Tucked away amidst the last books of the old testament is Habakkuk. Habakkuk [חֲבַקּוּק], whose name is believed to mean “to fold one’s hands” or “to embrace” by ancient rabbis on one hand, and an Akkadian word for a garden plant by most modern scholars on the other, was a Judean prophet. He is believed to have been a contemporary of Nahum and Zaphaniah (Smith, 1984 : Nichol, 1978). The book of Habakkuk contains a conversation between the prophet and God, ending with a prayer/song in chapter 3.
I was blessed to begin a series on this book at my local church, but I’ve been struck down with an infection. I don’t know when I will conclude. Since I had some time to sit and reflect concerning my dilemma, I found my thoughts going back to my exposition of the book, particularly the opening question of Habakkuk’s first complaint (1:2-4). The prophet says, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (1:2 NIV). The second question, “or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?,” parallels the first, in that the prophet expects that when God “listen/hear” He will move to action, but this time he adds the reason for the cry.
Habakkuk is appalled and frustrated by the violence, injustice, and destruction that he sees. The time that he is describing is one of strife and conflict, it’s as if the Judean street had become the harbinger of rage and decadence. There is justice and law but they are in the state of inaction (1:4). Perhaps the judges are bribed into upholding wickedness, or the law enforcers are too few to stale the madness of the people, or maybe they are in a grand collusion. Whatever the case, Habakkuk is so overwhelmed by the evil that he sees, he asks, “Why do you make me look at injustice?” (1:3). He desires to have the evil removed from his sight. There are those who he manages to call “righteous/just” but they are boxed-in by the wicked (1:4). It is this chaos, which has spread a raven blanket over the land, that causes him to cry out.
My mediation on the text was not concerning the violence that is being done to others, though I acknowledge that there is a great deal of violence and destruction being allocated to the children of Adam, my complaint is concerning the violence being done to me. After a tumultuous year, of which some of my choices are partly to blame, I was expecting things to be on the up side at least for a little while (I am aware that God does not promise a painless life). No such luck, instead I’m hit with an infection near the end of the semester. This is a result of a malformation while I was in the womb. The typical scenario is to have the whole church call up and express their camaraderie and bible promises. However, when I’m sick I prefer prayer over endless sermonizing, which sometimes sounds like a pre-death eulogy (smile). I found the hope I needed in a simple statement in Habakkuk’s book.
At the beginning of Habakkuk’s complaint, he questions the Lord concerning the longevity of His silence. Habakkuk had been complaining for a long time and he is wondering “how long” will he go on asking and the Lord will remain inactive. When one presents such a scenario, it leaves us eager for God’s response. However, I was content with the fact that Habakkuk kept on voicing his request even though he did not get an answer initially. Should I get tired or discouraged and stop asking? Stop speaking? No, I must keep communicating. Habakkuk showed perseverance in prayer.
For all who have been asking or complaining to God and have not received a response, keep talking. God does say “no,” or “not yet,” (etc.), but if you haven’t gotten that kind of response, then keep asking. If He hasn’t dismissed your request, then persevere. An important aspect of Habakkuk’s prayer, which might be overlooked sometimes, is that his request of God is based on what he knows of Him. In this case, he is aware that God cannot tolerate wrong (cf. 1:3 and 1:13). One prays with more confidence when he/she knows what is God’s view on the matter, especially when you compare your request with scripture.
Persevere in your request, as the prophet did, as I am trying to do. One must practice what one preaches (ironically, a friend visited me on Saturday and told me this, after I’ve written it).
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-Nichol, Francis D. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary: The Holy Bible With Exegetical and Expository Comment. Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978
-Smith, Ralph L. Word Biblical Commentary: Micah-Malachi. Dallas: Word Books, 1984