Habakkuk Who???

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Introduction to the book of Habakkuk

INTRODUCTION: Please take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Habakkuk. That’s right, you heard me correctly – the book of Habakkuk! Now there’s a good chance some of us have never turned to the book of Habakkuk in our entire lives, maybe some of us have never even heard of the book of Habakkuk, but let me assure you, it is right there in your Bible, in the Old Testament. You have to get past Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Then there are several shorter books. If you hit Zephaniah, or Haggai or Zechariah, you’ve gone too far. It is a short little book – only three chapters. You may want to use your table of contents. But however you do it, find Habakkuk, and when you get there, you may want to mark it, or note the page number, because for the next several weeks, we will be looking at the book of Habakkuk, which has a great message for us today in the 21st century.

We won’t actually begin studying the book of Habakkuk until next week. Today, I want to give us a general overview of the prophetical books in the Bible, as well as a general introduction to the specific book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk has many beautiful and well-known passages, and so for our Scripture reading this morning, let me read a few of these verses for you just to give you a flavor for the book and its contents. You may recognize some of these verses, and say, “Whoa, so that’s from the book of Habakkuk?”

Habakkuk 1:2 – “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?

Habakkuk 1:5 – “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

Habakkuk 1:12-13 – “O LORD, are you not from everlasting? . . . Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.”

Habakkuk 2:4b – “But the righteous will live by his faith.” (or, “The just will live by faith.”)

Habakkuk 2:13-14 – “Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”

Habakkuk 2:20 – “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

Habakkuk 3:2 – “LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Habakkuk 3:17-18 – “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Habakkuk 3:19 – “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”

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I. Understanding the prophetical books in the Bible.

Before we jump into the book of Habakkuk, I want to start today by addressing two questions concerning the prophetical books of the Old Testament.

  1. Why are we so unfamiliar with them?
  2. Why are they important for us to study and learn?

 
There are seventeen prophetical books in the Bible. The first five – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel – we call the Major Prophets; and the final twelve – from Hosea to Malachi – we call the Minor Prophets. The words “major” and “minor” do not refer to importance or lack of importance. It’s not that the Major Prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah are more important than any of the Minor Prophets. Rather it refers to length. The Major Prophets are the longer books, and the Minor Prophets are the shorter books. That’s why we call them major and minor.

    A. Why are we so unfamiliar with the prophetical books?

The prophets are perhaps the least read and understood of all the books in the Bible, and yet they comprise twenty-two percent of the Bible’s message, over one-fifth of the Bible as a whole. So, why are we so unfamiliar with the prophetical books? Let me offer several reasons:

        1) Placement: at the end of the Old Testament

First of all, their placement in the Bible. They are in the Old Testament, and let’s face it, most of us are more familiar with the New Testament than with the Old. Some people get the idea that we no longer need the Old Testament now that Jesus has come, but that’s not true. It’s not that we no longer need the Old Testament. Rather, it’s that we read the Old Testament in a whole new way now that Jesus has come. The Old Testament still contains three-fourths of the revelation God wants us to know. But most people do not read the Old Testament, and many pastors do not preach from it.

Not only are the prophetical books in the Old Testament, but they are also at the end of the Old Testament. So, when a person does start reading the Old Testament, they usually start at the beginning, which means they will get to the prophetical books last if they get there at all.

So, placement is one reason why we are so unfamiliar with the prophetical books. They are at the end of the Old Testament.

        2) Language: poetry rather than prose

A second reason has to do with language. The prophetical books are mainly written in poetry. Most of us do not read a lot of poetry today. We are far more familiar with prose. And not only are the prophets written in poetry – they are written in Hebrew poetry. And Hebrew poetry, even when translated, is different from the English poetry we are used to. So, we may find the language and the imagery of the prophets difficult to understand.

However, the Psalms are also written in Hebrew poetry, and many people love to read the Psalms. So, there must be some further reasons why we do not read the prophets as much. Let me offer two more.

        3) History: requires an understanding of historical events

A third reason is history. Reading the prophets requires an understanding of the historical events that took place at the time of their writing. The prophetical books take place largely during the times of the kings of Israel, the exile, and Israel’s return from exile.

And if you are not sure what I’m talking about when I say things like the kings, or the exile, or the return from exile, then that is exactly my point! When we don’t know the historical context behind the books, it is difficult to understand what the prophet is saying.

And in fact, the prophets not only address the history of Israel during this time, but they also interact with the history of many of the surrounding nations as well. This is why it is helpful and recommended to have a good commentary on hand when you are reading through the prophets.

        4) Theology: many messages of judgment and doom

And then, there is a fourth reason why we are not as familiar with the prophets, and that has to do with theology. The prophets present many messages of judgment and doom. That was one of their functions. We don’t like to think about God as a God of judgment. We like to think of God as a nice God who forgives everyone. And so, people often have trouble relating to the messages of judgment in the prophets.

Let me say something about that for a moment. God does not change from book to book in the Bible, or even from testament to testament. He is the same everywhere. You do not find a different God in the Old Testament than you do in the New Testament.

You find passages relating to God’s judgment in all the various parts of the Bible, both Old Testament and New. And you find passages relating to God’s love, mercy and grace in all parts of the Bible, both Old Testament and New. In fact, some of the most beautiful and profound passages describing God’s love and mercy in the Bible are found in the Old Testament. And some of the most powerful images of judgment are found in the New Testament. It is not a matter of different pictures of God being presented, but different emphases.

The prophets were sent for a specific purpose. They were sent to warn Israel and the surrounding nations of God’s coming judgment for sin and idolatry in hope that they would turn from their sins and thus avoid judgment. Sadly, they did not, and so God’s judgment fell in full force upon them.

We need the prophets to help us balance out our unbiblical views of God. People often say things like, “The Bible says God is love. He doesn’t judge people.” But the same Bible that tells us that God is love also tells us that God judges and punishes sin. The prophets help us to develop a fully biblical picture of God.

So, those are some of the reasons why we are unfamiliar with the prophetical books in the Bible: 1) their placement at the end of the Old Testament; 2) the fact that they are mostly written in poetry rather than prose; 3) the need to understand their historical context; 4) and the many messages of judgment and doom.

    B. Why are the prophetical books important?

This leads us directly into our second question about the prophets. Why are they important for us to study and learn? Let me give you three reasons why we need to read and study the prophets today.

        1) They deal with the weighty issues of life

First of all, they deal with the weighty issues of life. The prophets deal with such things as God’s character, God’s uniqueness, God’s sovereignty over the nations, God’s requirements for his people, the importance of justice and righteousness. Without the prophets our faith can grow shallow and weak, unable to stand up to the rigors and challenges of life.

        2) The prophets point us to Jesus as the Messiah

Secondly, the prophets point us to Jesus as the Messiah. Now, the whole Old Testament points forward to the coming of Christ, but as the time drew nearer, the prophetical books became more and more specific about the coming Messiah who would bring salvation for all the nations. Some of the most startling and clear prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament are found in the prophets.

        3) The prophets help us understand God’s plan for the ages

And then, finally, the prophets help us understand God’s plan for the ages. Without the prophets we could never make sense of what happened to Israel as God’s people. We would not understand God’s plan for the church in our present age. The prophets are essential for understanding God’s plan for the ages, including our own future.

II. Understanding the book of Habakkuk

So, those are some thoughts on the prophetical books of the Bible. And now in the time remaining, let’s talk specifically about the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk is one of the Minor Prophets. Remember the Minor Prophets are just shorter than the Major Prophets, not less important. The book of Habakkuk was written by the prophet Habakkuk.

    A. Who was Habakkuk?

So, who was Habakkuk? We do not know much about him. His name only appears in Scripture twice, in Habakkuk 1:1 and in 3:1. Some sources outside of the Bible say he may have been from the tribe of Levi, but the Bible does not tell us one way or the other. However, chapter three of Habakkuk is a musical poem, and so it is possible that Habakkuk may have been one of the Levites responsible for worship in the temple.

One ancient book not in the Bible, called Bel and the Dragon, mentions Habakkuk and tells how an angel of God lifted him up by the hair and brought him to Daniel in the lion’s den to bring Daniel some food, but that is just legend without any biblical support.

Habakkuk’s name may be related to the Hebrew word for “embrace.” Martin Luther picked up on this when he wrote: “Habakkuk signifies an embracer, or one who embraces another, takes him into his arms. He embraces his people and takes them to his arms, i.e., he comforts them and holds them up, as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God wills, it shall soon be better.”

That is actually a pretty good description of who Habakkuk is and what he does throughout his book, as he takes the comfort God gives him and shares it with the people of Israel.

    B. When did he write this book?

Next, when did Habakkuk live, and when did he write this book? Once again, we do not know exactly. Some of the prophets, like Isaiah, are easy to track, because they dated their writings during the reigns of specific kings, and also because they mention specific historical events that took place during their lifetime.

The one big clue we get from the book of Habakkuk is that he writes about the rising power of the Babylonians and their coming invasion of Judah. That would place these writings somewhere between 612 and 587 B.C. This would be over a hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and right before the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of the people of Judah to Babylon in 586 B.C.

    C. Why did Habakkuk write this book?

And then, finally, why did Habakkuk write this book? What is the book of Habakkuk all about? It is a prophecy, of course. In particular, it is a prophecy about the coming invasion of Babylon, and how God will judge the people of Judah for her sins. But it is also a prophecy of hope, that God will treat his people justly, and that there is indeed a future hope for them despite the coming judgment.

The book of Habakkuk is also a journey. It is different from the other prophetical books in that the prophecy here is not given directly from prophet to people, but rather the prophecy is given as we overhear a conversation between Habakkuk and God. And in that conversation, we witness Habakkuk’s own journey from questioning, doubt and confusion at the beginning of the book to one of the strongest statements of faith, hope and confidence you will find in all of Scripture by the end of the book.

Pastor J. Vernon McGee puts it this way: “The book opens in gloom and closes in glory. It begins with a question mark and closes with an exclamation point. Habakkuk is a big WHY? Why God permits evil is a question that every thoughtful mind has faced. The book is the answer to the question: Will God straighten out the injustice of the world? This book answers the question: Is God doing anything about the wrongs of the world? This book says that He is. The book is the personal experience of the prophet told in poetry, as Jonah’s was told in prose.”

And so, the story of Habakkuk is the story of the journey from doubt to faith. How did Habakkuk get there? The same way you and I may get there. He talked with God. He brought his questions and his complaints directly to God, and he hammered out the answers in prayer.

Habakkuk’s three misconceptions about God:

Basically, the whole book of Habakkuk deals with three misconceptions that Habakkuk had about God. And, if we are honest, we will admit that we sometimes have these same misconceptions about God ourselves. Those three misconceptions are as follows:

  1. God does not care.
  2. God is not fair.
  3. God is not there.

 
Do you ever feel that way about God? Habakkuk did. That’s the way things looked to him before he went to God with his doubts and his confusion.

In closing now, let me give you a quick summary of the three sections in this book:

    1) God does not care. (1:1-11)

The first section is found in chapter one, verses 1-11. This section deals with the first misconception. Habakkuk is upset about all of the violence and the injustice he sees in Judah. And in the midst of all the wickedness, he asks God a question: “God, why aren’t you doing anything about this? Don’t you notice when the wicked abuse their power? Don’t you care about what is going on among your people?” You see, that’s misconception number one: God does not care. God answers Habakkuk by saying yes, he does notice; yes, he does care; and yes, he is going to do something about it. He is going to send the Babylonians to judge his people

    2) God is not fair. (1:12 – 2:20)

Well, that may have answered Habakkuk’s first question, but rather than help, it throws Habakkuk into a whole new state of crisis. Which brings us to the next section of the book, which runs from 1:12 – 2:20 (the end of chapter two).

Habakkuk questions God again: “The Babylonians, God? The Babylonians? How can you use the Babylonians to judge your people? Why, they are even worse than the people of Judah! How can you use a more wicked nation to judge a less wicked nation? God, that is not fair!” And there’s misconception number two: that God is not fair. God answers Habakkuk a second time, explaining that the Babylonians will also be judged for their sin, but all in God’s timing. Meanwhile the righteous will live by faith, trusting God to act justly in his own time.

    3) God is not there. (3:1-19)

Which leads us to the third and final section of Habakkuk, found in chapter 3:1-19. Chapter three records a prayer from Habakkuk to God. The implied complaint behind this prayer is that God is not there, which is misconception number three.

But this time instead of asking God to answer his complaint, Habakkuk answers it for himself, as he reflects on God’s works and wonders for Israel over the centuries. And in this time of prayer and reflection, Habakkuk finally comes to a place of hope and confidence in God that allows him to praise God with rejoicing even as he anticipates the most difficult of circumstances.

CONCLUSION: So, you see, the book of Habakkuk traces this journey from doubt to faith, from confusion to confidence, from despair to joy.

Perhaps you struggle with some of the same misconceptions as Habakkuk did. Perhaps you sometimes wonder: “Does God care? Is God fair? Is God there?” Perhaps you feel that way right now.

If so, let me encourage you to do what Habakkuk did. Take your complaints to God in prayer, be honest and respectful before him, and allow God to take you on the same journey as he did Habakkuk.

If you are struggling with doubt, confusion or despair this morning, I pray that through this study of Habakkuk, God will bring you also to a place of faith and confidence and joy. Because that’s what the book of Habakkuk is all about – the journey from doubt to faith.

© Ray Fowler

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