Habakkuk 1, His Burden

Intro: I hope you have enjoyed and been benefitted from our study through the Minor Prophets. I have become even more convinced of the eternal relevancy of the scriptures. How could the message of a prophet who lived 3000 years ago have a useful and applicable message for us? And yet, even when studied within the historical context, the teaching is for our time and builds up our faith. Today we will begin a study of the words of the prophet Habakkuk. Following the pattern we have utilized in our previous studies we will look first at the man, and then his message. Turn your Bibles to Habakkuk.

I. Habakkuk, the Prophet: Hab 1:1The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw. Little is known of the background of Habakkuk. His book throws little light upon his life, and the rest of the Old Testament is silent concerning him. There are a few legends surrounding his identity; 1) the son of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:16, because his name means “to embrace”; 2) Some have connected Isaiah 21:6 (“Go set a watchman”) with Hab. 2:1 (“I will stand my watch”) and concluded he was the watchman Isaiah set up to watch for the fall of Babylon. But this is just speculation. We might conclude that he was a Levite who was familiar with the music of the Temple as the third chapter contains a Psalm accompanied by musical instruments. (3:19). But again, we cannot be certain.

A. His name, Habakkuk, means “to embrace”. Luther says his name “speaks as one who took his nation to his heart, comforted it and held it up, as one embraces and presses to his bosom a poor weeping child, calming and consoling it with good hope.” (Geikie).

1. He is often referred to as the prophet of faith. Although he poses hard questions about God’s activity, he emerges as one who has absolute confidence in Jehovah, no matter what circumstances may come. The message of his book is that the righteous will live (or endure) through their faith (trust) in God.

B. The Historical Setting: The prophecy of Habakkuk can be best dated to the time period following the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyria, by the Babylonians in 612 B.C., and before the actual siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. Habakkuk prophesied just after the time of the Nahum, and is a contemporary of Zephaniah and Jeremiah.

1. The religious setting: The spiritual reforms of Josiah came to end when he was killed by Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo in 609 B.C. Idolatry returned in full force. In the opening lines of his prophecy Habakkuk describes the immoral conditions in Judah… He sees violence, strife, contention and injustice. He is surrounded by wicked people. (Hab 1:3-4)

2. The political setting: When Nineveh fell to Nabopolassar and the Babylonians (612 B.C.), Egypt, led by Pharaoh Necho, came to prominence. Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, was imprisoned by Necho. Jehoiakim, took his place in Judah (2 Kings 23:31-34). Necho forced Jehoiakim to pay a heavy tribute of silver and gold, which Jehoiakim gathered by taxing the people of Judah (2 Kings 23:35).

a. In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Necho at the battle of Carchemish in Syria and positioned Babylon as the dominant world empire. Soon after this, Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon and stood at the doorstep of Judah. Jehoiakim was eventually captured and taken captive to Babylon, as was his son, Jehoiachin (2 Chron. 36:5-10). Habakkuk lived and prophesied in tumultuous times, and it was difficult for the righteous in Judah to understand the divine purpose behind it all.

II. The Prophecy of Habakkuk: The prophecy of Habakkuk is unique. Whereas the other prophets are commissioned with taking the words of the Lord to the people, Habakkuk brings the words and concerns of the people to the Lord. The message of the book centers on the expressed concerns of Habakkuk about God’s willingness to intervene in the face of violence and injustice. He is a righteous man living in a righteous nation. Is God indifferent to what is going on?

A. The message of Habakkuk can be easily divided into 3 sections:

1. Habakkuk’s burden: viewed in the 2 “complaints” (or questions of perplexing concern) directed to God. (1:2-2:2)

2. Habakkuk’s Vision: God’s answers are given in 1) a call for faith or trust in God’s preservation of the righteous (2:4) and, 2) a series of woes upon the Chaldeans (Babylon) clearly indicating that God is not indifferent to their wickedness.

3. Habakkuk’s Prayer: Chapter three is Habakkuk’s prayer for compassion and mercy in the face of God’s judgment. He recounts God’s faithfulness in the past and expresses His absolute confidence in what God will do.

B. Habakkuk’s First Complaint: Hab. 1:2-4 – 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save. 3 Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. 4 Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds. The prophet’s question is not unique or new. Have you ever scratched your head about God willingness to allow such heinous sin in our society? Are you ever perplexed by His longsuffering?

1. Look at some others who cried this same thing:

      • AsaphPsalm 74:9-11 –…There is no longer any prophet; Nor is there any among us who know how long. O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? Psalm 79:5-7How long, Lord? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You, and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.
      • Unnamed psalmist – Psalm 94:1-3O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs – O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth; Render punishment to the proud. Lord, how long will the wicked, How long will the wicked triumph?
      • Martyred souls under the altar – Rev. 6:9-10When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” God’s servants anxiously wait for God to intervene and change things. They look for God to deliver them from their troubles or judge their enemies with justice. Some problems do not go away quickly. Has God deserted us?

C. Jehovah’s First Answer: Hab 1:5-11 – 5 “Look among the nations and watch — Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you. 6 For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, A bitter and hasty nation Which marches through the breadth of the earth, To possess dwelling places that are not theirs. 7 They are terrible and dreadful; Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. 8 Their horses also are swifter than leopards, And more fierce than evening wolves. Their chargers charge ahead; Their cavalry comes from afar; They fly as the eagle that hastens to eat. 9 “They all come for violence; Their faces are set like the east wind. They gather captives like sand. 10 They scoff at kings, And princes are scorned by them. They deride every stronghold, For they heap up earthen mounds and seize it. 11 Then his mind changes, and he transgresses; He commits offense, Ascribing this power to his god.” God tells Habakkuk to watch among the nations because he will be utterly astonished at what he sees. His answers points to a fundamental truth often proclaimed in the words of the prophets – God is at work among the nations of the earth. He raises them us and takes them down. God is telling Habakkuk and Israel to “watch” – we cannot always see it as it happens.

1. God is going to do something that is going to seem hard to believe. He will allow the Chaldeans (Babylon) to rise to power and conquer His own people. This bitter and hasty nation will be His tool of discipline towards Judah. The Babylonians are just the people for the job; they are swift, they “possess places that are not their own”, “come for violence”, and “gather captives like sand”. They are fearless.

2. God tells Habakkuk (and Judah) something about the Chaldeans that they already know; these are wicked people who commit offense, giving the credit to their own god. (idolaters). God’s perplexing answer gives rise to Habakkuk’s second question (complaint)

D. Habakkuk’s Second Complaint: Hab. 1:12-17 12 Are You not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. 13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he? 14 Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them? 15 They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they sacrifice to their net, And burn incense to their dragnet; Because by them their share is sumptuous And their food plentiful. 17 Shall they therefore empty their net, And continue to slay nations without pity?

1. Habakkuk knows that God is eternal and holy. He knows that He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness”. So how is that He is willing to use a nation more wicked than His own people to wreak such havoc; to “slay nations without pity”? How could God “hold His tongue” (say or do nothing) when the wicked devour a person more righteous than themselves. This was Habakkuk’s dilemma. David Baker says God’s answer raised “yet further theological and moral problems for the prophet, since the cureof a Babylonian invasion is worse than the ‘illness’ of Judaean sin” (David W. Baker, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 47).

2. Notice 2:1 –“I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected.” – Habakkuk will stand at his watch and wait for God’s answer. He is confident that God will answer. He also knows that God’s answer will be a reproof of himself; yet he is ready to hear it. This is the stance of true faith. It is why God is not angry with Habakkuk’s hard questions. He is truly looking for God’s answers. Are you?

E. Jehovah’s Second Answer: Hab 2:2-4 – 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. 3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. 4 “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.

1. vs. 2 – God’s answer included specific instructions for Habakkuk to “write the vision and make it plain on tablets.” Why should he write it down? 2 thoughts from the text:

a. The revelation was for a future time (v. 3) which God has chosen. It was to be written down so as to preserve the message. It would be for all of God’s people to read. When God’s purposes were fulfilled, it would be confirmed. The message will thus speak , and not lie. The one who reads it may run and tell others (as a herald).

b. The revelation was to be recorded so that those who read it “may run”. The thought here is that with the assurance that what God has said “will surely come”, those who read the message now can run with confidence and persevere to the end.

2. vs. 3 – The second instruction included in God’s answer is to “wait for it”. God will punish the wicked and preserve the righteous.

3. Vs. 4 – contrasts the Babylonians with the righteous Israelite (such as Habakkuk).. The one who is proud and trusts in himself is not upright in God’s eyes (he will be judged); but the righteous will live (survive) by faith.

III. “The just shall live by faith” – Ironside call this the “watchword” of God’s revelation. We will look more carefully at this in a future lesson, especially as it is used by the apostles of the NT. But what did it mean to Habakkuk?

A. The word “just” (from tsaddiq) means “just, righteous in conduct and character toward God.” The word “faith” (from emunah) can mean trust, reliance, firmness, steadfastness, fidelity; faithfulness. The connection between faith and faithfulness is not strained. One’s faithfulness or fidelity is born from the trust he places in God. The text is, therefore, saying the righteous person will live (survive the calamity and maintain his relationship with God) by trusting in God (and remaining faithful).

B. Two ways to live….A person either lives by his faith in God, and the consequences of that faith, or he does not – He denies God and lives by what he sees. The Christian has a different attitude about life because of the implications of his faith in God. When Habakkuk faced a crisis his faith was all he had to answer it. There was no way he was going to understand all that was going on. He would either believe that God knew what He was doing, or not. He had the ability, because of his faith, to believe that God was acting in his best interest in all things, even when he did not understand it. In this, his faith was identical to Abraham’s, who “went out not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8) and who “hope against (human) hope” (Romans 4:18).

1. Sometimes, our emphasis of the connection of faith to obedience ignores the importance of believing when there is, in fact, nothing we are to do but believe (which is sometimes much more difficult than doing). This is a vital characteristic of God’s answer to Habakkuk… “though it tarries, wait for it”. Habakkuk waited for God’s answer and then accepted it. His questions of doubt and dismay were answered by his faith. Hab 2:20“But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

2. We may not be able to understand what God is doing in this wicked world we live in. We need to read Habakkuk’s message and run with it! “Prayer, thanksgiving, and trust, are the spiritual key to unlock the mysteries of God’s present government of the earth.” (from Fausset’s Bible Dictionary)

Conclusion: Do you believe that God is working in your best interest? Are you willing to trust Him for the future and be obedient no matter what you see happen around you?