ICE BREAKER: If you could change anything in the world right now, what would it be? Why?
This week we will be doing something a little different. We are going to try and look at and understand an entire book of the Bible. For those of you who come to the “Through the Bible” study on Sunday mornings this will feel familiar, but for many of you this is a new thing. The goal is to take a step back and see if we can understand the whole picture that a book is painting, so when we read it we have a framework to put it into. The book in front of us today is an often overlooked one, but one that is so awesome and practical we should be willing to pay attention to it: Habakkuk.
Not much is known about Habakkuk. We know about when he lived, before the fall of Israel, but we don’t know much more about him than that. Habakkuk begins differently than many other prophets. If you spend a few seconds looking at the rest of the prophet’s books, a quick glance at the first verse tells us who is writing. Usually we know who their father was and when and where they lived. Often we see who was king when they were prophesying. This is not the case for Habakkuk. Habakkuk begins: “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw:” (Habakkuk 1:1 ) and that's it. He is in many ways a mystery. Which is good. Because he could be anyone his thoughts can apply to everyone. The wrestling and struggles of Habakkuk are universally applicable and can teach us much.
That’s who Habakkuk is but what did he say? What is the book of Habakkuk about? Simply put it is a cosmic Q&A session with the Creator of the universe. The book of Habakkuk opens with Habakkuk bringing a complaint to God. (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ) His problem? He looks around and there is violence and injustice, and it seems like God is idle. He sees the wicked prospering and the just suffering. To Habakkuk, the world is broken. He begins the struggle of the whole book. What he SEES is injustice, but what he KNOWS is that God is good. He SEES that the world is broken but he KNOWS that God is in control. So he basically asks: How long is this going to happen God?
REFLECT: Have you ever felt like Habakkuk? How do you react when what you see doesn't match with what you know about God?
In a great act of his grace, God answers Habakkuk. However, God begins with a warning: “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.” (Habakkuk 1:5 ) David Poland translation: “OK, I will tell you what's going to happen, but you will not believe me.” God proceeds to tell Habakkuk that he will use the wicked Babylonians to destroy the Israelites. Turns out, God was right, Habakkuk did not believe God when he told him this and Habakkuk immediately brings up a different complaint.
Habakkuk's second complaint boils down to this: How can a good and loving God use evil people like the Babylonians to destroy his own people. This is a doubling down on his first complaint. It is not just that he sees injustice, but God has said that he will use unjust people to punish. It is not just that he sees the righteous must suffer and the wicked prosper, but God has said, this is all part of my plan, and Habakkuk is at a loss.
REFLECT: Have you ever questioned God? Has there been a time in your life where his plan seemed unjust or unfair?
The rest of Habakkuk is God’s response to this complaint and Habakkuk's praise to God for his goodness. But the amazing part of this is that Habakkuk doesn't get to see the happy ending. He has to live in a time where what he sees is problems and strife but what he knows he can only know by faith. God promises that one day everything will work out, but he never promises that we will get to see it. This is what makes God’s proclamation in chapter 2 even more powerful. “The righteous shall live by faith!” (Habakkuk 2:4 ) The writer of Hebrews tells us that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ) and this is how we, like Habakkuk are forced often to live. We hope, and we have conviction, in the face of what we see and feel. We have to rest on what we know about God, and his infinite and perfect goodness, and trust that, in faith!
REFLECT: How can you live by faith? What can you tell yourself when things seem bad and God seems far to reassure yourself that he is close and loving and still in control?