting for God’s response can be mentally fatiguing we can have confidence that God will not leave His servants without instruction where there is an eager heart, willing mind, and an exercised conscience (Lk. 11:9). However, neither should we be surprised if His answers are not what we expect and not as complete as we would like, this just means God wants us to more fully experience Him through faith!