1 The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save. 3 Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises. 4 Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
Pause for a moment at the opening verse and consider this book is a burden to the prophet’s heart. What Habakkuk writes for us is not only a message from God, but it is a message that lies heavy in his soul. The word “burden” comes from the Hebrew word massa‘ (נָשָׂא), which means load, burden, tribute, or message. The burden of Habakkuk serves as double meaning: it is an message from God, but it is also a heavy message, burdensome to the soul. It is lament.
The prophet cries out with the question which sets the stage for the rest of the book, “Lord, how long shall I cry and You will not hear?” If these words sound familiar it is because they echo of heartache recorded for us in Psalm 13:1-2, written when David was hiding from Saul and fearing for his life. David cried to the Lord and asked how long he has to hide his face and while his enemies prospered:
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, [Having] sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Lament is the practice of mourning of what is wrong and calling on God to repair it. In a lament, God invites you to come with the emotions you are storing up in your heart – all the emotions that we often hide because we’re too busy pretending that we have all the answers; or perhaps we hide it because we are ashamed to feel the conflict between our faith (God is good) and a broken world (but there is pain, suffering, and injustice). We don’t have to pretend that everything is okay. God is big enough to handle any emotion that we express to Him.
The practice of a lament is not self-pity and a place where we try to become the victim of our circumstance; instead it is an act of faith where we cry out to God and ask for His intervention and restoration. We acknowledge the goodness of God when we lament the suffering and injustice that we see. As beings made in the image of a just God, it is only natural that we desire to see justice acted out in our life.
The opening of this small prophetic book is a lament to God. Habakkuk’s grievance of “why?!” is intensified because he calls out God for inaction. How long, God, will you not save? Why aren’t you doing something about this?
At this time in history, the chosen people of God look no different than the neighboring kingdoms:
- There is plundering and violence: In Hebrew, these words are shod (שֹׁד) and chamac (חָמָס), and they are used to describe moral and ethical corruption like theft, oppression of the weak, false witness, and unjust gain.
- The law was powerless: This was the Torah, in which God had revealed how Israel could flourish in a holy covenant. That covenant was now paralyzed because of Israel’s disobedience towards God.
- Justice is perverted: The unrighteous were prospering, while those who were faithfully listening to God were being persecuted and treated unjustly.
This is a powerful moment for the prophet, and Habakkuk’s desire to see God’s intervention resonates within our souls as well. We want justice because God is just. Justice for the deep hurt that is inflicted by others without cause or reason. Justice for the loss that cannot be explained.
Let us not confuse Habakkuk’s lament to be limited to law and government. This is not a political lament, it is a lament for the individual’s heart. The perversion of justice starts in an individual’s heart and it spreads like a virus to others who enjoy the immediate benefits of bending the truth to fit their desires. It starts with one person inflicting hurt on another without remorse or repentance; unchecked justice grows. Habakkuk’s lament composed of a chorus of personal cries to the Lord:
- O Lord, am I unworthy of justice? I have been wounded and the offenders walks away with no consequences. Why aren’t they held accountable for their actions!?
- Abba Father, how long will my heart feel the wounds of betrayal? Why must I suffer without relief in sight?
- Why me? What I have done to deserve such pain and sorrow? Have I not obeyed and listened to you, Lord? Why have you let this happen?
The hurt and sorrow that pierces our heart is different for each of us. We all have experienced the bitterness of injustice & have been left with “why?”.The modern oppressor comes in many forms: betrayal of a friend, a martial affair, unexplained or unnecessary death, unwarranted loss, physical or mental aliments, a void of justice, etc.
Like each one of us, we bring the concerns of our life to the Lord and ask (or more like yell) “Why!?” The Lord has in mind the big picture of history, while we are focused on our immediate circumstance. And just like Habakkuk, we will be astounded by the Lord’s reply.
Write a burden from your own life and begin the first part of your lament. This isn’t something that you need to share with anyone; it is a lament to bring to God. Don’t be afraid to show emotion (sadness, anger, fear) – God is strong enough to take all your frailty. Just write the first part of a lament and you’ll finish it after the study:
- Invocation or cry to God: what is the burden, sorrow, hurt, or pain?
- An explanation of the tragedy: who is involved, what events transpired, how and why is this your lament?
- A petition to God to save: what do you want God to do? What are you frustrated with? What needs to be justified?
Additional Study Questions
- Have you ever looked around you and questioned whether or not God was just?
- How did it feel to acknowledge your own lament and start voicing it to God?
- Did these verses resonate with you? If so, why?
- How did understanding the world of Habakkuk help you frame the opening verses?
Singing through the book of Habakkuk
“I Cry” by Leeland
…This is my desperate hour
I’m calling out Your name
Are You out there tonight…
Habakkuk: A Journey of Suffering © by Rachael McMullen