Jan Young


Habakkuk, although it is found near the end of the Old Testament, falls chronologically with Kings and Chronicles, the times of the kings. Kings and Chronicles are parallel accounts of Israel under the kings, and the splitting of the kingdom into two nations, Judah, the southern, and Israel, the northern. They end with both nations taken into captivity and exile due to continual disobedience to God. Israel is captured by the Assyrians, Judah about 100 years later by the Babylonians. Most of the prophets prophesied during this time, warning to the people to return to God or face the consequences. But the books of prophecy are grouped together at the end of the Old Testament.

We don't know much about this man Habakkuk. He prophesied before the Babylonian captivity, because God tells him that He is planning to bring the Babylonians (Chaldeans) against Israel. It is a personal conversation between Habakkuk and God, in which Habakkuk reveals his questions and thoughts, and tells how God answered him. His questions are ones that many of us ask.

Chapter 1

Unlike most prophecies, this does not start out, "the word of the Lord came to Habakkuk the prophet saying..."

1-3 Who initiated this conversation, Habakkuk or God? What is Habakkuk concerned about? What does it SEEM like to him? Based on what he SEES, what he FEELS. But we know this is not the situation. We know that you can't base your conclusions only on what we know from our human senses. God's Word gives us the rest of the story, and if God's words conflict with what we feel, or what we think we see, what should we do? What Habakkuk probably wants to see is that God is going to make the bad people in Israel stop doing the bad stuff. He is concerned about the corruption in Israel.

5 Quotation marks, who is speaking now? Look, observe; apparently God shows him things in a vision. Habakkuk doesn't think God is working, because he can't see it. God says He IS working! Just because we can't see God working in a situation doesn't mean He is not working; He is always working in everyone's life. In the unbeliever, to bring him to a point of decision; in the believer, to mature us. Why aren't we told everything God is doing? So, we are to look around at our world, observe, and conclude what? Paul quotes this verse in Act. 13:41, to say what?

6-10 What Habakkuk is to observe as he looks around is not pleasant or encouraging, not what he wanted to hear. Various nations could be mentioned here in our day. No matter what happens, according to this book, God is doing it. It's all under His control. How should that make us feel?

6 Who are the Chaldeans? Ezra 5:12, Eze. 23:15.

11 But what?

12 What is he getting at here? He is recognizing who and what God is. He is recognizing that Israel will not be destroyed, because God is in control, and has promised Israel a future. But these things will happen for a purpose, for God's purposes. God brings scary or uncomfortable things into our lives, to accomplish His purposes in our lives. To change us, for various reasons. Maybe we need corrected, or humbled, or pruned, or our faith strengthened, or to learn to walk by faith not sight, or just to have a few more rough edges ground off as He is conforming us to Christ's image. Maybe we can even accept that God is doing these things, but what we sometimes have trouble accepting is WHO He is using to do it to us!

13 I have heard this verse used to teach that Satan cannot be in heaven, cannot come into God's presence. Does the rest of the Bible support that idea? Compare Job 1-2. God's eyes are upon the earth, which is full of sin, and upon us, sinners. So what IS it saying about God? Habakkuk has trouble dealing with the bad things he sees happening, that God apparently is allowing to happen. Israel is allowed to sink into corruption; wicked Babylon, rather than being judged, will be used of God. He says it LOOKS LIKE God is approving these things because He allows them. But is that true?

Chapter 2

1 Interesting verse. What kind of a man is Habakkuk? Humble, open, expectant, alert. He expects that God will answer him. The prophet's job was to see what God would show him, to hear what God would say. Reproved: possibly, answered. But possibly, he expected God to correct him.

2 What vision? Apparently the information in Chapter 1 was given Habakkuk in a vision. A runner can then take the message to others.

3 These things are going to happen, but not immediately. But because it doesn't happen right away, don't think it's not going to. This verse has application to all prophecies that have not yet been fulfilled. If God says something is going to happen, and time passes, and it doesn't happen, the Bible says here, it will not fail. What looks to us like "delay" is not delay in God's timetable. Like allowing Lazarus to die, John 11; why didn't Jesus come sooner and heal him? God had a purpose for his death, even though it meant pain for his family. He allowed them to experience temporary disappointment and disillusionment with Him; they thought He had let them down, didn't care, couldn't do anything about it. The "goal," pointing us also towards the end time. King James Version, "...appointed time, but at the end it shall speak." As we see in many prophecies, there is both a near and far fulfillment.

4 Here is another important verse. First we have pride spoken against. "Live," in the Old Testament, we have seen elsewhere, often implies the experiencing of God's blessings, rather than speaking of eternal life. But this verse is quoted three times in the New Testament, as referring to eternal life. Rom. 1:16-17 applies this truth to both Jewish and Gentile believers; Gal. 3:7-11 applies it to Gentile believers; and Heb. 10:38 speaks to Jewish believers. This is one of the most basic truths of the Bible, and one of the things that sets Christianity apart from every other religion. Religion is about doing good enough, about man's works, his efforts; Christianity is not. Life/eternal life is given to the one who exercises faith, not to the one who does good enough, or who follows certain outward rituals. Paul made it clear to both Jewish and Gentile believers that being a descendant of Abraham, or following the Law, was not what saved anyone. It is only faith.

We see two groups of people contrasted in this verse. How are they identified? The proud one, the one whose soul is not right; this would be unbelievers. The other group is the righteous. Because of the "but" between them, we can see the division. Don't all people, including believers, struggle with the sin of pride, of exalting Self? Yes, but this person is described as "the proud one." His life is characterized by pride, by Self. Does it say we can identify the godly man by how good he looks? No, by his what? James tells us that true saving faith should result in good works; read especially James 2:14. James questions whether such a man even has true saving faith; he may just be a make-believer. Read Eph. 2:8-9; Paul makes it clear that we are not saved by good works, even if we have them. Why? So we can't boast; isn't that another term for pride? "I...I...I..."

Is Habakkuk just talking about unrighteous men in general? Or is this a description of the Babylonians that God will judge after He uses them to discipline Israel? Or is this a description of the unrighteousness going on in Israel, that Habakkuk finds so depressing? It could be that "the proud one" is a reference to the Babylonian.

5-8 goes on to talk about the proud man. Nations, peoples, seems to point to the Babylonians. They probably didn't have plastic money then, but what does 6-7 tell us today about the use of credit cards? Are they evil? No, but we need to be careful. How did God originally plan for man to get things? By work, not by borrowing.

9-11 Woe to what kind of man? KJV, covetous. Many peoples; God will hold them responsible for how they treated other peoples as they expanded their empire.

12-13 Speaks about the violent man.

14 Has this happened yet? No, but we know that it will someday. Read a parallel passage, Is. 11:9. We see that some of the prophets quoted each other's words. The context of Is. 11 tells when this will happen, in the time of the Messiah's reign on earth. Other passages tell us more about that time, the kingdom. The Old Testament speaks a lot about the kingdom, but doesn't call it the Millenium. Where do we get that term? Rev. 20. Those who don't believe in the 1000 year reign of Christ on earth say the Old Testament doesn't mention the Millenium. It has much to say about the kingdom; the passage in Revelation merely tells how long it will be, and that's where we get the term.

15-17 This speaks about the misuse of alcohol, about using it to manipulate other people. The Bible condemns drunkenness; it also leads to immorality. 16, they will reap what they have sowed; what they have been doing to others will happen to them.

18-20 The Bible doesn't give us lists of which are the worst sins, but which is given more attention, drunkenness or idolatry? Idols are being compared with the true and living and holy God. It's easy for us to see how an idol is a ridiculous thing. It's not quite as easy to see when we think of how an idol can be things other than carved images--anything in our lives that takes God's place as Number One. Idols can include money, power, sex, friends, family, status, possessions or a particular possession. One common idol that we may fail to recognize is Self. Self is the god of the religion of Secular Humanism; psychology is about the worship and pursuit of Self and teaches how to elevate Self. The Bible says Self is one of the enemies of the believer, along with the world and Satan. Self, the old man, the old nature, the flesh, is with us until death, and continually opposes the new nature, Rom. 6-7. The Bible, and this book in particular, speak against pride and arrogance, which are the natural manifestation of Self.

20 Where is God today? But one day Christ will be on earth, in His temple, and this will be true on the earth. So this chapter seems to be mostly about the Babylonians, but certainly these same sins were found in Israel, which was sliding deeper and deeper into corruption, which was why God was going to use Babylon to punish them. These same sins have application to the unrighteous man today.

Chapter 3

1 Again we see the personal nature of this book. First we had Habakkuk's questions to God, and God's answers. Now we have a prayer he prayed.

2 What is the proper response to a true knowledge of God? There is healthy fear and unhealthy fear, just as a child should have of its parents; respect, awe.

The context is Israel and the inheriting of the land God promised them. Old Testament verses that use the word "revive" are often used to support the practice of "revival meetings" for the church. What is called "revival" today is completely different and not biblical. God did revive Israel at times, after bringing them as a nation to a place of repentance and turning back to worship and obey the true and living God.

Revival is an Old Testament concept, referring to the nation of Israel and the land that God promised them. The church does not need reviving; God has already given us everything we need to follow Him and to grow. We have the complete Word of God. We have the Holy Spirit, who indwells us with power; He is not like a battery that runs down regularly and needs recharged once a year. Revivalists often pray for the Holy Spirit to come down, to be poured out; this already happened on Pentecost in Acts 2. God does not leave us when we sin or are faithless or lethargic; it is up to us to get into the Word, to pray, to choose to walk in the Spirit. The New Testament does not teach the church to pray for revival, to pray for a movement of God to change us or do a "new work." It is up to us to respond to what God has already done. The only mention of "revive" in the New Testament is that sin revived, Rom. 7:9, and Christ revived from the dead, Rom. 14:9. God's what is tempered by what? So Habakkuk is talking about God coming in wrath; when will that be? God's wrath has often been mentioned in the Old Testament when God punished; the coming wrath, the short-range fulfillment, will be carried out by the Babylonians, compare II Chron. 36:16-17. This pictures, on a smaller scale, the long-range fulfillment at the seven years of tribulation, Rev. 6:16-17.

3-4 God's splendor. (Selah: could be a musical term, like a pause; 3,9,13. This section must have been used as a song, like Psalms.)

5-7 When God comes in wrath, what things does Habakkuk see accompanying Him? Revelation speaks of pestilence, plague, earthquakes, mountains being removed out of their place. And it's possible these things happened on a smaller scale in connection with the punishment of Israel in their near future. Habakkuk saw all this, all part of the vision. It's also possible that what Habakkuk saw was things that God did in the past, yet which He will do in the future on a much larger scale.

8 Horses, animals used for war, are often mentioned in the Bible as something that men are tempted to trust in--military might. Where else do we find God riding on a horse? Rev. 19, Christ's return.

9 God brings chastisement.

10-11 Unusual occurrences with the earth, sun, moon.

12-13 What words take us to the future tribulation? Indignation, anger, the salvation of His people, trampling the nations. Who does He strike at that time? Satan, Antichrist. Anointed one, a term used for the Messiah (not for Israel). If someone is laid open from thigh to neck, is this a mortal wound?

15 His horses; more than just one horse. Rev. 19:14, armies of angels following Him on white horses. Some say this army is the church; however, the church is never described as an army in the New Testament, but rather as what, 19:7? Angels, the hosts of heaven, are described as an army. Host: (Strong's Concordance) a mass of persons organized for war, an army, company, soldiers, troops. God is very frequently called the Lord of hosts in the Old Testament. II Chron. 14:12-13, 18:18, Dan. 10:13-14, 20, Luke 2:13, Rev. 12:7.

16 Habakkuk's response to the vision. A strong reaction of fear and dread; compare Daniel's response to his visions, Dan. 7:28, 8:27, 10:7-8. Does he see God as a gentle, doting, little old grandfather, Santa Claus type? But is he going to scream, run, panic, flip out, sink into depression, reach for the Prozac? Even when faced with a fearful future, we can wait quietly for God to act. We are not to be ruled by our emotions, even though we have them.

17-19 His closing statement. Even if (what), he will (what)? Drought and famine; he imagines the worst case scenario. He will not just try to hang in there, he will exult and rejoice. Not about what is happening, but about who God is, what He is like. What does this say to us, when we are facing a bleak future, or something fearful or dreadful, or even just the possibility of it? How is a Christian to react? Is this possible? When outwardly, the worst things are happening, or look like they might happen, is it possible to have peace inside, and freedom from fear and dread? How is it possible to act and think that way when we don't FEEL that way? So does joy have anything to do with outer circumstances? Like a deer; strong, sure-footed even in rough terrain, graceful.

So the book of Habakkuk is not really a prophecy given to Israel in the usual sense. It is Habakkuk's personal confrontation with God about Israel, which was shared with Israel afterwards. Perhaps people could better identify with his message because he identified with them, as someone with big questions about what God was doing. "Why? How long?" These are the same questions we have today. Not much has changed.

This book is also important because it answers a heresy that has recently become popular, a view of God called "limited sovereignty" or "open theism." Some don't feel that God can be all loving and all knowing and all powerful, and still give us free will. They see what they call "bad" things happening to what they call "good" people and can't make sense of it. They think, if God was truly loving, He wouldn't allow these things. If He was truly powerful, He could stop these things. So they say, He is all loving, but His power is limited, and He doesn't really know the future. He has limited Himself by giving us free will; He doesn't know how we will act, but He will try to adjust to fit the situation as it goes along. He is as upset as we are over the bad stuff that happens that isn't part of His plan, and will do His best, but isn't in control of those things.

IF that were true, God is not sovereign as the Bible claims, and we have no reason to trust Him in all things, as we are told to do. What are the holes in this theology?

1) Their theology, particularly their view of God, is based on their experience--what they see and feel--rather than by what the Bible says.

2) They don't accept that human understanding is limited. Because of the Fall and the curse of sin, our finite minds are corrupt and incapable of truly understanding an infinite, holy God. As humans, of course we cannot understand how free will and sovereignty can both be true, but the Bible says it is. Prov. 3:5, Is. 55:8-9, John 6:37. This is no different than accepting that God made the world out of nothing by the breath of His mouth, or that He raised Christ from the dead. We can't understand intellectually how these things can be, but that's how far above us God is. He is not limited like humans are.

3) They are defining "good" and "bad" in human terms rather than God's terms, as revealed in the Bible. The Bible says there are no good people, Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:10. They are falling into the mistaken health/wealth type thinking that God will reward "good" people with a life free from problems; for Israel, God did promise earthly blessings for the righteous, but for the church He promised spiritual blessings (along with persecution and tribulations). They don't see that God says "good" is whatever happens that makes us more Christlike, even though it feels bad to us at the time. Rom. 8:28-29.

4) They are ignoring many scriptures on the subject, such as Paul's thorn in the flesh, II Cor. 12:7, described as a messenger from Satan, sent by God, for a purpose in his life. Ps. 119:75, John 9:1-3, John 11; Job, the whole book but particularly chapters 1-2. Who initiated this incident, God or Satan? Who gave Satan permission to afflict Job? How severely was Job permitted to be afflicted?

Copyright 2003 Jan Young

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