Each day almost seems to bring further news of ways in which biblical values are being subverted. In society, government and education we witness the advance of an agenda bulldozing remaining Christian values and silencing opposition. The headlines are a source of great grief and perhaps weary silent questioning. What are the prospects for the future? Why is rebellion against God prevailing? It seems only to be increasing at an ever-rapid rate. Others have been in similar circumstances, and we find similar concerns in the book of Habakkuk. God’s people were suffering under the oppressive rule of pagan conquerors. Habakkuk wants to know how this is consistent with God’s purpose and promises. He discovers that things will in fact get worse but that he must also take the long view and understand this in a much bigger context of God’s holy and wise purpose. In reading the headlines with Habakkuk we find that there are answers to the troubling questions we are reluctant to voice.
In chapter 1 of his prophecy Habakkuk pours out his distressed prayer concerning the degree to which sin was prevailing around him while the Lord seemed distant. God’s forbearance was only being used to increase in sin. The Lord would use the Babylonians to work out His purposes and to punish sin. He would chastise but not destroy His Church. The Lord is everlasting (Habakkuk 1:12) and this means His purposes are unchangeable towards His people (Psalm 102:27-28). Habbakkuk shows us what it is to be concerned for God’s glory and the future of the Church in a time of trouble. He shows us how to take refuge in God’s glorious attributes in bringing our burdens to Him. Since God is the holy one, He must show His disapproval of it in His people as well as His enemies (Habakkuk 1:12). Yet Habakkuk is still troubled by the very holiness of God. How can He who is so pure then tolerate the enemies of the Church and allow them to prosper (Habakkuk 1:13)? Ultimately the prophet is answered that though there is a delay in working out the full purpose of God he must wait humbly and live by faith (Habakkuk 2:3-4). The just must live a life of grace and walk by faith not by sight. They look to the promises rather than headlines and events. They seek to live out and contend for the just requirements of God’s Word no matter how hard the times may be. George Hutcheson draws some helpful reflections for us from Habakkuk 1:13 in this updated extract.
1. God’s People Often Question Events
Such is the weakness and instability of the spirits of the Lord’s people, and such is the great variety of things that exercise their graces, that there are few things in time their hearts do not take issue with. We read of the prophet previously complaining in his zeal, that God did not take action against the sins of his people but when he gets an answer, he is not satisfied. Rather his compassion finds new reasons to be troubled and complain.
2. God’s People Often Struggle to Understand His Role in Events
The clearest sighted saints may be so bewildered as not to be able to reconcile God’s dealings with His nature and attributes. They are rather ready to think they are opposed to one another. The prophet here cannot reconcile God’s holiness with His toleration of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).
We are so weak and selfish, that when providence does not work according to our mind and understanding, we are ready to succumb to temptations of atheism and question Providence. The prophet looks at God, as though He were only looking on and holding his tongue like a spectator when He tolerated the Chaldeans.
3. God’s People Seek to Justify His Role in Events
It is the duty and concern of all the godly to justify God and clear Him from any charge. Even though their weakness cannot see through all the deep mysteries of His Providence concerning His Church and her enemies. To this end they should prevent the arguments of unbelief and temptations with those of faith. The prophet, in the midst of his dark mists, therefore begins with this as an unshakeable foundation (whatever his heart said) that God is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity (see Jeremiah 12:1).
4. God’s People Pray About How to Understand Events
The only best way to refute temptations and dispel mists is not to debate difficult and unclear situations when our own hearts are overcome with weakness and fears. Rather we should vent the matter and our situation to God and seek His resolution of it. The prophet experiencing this temptation therefore cries out to God.
5. God’s People Will Be Chastised for Their Sin
However much the Lord has just indignation against the gross iniquities of those outside the Church and will in due time punish them, He will also chastise His people. This is necessary considering the many factors that increase the guilt of lesser sins within the Church, God’s jealousy over His people, and His concern to have them reclaimed from every evil course. It is no wonder then to see the Church’s sins punished (although they may be less in their own nature) even when more gross sins committed by those outside the Church escape for a time unpunished. The prophet complains that God holds His tongue when the wicked devours those more righteous than they. This indicates that God does indeed do so and that it proves to be a righteous act, however, much we may quarrel with it.
The Lord makes use of wicked instruments to punish His people so that in the very foulness of the rod He uses He may show to them the vileness of their sin. This is the reason the Jews are devoured by the wicked and those more vile than themselves (see Ezekiel 7:24). The prophet complains that they deal treacherously and devour, yet are permitted to prosper.
6. God’s People Know He Will Deal with His Enemies
Although God is righteous in punishing His Church by wicked instruments, yet the holiness of God compared with their wickedness, gives grounds of hope that He will at last reckon with them. This remonstration of the prophets indicates this truth, that while the holiness of God may not always seem to fit with this in the end it will be seen to do what is right (Psalm 50:21).
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