What could the words of a prophet from approximately 2600 years ago be saying to us today? Can we draw any parallels? Did he feel the same as we might be feeling now about our world?
1. Firstly, he cries out to God and asks questions as we sometimes do today. How long? Why? He speaks of oppression, violence, strife and contention.
2. Then he observes that the law had become slack, there was no justice, the wicked were surrounding the righteous, and there was wrong judgement – “the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgement proceedeth.” He doesn’t say the wrong judgement came from legal judges but that probably would have been the case, but the people themselves were also not discerning what was happening around them.
3. Then he hears God saying that He would “work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” Prophecy can have more than one fulfilment, and so Paul used this verse in Acts 13: 4 in his warning to his audience in the synagogue in Antioch. Habakkuk said that God would raise up a “bitter and hasty” nation who would come boasting of their own might (v.10), for the chastisement of Judah – “for correction” (v.12), catching both them and others like netted fish (vs. 14 – 17). The Chaldeans were coming.
4. In the midst of this his faith rises up and God is vindicated – “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (v.13). Then he waits on God to “see what he will say to me” (2:1).
5. God answers with a message to his godly remnant, “write the vision, and make it plain upon tables [tablets] that he may run that readeth it . . . for the vision . . . shall speak, and . . . will surely come” (3:3). A song mocking the assaulting Chaldeans (from Babylon) includes five woes that would befall them, these oppressors who took violently that which was not theirs and who spoiled many nations. Their pride would be the cause of their own downfall (2:4a) and their judgement by a remnant is predicted, “because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee” (v. 8a). They coveted, sinned against their own soul, corrupted their neighbours by drink (which could also be translated as a ‘potion’), and trusted in idolatry. But Habakkuk is speaking to two groups in his message – the enemies and the people of Judah. And he’s encouraging himself too. So, he interrupts with a word of hope, a hint of the future Kingdom, “for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14) and ends with the affirmation that the sovereign God is still in His holy temple. He speaks of what the response of the whole earth should be: “the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (v.20). When we are quiet before God, we are more likely to hear His voice.
6. The previous declaration seems to have encouraged Habakkuk to pray, pleading with the Lord to “revive thy work” and “in wrath remember mercy” (3:2), followed by a psalm (3:3–15) which was an encouragement to the people to remember God’s doings from the past, starting from Sinai: “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mt Paran . . .”.
7. The Babylonian Exile was looming, and all this caused Habakkuk significant anxiety (3:16). He was longing for rest (“that I might rest in the day of trouble”) and he anticipated lack – “the fig tree shall not blossom . . .”. But he could boldly say, “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (vs. 17,18). His final declaration of faith (in line with what he had preached in 2:4b) expressed his strong commitment and unwavering confidence. “The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (v.19).
A type of ‘Babylon’ is here today too (Revelation 18). But we too can be like Habakkuk who ran with the vision God gave him. And while many of the conditions he experienced are also reflected in today’s world and he also went through some of the feelings and thoughts that you and I experience, his confidence was in God who works everything out for good: “The LORD God is my strength.”