This morning the quarantine ban from COVID-19 lifted in our city. We had pondered how long it would last. It felt like forever. Impatiently I waited as events got cancelled and the stores all closed. Day after day more activities were prevented and awaiting “tomorrow” became the norm. Isolated in our homes, we wondered how many deaths would take place, how long the suffering would continue. Nation after nation endured Covid-19 and prophetic and nervous people scrambled to make sense of things. I noticed as the earth began to rest and the skies became clearer, that many panicked, Facebook posts became more suspicious and grumbling more acute. The anxiety of the world was matched by sincere folks scrambling to be heard and not forgotten. Can we still be “worthy” if we do not do Keto, sudoku or webinars?
I am not sure if violence went down or the news editors just decided not to print crime stats due to overwhelmed readers. Political disagreements and injustice were not quarantined. News cycles kept in front of us the seriousness of the day and Facebook kept us sane and laughing as funerals were held online. The absence of the deceaseds’ names bothered me. How could all this grief get processed? How long will this continue Lord? How long? Habakkuk is the perfect book to read during this season. His name means “embracer or one who clings”. It contains answers to many of our current dilemmas. I invite you to discover the riches of this text with me during the month of May.
The prophecy (burden) that Habakkuk the prophet received.
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen? (accusation one)
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save? (accusation two)
3 Why do you make me look at injustice? (accusation three)
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? (accusation four)
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds. (implied that God is unaware, unconcerned)
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem (encompass or circle around / Corona) in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
The Lord’s Answer
5 “Look (imperative) at the nations and watch (imperative) —
and be utterly amazed (imperative).
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians, (Their enemies!)
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth (Gods ways are large scale to make a point)
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
9 they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings
and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength (idolatry) is their god.”
12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, (not the enemy, culture or fate) have appointed them to execute judgment;
You, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? (accusation five)
Why are You silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (accusation six)
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?
I almost did not put the full text of chapter one in here but if you read it and re-read it, note that GOD saw it ALL. He knew all about their circumstances, enemies, and plight. The list is so specific. God did not miss a beat – He was involved in every detail.
I want to linger here. Let’s slow this way down to see what Habakkuk did in his crisis.
We rush to gain the “big verses” that we can quote, memorize, preach, even live by. But here, in this darkness, ….in this cloud covered reality is where we are living today. I want to point out that Habakkuk was a realist. He saw things for what they really were and not just what he hoped they would be. Habakkuk was a prophet that dealt with real pain, real injustice, real death. He did not ignore it or sweep it under the rug. He did not candy-coat things and suggest being “more positive”. He did not give clichés or pithy statements to erase the sting of the situation. He went to the other extreme- but He told it to God FULL STRENGTH.
Many people live in the balance of life and death, tyranny and oppression, scandal, and defeat. The church at large, has often hunkered down, and suggested people see things almost whitewashed. Euphemisms and subtlety are encouraged. Possibly things are pushed down because of the silent accusations against God in our minds that we cannot or will not express. Sometimes in our own doubts, we sweep others questions away, silently hoping God is stronger than what we believe. Habakkuk does not do that. He looks at the bad in full light. He faces the circumstances head on. Then, he goes straight to the Top with his doubts and appeal for justice. A Friend in the highest place!
Habakkuk did not just hear from God and then pop it out like a Pez dispenser to his kinsman. Habakkuk did not start by rallying the troops. We hear him FIRST pouring out his soul to God, agonizing over the injustice, bearing in his heart the crimes and atrocities around him. He asked, then waited for the Lords’ reply. Habakkuk was a man, not of excuses or substitutions. Habakkuk was a man of prayer.
Many skip the process of waiting, opting instead to give God a grocery list o needs. Forming habits for your prayer life can help with this so it becomes second nature. We bargain to see what answer God will give because we want resolution to our prayer. But what if the connection with God was the resolution God was after all along? Staying silent does not guarantee anything. Habakkuk stirred it up and went to his Source – “How long Lord, when and why?” Knowing the end of this story, we may be tempted to rush to the victorious part but before the praise comes the pain, before the triumph and testimony comes the test.
So, how then do we live like Habakkuk? I think we realistically look at what is happening in the circumstances – and bring it to the God who sees all. If we cannot get honest with God, who can we get honest with? Fake prayers get fake results. Maybe Paul says to “count it all joy” because we first need to reckon or list it! He knows our heart before we utter a word.
We breathe, we pause, we ask…. we anticipate His voice.
To live like Habakkuk means we do not put our heads in the sand because the “news is too much” or the nations are “someone else’s concern”. We fully immerse ourselves in our world, embracing the good, the bad and the ugly. Habakkuk was informed in his generation. To live like Habakkuk means we face what is taking place in us and others. Automatically that lifts us out of a Netflix, couch sustained mindset. Automatically that invites us into pain and suffering served up face to unmasked face — not curbside. Automatically we view our lives not as separate, but part of a human race that needs salvation, deliverance and justice.
How long Lord? Why? When?
My son was meditating on Jonah recently. He pointed out that if Jonah had been left in the whale just one additional day, he might have gone blind. I thought of Joseph in the pit or Paul in prison– just one extra day they could have caught pneumonia and died. Just how fragile is God’s will? When will God intervene, and will it be soon enough? When our shelf life is expired, is God still watching? Lazarus and his sisters would strongly say yes and amen! Life and Death are sovereignly in God’s hands, whether we agree or disagree. We are subject to God’s timing, as well as His compassion. The disciples were told repeatedly it was not for them to know the day or hour. God’s timing and deliverance was solely Gods’ business. Who alone knows the minute or hour? The One who is in control. (Read Hebrews 11 for perspective).
Do we miss a crucial part of God’s mercy by overlooking pain and tragedy? Do we separate ourselves from those who live in deaths shadow? Do we isolate ourselves from believers overseas who face martyrdom while declaring God’s grace here in America? Closed eyes and stopped ears do not produce praying saints. Questions signify someone is listening!
Habakkuk saw the suffering around him but instead of doing multiple things, Habakkuk
spoke with God,– with God. Not just from or to God.
The time that Habakkuk stayed in prayer, decrying injustice, and laying out solid facts concerning the world around him was met by a holy God who was—
STILL IN HIS HOLY TEMPLE,
STILL ACTING on our AND the nations behalf….
God was not sullied by the suffering, insulted by the issues, restrained by the ruckus, pressured by the problems, hindered by the hurt or discouraged by the disloyal.
Despite all the injustice, evil and idolatry around the nations –
God IS still in His temple, still on His throne.
This book has great verses regarding faith – so great that the apostle Paul and Martin Luther would repeat them. The wonder of this book did not start with God’s answer regarding circumstances. It came from the Revelation that the deepest depth of our pain – is heard, seen and understood by the God of the universe. It is not dismissed, it is not sidelined, ignored or forgotten. Every cry, every tear, every fear… not wasted. Every cry, every tear, every fear – material needed for God’s purpose, every cry, every tear, every fear – surrendered to GOD, will be met with GOD Himself.
During Habakkuk’s accusations, we hear him identifying God as everlasting Lord, Holy One and his Rock. These are the words of a man who BEFORE the trials, had made God his LORD. This is not a prophet begging a master, but a son inquiring of a father. It speaks to relationship, connection and trust– before the answer comes. The foundation is Habakkuk having enough of a bridge that when times got hard, he could go to God in prayer and ask the tough questions. God was not shaken by Habakkuk’s fears or doubts, He was not irritated by his accusations.
Maybe you struggle with prayer, wanting to do “right”. See Matthew 6 and Luke 11 for the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray. I believe that we are to pray not as a beggars but as children of the King. We are invited to pray with real pain, real problems, and questions, in full anticipation of Gods reply. Do whatever He says, then trust Him for His timing and results. ”Oh, the sweet substance of things unseen! Oh, the evidence of a God who is WATCHING! Our faith is not in the outcome here but in the Lord, who sees the outcome—in Eternity. “
Lord, our faith, our lives, our trust is in You.