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Habakkuk

08.02.2010

Habakkuk wrote during the latter portion of Josiah’s reign, and his book spells out more explicitly one of the main themes of his contemporary, Nahum.  Specifically, Habakkuk wonders at the justice of God’s using sinful nations like Assyria and Babylon to punish His people.  In 1:13, after hearing God’s plans to raise up Babylon as an instrument of punishment for Judah, he asks God about the justice in this plan:

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?

Habakkuk does not need convincing that the people of Judah are sinful and deserving of punishment.  His first lament to God earlier in Chapter 1 is that their sin has gone unpunished.  What Habakkuk does have trouble with is the idea that the punishment would come from a savage and ruthless people like the Babylonians.  How can God use so thoroughly sinful a nation to punish His people?

God leaves him with no doubt as to the justice of His means.  He assures Habakkuk that just because Babylon is being used to punish Judah, it does not mean that Babylon will escape its due judgment for its sinfulness.  God assures Habakkuk that, although His timing is different and it may come much later than Habakkuk expects, God will hold Babylon accountable for its savagery and wickedness.

2:4 | Habakkuk contains an idea of much importance to the Christian message of salvation.  In 2:4, God mentions that “the righteous shall live by his faith.”  This key phrase is quoted three times in the New Testament.

  • In Romans 1:17, Paul uses this verse to support the idea that believers are sustained in their daily life by their faith in God.
  • In Galatians 3:11, Paul again cites the verse to make the point that salvation is not to be found through the law, but through grace alone as received by faith.
  • Lastly, the writer of Hebrews* cites it in 10:38 to note that the believer is motivated to live out his witness and glorify the Lord through his faith in God’s ultimate plan for the redemption of humanity.

Again, contrary to popular conception, the idea of achieving righteousness through faith is a persistent theme in the Old Testament.  The writers of the New Testament did not conceive it out of whole cloth but rather shaped their reasoning and their understanding of the work of Jesus around this preexisting concept of faith being the route to righteousness and salvation.

One additional element of Habakkuk that I find interesting is that it is not a book of prophecy in the same way as the rest.  Those books were records of the messages and preachings of divine prophets, people commissioned to relate the Word of God to His people.  Habakkuk, however, is a record of a conversation between Habakkuk and God.  There are prophetic elements in the predictions about Babylon’s ascent and the fall of Jerusalem, but at it’s core, it’s a book about a man who doesn’t understand what God is doing and brings those concerns to Him in prayer.  The conversation that takes place between the faithful doubter and the Lord ultimately displays God’s power, justice, and glory.  It’s an example that invites us to grapple with issues of faith and bring them faithfully to the Lord.

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*We’ll cover this when we get to Hebrews, but the authorship of Hebrews is disputed and is something of a parlor game among text-interested Christians.  (Have you ever heard of a nerdier group of people?)

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