Habakkuk 1 – Point and Counterpoint and Counter-Counterpoint

Habakkuk 1 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Toffee

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Today’s PassageHabakkuk 1

I didn’t expect Habakkuk to open as it did, especially just coming from Nahum. Nahum’s prophecy begins with forceful, evocative statements of God’s strength and righteous judgment. Habakkuk, however, begins with a question, and he follows it with further questions. Where Nahum confidently asserts God’s strength against his enemies, Habakkuk asks, “Don’t you hear me, God? Why won’t you save us? What are you doing?”

Like most prophets, Habakkuk lives in troubled times. He protests to God, “Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises” (3). If he were a psalmist, you’d characterize his song as starting on a note of disorientation, a discordant chord on the first beat to reflect the discord he sees around him. Comparisons to Psalm 13 come readily to mind: “How long, O Lord? …How long will You hide Your face from me?” (13:1). David and Habakkuk are both people struggling with dissatisfaction and unanswered questions, and they both take their issues to God.

And God gets in a response, but if I put myself in Habakkuk’s shoes, it might sound like God didn’t even hear my question. God replies:

Be astonished! Wonder!
…For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans
That fierce and impetuous people
Who march throughout the earth
To seize dwelling places which are not theirs. (5-6)

God’s response emphasizes the Chaldeans’ power and the force with which they’ll sweep across the land, only at the end mentioning, “But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god” (11). Even as he plans to use Chaldea to judge Israel and Judah, he’ll hold the Chaldeans responsible for their own self-reliance, impiety, and brutality. Even so, after God has spoken, Habakkuk counters, “Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?” (13). It doesn’t make sense to him that God would mete out justice by means of a nation even more evil than the one he’s punishing. Doesn’t that just compound the problem of evil? In Habakkuk’s response, I can’t help but hear the story of the woman who swallowed a spider to catch a fly.

I think we tend to be more like Habakkuk than Nahum these days. We’re more likely to question, and we’re more likely to counter-question God’s answers. But one way in which we’re like neither Nahum nor Habakkuk: we’re more likely to shut our ears and turn our backs on God, to quit the conversation before it’s over, to say when it feels like God’s not hearing us, “If you’re not going to listen, I’m not going to listen to you.” To those people, my people, I’d say this: I’ve been there, and I know how it feels. Habakkuk, however, does not give up on the conversation, and the book’s not over yet. Let’s see where this goes.

 

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