The Reply, Habakkuk 1:5-11

Civil War” by Jason Werner
5 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
9 They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!”

The Lord replies with four imperatives in verse 5 – did you catch that? The repetitive nature of His response is a literary clue for us to pay attention. Look! See! Wonder! Be Astounded! I am already working and have not been silent like you have accused me of. I haven’t been sitting idly by watching the affairs of men – I am actively working. Habakkuk, I have been listening. Not only to you, but to the laments of my people and their desire for justice. I am doing something that you won’t believe.

The Lord heard Habakkuk’s lament for deliverance from the violence and injustice, but His reply seems out of character for a righteous God. The Lord is raising up a terrible nation, the Babylonians (also referred to as the Chaldeans), to fulfill His purposes and will somehow salve Habakkuk’s burden.

The Babylonian empire is fierce, historically known for its powerful cavalry and their military prowess. Judah, weakened by years of Assyrian oppression and ruled by corrupt kings, would not have the strength to defend itself against a bitter and hasty nation, whom the Lord describes as:

  • dreaded and fearsome
  • having horses that are swifter than leopards, more fiercer than wolves
  • having horsemen that fly like an eagle swift to devour
  • violent
  • scoffing at kings and rulers
  • laughing at every fortress
  • guilty men, whose own might is their god

How can the most holy, righteous God do this? How can God (who is good) allow or even raise up an evil nation?

Like Habakkuk, we may tend to hyper-focus on the enemies’ description (which, yes, is frightful and intimidating) and begin questioning the goodness of God. But amid the horrible reply, the Lord is actually revealing three aspects of His lordship: He is God of the Gentiles; He is God of a covenant people; and He is God of eternal perspective.


God of the Gentiles

When God works, we must remember He is God of the universe and sovereign creator of all. His work is not limited to just a covenant people; He is moving through all of His creation. We may lose sight of His omnipotence in the chaos in our natural realm, so we must remind ourselves daily that He is the one who has ultimate power because He has given life to all. 

The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. Psalm 89:11
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1

God does not limit Himself to the work of covenant kings and people – He is proving that in His reply to Habakkuk. He is raising up a Gentile nation to be a chosen instrument in the divine plan. The Lord uses unbelievers for His purpose to glorify His kingship.

And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. Exodus 7:3
And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. Daniel 2:21
Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held--to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut. Isaiah 45:1

God of a covenant people

God never stops being God to His covenant people; even when His people are unfaithful He is there pulling them back into grace and His love. He never stops being God in the midst of chaos and uncertainty (which we often cause ourselves).

Our understanding his purposes in a particular providence tends to be not as important to God as our trust in his character.

Jon Bloom

Israel means “one who wrestles with God” and it accurately describes not only ancient believers, but modern Christians as well. Wrestling with God is part of our spiritual journey and is how God “proves” Himself the faithful, patient provider (as if He has anything to prove to us!).

When faced with hopeless and/or painful moments, we may feel like our faith is worthless and we enter into the wrestle of faith. We call out to God and wrestle between the pull of hopelessness and the truth that God loves us and will never leave us. We hold tight to God, locked in a search for answers and/or blessing. All of our struggles, pain, and anxiety are brought to the forefront and confronted in the presence of God. God allows us to wrestle with our faith because in the end He uses the sparring match for our own comfort and peace. Like Jacob in a tight embrace with the angel, we wrestle with God to find rest in the promises of the covenant.

As Christians we often pray “not my will, but Yours”. But it is a struggle! We often find ourselves pursuing our own desires, which can be in direct conflict with God’s desire for us. Here begins the wrestle of the wills. We dig our heels in and push hard, trying to navigate life in our own strength and wisdom. Or perhaps we see where God is leading us and we run the opposite way out of fear or anger. Like Jonah, God intervenes and rescues us from ourselves, delivering us from the pit – even if it takes being swallowed by a giant fish.

When wrestling there can be no disinterest between the two parties and it involves full contact. You cannot wrestle from a distance or with apathy. You wrestle with all your energy, breathing hard, exerting yourself, until someone yields and someone emerges as the victor.

Israel had been wrestling with their Lord for years, rejecting the covenant life in pursuit of their own desire. They were repeatedly warned of what their unfaithfulness would yield. The Lord sent signs and wonders; then He sent prophets, who begged them to repent and return to the sweet embrace of the covenant.

For thus said the LORD, Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself, and to all your friends: and they shall fall by the sword of their enemies, and your eyes shall behold it: and I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall carry them captive into Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword. Jeremiah 20:4
Behold, the days come, that all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, said the LORD. Isaiah 39:6

Even though Jeremiah and Isaiah pleaded for all of Israel to return to God, they were unmoved. The Israelites was wrestling for their own will. Now was the time for God put an end to the wrestling match and to complete a work that “you would not believe, though it were told to you” (v. 5).


God of eternal perspective

God thunders wondrously with his voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend.  Job 37:5
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8

Christians constantly wrestle with the fact that God is sovereign in the midst of horrible human affairs and natural disasters. From where we see the world, He does not stop bad things from happening. And yet we also know that He moves through these events to bring about goodness.

"We cannot always understand why God has chosen evil events to accomplish these good purposes. We do know that God never foreordains an evil event without a good purpose (Rom. 8:28). There may be other reasons than the ones we have mentioned, either to be found in Scripture or to remain locked up in God's own mind. We know that God has a reason for everything he does. Everything he does reflects his wisdom. But he is under no obligation to give us his reasons. Nevertheless, as we see evil used for good again and again in Scripture, can we not accept in faith that those evils which are yet unexplained also have a purpose in the depths of God's mind? Again, we do not have a complete theoretical answer to the problem of evil. What we do have is a strong encouragement to trust God even amid unexplained suffering. Indeed, the encouragement is so strong that one would be foolish not to accept it" (Frame, page 187). Frame, John. Apologetics to the Glory of God. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994.

While our worldview is formed through our experiences and shaped by our environment in a fixed moment of time, God has a universal-view, influenced by no one or thing, and is stretched across the past, present, and future. While we will see later in Habakkuk that verse 5 applies to an immediate future for Judah, God’s reply in also referring to His greatest work: Jesus Christ.

Look! See! Wonder! Be Astounded!

Hundreds of years after Babylon conquered Judah, Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel message to the Jews in Antioch. Paul told them plainly how God had been working for the redemption of His people since before the Exodus: everything was done for Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul ended his message with the words found in Habakkuk 1:5, again calling for Israel to stop wrestling and look at what God was doing in their midst.

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about:  “‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’” Acts 13:36-41

All the work done throughout history has been to love and redeem His people. God never stopped working. His words to Habakkuk transcended history and found ultimate purpose in the work of Christ. Jesus Christ came wrapped in humanity and as “a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy” (Romans 15:8-9).

Look! See! Wonder! Be Astounded!

And yet, a majority of the Jews reviled the words spoken by Paul and Barnabas, so the apostles left and preached to the Gentiles and “they [the Gentiles] began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).


God of the Gentiles, a covenant people, and eternal perspective

God does not jump from one hat to the other as it serves His purpose; He does not change and is harmoniously present in all His characteristics. Let’s take a moment to see how He is working as all three together in verse 11. The Lord ends the characterization of Babylon with their greatest sin: whose own might is their god (v. 11).

This arrogance is seen again in Daniel 4:30 when King Nebuchadnezzar overlooks his palace grounds and boasts of all his accomplishments: “The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”

As soon as the king uttered those words, a voice from heaven told Nebuchadnezzar that his kingdom will be taken from him until “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32). Nebuchadnezzar immediately became like a feral animal for 7 years until he finally confessed that there is only one true king, the Lord of Israel.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:34-37

Could God be orchestrating world events to convert a “bitter and hasty nation”? We won’t know if this was a true conversion until we meet the Lord, but this confession does confirm one thing: God is working even in Babylon and it is all for His glory. He is God of the Gentiles and is working through them directly.

While God was working on King Nebuchadnezzar’s heart, He was also placing His people in positions of high prominence in the king’s court and we know they acted out their faith boldly. Their faith influenced the wise men of several nations for generations; so much so that when a star rose and hung in the sky over Bethlehem, wise men from the east knew a king had been born just as it had been written (Numbers 24:17; Psalm 72:10-11; Isaiah 60:6).

God allowed and used the Babylonians to conquer Judah and He suffered with His people as they languished for a savoir. As they wrestled with God and His unknown ways, He was faithful and preserved his covenant people and scriptures. He was working in heart of His people for their ultimate salvation while at the same bringing Gentiles into His greatest story: Jesus Christ.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem , saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. Matthew 2:1-2

Look! See! Wonder! Be Astounded!


Homework

  • Unlike Habakkuk, we are able to see God working His redemptive story from Genesis to today. We can see how many of the scriptures point to Christ, or how historical events were used to bring about God’s greatest work. Looking back in your life, where did you struggle but can now see the end result of God’s work?
  • In what other ways do we wrestle with God?
  • How can you apply the truths of this lesson to a current struggle, or to prepare you for future struggle?

Singing the book of Habakkuk

“Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson

…In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
And in the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me in the eye of the storm…


Habakkuk: A Journey of Suffering © by Rachael McMullen