Look and See
As we study the book of Habakkuk, we are reminded that God’s word is living and active. The book of Habakkuk written in a different language, culture, and time still teaches us about God and addresses many issues we see in our newsfeeds or headlines. Habakkuk, whose name means embrace or wrestler, wrestles with God through his complaints. He asks real questions, not only philosophical questions from a study but questions about the reality in the trenches. Habakkuk first asks God, where is the justice? Why do evil people in Israel prosper? Why are you not redeeming your people like you have in the past? These questions, although asked in history, are still applicable to us today. Today we will be looking at God’s response, one we are not expecting.
I. God works behind the scenes
Habakkuk begins his complaint asking, do you not see (Hab 1:3) Why are you silent (Hab 1:2)? The Lord’s first response is, look and see (Hab 1:5a), and also you would not believe you if I told you (Hab 1:5b). Habakkuk sees the destruction around him, and he is consumed with his whole world. However, God has the bigger, broader picture. Habakkuk complains that God is not doing anything, but God’s response is, “I am.” I am working behind the scenes. Look outside of your nation. I am working. God tells Habakkuk that his work is astonishing, amazing. The Hebrew actually emphases this repeating the word, see wonder and be in wonderment for God is working a work in your days. God is working. God did not create the world and establish natural mechanisms without his providence. He did not wind the earth up like a grandfather clock or spinning top. God executes his decrees of creation AND providence (WSC 8). Westminster Shorter catechism eleven says, “God’ s works of providence are, his most holy, (Ps. 145:17) wise, (Ps. 104:24, Isa. 28:29) and powerful preserving, (Heb. 1:3) and governing all his creatures, and all their actions. (Ps. 103:19, Matt. 10:29–31).”
God is working behind the scenes, doing things we do not see or understand. God was working raising up Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Samuel, David, and John the Baptist long before they entered the stage. He was preparing them for their task. During difficult times when it feels like God is silent and blind, we need to be reminded that God is not on vacation. God is often preparing us for the next season and also preparing the scene for a wonderfully marvelous work.
II. God works in unexpected ways
“God works in mysterious ways” is one of those sayings that people think comes from the bible but maybe from the book of Hezekiah (A made verse for a up book). Although you will not find those words in your bible, you will find the concept. Paul writes in Romans 11:33-35, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” And Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The saying actually comes from a poem/hymn written by William Cowper in 1773. The poem starts;
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
God’s response to Habakkuk is precisely that, mysterious. This goes to show how you might not want to hear the answer to your question. Habakkuk wants to know why evil goes unpunished. Why is the law not respected in Israel? What is God doing about it? God’s response is that you would not believe me if I told you. I am raising up the Chaldeans. The answer is unexpected. It is unexpected for two reasons; first, that God is going to use the evil nation of Chaldea/Babylon to judge Israel. You complain about injustice and judgment, and it is coming with injustice and judgment. The nation of Babylon will come, and they are not nice. They are compared to four animals and four actions. They are as fast as leopards, fierce as wolves, enduring as horses, and devour like vultures. A formable enemy, fast, fierce, enduring, and leave nothing after their path of destruction. No fortress will be able to stand against them (Hab 1:10). Unlike the Israelites defeating Jericho, they had nothing besides Yahweh. The Babylonians have all the power to defeat any enemy. I am sure Habakkuk was not sure if God misheard him. What is your plan? You write a four-star review on Amazon, and the manufacture responds and says, “you are right. We will stop all production of this right away.”
The second mysterious aspect of God’s response is that he was going to use Chaldeans/Babylonians. We are on the other side of history, but during this time, Assyria had begun its demise. Egypt looked like it was the next superpower again, not Babylon. They are a speck on a map. It would be like saying today that in a couple of years, Ecuador will be the superpower in the world. God is raising them up as a secondary cause to carry judgment on the nation of Israel. The Chaldeans will carry out four actions; come, take; laugh, and continue. They will come into Israel, marching through the breadth of the earth (Hab 1:6, 9, 11). They will take and gather all that they can, gathering captives like sand (Hab 6, 9, 10). Not only will they come and take, but they do so with laughter and scoffing (Hab 1:10). Like a maniacal villain in any movie, they find pleasure in their victory. Then they will repeat, like a tornado whose path of destruction continues without any pause (Hab 1:11). God works in unexpected ways. Often one can look back and see God’s hand of providence in peculiar ways. The fourth verse of William Cowper’s poem says;
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
God knows what he is doing, and his ways are not our ways. We come at situations thinking of a couple of pieces of the puzzle. God has the whole picture. We come with ‘feeble sense.’ When considering how to divide the book up to preach, I wanted to get to chapter three. We look for hope in this passage, and we have confidence that God is sovereign over all things that he is always at work, even behind the curtain and in unexpected ways. However, this is not a philosophical question for Habakkuk, but reality. This is a dark and depressing time and will continue to be. He will see more injustice and more violence. Christians can go through these seasons, and they might be longer than a night, week, or year. God works in unexpected ways. Joseph would have thought that in prison. Moses in Midian. David was fleeing from Saul. Paul in prison. John in Patmos. And the disciples while Christ was in the grave for three days. We do not need to know the exact details of God’s plan, but we can understand that God has a plan.
III. God works according to his character
Finally, God can only do what is compatible with his own nature. He works according to his character. We will talk about this more next week when Habakkuk responds to God. How can a good God allow this to happen? Injustice with injustice. We need to understand we are limited in our understanding of some aspects of God. We cannot, as fallen creatures, wrap our heads around an infinite God. Providence is one of these doctrines we can understand in part but will always have questions. The bible is clear about the attributes of God, and explains that God is a Spirit, (John 4:24) infinite, (Job 11:7–9) eternal, (Ps. 90:2) and unchangeable, (James 1:17) in his being, (Exod. 3:14)wisdom, (Ps. 147:5) power, (Rev. 4:8) holiness, (Rev. 15:4) justice, goodness, and truth. (Exod. 34:6–7) (WSC 4). God then acts according to his character; he is most pure in all of his attributes. He is the most good, most holy, etc. We tend to think of goodness in levels that one person can measure higher on a ‘goodness scale.’ This is not the case with God, for he is most good; there cannot be any more goodness in God. God is not the author of sin, but all sinfulness comes forth from the creature (Cf. WCF 5.4). We see this in this passage, verse seven says, “Their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.” Verse 11 says, “Guilty men, who’s own might is their god!” God upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things. However, no one can ever say, “GOD MADE ME DO IT!” Just as God works according to his character, we act according to our fallen and sinful character. The sinfulness only proceeds from the creature, and not from God. God is most holy and righteous.
We will see next week that Habakkuk, who has a biblical understanding of God, asks God more questions. We can stop and appreciate that Christians can and do go through times of questioning, and God’s word can raise more questions. However, we also know that God works behind the scenes, in unexpected ways, and according to his character. We look forward knowing this is only scene one in God’s plan in the book of Habakkuk we look forward to seeing how Habakkuk is able to write,
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail, and the fields yield no food, the flock is cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17–19).