Habakkuk Bible Study
Lesson 1 — How Long, Lord?
Intro and Background:
This prophetic book of the Old Testament is thought to have been written sometime around 610 BC, before the Babylonian capture of Judah. Most commentaries support the idea that Habakkuk lived some of his life during the time of Josiah, the godly king of Judah who turned the people back to the ways of God. The book of Habakkuk is, however, set during the reign of Jehoaikim under whose evil reign the Jewish people again turned away from God to serve idols and pursue evil.
“The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw”
The book of Habakkuk begins with this simple statement declaring what information Habakkuk will share with us.
He will share an “oracle”
The word that is translated here in the NASB as oracle is most commonly translated as “oracle” or “burden” meaning something heavy, or weighty. Other translations use “message” or “prophecy” which indicate that the word is from the Lord.
(Others who received “oracles” were Isaiah 13:1, Jeremiah 23:33, Nahum 1:1, Malachi1:1)
The oracle came as a “vision”
Habakkuk saw the message that he was to impart to the people. This was a vision, not a spoken prophecy from the Lord.
To me, a vision carries so much more impact. If I hear on the news that 100 people died in a plane crash, I feel sadness for the loss. But, I am so much more affected by a photo of one person, on the ground, mangled after a car accident. A picture imprints somewhat permanently in my brain, and re-appears, many times unbidden. It is easy to forget something that we have just heard, but it is very difficult to remove images from our brains.
Also, there is so much more detail that can be transmitted in a vision or picture. Think about the beginning of a movie. In just the first moments of film you can have a view of the setting, an exact picture of the main characters, an indication of other activities going on, and even hints at the plot. Sometimes, to impart this same information, a writer would have to spend dozens of pages of text.
Therefore, considering the impactful, graphic scenes that God revealed to Habakkuk, it is easy to understand his emotional response.
How long, O Lord, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save.
Why do You make me see iniquity,
And cause me to look on wickedness?
Yes, destruction and violence are before me;
Strife exists and contention arises.
Therefore the law is ignored
And justice is never upheld.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore justice comes out perverted.
In verse 2, Habakkuk reacts to the vision that he has seen. From the words that he speaks… “How long, O Lord…” we know that he is speaking to the Lord. Here, I highlight 3 ways that Habakkuk speaks to the Lord
1. He pours his heart out to the Lord
I love that fact that Habakkuk just pours out his heart, his sorrows, his feelings to the Lord. He doesn’t hold back. This reminds me of other Old Testament men like Job, Abraham, and Isaiah who are also recorded as having these frank, heartfelt conversations with God himself. I am so thankful that these private conversations were recorded for us. For, so many times I have similar conversations. This shows us that we serve a God who desires a relationship with his people. We are his children. Just as a child might question her parents about rules or even perceived injustices in the way the family is run, God allows his children to respectfully speak up and share their heart and thoughts with him.
These conversations between God and his created beings go all the way back to the garden of Eden with Adam, Eve. After Adam and Eve sinned and were in hiding, God knew, of course, where they were. But, he comes, gently calling for them. “Where are you?” Then, through conversation with Adam and Eve, he allows them to tell him of their sin. He uses the conversation to cause them to grow in their relationship with God, and reveals his plan for redemption to them.
Similarly, I think we will see as we continue on with this study, that God uses these conversations with himself to teach Habakkuk and to cause his faith to grow.
2. He questions the Lord
How long will my cries go unanswered? The cries that Habakkuk makes to the Lord are cries of people in many times and in many ages– Habakkuk is really asking the question that so many ask, “Why is there evil, God? Why does evil continue and even prevail? Why are your people suffering at the hands of the ungodly?”
This question is one that is, I think, one of the deepest questions in all of our Biblical faith. It is the question that initially led C.S. Lewis to be an atheist. How could there be a God who was sovereign, all-powerful, and righteous who allows evil to seemingly go on, unchecked? This question, however, eventually brought C. S. Lewis to his belief in God when he realized that, without a good, holy God what right do we have to even expect anything but evil to prevail? Why should there be justice?
But, even for many of us, like Habakkuk, who are followers of the Holy God, we don’t understand– we question when evil continues at the expense of God’s children. I think of many times in history, like slavery or the holocaust, when people of God cried out in agony because they were being mistreated and even killed unjustly. Even now, in many parts of the world, Christians are persecuted and killed for no other reason than for following God. Why, God, Why?
Perhaps, we also have cried out like this over issues closer to home. I know that I have. Why is this person suffering at the hands of an abuser? Why is this evil person allowed to destroy a family? Why are MY prayers for my loved ones seemingly going unheard?
Well, it is interesting to see that this question is not just prevalent here on earth. With the glimpse that we are given into heaven through Revelation, we see that those surrounding the throne of God say–
And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? Revelation 6:10
Habakkuk’s question is still being asked of God… How long, O Lord.
3. He makes a case for God to step in and act…
Throughout his conversation and questioning with the Lord, Habakkuk knows who he is talking to. He understands the character of the Lord. He knows that the Lord hates destruction and violence, strife and contention. He knows that the Lord wants the law to be upheld. He understands that God is a just God, and therefore is not in favor of perverted justice by the wicked. Because God is against all of these things, yet they still continue, Habakkuk had a hard time understanding what was happening.
We also often despair and cry out when we see injustice and destruction that goes against God and his people. We feel this way because of the nature of God within us.
How much worse is it when we see those who name the name of God as the perpetrators of the wrong doing? Isn’t it worse when someone within the church commits evil acts? When someone bombs a clinic or commits a mass murder and then says that they are a Christian? This is what Habakkuk felt when he saw the Jewish people– who had been given the law and were chosen by God to reflect Him here on earth– living in violence and destruction.
Micah 6:8 shows how God expected his people to act:
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Habbakuk saw that men were acting opposite to this.
In verse 5, we will start to see God answer Habakkuk, but it is important to be reminded that whenever we ask God, Why are you not judging evil? How long must the righteous suffer? That–
1. God’s time is not our time:
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. II Peter 3:9
2. God’s ways are not our ways:
Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days which you will not believe, though it be told you.
In verse 5, God begins His answer. It sounds great and wonderful– Behold! Regard! Wonder! You will not Believe! What will his answer be? ….. Does this sound positive? Exciting? Next time we will see the substance of the answer.
However, it is important to notice that God was not absent, he was not unaware of what was happening, he was not caught off guard. God had a plan long before Habakkuk cried out. And, that plan was something unbelievable!
We need to also remember that, even if God seems to not be acting when we think he should, that God does have a plan, and His plan is so much greater than what we can imagine. We can only think in terms of our own little sphere of people and events, while God’s plan is the right thing for the whole world.
We are not prophets of God, speaking audibly with him and receiving special messages from Him of future events like Habakkuk was, but we are ambassadors of Christ, and we have been given the gospel – the message of peace and reconciliation with God to share with the world. We do not hear God’s voice audibly, but we commune with God in prayer and through His living word, he speaks His truth back to us.
God works through these conversations that we have with him, just like he did with Habbakuk.
God has a plan to cover every problem and situation that we might cry out to Him about.