I’ve been reading (and rereading) the book of Habakkuk lately. It is a small book nestled between Nahum and Zephaniah and is unique among the prophetical writings in that it contains no message to Israel or Judah. Instead, it’s a dialogue between a desperate and disappointed prophet and his very confusing God. It’s an intimate look into an intense conversation, and I feel like a bystander looking over someone’s shoulder and reading their email. I know I shouldn’t, but I do anyway. I feel like a scriptural voyeur who hasn’t been caught!
However, Habakkuk is not unique in the way the prophet accuses God of being not only unjust, but unfathomable. Jonah and Jeremiah also leveled some harsh accusations towards God who, being God, never takes it personally but redirects His servants to see the bigger picture. That comforts me, because I’ve leveled my share of disappoints with God, who always gently brings me around to see things His way.
Upon my first reading, I immediately understood Habakkuk’s emotions. He sees his people are in trouble and prays for God’s help. I’ve done that. So far, so good. In response, God tells Habakkuk He will fix things by bringing the completely depraved, godless and idol-worshiping Babylonians in to punish God’s own people. In other words, the unrighteous will teach the righteous. However, now that Habakkuk gets an answer to his prayer, he calls a time out and registers a second complaint to God, telling Him he doesn’t like God’s answer! Me once again. Has Habakkuk been reading MY emails?!
“Wait,” he says. “I wanted You to fix things, but not THAT way!” That sounds like me, too. I want an answer, but I want a comfortable, encouraging answer. I want an answer that will show God is on my side because I’m God’s chosen and beloved servant. I practice talking to God with the confident assurance I’m going to get preferential treatment because I’m a child of the King and all the answers to my prayers will be those that will bless my soul and encourage my church to worship the beauty and majesty of God. In other words, like Habakkuk, I’ve told God I wasn’t sure He knew what He was doing. And I’m also sure I’m not alone.
Still, after his complaints, Habakkuk does something wonderful: He waits. “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost,” he writes. “There I will wait to see what the LORD says and how he will answer my complaint” (2:1). He knows God will answer and he goes back to work to see how God will reveal Himself.
Then, after hearing the God’s answer to his second complaint, Habakkuk does something that astounds me. He takes the worst possible news he could ever hear from God—“I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear. My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror” (3:16)—and decides, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (3:17-18). That’s a level of faith I’m only beginning to understand. God is not only Habakkuk’s Savior, He is also his King and His Lord. And if the Lord has decided this is the best course of action, then no matter how difficult it will be for him personally, Habakkuk will never abandon gratitude and a joyful expectation that one day, and maybe not even in his lifetime, God will work out everything according to His glory and our good. Even when there are no figs, no grapes, no olives, dead flocks and empty cattle barns (3:17), “yet I will rejoice in the LORD!” And Habakkuk can say that because, “The Sovereign LORD is my strength!” (3:19).
In his introduction to Habakkuk, Eugene Peterson writes, “Habakkuk started out exactly where we start out with our puzzled complaints and God-accusations, but he didn’t stay there. He ended up in a world, along with us, where every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” When I understand this then, and only then, will I live “as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” (3:19). And what a view from the heights it will be!