HABAKKUK: Joy in Calamity

Habakkuk sighed as he wandered through the crowded streets of Jerusalem. The sun had not yet gone down and already the drinking and debauchery had begun. Nearby, a group of women were speaking in loud voices, their language littered with curses and coarse joking. Huddled on the cobblestones by their feet lay an elderly man. They took no notice of him.

Habakkuk hurried to the man’s side. “Are you ok, sir? Here, let me help you to your feet.”

But the man pushed him away, spewing insults and curses at him through the fumes of strong drink. Although the prophet was concerned for the man, he knew there was little he could do to help. As he went his way, Habakkuk lamented the sorry state of Israel – God’s people.

They had turned their backs on God, neglecting his word and worshipping other gods. Not just gods carved from wood or sculpted from metal (although there were plenty of those) but the gods of power, money, and national security.

“Oh Lord, how long?” he muttered as he walked. “I cry out to you about the violence and injustice I see all around me, but you do not listen. You do not step in. How can you be ‘good’ when there is so much evil in the world?”

A young woman sat outside a ruined shop, her eyes downcast, a small, empty bowl beside her. Habakkuk watched on in dismay as people hurried past her. Some ignored her, others laughed and called her names. One man kicked at her feet as he passed by.

Habakkuk approached the woman, knelt down, and placed several coins into the bowl. It wasn’t much, but it would be enough to buy a decent meal. The woman looked up at him with watery eyes and whispered, “Thank you.”

“May the Lord watch over you,” Habakkuk replied and continued on his way. The memory of the woman’s face filled his mind. The laughter and insults of the passers-by still rang in his ears. “Why is there no justice, Lord? Why do you continue to turn a blind eye to all this wickedness? How long will this go on? How long?”

The words had barely finished leaving his lips when something happened that made him stop. Something amazing. Something long awaited.

God responded.

Look at the nations and be astounded by what you see. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians.

Habakkuk shuddered and looked up to the sky, the setting sun painting the clouds tangerine. The Babylonians were a ruthless, fearsome nation well-known for their violence and hostility. They had conquered and destroyed nation after nation and now God was raising them up to devour the people of Israel.

They all come for violence. They gather captives like sand. They mock kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own strength is their god!

Habakkuk shook his head, rendered speechless for a few moments. His heart, which had leapt for joy at the sound of his Lord’s voice, now trembled with fear and confusion.

“But my Lord,” he stammered. “The Babylonians are even more violent—more corrupt—than the Israelites! They treat people like animals, they worship and serve their own power! How could you use such an unjust people to bring about justice? Will you allow them to go on killing and devouring nation after nation?”

Habakkuk took a deep, shaking breath. By now he had reached the towering stone walls of the city. The figure of a lone watchman stood silhouetted against the burning sky.

“I will wait,” the prophet whispered. “I will be like that watchman, taking up my post, watching and waiting to see what my God will say to me.”

With the day fast coming to an end, Habakkuk went home, knowing how dangerous the streets of Jerusalem were at night.

The front door creaked as he entered his small home. He cast his eye around the small, humbly furnished room before sitting down on a small chair, his legs weary from walking all day.

Write this revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright. Wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest.

All his tiredness seemed to wash away as Habakkuk sprang to his feet and immediately set about preparing a clay tablet. He picked up a stylus and, as God continued to speak, began to write.

Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! Because you have plundered many nations, the people who are left will plunder you. For you have shed human blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

Habakkuk pressed the stylus into the wet clay, carefully forming each letter. Was this the eventual fate God had in store for the Babylonians?

Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain. You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.

God did not endorse the actions of the Babylonians, but he was going to use them for His own good purposes.

Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labour is only fuel for the fire? The nations exhaust themselves for nothing.

God would use them to bring justice against the Israelites. Then He would pour out His wrath on them, dispensing justice against the Babylonians in turn.

Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbours. You will be filled with shame instead of glory.

A trickle of sweat dripped into Habakkuk’s eye, but he dashed it away with his sleeve and continued to write the words as they came to him.

The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, for you have shed human blood. Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman? For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.

Habakkuk’s hands trembled as he lifted the stylus one last time.

The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.

The stylus clattered onto the table top and Habakkuk took a step back, staring at the tablets, their once smooth surfaces now marked with God’s everlasting word.

He had reached out to God—he had brought his complaints and questions before Him—and God had answered him.

The prophet fell to his knees and prayed. “Lord, I stand in awe of your deeds. Your glory covers the heavens and your praise fills the earth. Your splendour is like the sunrise. I ask that in your wrath you remember mercy. In the past you have confronted evil with your great power. In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.” Habakkuk’s heart pounded in his chest and sweat dripped from his brow. He clasped his trembling hands together.

“I will wait patiently for the day of calamity when the Babylonians invade us. Though the future looks bleak, I will still rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Saviour.”

Habakkuk remained silent and still for a few moments longer. Then he opened his eyes. By now the room had grown dark, illuminated only by the soft moonlight shining through the window. The prophet looked down at his hands, still clasped in his lap.

“I will trust you, Lord, no matter what comes.”

Image by Haley Black from Pexels

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