First of all, the first verse says ‘the prophecy that Habakkuk, the prophet, received’. We don’t know anything about Habakkuk apart from what’s in this book.
There’s no reference to him outside of this book and he doesn’t make any reference to any kings under whom he was prophesying as other prophets usually do.
But we can work out from the content of his prophecy that it was given some time before the Babylonians came and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, and took the Jewish people into captivity. Sometime in the last days, if you like, of the kings of Judah in Jerusalem. Probably after the death of the godly King Josiah who made many reforms and brought the country back to some form of obedience to the Lord after the reign of a very wicked king called Manasseh.
But, after Josiah died, things went back to the ‘bad ways’ and, in fact, they really went from bad to worse. And it’s about this time that the prophet Habakkuk is prophesying.
The book is conversation between the prophet and the Lord about the state of things. And the prophet is already asking God: What are you going to do about it?
Then, God tells him – and I believe that it does apply in some ways to our situation now – that he was looking for the coming of judgment coming upon Judah and how to respond.
We can see many parallels in the coming judgment on the earth in the events of the last days leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus the Messiah.
In verses 2 to 4 then, the prophet says:
He’s looking at his society and he’s lamenting over the situation. He sees destruction and violence all around him. He sees the Law paralyzed, justice not going forward. The wicked are surrounding the righteous and hemming them in. And the righteous are being oppressed by the wicked and the society around them, and nobody seems to care. Nobody seems to do anything and it just seems that the wicked have their way and that the righteous are oppressed by them.
Justice is perverted and he says: God why don’t you do something about it? He cries out to God to help and to answer his prayer because, he’s saying, things are going from bad to worse. God surely ‘you’re going to intervene and save us from this situation.’
And you could say, if you look around our world, it’s pretty much the same, isn’t it?
You see violence everywhere. You see the wicked surrounding the righteous. You see justice not going forward in situation after situation, and people being oppressed by the evil and the wickedness around them. Christians and others crying out to God to help and to save us from this situation and to redeem us and make society better, if you like; make us to live in a better world in which there is justice and in which there is a holding back of the violence.
So, he’s saying: When will god act?
Then, we have the Lord’s reply in verses 5 through to 11. God gives His answer to this prayer. It says:
You could sum up that answer briefly by saying: ‘the Lord says you haven’t seen anything yet. If you think it’s bad now, something much worse is coming.’
What’s coming is an invasion from the Chaldeans (or the Babylonians). They’re going to bring violent oppression and a destruction of your society, and an occupation of your people.
We know from history that is precisely what happened, that the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, did invade Judea, they destroyed Jerusalem, they destroyed the Temple, and they took the Jewish people into captivity in Babylon, leaving just a few behind in the land.
It was the greatest disaster which had happened to the Jewish people since they’d come into the land at the time of Joshua. And the prophet’s actually saying, and what all of the prophets are saying, is that God is going to allow this disaster to take place because ‘you haven’t been doing what I told you to do’.
Basically, God gave them the Torah, God said ‘this is how I want you to live. I want you to worship me: one God. Keep my Commandments, act in justice. Behave righteously keep my commandments and do them‘.
‘But you’ve done the opposite. You’ve failed to do that, and therefore, I’m going to allow the Chaldeans to come upon you as a judgment, to chastise you, and to bring you back to myself.‘
That is God’s purpose in it. Interesting to see that the last verse there, in verse 11, says he commits offense ascribing this power to his god.
The pagan view in ancient world was that if you defeated another people, it was because your god was stronger than their god and some people still have that kind of idea today.
If you hear Muslims saying ‘Allah Akbar’, they’re not just saying ‘god is great’, they’re saying ‘god is greater’.
Allah means ‘our god is greater than your god’ and if we triumph it’s because our god is greater than your god and, therefore, when Muslims come against Christians, they’re saying that our god is the true god and your God is not the true God. ‘We’re triumphing over you therefore; you should believe what we believe: in Allah.’ Which is not true, because our God is much greater than Allah, but that’s what they believe.
That is what these pagans believed, what the Babylonians believed was that the reason why they had conquered over Judea was that they had the true god and that they were triumphing over Judah which had a ‘non-god’ or a false god.
God is telling them, ‘Actually, that’s not the case. That is a wrong assessment of what’s happening‘. Judah has the true God. The reason why God is allowing them to come for over them is because Judah is not being true to their God.
That also has an application to us in our Christian situation. If you like, one of the reasons why God allows Christians to be downplayed is because Christians have not been true to their God. We have to be true to our God if we can have the victory over the false gods around us.
So, if you wanted a victory over another people, it was because your god was stronger than their god. In the case of Babylon, they attributed their victory over Israel as a sign that their god was stronger. And they were able to destroy Judah, destroy the Temple, and take the Jewish people into captivity.
But God, actually, says: No, that’s not the case. I allow this to happen as a chastisement of my people because they were unfaithful to their true God. My purpose is to correct them for what they were doing wrong.
When you come to the Book of Daniel, which tells you what happens when the Jews are in Babylon, it shows in that, in fact, Daniel’s God, the true God, the God of Israel, is stronger than the gods of Babylon.
Over and over again, you have conflicts between Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians and Daniel, and his God, in every one of those situations, Daniel’s God comes out as the victor.
Think of the Nebuchadnezzar’s image and of the three boys who were thrown into the burning fiery furnace, and how they see three men in the burning furnace, and a Fourth Man who was with them. And how they come out unscathed. How Nebuchadnezzar says: ‘This shows that your God is actually the true God‘.
Over and over again, God is going to show through the events which follow, that the true god is the God of his people, the God of Israel: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When it comes to the conflict and the end, He’s going to have the victory. God shows by a series of signs and wonders His superiority over the gods of Babylon. But, as far as the Babylonians are concerned, and as far as what is going to happen in the immediate future, there’s going to be this time of occupation, this time of trouble, and this time when they can be taken into captivity.
Thinking about our time, we see that things are bad now, but God is saying, He’s saying to the world and to us: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’ There is a time coming which is much more terrible than any that has been before. It’s called the great tribulation.
A lot of people don’t like to talk about it, and a lot of people don’t like to think about prophecy because,
I think, it’s all doom and gloom. Because there is a doom and gloom part about it. But there’s also a glorious hope in the coming of Jesus.
We can’t avoid the fact that the Bible tells us that this age is going to end, not with the triumph of Christianity and the world being Christianized by some ‘great revival’, it is going to end with a time of great tribulation unlike any that has been before or ever shall be.
I believe there are many signs which show us that we’re on the way to that. How soon it will come? We don’t know but there are things happening now which are pushing the world in that direction. So, we need to be aware of that. We need to be aware of the fact that the world situation today is going from bad to worse, and that it will end up with something which is uniquely bad in the time of the great Tribulation.
Matthew 24 describes it, Jeremiah 30 describes it as ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble’. Again, ‘a time of trouble unlike any that has been before or ever shall be’.
So, these people, these Babylonians, they’ve been raised up, they scoff at kings and they take possession of other people’s countries and they have great power. But God has raised them up for judgment. And they will be brought down to nothing in the process of God’s correcting purpose which is going to go on in God’s people for their salvation. They’re going to turn from false gods to the true God revealed in Jesus the Messiah.