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Habakkuk Survey

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Old Testament Survey Series: The Minor Prophets A Prayer of Complaint (Habakkuk 1:1–4)

A PRAYER OF COMPLAINT

Habakkuk 1:1–4

Habakkuk was a devout believer, a man of deep faith. Like many such individuals through the ages he was puzzled as to how a righteous and holy God could permit wickedness to triumph on the earth even briefly. Two expressions introduce the complaint of the prophet: How long? and Why?

A. Complaint about Prayer (1:2)

Habakkuk complained about unanswered prayer. Chafing under the arrogant pretensions of the wicked, Habakkuk often had cried out to Yahweh, but the heavens were silent. When God neither gives answers nor takes action he is said not to hear a prayer. Thus Habakkuk cried out, “How long shall I cry, and you will not hear?” The thought that God did not seem to be nearly as upset about the situation in the land as was Habakkuk made this man of God even more distraught (1:2a). Prayer is the framework in which all the burdens of the people of the Lord may be poured out. Therefore prayers expressing perplexity are appropriate as long as they are expressed in the context of faith.

Habakkuk complained to the Lord about the violence in the land. Here Habakkuk is using the same word (chamas) which was used to describe the deplorable conditions which existed on the earth prior to the Flood. In his prayers he described to Yahweh this violence. Yet the Lord did not lift a finger to save the righteous from the oppression of violent men. Habakkuk seems to be describing conditions in Judah as they existed during the reign of wicked King Jehoiakim who came to the throne in 609 B.C.. He is speaking as a mediator on behalf of the righteous members of the community who were suffering at the hands of violent men.

B. Complaint about His Vision (1:3)

Habakkuk complained about his vision. What Habakkuk saw in the land is spelled out in three couplets. He had seen “iniquity and wickedness.” He had observed “destruction and violence.” He had seen “strife and contention” rising up. So Habakkuk’s disgust with conditions in society were based only partly on personal experience. Through divine revelation he had seen the thorough corruption of his people as well as the consequences of that corruption.

Habakkuk complained about the lack of law enforcement. Because the violence was so pervasive, “the law is slacked,” i.e., not enforced. “Justice” never seemed to “go forth” like a warrior to battle the corruption. The wicked outnumbered the righteous and forced their will on them.

C. Complaint about Injustice (1:4)

The prophet complained about the lot of the righteous. “The wicked compass about the righteous,” i.e., surround them. The “righteous” here are those innocent of wrongdoing. They are attacked and punished. The power of the government was used to victimize the innocent. The only justice which did go forth from courts of law was perverted by bribes and prejudice.

GOD’S ANSWER

Habakkuk 1:5–6a

The silence of the heavens was broken. Yahweh answered the complaint of his prophet and those who felt as he did. He does not answer the “why” of Habakkuk, nor does he explain why he delayed so long in answering the complaint of the prophet. On the other hand, the Lord does not rebuke the prophet for his complaint, nor dispute the accuracy of the facts as Habakkuk had articulated them. In fact, Yahweh agreed that the corruption of the land was terrible.

The revelation of God’s plan and the demonstration of God’s power does not follow any program designed by man. God is sovereign. He responds to prayer at the time and in the manner he deems best. Believers must cease to think of prayer as the tool by which they can force the Lord to follow their agenda and schedule.

A. Preparation for the Revelation (1:5)

The divine answer is addressed to the people of Judah as well as Habakkuk. It begins with “behold,” a word which always introduces something unexpected if not shocking. Whether men know it or not God is at work behind the scenes of history to straighten out the mess made by sinful men in society.

Those who might complain of Yahweh’s inactivity should look “among the nations,” i.e., the Gentiles. God’s agent of chastisement would appear on the international horizon. Only the wisdom of God could design a plan which would address the corruption in Judah by performing a work among the nations.

Those who did comprehend what God was doing among the nations could not help but “wonder marvelously.” His way is not the way of man, and consequently it evokes constant amazement. It is in fact incredible. So dramatic and decisive is God’s action that the righteous would find it difficult to believe the reports of it.

People of faith in every generation must hear the declaration of Yahweh: “I am working a work in your days,” literally, “a worker is working in your days.” The redundancy produced by the cognate accusative in the Hebrew serves to underscore the activity. The participle suggests either current action or imminent action. In essence Habakkuk was about to threaten the destruction of Jerusalem. For this reason the Apostle Paul could appropriate these words to warn the Jews of another shocking work of God in their days, viz., the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (Acts 13:41).

B. A Shocking Announcement (1:6a)

A second “behold” statement defines the divine work and illustrates why people would be so incredulous at the report of it. “Behold, I am about to raise up the Chaldeans.” The Neo-Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian kingdom was founded in 626 B.C. by Nabopolassar. The Chaldeans, however, had inhabited the region of southern Mesopotamia since at least 1000 B.C.. They were not a new people on the stage of history.

Since it is impossible to pinpoint the exact year in which Habak kuk received this revelation, the political status of the Chaldeans at the time is hard to determine. From 626 to 612 B.C.—the fall of Nineveh—they were persistent and pesky adversaries of the Assyrians in southern Mesopotamia. From 612 to 605 B.C. the long term success of the Chaldean kingdom must still have been in doubt. After all, it was only with the help of the Medes and the Scythians that major Assyrian fortresses had been conquered. After 605 B.C., however, mastery of the world was clearly in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of the Chaldean rulers.

God is explicit in his identification of the agent which he would use to bring judgment upon Judah. Yahweh is sovereign over all nations. He raises up kings, and brings them down. In his marvelous wisdom, God dispersed his people among the nations so that they might bear witness to him among their captors. This was part of the grand preparation for the coming of the Promised One in the fullness of time. Yet the timing was such that this spreading of the knowledge of the true God coincided with the need to discipline the covenant people.

I. A PRAYER OF COMPLAINT

The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. 2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! 3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. 4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
Habakkuk was a devout believer, a man of deep faith. Like many such individuals through the ages he was puzzled as to how a righteous and holy God could permit wickedness to triumph on the earth even briefly.
Two expressions introduce the complaint of the prophet: How long? and Why?

A. Complaint about Prayer (1:2)

O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

Habakkuk complained about unanswered prayer.

Note: Prayers can be hindered
The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

Habakkuk complained to the Lord about the violence in the land.

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

B. Complaint about His Vision (1:3)

Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.

Habakkuk complained about his vision

Sometimes we romanticize in our minds what it would be like to be a prophet...
What the Lord allowed Habakkuk to see burdened him
Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
sometimes ignorance is bliss...

Habakkuk complained about the lack of law enforcement.

Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.
Law enforcement serve a role in God’s Command
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.

C. Complaint about Injustice (1:4)

Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
The prophet complained about the lot of the righteous. The “righteous” here are those innocent of wrongdoing. They are attacked and punished. The power of the government was used to victimize the innocent.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
Review: Prayer of Complaint

II. GOD’S ANSWER

Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. 6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.
The silence of the heavens was broken.
On the other hand, the Lord does not rebuke the prophet for his complaint, nor dispute the accuracy of the facts as Habakkuk had articulated them. In fact, Yahweh agreed that the corruption of the land was terrible.
The revelation of God’s plan and the demonstration of God’s power does not follow any program designed by man.
God is sovereign. He responds to prayer at the time and in the manner he deems best.
Reminder: Believers must cease to think of prayer as the tool by which they can force the Lord to follow their agenda and schedule.

A. Preparation for the Revelation (1:5)

Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
The divine answer is addressed to the people of Judah as well as Habakkuk.
It begins with “behold,” a word which always introduces something unexpected if not shocking. Whether men know it or not God is at work behind the scenes of history to straighten out the mess made by sinful men in society.
Those who might complain of God’s inactivity should look “among the nations,” i.e., the Gentiles. God’s agent of chastisement would appear on the international horizon. Only the wisdom of God could design a plan which would address the corruption in Judah by performing a work among the nations.
Those who did comprehend what God was doing among the nations could not help but “wonder marvelously.”
Remember: People of faith in every generation must hear the declaration of God: “I will work a work in your days”
The redundancy produced by the cognate accusative in the Hebrew serves to underscore the activity. The participle suggests either current action or imminent action. In essence Habakkuk was about to threaten the destruction of Jerusalem. For this reason the Apostle Paul could appropriate these words to warn the Jews of another shocking work of God in their days, viz., the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans ().

B. A Shocking Announcement (1:6a)

For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.

Who are the Chaldeans?

The Neo-Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian kingdom was founded in 626 b.c. by Nabopolassar. (Father of Nebuchadnezzar)
The Chaldeans, however, had inhabited the region of southern Mesopotamia since at least 1000 b.c.. They were not a new people on the stage of history.
Since it is impossible to pinpoint the exact year in which Habak kuk received this revelation, the political status of the Chaldeans at the time is hard to determine. From 626 to 612 b.c.—the fall of Nineveh—they were persistent and pesky adversaries of the Assyrians in southern Mesopotamia. From 612 to 605 b.c. the long term success of the Chaldean kingdom must still have been in doubt. After all, it was only with the help of the Medes and the Scythians that major Assyrian fortresses had been conquered. After 605 b.c., however, mastery of the world was clearly in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest of the Chaldean rulers.
Point: Navajo People have been around for a long time, perhaps like the Chaldeans, God could raise them up to be used of God in a special way before Jesus’ return...
God is explicit in his identification of the agent which he would use to bring judgment upon Judah.
Remember: God is sovereign over all nations. He raises up kings, and brings them down.
God is sovereign over all nations. He raises up kings, and brings them down.
In his marvelous wisdom, God dispersed his people among the nations so that they might bear witness to him among their captors. This was part of the grand preparation for the coming of the Promised One in the fullness of time.

God would raise up another King....

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;
John the Baptist Had a Shocking Announcement
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
[1] James E. Smith, The Minor Prophets, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1994), .
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