One of the things I love about the minor prophets is the reminder of the historicity of the Bible. Habakkuk, and the other prophets, lived in an actual moment of history. Check out some of the key dates during the ministry of Habakkuk:
- 605 BC—Nebuchadnezzar invades Judah and carries off Daniel and his friends
- 597 BC—the Babylonians attack Judah again and take 10,000 exiles back to Babylon, including the prophet Ezekiel
- 586 BC—Judah is besieged and defeated, and all remaining residents are exiled to Babylon
Jeremiah, a contemporary of Habakkuk, preached to faithless Israelites, imploring them to return to God, while Habakkuk attempted to encourage faithful Israelites to continue to trust Jehovah.
Habakkuk recognized that he was delivering a heavy word. When he opens this book by saying this is “the oracle” that he received from God, that word is better translated “burden.” Part of this burden may have been due to the fact that Habakkuk had something on his heart that we often have: a complaint.
Can we complain to God?
Habakkuk complained to God—twice!—and God doesn’t reprimand him, so there must be a right way to vent about our frustrations and confusions. Here’s what we can learn from Habakkuk’s two complaints:
- Instead of making accusations, ask questions. Habakkuk asks God eight questions in his two complaints. I think this is an attitude issue. Complaints are saying, “God I disagree with what You’re doing,” while questions seem to be more like, “God, I don’t understand what You’re doing.”
- Desire God’s glory to be seen. At the conclusion of both of Habakkuk’s complaints he uses the word “therefore” (1:4, 16). His conclusion is something along the lines of, “God, if You let this continue, it appears that Your glory is being obscured by the activities of wicked people.”
- After your complaint, close your mouth and open your eyes and ears. After Habakkuk’s first complaint, God tells him to “look” at all He is going to do. And after the second complaint, God tells him to “write down the revelation” God gives him and then “wait for it” to be fulfilled” (2:2, 3).
Then Habakkuk does something that isn’t seen anywhere else in the Bible outside of the book of Psalms: he calls for us to Selah pause three times!
Habakkuk shows us that our best response to what God reveals to us should be worship:
- Selah (3:3)—pause to consider what God has done
- Selah (3:9)—pause to stand in awe of His very present glory
- Selah (3:13)—pause in anticipation of His righteous justice and awesome glory that will be revealed
Key phrases from Habakkuk are quoted in the New Testament, and at least three of them are directly tied to these Selah pauses:
- “The earth WILL be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (2:14), is echoed in the way all of humanity will see the glory of the risen Jesus.
- “The righteous WILL live by his faith” (2:4), is quoted as a Christian’s ongoing interaction with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
- “I WILL rejoice in the Lord my God … I WILL be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17-18) figures prominently in Mary’s song after she realizes that she is pregnant with the soon-to-be-born Savior.
(Check out all of the above biblical references: Habakkuk 2:14, 2:4, 3:17-18; Revelation 1:5-8; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:37-39; Luke 1:46-47, 54-55)
Can you air your complaints to God? Yes, but do it the right way. Then silently listen, patiently wait, and then eagerly tell others about the coming judgment that they can avoid by having their sins forgiven through faith in Jesus our Savior. Only then can we also echo the “I will” statements of Habakkuk that are echoed in the New Testament—I will live by faith, I will look forward to the glory of God being fully revealed, I will continue to rejoice in God my Savior every day, and I will tell others how they, too, can live this way themselves!
If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series looking at the major lessons we find in the minor prophets, you can find the complete list by clicking here.