This Sunday, we are launching a new sermon series, ‘Daring To Ask God Why’ based on the curious little prophetic book, Habakkuk. While it is a peculiar book in some ways, its three-chapters are packed with important life lessons!
Very little, almost nothing in fact, is known of the prophet himself. He addresses himself as ‘prophet’ in the very first verse and is unusual in doing so. This leads some to assume that Habakkuk was therefore a ‘professional’ and recognized prophet, in contrast to some others like Amos, for example (See Amos 7:14). The musical arrangement of chapter 3 leads others to assume that he was a Levite; part of the tribe of Levi, a tribe who had a special role serving God in the temple. This combined with his professional prophet status means he was likely an attached minister within the temple.
The book is unusual, arguably unique amongst the Old Testament prophets in that he is directing his message not at Israel but at God. Much of takes on the form of a lament – a passionate form of poetry which expresses grief and sorrow. The exact date he is writing is unknown, although most evangelical commentators would suggest something around 600BC, a time when the Assyrian empire was waning, and the Chaldeans/Babylonians were growing in power on the world stage. Whilst the exact date is unclear, what is clear is that the Southern half of Israel, Judah, which was all that remained of the nation at this point in history, was in a real mess. Habakkuk is addressing a society that was falling apart, where there was widespread oppression, injustice and violence.
Habakkuk starts by looking at his local situation in his nation, Israel and dares to ask God why. How long LORD, till you will intervene? Why do you seem to not answer my prayers? Why do you let the wicked prosper? Why does injustice abound?
Often for us, even if secretly and internally, we too have questions for God: Why? When? Are you there? Are you real? Why don’t you answer my prayers?
Whilst we won’t answer every why question during this series, there are many lessons to be learned here from Habakkuk. This can help us understand better issues around the seeming unstoppable advance of evil, give us a practical personal response to injustice, and equip us with a larger world view which places the purposes of God center stage.
The famous church leader, theologian and writer, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones says this in the introduction to his book on Habakkuk (see below for link to the book).
“Many people seem to think that the sole theme of the Bible is that of man’s personal relationship with God. Of course that is one of the central themes, and we thank God for the salvation provided without which we would be left in hopeless despair. But that is not the only theme of the Bible. Indeed, we can go as far as to say that the bible puts the question of personal salvation into a larger context. Ultimately the main message of the bible concerns the condition of the entire world and its destiny; and you and I, as individuals, are a part of the larger whole. That is why it starts with creation of the world rather than man. The trouble is that we are inclined to be exclusively concerned with our own personal problem, whereas the bible starts further back: it puts the problem in the context of this world view.”
Throughout the book of Habakkuk, God enlarges Habakkuk’s worldview. Helping Habakkuk understand that he is at work even if he can’t fully understand it “Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (Habakkuk 1:5) An important phrase in the book is, ‘the righteous shall live by his faith’ (Habakkuk 2:4) which is quoted multiple times in the New Testament and sets a path for God's people to live even through the hardest times. By the end of the book, Habakkuk is able to say, in spite of all the evil and injustice, ‘yet, I will rejoice in God; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.’ (Habakkuk 3:19). Our hope would be that we to are better equipped to rejoice in God, even in the worst of circumstances.
If you want to read more about the book of Habakkuk or on the major themes that come up through this series I would highly recommend the following…
- -From Fear to Faith, Rejoicing in the Lord in turbulent times by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This is short little book and easy to read, but so helpful!
- -How Long, O LORD?, Reflections on suffering and evil. D.A. Carson This book is not about Habakkuk, but is a book that covers many of the themes that will emerge in this series. It is a more challenging read, but still very readable.