The book of Habakkuk begins with a searing cry for help, a complaint to God for his silence in the face of terrible times:
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? (Habakkuk 1:3 – NIV)
It ends, in three chapters, with remarkable rejoicing, despite the Babylonian scourge:
Though…the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:17-18 – ESV)
How does Habakkuk veer from indignation in God’s toleration of injustice to his concluding confidence in God’s power and righteousness? What are the steps that this minor and often overlooked prophet takes to arrive at faith, and how can we take the same steps?
It’s primarily due to its brevity that Habakkuk is often the least-searched book of the Bible on Bible Gateway, but it’s actually a fairly easy book to follow when compared to other Old Testament prophets. It has a clear structure:
- Habakkuk offers a complaint to God about injustice, and God answers.
- Habakkuk offers another complaint, and God answers that too.
- Then Habakkuk offers God a prayer and ends by rejoicing in the Lord.
Injustice still being a major issue today, we wonder immediately what God’s answers to his prophet were. They must have been powerful, illuminating, completely convincing—we read them in eager anticipation for the peace that must surely follow…
wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. (Habakkuk 1:5 – ESV)
I’m sure I’m not the only one a tad disappointed by that response. It gets worse. God appears to be raising up the Babylonians—the nation of scoffers and destroyers, “whose own might is their god” (1:11). By now, we’re happy to see that Habakkuk has a second complaint for the Lord, who, it somehow seems, didn’t adequately answer the first.
In Habakkuk’s second complaint, he stands as a watchman in the night, waiting to see what answer God will give to a direct and galvanizing question:
Is he then to keep…mercilessly killing nations forever? (Habakkuk 1:17 – ESV).
Navigating the Lord’s second response in the second chapter of Habakkuk can be difficult without some guidance. It’s this second answer to still-pertinent questions that leads to Habakkuk’s offering God a prayer as well as his complete trust, his laments laid to rest before the Almighty.
At this point in the book, I found it essential to unpack the text with some of the study resources available in Bible Gateway Plus. Through illuminating sidebar notes, such as this one from the New Bible Commentary, it becomes clear how vividly God’s second answer points not only to the first, but also the second coming of Jesus Christ.
A close reader of the text will find it helpful to use the Bible Gateway Plus sidebar to shed light on God’s words, verse by verse. For example, how should we interpret the odd turn of phrase in verse 2:3, in which God seems (in several translations) to contradict himself?
For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (KJV)
(As an aside, the King James Version presents this verse in a particularly strange way, but it’s still a conundrum in other translations. See examples here.)
But with Bible Gateway Plus, you can open commentary notes directly beside a tricky verse like this to help unpack it. Rest assured that God does not contradict himself.
Reading the Bible demands a certain amount of curiosity. Like Habakkuk at the beginning of the book, we have a tendency to try to put God on trial for the injustices we see in our own lives. But the book of this minor prophet also presents us with a clear example of the changes God can work in us as we read and grow to understand his Word.
Fortunately, we’ve been given a much longer and fuller response than Habakkuk was given then, which culminates in the entirety of Scripture, Testaments Old and New, in which we can read the accounts of God’s amazing promises coming to full fruition in Jesus Christ. How much more freely should we rejoice as we read God’s responses to all our laments and questions?
One of our main goals at Bible Gateway is to make God’s answers to those burning questions that much more easily found and effectively understood. And one of the best ways we meet this goal is by presenting you with a library of study notes in Bible Gateway Plus.
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