Monday

1 August 2022

Habakkuk 1:12–2:4

Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they? (v. 13)

Psalm 21:1-7

Background

Habakkuk certainly has a point. The question this prophet asks, when he was writing in around 600 BC, could equally apply in any time period: why would a good God allow wicked people to continue their wicked actions, while causing pain to the righteous?

Understood to be written about the time of the first captivity, when Daniel and his contemporaries were forcibly taken from their homes to Babylon, some translators insert ‘The Chaldeans’ into verse 15 to explain who it is that has destroyed the nation, like a trawling net wrenches fish (and most other creatures in its path) from the sea. Chaldeans in scripture can refer to a group of people, often portrayed as wise and learned; it is likely here Habukkuk is referring to the Babylonians as a whole.

As Habakkuk pours out his complaint before God, in desperation, in frustration, at the injustice he sees, it is a reminder that the prayers of people of faith throughout history have often seemed ignored and unheeded. For people praying for justice and peace today, it can be reassuring to know that even Old Testament prophets were not guaranteed an immediate answer to their prayers.

But Habakkuk doesn’t give up. He decides to keep watching for God’s response in the midst of calamity. Eventually, his wait is rewarded when God’s voice comes to him, and he records a short phrase which, centuries later, St Paul and the writer to the Hebrews quote to underpin their own doctrines and which would inspire Martin Luther’s reforming theses: ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Habakkuk 2:4).

Living by faith is the answer to Habakkuk’s question. I smile when I read the instruction for Habakkuk to write this answer in big print on a stone tablet so that even someone in a hurry can see it (Habakkuk 2:2). Perhaps it is the Iron Age equivalent of a huge blue motorway sign, letting the driver in the fast lane know that their destination may be out of sight, but they just need to keep going for a few miles more.

To Ponder:

  • What have you been praying for the longest time? What have you given up praying for? What do you think Habakkuk would say to you?
  • Chaldeans, Babylonians, Samaritans, Greeks: the Bible often uses geographic shorthand to highlight people at odds with the main characters. Which are the nations and groups of people in your world today that are considered dangerous to your way of life? How much is this justified? How might this thinking affect individuals from these nations?

Prayer

God beyond time,
give me the energy to endure,
the patience to ponder,
and the power to persevere
as I wait on you.
And so I wait. Amen.


Bible notes author

Roo Stewart

Roo Stewart is a member of the Joint Public Issues Team and works for the United Reformed Church’s Mission Team. He is based in London, hails from Northern Ireland, loves dogs and eats vegan.

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