Habakkuk's Lament (and ours)
- 2017 Feb 27
There are some seasons in our Christian life where we wonder where God is. Like a thick low lying fog that crawls along the ground, these seasons are dark and difficult to navigate. God seems—to us at least— noticeably absent. We call out to him and wonder if he even hears us. We plead and cry for his help but nothing changes in our circumstances.
While we know in our mind that God is always present, it often feels otherwise, especially when we are going through a trial. Or when all we see is sin and brokenness around us, it appears as though God is doing nothing. Our heart resonates with the sons of Korah, "Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?" (Psalm 44:24).
There's another place in Scripture where the writer wonders where God is: the book of Habakkuk.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture comes from the book of Habakkuk. It might seem like an unlikely book for a favorite verse. It's not a promise like many favorite verses usually are. It's not a list of important things to do, like that of Philippians 4:8. Before I get to the passage though, I want to share more about the prophet with an interesting name.
Habakkuk was a prophet most likely during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. Unlike other prophetic books, Habakkuk doesn't prophecy to the people of Judah. Rather, the book is a conversation between Habakkuk and God. In the book, Habakkuk voices a lament to God. Unlike the laments in the Psalms, this one shows us God's response. In his lament, Habakkuk cries out to God. He asks for God's help, intervention, and justice. Like most other laments, Habakkuk responds with trust in God.
The book begins with the prophet looking at the sin and idolatry around him and asking, "O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise" (1:2-3).
God responded to Habakkuk's question but not in the way he expected. God told Habakkuk that he would deal with the sin and idolatry. He would deal with it by sending Babylon to exact his justice. God would judge not only Judah, but their enemies as well. "Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own" (1:5-7).
This was hard for Habakkuk to hear. Babylon was an evil nation. Why would God use them to punish Judah? Habakkuk responded and affirmed God's sovereignty, holiness, and power, "Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof." (1:12).
But he still wanted to know, why? (vs.13).
God responded by reminding Habakkuk that God rules and reigns over all things. God's purposes will come to pass in his time (2:3). He then went on to list a series of "woes" against Babylon, revealing the judgment they would face.
It may seem that evil is winning the day, but one day, God's glory willcover the earth, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea" 2:14). For those of us who watch the evil around us in the world or in our own lives and wonder when God will move, this is a good reminder. As our Savior said, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Through his perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection from the grave, Christ has conquered sin and death. He is the great Overcomer. He has won the victory. As believers, we are called to live by faith in what Christ has done. It is our present hope in this fallen world and the down payment on our hope to come in eternity.
Habakkuk responded with a prayer in chapter 3. He focused on God's character, describing God's mercy (vs. 2), his glory, power, and holiness (vs. 3-6). Habakkuk then went on to remember what God did the past and his faithfulness toward his people, "You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed" (vs. 12-13).
Like other laments in Scripture, Habakkuk was honest about how he felt concerning the judgment to come, "I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us" (vs. 16). He was filled with dread and anxiety, such that his whole body trembled. Yet...
The book of Habakkuk ends with my favorite passage, "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places" (3:17-19).
This passage is my favorite because it reminds me that my faith in God rests not in what he provides or doesn't provide, not in whether he moves in my life the way I desire or whether he rescues me from hard things. It reminds me that my joy is not dependent upon what I have. My joy is found in God, who is my salvation and my strength. Whatever my circumstances, whatever fears or anxieties I have, whatever darkness lurks on the horizon, whatever is happening in the world around me, God is my salvation and my joy. This passage is not only a reminder of what is true, but it's also my prayer that it would be the condition of my heart.
Habakkuk placed his trust and hope in the God who was faithful to his people in the past and trusted in his promises for the future. Jesus came as the answer to those promises. He is the answer to the suffering, injustice, and evil in the world. He is the One to whom all the stories of redemption and deliverance in the Old Testament point to. On this side of the cross, we can trust in God's perfect plan. We too can "quietly wait." We can rejoice even in the midst of our anxieties (vs. 16). Christ has come and is with us in the darkest days. And he will come again and make all things new.