Wednesday, March 7, 2012


How do you pronounce the name of the prophet for today.

The correct way is Habakkuk, with the last K either barely pronounced, or almost silent.
To make that last K a hard K, or to say Hab ba KOOK almost makes Habakkuk sound like a kooky prophet.

But it is hard to say Habakkuk in English without making that last K a hard K, because in Hebrew the sounds are deeper in your throat and in English, the sounds are all in your mouth.

So, what else do we know about this prophet.


His writings imply that he came from Jerusalem, be we don’t know.

We don’t know what tribe he came from, or what his parentage was.

Was he a farmer, shepherd, carpenter, fisherman – who knows?

What we do know is one and only one verse that stands head and shoulders above the rest of this book – and it reflects everything about this book.
“The just shall live by faith.”

And we know that verse not by reading Habakkuk, but by reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.
There is something else we can know about Habakkuk – we know when he lived and worked. This book comes out of a concrete historical situation in the life of the southern kingdom of Judah. The date was around 609 to 600 BC.

The Assyrians have been defeated by the Babylonians.

King Josiah is near the end of his power.

What is the most significant thing to have happened in the time of King Josiah?

II Kings 22:

3 In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the LORD. He said: 4 “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the LORD, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. 5 Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the LORD— 6 the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. 7 But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”
8 Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.”

This book they discovered was Deuteronomy. The Hebrew language is in the style of that period of time, not the style of centuries earlier, as are Genesis, Exodus and Numbers.

The rediscovery of Deuteronomy led to a great spiritual revival. There was a renewal of the covenant relationship between God and the people.

Habakkuk 1
1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

The word for “prophecy” here is the same as in Nahum – massa, or burden. “The burden that Habakkuk the prophet received.”

Some translations say, “SAW” instead of “RECEIVED.”

When prophets received or saw a word from the Lord, it implies two parts – seeing and then telling, or receiving and then proclaiming. The burden, prophecy, or word from the Lord is never just received, it is shared. And Habakkuk does that here. He has received it, he now shares it with us.
What follows are two short sections.

Part 1 is chapter 1:2 through 11, and part 2 is chapter 1 verse 12 through chapter 2 verse 5.

Both conversations concern the issue of God’s justice in the world. Why are the wicked allowed to oppress the righteous? Why is justice perverted?

Now what brings all of this up in Habakkuk’s time is the Assyrian oppression of the people of Israel. BUT, like so much of the Word of God, the questions of Habakkuk and the answers from God apply to any circumstance in which the righteous face oppression from the wicked.

2 How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

“How Long?” That is the way a lament begins. We see that literary pattern often in the Bible.

A lament or lamentation is a song, poem, or a piece of music expressing grief, regret or mourning. Many of the oldest and most lasting poems in history have been laments. The Iliad, Odyssey and Beowulf all contain some elements of laments, and the Bible is full of them.

Psalm 13:1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 82:2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?

Revelation 6:10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
2 How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

Remember that as Habakkuk is writing, the book of Deuteronomy has recently been rediscovered. For Habakkuk, the Law is Deuteronomy. And that means that the prophet bases his understanding of the Law and Justice on the Word of God. The Law is the basis for life and faith. The Law comes from God and is righteous because God is righteous. The Law is the source of order for all of life and provides security and well being to those under the Law.

Justice is ultimately administered by God, and yet Habakkuk looks around and sees injustice. How can this be? And how long will it be?

It is natural for the people of God, who trust God, and believe God maintains the order of the universe, to expect God to establish order and justice. And when we do not see order and justice, we go to God and ask, “how long?”

Beginning in verse 5 we hear the answer from God:

5 “Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.

Does that verse sound like it might come from somewhere else in the Bible? It is found in Acts 13.

13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”
16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “People of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!

And then, Paul continues with a history lesson.

He starts with the people in Egypt, Moses, goes through Samuel, then arrives at the part of the story of Jesus – basically, Acts 13 is a 2 minute walk through the Bible. Then Paul says this:

38 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:
41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,

And Paul is quoting Habakkuk here…

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’”

Habakkuk questions God – are you at work? And God says, “Yes – I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe even if someone told you.”

God is at work.

And God works through history. The nature of God’s work is not always what we want.
Habakkuk asks

2 How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

So what does God do? He does not bring about the peaceable kingdom, but brings violence into the land to bring about justice and punishment.

6 I am raising up the Babylonians,

The people have been oppressed by the Assyrians, now it is the time for the Babylonians. They conquer the Assyrians and eventually oppress the people of Judah.

6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
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 is their god.”

Elizabeth Achtemeier was a professor at the Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, Union Theological Seminary. She has this to say –

“The implications (of this part of Habakkuk) are staggering for our world, for such a word from God implies that the turmoil and violence and death in our societies may not be evidence of God’s absence from our lives but instead the witness to his actual working in judgment as he pursues his purpose. No event in human history, therefore, is to be understood as completely divorced from his lordly action and will. God is always at work, always involved, always pressing forward toward his Kingdom. But the means by which he chooses to pursue that goal may be as astounding as the destruction of a nation or as incomprehensible as the blood dripping from the figure of a man on a cross.” (Nahum-Malichi, Interpretation. John Knox Press, 1986. Page 38-39).

How does Habakkuk respond? He accepts the Word of the Lord:

12 LORD, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.

Habakkuk views the stage of international affairs and politics as always being under the sovereign rule of God.

Now, when we look at the newspaper, we can be distressed and think – this world is in bad shape. I’m not about to argue with that! But – behind the mess we see, God is still in control.

The Book of Revelation – it is a disturbing and confusing book. Or so many people say. “I can’t understand the Book of Revelation,” many will say, and those are just the preachers!

But I had a professor in seminary who told me that the Book of Revelation was simple to understand. The secret, the key, the thesis sentence is found in Revelation 19:6:

And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

God is in control. God is in control of history. So when all the world seems to be falling apart – trust in God.

Also notice how personal this verse is.

12 LORD, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, LORD, 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?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

Habakkuk asks questions that are never fully answered, but he continues to trust in God as a God of history.

In the same way, we often ask why people suffer, and we rarely have a glimpse of an answer, but the ability to trust in God is not based on our ability to understand God.

The next verses offer a poetic or symbolic look at the people of God being as senseless as fish, with the enemy capturing them with tools of the fishing trade…

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.

Beginning with chapter 2 verse 1, the prophet beings a vigil to wait for a revelation from God. He has questions and he waits for an answer.

Habakkuk 2
1 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
2 Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.

In other words, Habakkuk is not only watching and waiting for himself, but for the community. All of God’s people need answers.

2 Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.
4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—

In the context of this book, to be “not upright” is to be arrogant, greedy and violent. To be “righteous” is to be faithful, trusting and law-abiding.
Also note the last part of verse 4:

4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—

That is quoted by Paul in his letter to the Romans, and it is a major theme of Habakkuk.
In the opening chapter of that letter, Paul says this:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[e] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

What follows next are five woes, five curses to the wicked.

These five statements probably are addressed to the Assyrians, but they may apply equally to all nations or individuals who practice greed and deceit. These statements are directed to people as a message – you cannot sustain your self contained life or find satisfaction in a life without God at the helm.

The first statement of woe is directed to tyrants who have oppressed their subjects and captives with heavy debts and taxation. They will find that their debtors rise up against them! They will lose their wealth. This is what we read in verse 6:

“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
7 Will not your creditors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their prey.
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.

What goes around comes around

The next statement of woe is to the house – meaning the family or dynasty or national government which gains power for itself by robbing the people.

9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

The stones of the wall will cry out – in other words, the people of the nation, the walls of the house, will cry out. They will not take it any longer.

The next statement of woe is to the government which believes it can glorify itself by its own achievements, but establishing a city or buildings or instituting new laws by forced and unjust measures.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!
13 Has not the LORD Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

The next statement of woe is toward the military that thinkgs it can gain respect by ruthlessness.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

The next woe, does not start with the word “woe” but with a prelude.

18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”

And then comes this familiar verse. After statement after statement of woe, woe, woe, comes this…

20 The LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.

Then we move onto something different in the book.

3:1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.

Chapter 3 is an independent section. It is a musical hymn as well as a prayer. The shigionoth is a musical instrument or term.
This poem or hymn celebrates the past history of the God of history.

2 LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
3 God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.

These are two geographical places. Teman is probably Edom and Mount Paran is another geographical place. We could just as easily say, God came from Maine and God came from California.

3 His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.

This is a reference, a remembrance of the Exodus – and a reminder, God is a God of history.

6 He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

The tents of Cushan – that is not Cush, or Ethiopia, but a tribe of nomads. In other words, verse 7 might be something like this: I saw the homeless and the mansion dwellers.

In other words, these verses, God is everywhere – from Maine to California, from infinity and beyond. Everyone is involved, the rich and poor alike.

12 In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
13 You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.

This is the God of history. He is in charge, and he will save the people.

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

That’s interesting – the prophet is not waiting for rescue, but for calamity.
I will wait patiently for the day of calamity.

The prophet knows that God is a God of history, calamity must come before the rescue.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

I take that personally, because I have a fig tree that does not bud.

But, in the midst of famine and despair, how does the prophet act?

18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

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