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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint (1:12—2:1)

The prophet begins his second complaint with words of praise about the greatness of God, and it is clear that he expresses them with warm affection and delight. Habakkuk is living in changing times and wisely he thinks about the unchanging God who is from everlasting. Thrones topple on earth, but the heavenly throne is fixed. So in changing times, like the ones we are going through, remember that God is on the throne.

Thinking about God in changing times also strengthens faith. Despite being told that the most powerful empire on earth is about to march into Judah, the prophet responds with confident words, ‘We shall not die.’ He did not say, ‘I shall not die.’ He could not focus on himself alone because he had no access to God’s plan for him as an individual. But he did know that, despite the severity of the judgement, God’s cause would survive. When the judgments of God come on his church they are not sent to destroy her but to bring her to repentance. As we look out on the threats God is sending against his church, none of us knows what will happen to us individually, but we know that his church will survive.

Thinking about God as we pray in changing times enables us to understand why he brings judgement.  In verse 12, the prophet acknowledges that the covenant Lord of his people will use a powerful enemy to chastise them for their sins. Yet as the prophet thinks of this awful prospect he calls the Lord a Rock, a place of security when he is active in judgement.

Thinking about the character of God in such times helps us with apparent contradictions. In verse 13ff., the prophet is perplexed because he knows God is holy and yet is going to use an unholy people to punish his people. Yet when we think about it, what would be the alternative? The Lord could have used the holy angels, but their power was far more to be feared than the power of Babylon.

Yet there still is a dilemma here, and it is one that reappears throughout history, and it is that God uses wicked tools to bring down his own work. In Habakkuk’s perception, it was not the fact that sinful people of Judah would be punished that bothered him; instead it was the fact that the righteous in Judah would suffer at the hands of the Babylonians (v. 13), people like Daniel and his friends. Of course, we know in looking back that God worked things together for good as far as his kingdom was concerned.

Perhaps it might help us to understand this if we think of other forms of judgement that God might use. Take, for example, a plague that he sends; we have examples of such in the Bible. It is possible that among the victims of the plague will be the Lord’s people. Of course, they go to heaven and it could be that their removal is the most serious aspect of the divine judgement in that their prayers are now silent.

Habakkuk knew the fury of the Babylonians (they were like fishermen who show no mercy to their fish). Indeed some ancient inscriptions depict the Babylonian armies as fishermen sweeping up all before them. The only One who could stop them was the One who called them to this task. And Habakkuk wanted to know if the Lord would stop them. Therefore he would wait on his watchtower until God replied.

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