Date: 21 May 2017
Text: Habakkuk 1:12-2:1
Last week we took a brief look at Habakkuk 1:1-11, verses which tell us the story of the prophet having a bit of a disagreement with God over the state of Judah and God’s seeming lack of response. Habakkuk felt that even though he kept crying out to God for His help God simply wasn’t listening. You get the feeling that Habakkuk may have been praying and crying out about this for a very long time, seemingly without success. He complained that, since God didn’t appear to be listening, He obviously couldn’t be bothered to answer either!
In 1:5-11 we read God’s reply when it became obvious that He had been listening all the time since He now told Habakkuk just how He planned to deal with the sin and evil that Habakkuk had been complaining about. In this morning’s passage, 1:12-2:1, we see Habakkuk’s response to God’s reply; a response that may not be quite what you would expect!
Following Habakkuk’s first complaint, God answered him directly and told the prophet in no uncertain terms how He intended to deal with Judah and their sinful ways. God’s reply indicates that He had been listening all along and despite what Habakkuk may have thought He was there all the time. It is all too easy for us to think that God isn’t listening or isn’t there when we pray to Him and seek His help. We sometimes feel that He can’t be listening as we get no response.
Notice that in 2:12 Habakkuk refers to God as “My God” just as David did in Psalm 7:1 when he said, “Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me”. Habakkuk worshipped God whilst the Babylonians worshipped their own power and what they could achieve through that power; they had no interest in anyone or anything else. Habakkuk worshipped God because He was someone the prophet regarded as being the only God, “my God”. That was how Habakkuk felt and God’s eventual reply proved how wrong he was to think that God wasn’t listening since God will always give us a reply but only when He is good and ready.
The problem in Habakkuk’s case was that he didn’t like God’s answer when it came. We complain and whinge when we think that God isn’t listening and then when He gives us the answer we complain again when it isn’t the answer that we wanted. That was Habakkuk’s position. Towards the end of 2:12, Habakkuk made clear that he regarded God as his rock since He was so solid and stable; always there and never changing. How do we feel about that? Is God the solid rock of our lives or is He just someone in the background Who we call upon when convenient?
When Habakkuk said that God has “ordained them to punish” (2:12), he was referring to the Babylonians; he seems to understand and accept that God had created that people simply for the purpose of punishing others. It is God Who decides how He will punish sinful people and nations and He most certainly doesn’t need our approval. The writer of the Proverbs had this to say in Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves....” We also know that God cannot abide sin and evil and needs to punish those who do commit sin hence David’s comment in Psalm 5:4-5, “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong.” Despite all that Habakkuk still wasn’t satisfied with the answer that God had provided, it wasn’t what he wanted and it certainly wasn’t what he expected. I think that God can be like that, He sees things totally differently to the way that we see them since He can see the biggest picture imaginable. We tend to only see our immediate surroundings and not the overall situation that God can see. It’s very obvious that God’s answer was not what Habakkuk expected or how he would have handled the situation that surrounded him; whatever answer he wanted, this wasn’t it. Many of us offer prayers to God and seek His help with something and have an idea of the answer that we would like. We’ve already made up our minds and tend to be looking to God for confirmation. That isn’t how it works! If we are seeking God’s help then we must accept that He knows best; He knows us better than we know ourselves and therefore He really does know what’s best for us. His answer to our prayers may therefore not always be what we expect or want. However, that doesn’t invalidate the answer and that is the problem that faced Habakkuk. He may not have liked the answer but that was the only answer he was going to get!
Habakkuk was obviously a bit of a combative figure. He started his prophecy by complaining that God wasn’t listening to him and yet when God did listen and did answer Habakkuk was unhappy and complained again. So unhappy did he become with God’s answer that he started arguing with Him. In any argument with God I can only ever see one winner!
Evil Defeats Evil
The prophet had been complaining that God didn’t seem to be listening or doing anything such as passing judgement on Judah and yet, when God did plan to do something Habakkuk complained even louder! Habakkuk couldn’t understand that God planned to use the evil Babylonians to defeat the evil that abounded in Judah. The very idea seemed totally alien to him and he couldn’t get his mind around why God would work in such a way. Habakkuk seemed to feel that whilst the problem may have been bad, God’s proposed cure was far worse! You can almost hear the pleading in his voice as Habakkuk says to God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” (1:13a) Judah was full of sin and wrongdoing, they perverted God’s Law and yet it seems that God planned to use the even more evil and treacherous Babylonians as a means of passing judgement on Judah. To Habakkuk it made no sense whatsoever. Habakkuk continued, “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13b). Whilst I’ve no doubt that Habakkuk expected God to give some form of punishment for Judah’s sinfulness, he also expected God to help them get back on the right road of faith and obedience. Sadly that was not to be as God made very clear in His answer; He was only interested in punishment hence using the Babylonians as the means of carrying out that punishment. Habakkuk though, felt that if the Babylonians invaded Judah not only would the wicked suffer but so would the righteous. Judah may have been full of evil and sinful people but there was still a core of righteous followers of God and Habakkuk couldn’t believe or accept that God would allow them to suffer as well.
Fish in the Sea
Habakkuk became even more perturbed when he realised that not only was God going to allow this to happen but He had been preparing for it all along. In 1:14-17 we come to this rather strange passage where Habakkuk uses the analogy of fish and fishermen. You may read it for the first time and wonder what on earth Habakkuk is on about. In these verses Habakkuk used the fish in the sea as a picture of mankind since he felt that God was relegating mankind to the level of fish swimming in the sea. In doing that Habakkuk moved from complaining to God to confronting Him and questioning His judgement. Do we do that? I certainly wonder what God is doing from time to time but to actually question and argue against His decisions seems to me to be taking things a bit too far. Habakkuk didn’t appear to be worried about that though and carried on regardless!
He asked God if He only saw mankind as fish in the sea, leaderless, seemingly without purpose, just swimming around in circles before being caught on hooks and in nets. Habakkuk talks of the fishermen pulling the fish out with hooks, catching them in their nets and gathering them up in their drag-nets. This is a great illustration of how the Babylonians behaved after invading a country. They gathered up the people and dragged out of their own country before placing them in exile in Babylon. They did this as a way of preventing rebellion feeling that if only the old and infirm were left behind they would be more docile and less likely to rebel.
Having defeated and then captured the people of Judah the fishermen were then able to rejoice and celebrate a great victory over the “fish”. As a result of their great victory, Habakkuk saw these fishermen worshipping their nets and making sacrifices to them simply because “These nets are the gods who have made us rich!” (1:16 ESV). The fishermen were of course the Babylonians. When they wanted to invade a country they came along and trapped the people in their grip just as they would with fish. They were able to do this repeatedly until they possibly had all the fish available. Not a pretty picture since by their very nature fish are defenceless in much the same way as Judah and similar nations were in the face of the barbarous Babylonians. The king of Babylon at the time was Nebuchadnezzar and Habakkuk saw him as the chief fisherman hauling in his nets full of fish.
So far we have seen Habakkuk complaining and then questioning God, and yet in 2:1 we now see him waiting patiently for God to correct him and tell him he was wrong. The prophet talks of himself standing “at my watch” and stationing himself “on the ramparts”. He likens himself to a soldier or watchman standing on guard and keeping an eye open for anyone who is approaching. In Isaiah 21 we read of God warning the people to watch out for the approaching Babylonians by telling them to post a lookout. In Isaiah 21:8, the prophet responds and writes, “Day after day, my lord, I stand on the watchtower; every night I stay at my post.” That is what Habakkuk was doing although I suspect that in his case he was looking out for an answer from God.
Habakkuk was expecting a different answer from God since he obviously felt that God must have known better and that his own attitudes were therefore wrong. However, Habakkuk did seem to accept that he needed correcting in the way that he was thinking and yet he also knew that only God could do that. He was basically saying to God, “I don’t understand what You are doing, but I know that You must be right. Please talk to me and put me right.” Do we ever think like that or do we always work on the basis that we are right and God must have made a mistake? God never makes mistakes because He is patient and merciful and will always correct us gently if we ask Him. It may just be possible that Habakkuk was also learning patience as he waited on the ramparts and maybe there is a lesson in there for us too.
What do we feel about all this? Here is a prophet complaining to God that God wasn’t listening to him and yet when God did provide an answer to his prayers, Habakkuk complained that it wasn’t the answer he wanted! He was not expecting God to use an evil nation such as Babylon as a means to punish Judah especially as there were still a great many righteous people still living there. He hoped that God might simply give them a mild rebuke and then point them in the right direction. Instead of that, God announced that He was going to allow Judah to be defeated and their people taken into exile. That was most definitely not what Habakkuk wanted.
When we seek God’s guidance on anything we have to expect God to answer in the way that He sees fit. Whilst the answer may not necessarily match what we think or want, that doesn’t mean that it is wrong. God always knows best and we need to listen to Him and respond positively to whatever answer He gives us. I think we can detect from 2:1 that Habakkuk realised that which is why he kept watch for God to respond again and correct him. If we stay faithful to Him, God will never let us down and He will never do anything to hurt us. All we need to do is to listen carefully and accept the answers He gives us.