Caught in the Crossfire
Stability, security, sustenance and sin all abounded in the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah. From a study of his prayers in the short Old Testament record that bears his name, Habakkuk the prophet seems to have loved all but the last! In this book of three prayers and two Divine responses we encounter a man much like us who seems to desire that the evil culture in which he lives be dealt with in judgment, so that the spoils of the land might be enjoyed in peace by the faithful.
In fact, his first prayer betrays an impatience for God to judge the wicked. Specifically named in the first four verses are such vices as violence, strife/conflict, lack of justice, and a full-on assault against the corners of society that still uphold righteous laws and standards. It isn’t hard for Christians today to share Habakkuk’s agonized cry “How long, O LORD, will you not hear” and make things right. As shepherd’s, it is easy to desire and expect God’s word to have an immediate impact in the lives of our sheep. The same can be said of parents who long for some specific improvement in their children’s behavior and become frustrated when that does not happen fast enough. On a socio-political level, Christians of any nation can grow anxious when the culture seems to continue bending toward ungodliness to the point where righteous restraints seem strained and ready to snap. “Fix it now,” the prophet calls out in prayer.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
There are reasons that God does not allow us to know the future beyond the great general principles surrounding his kingdom plan for the ages. In this case, he does illuminate his man about what is about to happen and the result isn’t at all what Hezekiah would have predicted. “Look… Be astonished” (v.5), he says, because “I am doing something in your days that you would not believe if you were told it.”
“Yes,” the Lord explains, in verses 5-11, “the judgment you seek is coming, but it’s going to blow your mind when you hear how, because it’s not what you expect.” He then goes on to describe a plan that has been in the works for some time. He has been raising up a force, the Chaldeans (a.k.a. Babylonians)(v.6), and they will sweep through the land like a devastating tornado of destruction sweeping up the inhabitants of Judah like sand (v.9). This revelation stuns its recipient for several reasons which he shares in a second prayer. Primarily, he is baffled as to how God could use such awful people to judge Judah. Sure, the Jews were sinful, but the Chaldeans were worse! Their atrocities were more gruesome and when it was over, they were guaranteed to give the credit, wrongly, to their own work or, worse yet, to their own inanimate gods (v.16-17)! Beyond that, when these invaders “fish,” they take everything their net pulls up (v.15), so surely the righteous would be carried away with the wicked. This prayer highlights two critical questions that Christians even today struggle to understand: How could God, who is holy, use unholy people to accomplish his will? And how could he allow his own to be caught in the crossfire?
· Why should I submit to a police officer if he personally is a racist?
· Why is it when God humbles a disobedient husband, the wife and children also feel the shockwave?
· Why does God allow drunk drivers to maim and kill a believer’s children?
· Why, when a nation is punished via famine, do the Lord’s people go hungry too?
The rest of chapter 2 answers questions like that. Perhaps not as satisfactorily as we might like, but with the wisdom of God which we are called to accept and trust. The answer: trust God, because he always does what is right (v.4, 20).
Habakkuk 2:20 (ESV)
20 But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”
The Chaldeans would not escape their own day of judgment! The Lord is aware of their plunder (v6-9), self-confidence (v.10-11), ruthless lack of concern for life (v.12-14), their sexual misconduct and abuse (v.15-17) and their idolatry (v.18-20). Just because he uses a people for a task does not mean he gives them a pass on their misbehavior in the execution of that task. This is intended to be a comforting reassurance to Habakkuk and becomes so for us as well for two reasons: First, we can be sure that no matter who is elected to office, God is capable of using them. We need not despair when “our” candidate does not win any given election: the other is just as suitable where the Lord’s will is concerned. Secondly, we need not worry that their seemingly endless freedom to accomplish evil in the world is unchecked: justice as determined by God himself will be done in the end (v.14)!
Habakkuk 2:14 (ESV)
14 For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
At the end of the third chapter, when Hezekiah realizes these truths, he responds with a determination to wait for the Lord and accept whatever might come as a result of the Divine plan’s outworking in the nation. Yes, the righteous would suffer with the wicked, but not for the same reason, and not for long. You see, he has been reminded that “the just shall live by their faith” (2:4). They will live according to their faith, and because of their faith they will live. Even those who are slain as collateral damage under the hooves of the advancing Babylonian cavalry will live. They will live eternally just as Christ was resurrected and lives because they believed God and it was counted to them as righteousness.
Habakkuk 3:17–19 (ESV)
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.