Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Habakkuk-- an intro

Habakkuk is an excellent but overlooked book in the Bible. In a word, it is a miniature version of Job.

Habakkuk gives us a brief look into a fascinating dialogue: we see his response to trials and confusion-- as well as God's response to his questions. In the end, Habakkuk goes from worry to worship and from discontentedness to contentedness-- not through a change in circumstances (they actually got worse), but a change in perspective.

From the opening (1:2-4), the prophet wrestles with two key questions: "How Long?" and "Why?" What's the difference between the two? The "how longs" tend to be more modest struggles that are exacerbated by their length. The whys tend to be more severe.

These are difficult questions for everyone. As comedian Dave Attell said: “Just once, I would like to read in the paper: ‘Drunk driver hits other drunk driver as pedophile dies of shock.’” But the world doesn't work like that often, huh?

Christians often are especially ill-equipped to handle these questions. Marvin Olasky: “The continuing presence of persecution, suffering, and disease seems to embarrass some who profess belief in the Bible.”

Habakkuk's prophecy generally dated just before or just after the battle of
Carchemish in 609 BC. Egypt occupied Judah in 609-605 BC before being routed by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. From there, Babylon hassled and finally sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC. This occurs early in the reign of Jehoiakim, following the death of the reformer king Josiah-- who died earlier in 609 after (improperly) intervening in a battle between Egypt/Assyria and Babylon.

Habakkuk knows that his people are a mess, deserving judgment. But he hopes that God will send a prophet or use circumstances to chasten His people-- and quickly. Instead, he learns that God has another, far-more-alarming plan in the works.

1:2’s “how long” underlines the “seeming unresponsiveness of God”, asks "why don't you do something now?" and in essence, says “I deserve sooner”.

My brother Chris once made a nice point about this. On wanting God to fix very specific points of evil, he noted that many "say they want God to come into the situation, stop the evil and fix it. Then what? Do they want God to stay and help them repent of their own evil?" The answer, of course, is no!

1:3-4’s “why” speaks to the seeming unproductiveness of righteousness, asks “why are you letting this happen to me/others?" (or why do bad things happen to “good people”?) and, in essence, says “I/Others deserve better”.

After Habakkuk breaks out his two questions, he receives 1:5-6's unexpected answer from God: "I am (doing something)". He is at work behind the scenes with a plan to discipline Judah. In 1:6-11, the plan is spelled out in grim detail…

The stunner here is that God will use the ruthless and evil Babylonians to punish Israel! Habakkuk responds in 1:12-13 with an attempt to resolve his understanding of theology with the revelation he’s just been granted. By the end of chapter 1, he seems to be putting the pieces together. But he stills wants a better answer as chapter 2 gets underway…


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