Will the Wicked Swallow up the Righteous?
In Lesson 1 of Habakkuk, we saw Habakkuk cry out to the Lord wondering how long He would let the sins of Judah go unpunished.
Then, in Lesson 2, the Lord answers Habakkuk by revealing that He already had a plan. And his astounding plan was that the wicked Babylonians would conquer the Jewish people. God’s plan was one of judgment, in a major way.
Now, in Lesson 3, Habakkuk speaks again to the Lord.
Are You not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my Holy One?
We will not die.
You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge;
And You, O Rock, have established them to correct.
Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor.
Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously?
Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?
The Lord’s answer, in the previous verses, shocks Habakkuk. He begins his answer by restating some truths that he knows about his God… namely that God is Eternal, Holy, Faithful to his promises, a judge, an unchanging, solid Rock, and completely pure. I can imagine the incredulous voice that Habakkuk used to speak these words to the Lord…
“You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct”
But, even after having stated these facts, Habakkuk is still confused as to God’s plan. For, if God is too pure and Holy to look on wickedness with favor, how then can he possible look on and allow the Chaldeans to come upon Judah for judgment? To Habakkuk, the facts just didn’t add up.
Habakkuk, as a man created in God’s image, had a sense of justice and a desire for evil to be punished and good to be rewarded. All humankind has some innate sense of these things that comes from our creator. However, just as our ideas of love come from God himself and mirror in some ways His love for us, they come up way short of being God’s actual thoughts of love. We cannot even begin to understand the depths of the love of God who, while we were enemies of His, sacrificed His own life for us. That would never be our plan. If it was, we would be seeking out our own enemies and finding ways to give up everything, including our lives, in order to save them.
In the same way, we can never really view justice as God does. So, once again in Habakkuk, we come up against God’s perspective vs. man’s perspective. To Habakkuk, having the more wicked nation overtake and punish the less wicked nation made no sense. We tend to categorize wickedness as “a little bad”, “pretty bad”, and “really, really bad”. Our justice system has punishments that range from small fines or community service to life in prison and even death. To Habakkuk, what God had revealed was like sending a mass-murdering, satan worshipping, child abusing, psychopath to carry out judgment on someone who parked too close to a fire hydrant. Yes, Habakkuk thought the Jewish people needed judgment and correction. But, surely not at the hands of the wicked Babylonians!
Yet, this was God’s plan. And because it was God’s plan, it was perfect.
The Bible gives an example in Luke 12:47-48 of how our view of justice and God’s view of justice are not always the same…
” And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
God expects greater obedience from those who have been taught His ways and who have His word.
Why have You made men like the fish of the sea,
Like creeping things without a ruler over them?
The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook,
Drag them away with their net,
And gather them together in their fishing net.
Therefore they rejoice and are glad.
Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net
And burn incense to their fishing net;
Because through these things their catch is large,
And their food is plentiful.
Will they therefore empty their net
And continually slay nations without sparing?
Habakkuk describes the people on the earth as fish in the sea. Then, he says that the Chaldeans gathered up the people/fish with large dragnets and hooks. They are like deep sea trawlers that gather everything below them in one huge, sweeping net. Nothing escapes. Then, the Chaldeans rejoice, and worship their nets that bring them such success and wealth.
It is hard to see the wicked seemingly prosper, to see their unrighteousness go un-checked. The Psalmist cried out over this situation in Psalm 73. In this passage, we also get the eternal perspective… the Psalmist sees the end of the wicked and the end of the just.
I was reminded as I read this that Jesus also describes people as fish in a sea. He tells his disciples that they will be “fishers of men”. I was struck by the contrast – the Chaldeans swept up the fish for might, profit, strength and wealth but ultimately as God’s judgment. Jesus and His disciples fish to rescue people from the eternal judgment.
Conversing with God
In all of Habakkuk, as we see the conversation go back and forth between God and Habakkuk, we see that our God is truly relational with his people. There are many, many conversations recorded for us in Scripture between God and man. In many of those conversations, the person questions God. It is not always wrong to question God. In fact, in conversations with God, there is a right way and a wrong way to question God.
Questioning God the Right Way
Habakkuk, questioned God the right way. He was confused and questioning, but still reverent and faithful. He believes God, he just doesn’t understand.
2 Examples of other people in the Bible who questioned the right way:
Mary – Luke 1:34-38
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. Behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Ananias –Acts 9: 13-17
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” So Ananias departed and entered the house,
In both of these examples, the person questioned the revealed plan of God. They both even provided
“additional information” for God, as if He might not be aware of all the facts. However, they exhibited faith overall. They ultimately believed God and willingly obeyed. That is the correct way to question God.
Questioning God the Wrong Way
Sarah — Genesis 18:12-15
Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, when I am so old?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah denied it however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
Zecharias — Luke 1:18-20
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.” The angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who [o]stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
On the surface, Sarah and Zacharias’ answers don’t appear that different from Mary or Ananias’. They all wonder how something will happen. They all, amazingly, give the Lord additional information. The difference, then is not in the actual words of the answer. The difference is in the heart. Mary and Ananias had faith in the Lord. They believed. Sarah and Zacharias did not believe.
God knows the heart.
Through proper questions and conversations with the Lord, we can grow in our faith and understanding of God and his ways.
Habakkuk concludes this answer by again asking God how long? But, he now wonders “how long” will the Babylonians wickedness to go on. Will it go on unjudged forever? Will they just run over the Jewish nation, empty their nets and go on with their atrocities?
I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart;
And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,
And how I may reply when I am reproved.
Habakkuk ends his conversation with the Lord by stating that he is going to the walls or the tower to wait and watch for the Lord’s reply. He expects that God will indeed answer him. But, after the exchange that he just had, he is not at all sure what kind of answer to expect. Since he was very wrong about the first answer, he is even expecting correction.
In the book of Ezekiel, we also see the idea of a prophet as a watchman on a tower, waiting to receive the word of the Lord to pass along to the people.
Ezekiel 3:17 – “Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. “
Just like Habakkuk had trouble understanding the ways of the Lord when it came to justice for the people of Judah, we also can be confused about God’s plans for allowing evil for a time. Elizabeth Elliot summed up a proper attitude toward God in those situations.-–
“God is God. I dethrone him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.”