Await God’s Timing

Explore the Bible Series
June 24, 2007

 

Background Passage: Habakkuk 1:1-3:19

Lesson Passage: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 5-6, 13; 2:2-4; 3:16-19

 

Introduction: Many young people enter my classes at the college with a persistent indifference to the study of history.  I find that they often have not enjoyed positive experiences with history courses they have taken in high school (thankfully, this is not universal), and, therefore, I must exert all of my energies to motivate the young people to engage in this academic endeavor. The most common method I utilize centers on raising provocative questions to engender thoughtful discussions.  You see, many of my students have the impression that historical studies revolve around the bare memorization of data about events, people, and dates, but I try to challenge them to probe the material with more important questions.  Why did this event occur?  What attitudes provoked people to behave as they did? Does this have any relevance to our cultural setting?  Basically, I press the students to ask “why”, and I find that, very often they rise to the material with interest and enthusiasm (This response is not universal either!). Often the class realizes that asking such question helps them understand the relevance of historical studies.  This teaching methodology impresses on the class that they will never arrive at the right answers in life if they do not ask the right questions.

 

The prophet Habakkuk, unknown aside from this prophecy, was a thoughtful, contemplative man.  Frankly, his observations about the nature of justice, the problem of evil, and his understanding of God, led him to a troubled state of mind.  He lived, many scholars surmise, after the reforms of King Josiah (ruled c. 640-609) had diminished, and the prophet wondered how a righteous God could allow this ungodly state of affairs to continue.  In his mind, God had opened the prophet’s eyes to idolatry, injustice, cruelty, adultery, drunkenness, and oppression; yet, Habakkuk observed, God remained silent.  God’s apparent indifference created a profound crisis of faith.  Finally, the poor man could restrain himself no longer, and he voiced his perplexity to Jehovah.  In effect, he raised the following questions:

 

Why do wicked men always seem to win?

Why does God so often seem to permit the oppression of the poor, the humble, and the righteous?

Why does God appear to turn a deaf ear to the earnest pleadings of his people?

How long will God tarry before he takes action to set things right?

 

The prophet accused God of apathy, inattentiveness, and idleness in the face of horrific wickedness.  What reflective person has not had such troubling thoughts?  Unlike Habakkuk, we may restrain our lips from actually expressing our confusion, but the internal dialog rages.  Eventually, in his perfect timing, God provided answers to Habakkuk’s questions, and the prophet learned, as we must, that Jehovah is not indifferent to wickedness.  I find myself learning valuable lessons from the Book of Habakkuk, lessons that bring me to a greater appreciation of God’s providence over the affairs of men and the necessity of submitting to God’s sovereign prerogative.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Habakkuk’s Complaints and God’s Response (1:1-2:1)

A.    Introduction to the prophecy (1:1): As stated earlier, we know little of the identity and background of Habakkuk.  In all probably he lived in Judah, perhaps in Jerusalem.  Some have suggested that he may have served as a priest, but this view is not universally held.  Like Nahum, Habakkuk described his message as a burden (ESV translates as “oracle”) that he received from God.

B.     Habakkuk’s first concern (1:2-4):  Habakkuk wondered how long would God ignore his prayers.  The prophet had prayed earnestly about the conditions in Judah; yet, God remained silent.  He was helpless to address the iniquity of the people, and God, who possessed such power, stood by idly.

C.     God’s first response (1:5-11): God was at work in ways that Habakkuk did not know.  In a short time, Jehovah would raise up the Babylonians, a bitter and hasty (NASV translates “fierce and impetuous”) nation, to judge Judah.  They will come, God promised, with irresistible power and violence.

D.    Habakkuk’s second concern (1:12-2:1): God’s answer to the first question startled Habakkuk.  This section begins with an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, but the prophet could not understand how the Lord could use an exceedingly wicked nation, more evil than Judah, to bring judgment on the Lord’s backslidden people.  Jehovah’s first response clearly humbled the prophet, and this section ends with Habakkuk’s pledge to remain silent and watchful for the Lord’s answer to his puzzlement (See 2:1)

 

II.                God’s Reassurance of Habakkuk (2:2-20)

A.    Jehovah commanded Habakkuk to write down this response (vv. 2-5).  Babylon was, indeed, a wicked nation, and the Lord had perfect knowledge of her iniquities: pride, greed, drunkenness, imperialism, murder, violence, and corruption.   Babylonian pride was the opposite of the faithfulness that characterizes the righteous (See v. 4). 

B.     God’s condemnation of Babylon (vv. 6-20): The Lord pronounced a series of woes on Babylon that would portend her ultimate ruin. The text identifies five indictments.

1.      cruel, bloody plunder of other nations (vv. 6-8)

2.      economic corruption (vv. 9-11)

3.      ruthless imperialism and tyranny (vv. 12-14)

4.      degradation of other nations (vv. 15-18)

5.      foolish idolatry (vv. 19-20)

 

III.             Habakkuk’s Prayerful Hymn (3:1-19): The first verse of this chapter indicates that Habakkuk composed a prayer; however, the final phrase of the book (See 3:19b) and the general poetic structure reveal a musical motif.

A.    The text identifies Habakkuk as the composer of this hymn (v. 1). The word “sigionoth”, according to O. Palmer Robertson, probably denotes some kind of musical direction.

B.     A plea for revival and mercy (v. 2): The prayer/hymn begins with Habakkuk’s entreaty for God to show mercy to Judah and revive the backslidden nation.

C.     The prophet’s vision of God (vv. 3-16): Habakkuk described his vision of God coming from the Sinai Peninsula (Teman and Mount Paran), retracing the general route of Israel’s entrance into Canaan many years before.  The radiant vision revealed the Lord’s sovereign power over the created order and the nations of the earth. The mountains, the rivers, the heavens, the nations-- all tremble at the presence of the Lord.  Yet, this marvelous God, irresistible in power and authority, goes out for the salvation of his people (See v. 13). Habakkuk knew that God would, at the appointed time, rise in judgment against Babylon (See v. 14), but the prophet trembled and waited before Jehovah (See v. 16).

D.    Habakkuk’s final praise for the Lord (vv. 17-19):  despite the calamities that God revealed to Habakkuk, the prophet rejoiced in the God of his salvation.  Jehovah, the prophet observed, was the source of Habakkuk’s joy and salvation. 

 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.      What do you regard as the most important questions of life?  How does Scripture address these questions?

2.      Why, in the face of grave difficulties, does God so often wait in his answer to prayers and vindication of his people?

3.      In several texts, the Psalms mention the importance of waiting on the Lord (See Psalm 27:14; 37:7; 130:5).  Why does God require his children to wait? How does waiting on the Lord nourish Christian character?