Habakkuk and Times of Uncertainty (Part 1)

In a weekly email update for St. Etienne Cathedral (Kigali) I have started a series of messages looking at the book of Habakkuk for strength to hold on in uncertain times. Here are the first two of those messages, slightly revised.

It was just last week that I was talking to a friend and he said to me, “These are uncertain times.” That line really struck me and has stayed with me. We all live with a little bit of uncertainty, isn’t it? But for many of us the world we live in seems to be characterized by a greater sense of uncertainty. What will give us the strength to hold on in uncertain times?

This is a question at the heart of the book of Habakkuk, one of the prophets of the Old Testament. Habakkuk lived in uncertain times. The Kingdom of Judah was facing a crisis, internally and externally. On one hand, the king, Jehoiakim was rotten (Jeremiah 22:11-18). Under his rule, Habakkuk tells us, “the wicked surround the righteous” and justice is perverted (1:4). On the other hand, Judah was dominated by foreign powers. The nations around them were battling for control of the region and there was a threat of war from the Babylonians.

In this midst of this crisis Habakkuk cries out to the Lord. He questions God, asking to know what God is doing. Sometimes his questions are called “complaints.” It is good to remember that a Biblical worldview allows God’s people to reverently question Him when their experience seems to deny His promises (Psalm 13:1-2). God’s responses to Habakkuk reveal how His people can hold on in uncertain times.

Habakkuk’s first complaint to God is about the sinfulness of God’s people (1:2-4). Judah had descended into wickedness and violence. The law was paralyzed by sin and justice was perverted, “the wicked surround the righteous.” As he observes the condition of the people Habakkuk cries out to the Lord in the words of Psalm 13:1, “O Lord, how long?” His complaint is that God seems unconcerned about these things, it appears that God stands by doing nothing. So he wants to know what God is going to do about the sin of his people.

God responds to the prophet’s complaint by revealing that he already has a plan for addressing the sinfulness of his people (1:5-11). It is important to see that God is not surprised by Habakkuk’s description of things as if he was unaware. God knows and is concerned. He tells Habakkuk that he is planning to use the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to bring judgement against his people. God’s response to Habakkuk is that far from standing by doing nothing he has a plan. God tells Habakkuk, Watch me! (“look,” “see,” “behold”). Habakkuk needs to keep watching so he doesn’t miss what God is up to.

God’s response to Habakkuk reveals how we can find strength to hold on in uncertain times. It can feel like God is far removed from the circumstances of our lives or the problems of our world. But in times of uncertainty God wants us to watch him, to keep our eyes on him. The book of Hebrews says that for endurance in this life we must look to Jesus (12:1-2). Strength to hold on in times of uncertainty begins with having our focus on the Lord.

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