Habakkuk's First Complaint
Date: 14 May 2017
Text: Habakkuk 1:1-11
We all like to complain don’t we? Go on, admit it most of us complain about something at some stage. My big complaint concerns red traffic lights! Why is it that there are so many that turn red just as you approach them? Then there are those who complain about the service that they receive in shops, particularly in supermarkets. However, there are those who complain more deeply about God. That is what the prophet Habakkuk appears to be doing in this very short book. He believed that he had good reason to complain since he felt that God wasn’t listening to him or taking any notice of him. How many of us have felt that too? I’m sure that there have been times when we too have felt that God simply isn’t listening; we offer our prayers to Him and don’t seem to get an answer. Well, I’m sorry to say that that is down to our own impatience rather than God not listening!
Habakkuk was a prophet who wrote his short prophecy somewhere between 612 and 588 BC, and he may well have been someone who was deemed to be a “professional” prophet since he was paid for his prophecies either in the temple or at court. The opening verse suggests that Habakkuk received this prophecy from God Himself which is why other translations use the word “oracle” in 1:1 meaning an “utterance from God”. An oracle of this nature generally means that the prophet received it in a vision that was more of a general, rather than specific, revelation. In this prophecy Habakkuk prophesies the fall of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, in 612 BC and the invasion of Judah by the Babylonians in 588 BC. Given the comments in 1:5 where God replies that the people will “be utterly amazed” and He would do “something in your days that you would not believe”. It seems reasonable to suggest that this truly is a prophecy since the things that Habakkuk is talking about have yet to happen. They may however, have seemed likely since Assyria was in total and utter disarray; something which may have gone some way to explaining why Babylon was becoming such a dominant force.
The prophet was particularly concerned that God seemed to be allowing all this to happen and that the evil people perpetrating these aggressive acts were going unpunished. Does any of that sound familiar? Look around the world today and there are a large number of countries where there is civil war or civil unrest; where groups in countries are divided against one another and violence may not be far away. Not only that, but the prophet saw sin whichever way he looked. That is what concerned Habakkuk and it was why he was complaining.
Habakkuk had been praying for God to do something for quite a while and yet nothing had happened; consequently he felt that God just wasn’t listening. Habakkuk had been crying out to God about the violence, injustice and wrongdoing in the world and yet God seemed to ignore him; He didn’t seem to be answering. Everywhere he looked Habakkuk saw destruction, strife and conflict. He knew that God had given His Law to form the basis of order in society and yet everywhere he looked he could see that it was no longer functioning in the way God intended. As a result Habakkuk could see that the law was being paralysed, justice was being both failed and perverted. In the prophet’s view the wicked were winning whilst the righteous suffered.
I’m sure that there are people in modern day Syria who feel the same and I know that there are many people praying for an end to the conflict and barbarous violence in that country, seemingly to no avail. Habakkuk’s complaint is nothing new since there are many who share his feelings today.
Habakkuk’s comments sound very similar to David’s opening comment in Psalm 13:1 where David says, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me for ever? How long will you hide your face from me?” David was also crying out for God’s help and felt that God wasn’t listening. Interestingly enough neither David nor Habakkuk were afraid to question God or challenge Him over His seeming lack of interest in what they perceived to be major problems. They were firm believers in God but still felt able to question and complain. Do we feel the same or do we hold God in such awe that we feel unable to complain in the way that Habakkuk did?
Needless to say, God knew that the people of Judah were sinful. He knew that they ignored Him and perverted His law for their own ends. They also condoned sin just as we do today. If you doubt that then just think about the fact that we as a nation seem to have become tolerant of what God’s Word tells us is sin? We have reached a point where we just shrug our shoulders and accept such sins rather than condemning them. Don’t forget that some of the things happening in today’s world are explicitly contrary to God’s Word and will, and yet we simply accept them and look the other way. Habakkuk could see that happening in Judah which is why he was complaining so loudly and vehemently. And that is also why he wanted the sinful and their pagan neighbours to be punished.
We don’t know for how long Habakkuk had been seeking God’s help but it must have seemed a long time to him hence his complaint. God of course was listening; He always is! He knew what was happening and it no doubt grieved Him much more than it grieved Habakkuk to see His people suffering so much at the hands of the wicked.
However, God could see the big picture; He could see the long term. Habakkuk could only see what was happening around him and in his own region whereas God could see the world; His world. We’re the same; we can only see what is happening around us in our own area or community. We do get a vague picture from the newspapers and television news, although much of it is filtered and had the writer’s or broadcaster’s view laid over it. God, though, sees the full, unadulterated picture and He knows what is going to happen long before it happens. God could see what was happening both within Judah and outside the country within the enemy states, most notably Assyria.
Just because Habakkuk felt that God didn’t seem to be listening to him or answering his prayers, didn’t mean that God wasn’t there or listening or keeping a watchful eye on things. He most definitely was and His plan was to punish the sinners of Judah in a most amazing way. God wasn’t going to send plagues, or dreadful storms and floods; rather, He was going to use the Babylonians as an instrument of punishment. The Babylonians were renowned for the ferocity of their attacks and for the way that they dispossessed a conquered nation of everything they had, and God was going to use them by allowing them to invade and possess Judah.
God revealed all this to Habakkuk and the prophet was well aware of who these people were. He described them as “ruthless and impetuous people” who “sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (1:7). He went on to call them “feared and dreaded people”. Their army sounded truly fearsome since they had “horses swifter than leopards” and they were “fiercer than wolves at dusk” (1:8). And so he went on, describing the dreadful future that the people of Judah face. These weren’t nice people at all and yet God intended to use them as a weapon to punish those who did not keep His Law or follow His will.
I suspect that many of us would never dream of complaining to God by accusing Him of not listening or doing anything, and yet, that is precisely what Habakkuk did. He was very unhappy with what he saw happening around him and was annoyed that God didn’t seem to be doing anything about it.
How wrong he was! The verses 1:5-11 describe just how God intended to pass judgement on the people of Judah for their sinful behaviour. God had His plans laid despite what Habakkuk may have thought. We should never forget that God is always listening. He knows exactly what is happening in His world and He knows the sinful things that are happening each and every day.
God’s answer to Habakkuk’s first complaint came when He described the way that He intended to use the Babylonian army as a weapon to punish the nation of Judah for their wrongdoing. We must never lose sight of the fact that we too will be judged for what we have or haven’t done in our lives. Such a judgement awaits all those who fail to acknowledge their wrongdoing and turn to God to seek His forgiveness. It awaits those who refuse to acknowledge God just as the people of Judah appeared to have done. The people of Judah could have avoided all this by turning away from their sinful lives and turning towards God, Just as people today can also avoid a dreadful judgement by doing the same.
For some reason Habakkuk doesn’t seem too content with the answer that God had given him and so he asked almost the same question again. Earlier he had complained that God didn’t seem to be listening and yet when the answer came it was Habakkuk who didn’t seem to be listening. Are we like that? Do we receive an answer to our prayers and ignore it because it’s not the answer we wanted or like? I hope not since God always answers our questions and complaints in a way that is intended to help us.
The important thing for us is to keep on praying but also keep on listening to the way that God answers us.