The Mindset of Faith in the Book of Habakkuk
In the obscure Hebrew Bible, that is Old Testament, Book of Habakkuk we have a graphic picture of what it means to become a truly spiritual person.
It comes in the prophetic section of the Scriptures comprised of five books of “major prophets” and twelve books of “minor prophets”. Before the prophetic books comes the “Wisdom” section of the Bible. The minor prophets complete the text of the Hebrew Bible, or, Old Testament.
Through about six decades I have longed to hear some good preaching on this extraordinary book of the Bible. As of this day I have never had the pleasure. Shortly after ordination, I returned from Sacramento to Berkeley. One Sunday I had the opportunity to preach in town and presented a message based upon Habakkuk. My old seminary professor was present and told me after the service that he had never considered this obscure book of the Bible important, but the message presented changed his mind. I was impressed with the fact that I may then just have a future in ministry. My fascination for the text of Habakkuk has continued through the years and today I would like to share the insights I have gained on Medium. I hope you will enjoy your reading and grow spiritually as a result of being in contact with the power of the text.
The reason for this is simply because the book in one sense is totally divine. It can be comfortably read and discussed between Jews, Christians, agnostics and atheists. I would imagine it would be a fascinating read to Muslims and Hindus as well.
It presents the reader with Habakkuk, a seeker, asking questions that always keep him dissatisfied. Rather than being a prophet at the beginning of the text, the three fascinating chapters finish with a person who is truly a valid spokesman for the Almighty, transformed in terms of what it means to be a person of true faith, rather than merely a religious person, or one who tinkers with spiritual issues.
The thrust of the text of Habakkuk strongly suggests that spiritual concerns go way beyond a “religion of ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’”. It is about a grounding comprised of confidence in “living life on a daily basis” within a very real world and yet not riding up and down the proverbial “roller-coaster” of life. Despite desperate grasping after truth in the beginning of the text, the reader experiences the powerful transformation in Habakkuk’s being within the context of personal peace and human joy. Let’s get into the text for edification.
Habakkuk is divided into three sections, which are crafted to show the threefold journey of Habakkuk, a person blindly seeking fulfillment in the dimension of existence which is unseen. There is a churning inside and a frustration which causes him to be discomforted.
In CHAPTER ONE, Habakkuk asks three essential questions. Not a week has gone by — for fifty years in ministry — that I have not heard people in “trying times” ask one, two, or all three questions. They are:
FIRST QUESTION of chapter one:
Why is it that I cry out for help and God doesn’t seem to listen to me?
SECOND QUESTION of chapter one:
If you are indeed God and in control over all things why is it that you allow bad things to happen all the time?
(After all, if you are God you should be in control of all things…you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens, aren’t you?) [Habakkuk kind of sticks the knife in there a quarter-turn by suggesting…] Is it that you are so holy you cannot look upon evil?
We are reminded of Jesus on the cross as He says in Matthew 27:46 in Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-tha’ni?”, that is, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” The notion here is that God the Father cannot look upon sin. Jesus upon the cross becomes “sin” for us, and so, the Father cannot look upon him and therefore abandons Jesus.
THIRD QUESTION of chapter one:
Why are you silent, God, while the bad people swallow up the good people?
Implied here is Habakkuk questioning whether God is really just and devoted to the protection of those who are dedicated in life to do the right thing.
After reading chapter one, after all these years, I keep thinking about the provocative questions of our lives, especially the question, “WHY?” Whenever I get into the habit of asking this question I always end up knocking my head and my heart up against a stone wall. I bruise my skull and I get a headache. I’ve come to the conclusion that when I ask “Why?”…I get no real answers…Eventually in the text of Habakkuk we learn that there is an alternative and, all things considered, it does not end up being a “blind alley”.
We move on to CHAPTER TWO. So far Habakkuk has been more of a philosopher about dealing with life and about coming to conclusions regarding the mysteries of life and the major challenges of daily living. He decides to look elsewhere for answers to his questions. The proverbial “Watchtower” makes its appearance in chapter two. Habakkuk will stand upon the ramparts of the city wall to seek answers he has not found among his contemporaries in the streets of his town. He is looking beyond the borders of what is available for him through normal means or wisdom. He says in the first verse of chapter two, “I will look to see what God will say to me, and what answer I am to give to my complaints.” We pause for a moment to consider one phase within this verse…”what answer I am to give”…it would seem that we would expect…”what answer God will give me”…I’m going to let you decide what he means here after you have considered all three chapters.
Habakkuk stops questioning things in his own mind and begins to communicate with the God he cannot see. Lo and behold, a conversation begins between beleaguered Habakkuk and the Lord. God tells Habakkuk to keep a written record of what insights and revelation he will receive from God and he is told that he must become good at “waiting” for the Lord in his time to fill him in on what he needs to know and have insight into. (Might I say, true believers are good at waiting for positive things to happen without questioning why things happen the way they do.) Wait, and your waiting will not prove false or fruitless. What an insight.
THIS IS IMPORTANT
We now arrive at Habakkuk 2:4b, “…the righteous will live by faith…” This sub-verse is the springboard for the entire theology of the New Testament. More than any other verse in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) this short passage is the summation of everything we would need to know about the idealism of what it means to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. About this Saint Augustine would say, “Trust in the Lord’s righteousness and then do whatever you want to!” For millions of people Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the heart of the Gospel. In Romans 1:17, Paul writes, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous will live by faith’.” Did it slip by Paul’s mind who the author was as he wrote these words without going back on the text? We don’t know, but, indeed, he was referring to Habakkuk.
There follows a section of five “woes” that indicate to me that Habakkuk has developed a very keen moral sense within the proper context. For many, the life of faith is primarily a religious pursuit focused in on what is right and what is wrong in terms of human conduct. There is a difference between what we call theology and what we call ethics. We need in that sense to put the horse before the cart. The lesson of the text of Habakkuk is that a person needs to have a “personal relationship” with the unseeable God first before we place any focus upon our morality. Trusting implicitly in God, despite all appearance, even in difficult, uncomfortable, and even tragic times, is the underlying message of this book of prophecy.
In the midst of an often broken, corrupt and heartbreaking world we need to trust in the Lord…that is the bottom-line of the text. Finally, Habakkuk finds peace in his heart. His affirmation is found in Habakkuk 2:20:
“But the Lord is in His holy temple. let all the earth be silent before Him”
In CHAPTER THREE from verses one through fifteen Habakkuk finds himself praising God to the highest. There is no time now for philosophic reflection. The Lord has given Habakkuk that which we all seek in life. You can have one-hundred million dollars and not have what you need for contentment. The Lord grants to Habakkuk the divine gift of being able to praise Him.
But there is one more lesson to learn. There is one more gift to be received. Now, mind you, we are in the midst of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, and not the New Testament. We read in Habakkuk 3:16:
“I heard…and my heart pounded…my lips quivered at the sound…decay crept into my bones…and my legs trembled…”
Habakkuk was spiritually dying to self and being reborn, by the Spirit of God, into new life…our thoughts immediately go to the text of John 3:5–8, wherein Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless that person is born of water and the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, you must be born again.”
The theology of the Book of Habakkuk falls directly into line with the teaching of the New Testament text. The fact is…it’s just the opposite…the teaching of the New Testament falls in line with the theology presented in Habakkuk. This is an amazing fact. I guess Marcion of Sinope (2nd Century AD) was wrong in teaching we don’t need the Old Testament to follow Jesus Christ.
The last glorious section of CHAPTER THREE (verses 17–19) is the beautiful affirmation of faith offered by Habakkuk who has finally and definitely become a genuine prophet of God and a spokesman for all who would place their trust in the God of Israel:
“…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, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength, He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights…”
The great lesson of the Book of Habakkuk is that you and I can knock our heads up against the questionable and unexplainable negative things of life and find no resolution. When we can praise God despite our circumstances and trust in Him in the dark recesses of our existence we will find fulfillment and contentment. Patient waiting is an important skill to develop, even at times when there seems no hope. The amazing thing I have noticed over the years is in unpleasant and even desperate situations there is a quiet dwelling place for those who trust that God is at work. You step forward in faith and trust that God will bring resolution to each and every circumstance of life.