I’ve been preaching through the Minor Prophets this summer. An excerpt from my sermon on Habakkuk.
I will climb up to my watchtower
and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the LORD says
and how he will answer my complaint. – Habakkuk 2:1 (NLT)
We don’t know where Habakkuk was from or to what social class he belonged. But like other prophets, Habakkuk laments the break-down of Judean society, a break-down that began at the top. He sees injustice going unchecked. But rather than an oracle directed at the people, Habakkuk directs his complaints to God.
Of course, the answer Habakkuk gets is not what we are hoping for. It starts out well enough, and we think we are going to get the answer we want. God says we will be amazed. We will see something that can be barely be believed. What will it be?
- Will there be a public accounting for the oppressors?
- Will the poor finally be released of their shackles and come into the Kingdom of God?
- Will those who are hungry and thirsty for justice finally be satisfied?
Habakkuk waited expectantly. But as God responds, Habakkuk does not get the answer he was looking for and neither do we. We hope that God will tell us that things will change for the better. Instead God talks about the Babylonians and how God is going to raise them up and make them stronger. God’s own self says they are cruel and violent, notorious for their cruelty, bent on violence. God says they worship their own power above all else. How could they be the answer we are looking for?
This cannot be what God calls justice.
How is it that a God of justice can allow and even reward injustice and cruelty? Habakkuk cannot believe this, and he wants God to give him an answer he can accept. For this reason, Habakkuk might be the prophet we can relate to the most.
It is true that we experience many joys in our lives. We have much to be thankful for. But often, it seems that the ongoing rumble of injustice lies just beneath the surface. We can’t go far without hearing about it or seeing it or maybe experiencing it ourselves. It stares us in the face in the form of children separated from parents, the rise of white nationalism, the unrelenting mass shootings. “How long?” we ask.
In his commentary on Habakkuk, Dr. Ted Hiebert writes,
Real-world politics appear to be continually at odds with the prophetic passion for justice and faith in God’s just rule. This problem, maintaining a belief in God’s just rule in spite of an unjust world, is the central issue [in Habakkuk]…
Sometimes people say everything happens for a reason, but I think Habakkuk would challenge this as well. What reason can there be for injustice and cruelty? What reason can there be for hatred and suffering?
Somehow, we need to wrestle with the truth of who God is with the reality that our lives seem to be surrounded by the unholy, incomplete, unjust, and evil. Like Habakkuk, we ask how it is that God can see and tolerate it.
Like Habakkuk, we ask, “How long?” Even if we don’t say it out loud, we certainly think in our hearts that God must not see the injustice around us. We even doubt whether God is good because if so, then how can the innocent suffer so much evil? We may hear a whisper in our soul of God’s response to our prayers – but like Habakkuk, we, too question God’s answer. For we do not understand it, and it seems to lead to more pain and an unnecessary delay of justice. An unjust reality is definitely at odds with our faith in God’s just rule.
This is when a pastor stands before you and reminds us all that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts.“It is not for us understand but for us to accept,” we say, or “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
These words might have passed Habakkuk’s lips at one point, too. Just because they are true, it doesn’t make them easy. But even as Habakkuk brought his complaints to God, he also trusted God to hear and respond.
Hiebert goes on to say:
#Faith is living with expectation that God will act. Click To Tweet
There will always be a discrepancy between such a vision [of God’s just reign] and the real world. But the truly righteous place greater trust in the truth and in the reliability of that vision than in the brute facts of existence.
Faith is living with expectation that God will act – and the faith that when God does, it will be just. But as the guard on the watchtower may catch sight of something in the distance, they are not able to understand it right away. It must come closer to be better understood. And so, we wait, like Habakkuk, not fully understanding but trusting that in our faithfulness we will one day comprehend the ways of God.
The final chapter of Habakkuk is a prayer describing God’s presence on earth – a presence that brings justice where there was none. But it is Habakkuk’s closing words I find most relevant for us today. He says that even though he is surrounded by loss and there is no sign of hope to be found:
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign LORD is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights. – Habakkuk 3:18-19 (NLT)
I think it is only right and honest that we make our complaints to God in our prayers of “How long?” But as we do so, may we also be able to rejoice in the Lord, joyful in the God of our salvation. While we pray that we will see justice with our own eyes and even work to make our prayers a reality, let us have faith that God is good and, indeed, justice will one day come.
Holy Lord, you are God over the just and unjust alike. Jesus told us that you cause the sun to shine on and the rain to refresh both the good and the evil. These truths are rarely in our prayers. Rather, we want you to act today to right the wrongs of the world. We want you to raise up the lowly and trample those who oppress them. When reality seems to overcome our trust in you. When justice seems to get further away. In these times, let our faith uphold us. Let us continue to rejoice in you, the God of our salvation. And in this time in-between, let us not grow weary of speaking truth and acting justly. Amen.
Hiebert, Theodore, “Habakkuk,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, 624.
Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)
 Hiebert, Theodore, “Habakkuk,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, 643.