November 20, 2015.
Daily Reading: Habakkuk 1-3.
Background: Very little is known about the prophet Habakkuk, as we are not given his family linage, hometown or who was in power when he carried out his ministry from the text. His name even is not a common Hebrew name and it is only found twice in scripture, both times in this book (Habakkuk 1:1, 3:1). It is thought that Habakkuk’s ministry was around the mid to late 7th century BC as the Babylonians were rising to power and would soon take Judah captive, as much of his ministry deals with oracles about Babylon. The final chapter is a psalm of praise to God and is commissioned to the choirmaster to be played on stringed instruments, which as led some to speculate that Habakkuk might have been a Levite, perhaps a temple musician. The answer that the Lord gives Habakkuk in 2:4 is drawn upon by Paul and the Hebrew writer to help form the basis of the theology of righteousness through faith.
Concepts and Connections.
Habakkuk’s complaints and the Lord’s response: Habakkuk is unique among the minor prophets in that his ministry (or at least his book) doesn’t begin with a word from the Lord, but rather a complaint to the Lord from the prophet. Habakkuk looks out and sees evil and injustice among the people of God and he cries out to the Lord about it, seemingly receiving no answer. The Law is paralyzed, wicked surround the righteous and justice is perverted- all while the Lord sits idly by. Or so Habakkuk thinks. Thus he raises his complaint to the Lord and is given an answer. What Habakkuk didn’t know, however, was that the Lord was not actually sitting idly by, but was preparing to do something so big that Habakkuk wouldn’t even believe it if he was told. The Lord was raising up the Babylonians as punishment for His people who had perverted His way and turned to other gods that were no gods at all. Notice that Habakkuk’s complaint deals mainly with the wickedness of God’s people, or at least a good portion of them. This is why the Lord’s answer of the Chaldeans rings well with the complaint. They would come as a mighty and conquering nation, and Judah would not stand against them. However, it seems that the Lord’s answer also didn’t set well with the prophet, for he raises a second complaint. How could God use a nation that is even more wicked than Judah to punish Judah? Yes, the people had turned away, but was He really going to destroy His people? Why would the Lord allow Babylon to do such a thing? It seems Habakkuk is a bit torn. First he complains that the Lord isn’t doing anything about the injustice he sees amongst the people of God. But then he isn’t pleased with the way that the Lord is going to deal with it. The Lord’s plans are higher than our own, even when it goes against our own logic and reasoning, for He knows much more than we do. Here we can see the humanity of a prophet of the Lord and relate to him, all while learning to trust in the Lord, as we have seen the outcome of the plan that He tells Habakkuk here, which will further be addressed in His answer in the next chapter.
1. The righteous shall live by faith: Habakkuk takes his stand at his watch post here waiting for the answer from the Lord regarding his complaint at the end of the previous chapter. He was not happy with the way that the Lord planned to bring about punishment on Judah through the Chaldeans (Babylonians). The Lord answers him in this chapter and tells him to write the vision on tablets so that people may hear and react. The Lord was indeed raising up the Babylonians, a nation more wicked than Judah, to punish Judah, but their reign of terror would not last forever. Even if it seemed like the judgment of the Lord was not coming soon, the Lord assures Habakkuk that it is coming and that He knows how to deal with the proud. The righteous, however, would live by faith. This is a very important passage for Paul and the Hebrew writer, as it is cited on multiple occasions in the letters to form the backbone of righteousness though faith (see Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:37-38). Even amongst a proud and cruel nation that had taken the people of God captive, the righteous would be delivered through their faith.
2. Woe to the Babylonians: After assuring the coming of Judgment against the Chaldeans, five oracles are placed against them in the latter portion of this chapter which will be taunted at their fall. The first oracle addresses their plundering and taking what is not their own. As they had plundered, so they would be plundered by the remnant of the nations they had come against. The second deals with the evil way they had established their house. They had established their rule by cutting off people, and through this they had unwittingly forfeited their life before the Lord. The third addressed the blood that was shed when they founded cites by way of iniquity. Their labor would be for nothing with the earth was filled with the knowledge and glory of God. The fourth talks about their love for drinking and making others drunk with the intent to take advantage of them. Just as they had shamed the other nations, so would shame be brought upon them, utter shame and destruction. Finally, the fifth oracle addresses their idolatry, that they trust in their own creation which are speechless idols. The Lord is the only God, and He was in His holy temple. He is the only being who’s presence demands reverence. Let all the earth keep silent before Him.
Habakkuk’s prayer: After Habakkuk’s complaints, the Lord’s responses and the oracles against the Chaldeans, Habakkuk writes a beautiful prayer that was to be sent to the choirmaster and to be played on stringed instruments. Notice how the prayer of this prophet begins, not with the requests of the prophet, though this could be considered an implied endpoint (see verse 16), but rather with fear and honor to the Lord, the great and powerful. He talked about the Lord’s mercy and slender, praising the Lord. The Lord is depicted with vivid imagery and ascribed monumental power, so much that the mountains writhe at His sight, the deep cries out and the sun and moon stand still. Habakkuk knows that the Lord has the power to thresh the nations and save His people. He would crush the head of the house of the wicked. Though Habakkuk was dismayed at the wickedness and evil that surrounded him, he quietly waited on the Lord to bring forth the day of trouble on his oppressors. In one final assertion, Habakkuk makes known his complete trust in the Lord, that though everything (and he meant everything) around him seemed to be failing, he would take joy in the Lord God of his salvation, for He was his strength. Let us ever aspire to have the faith and trust that Habakkuk displays here in his beautiful prayer.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Acts 9-10.
The Lord is in His holy temple.