During my early years in Korea, I was told not to drink the water from the tap. I decided to play it safe. When I lived in the education building at my church, I spent months walking out my apartment door to the water dispenser in the hall whenever I needed a drink or had a pot to fill. One day I walked out and the jug was missing. No one else was supposed to be in the building, so it caught me off guard. Someone was in the bathroom. I walked in to see the building’s only other occupant, the maintenance man from the first floor, filling up the water jug from the tap, the same water that I had avoided using for months.
Much like that water, we live in a society that slowly, little by little, gets used to consuming a rhetoric that is potentially damaging. We taste it enough that, even after we learn of its dangers, our response to it is deadened. Perhaps there will be consequences to our actions, or inaction, someday. I may have long term effects from drinking unsafe water… or grow a third arm, who knows.
The book of Habakkuk is extremely relevant in a world where so many Christians fear the impact that current politics might have on their futures. Before the Jews were exiled in Babylon, the Assyrians were taking advantage of the surrounding nations. It is very possible that people were so upset by the Assyrians, that they welcomed the Chaldeans (Babylonians), even though the oppression that they brought was far worse. Both of these civilizations were enemies of Israel. The book of Habakkuk has overwhelming themes of oppression and God’s response to unrighteousness. It is a wonderful theodicy, a vindication of God’s goodness and care for us despite the existence of evil.
Habakkuk’s complaints are similar to ones we hear today. How could God allow unrighteousness to go unpunished? Is God really good, if He allows this or that to happen? At the root, people question whether there is a God at all. Does God matter if the unrighteous prosper while saints suffer? God offers a surprising solution to the complaint. It is as if Habakkuk is saying, “There is no justice!” and God replies, “Don’t worry, I am raising up your enemies.” Thanks God. Things are kind of crazy here, the Assyrians are treating us pretty badly, people are getting away with awful things. There is no justice. And God says, believe it or not I’m at work raising up your enemies.
Aren’t you God? Because you say that we have sinned against you, but take a look at these people. They have absolutely no respect for God. Why do you look idly at sin? They rejoice at their success and then they worship the things that made them rich and successful. Are you even there God? Don’t you see what’s going on? God’s response to this sentiment is to wait. It is not time yet for His justice to come, although some day it surely will. It is not your job to bring justice on sinners, He is God. However, your waiting should not typify idle thumb twiddling pompousness. In the meantime, you are to live by faith. This charge is quoted several times in the New Testament, but the context of oppression is often overlooked. Our active response to oppression is to live by faith.
Do not forget that Habakkuk was complaining for a reason. As dark and depressing as the woes of the book may seem, life is filled with scenes like this. Oppression is not always a result of war or torture. It plays itself out differently in different cultures. Regardless of how it rears its head, God sees injustice. Below is an attempt to reveal the heart of the five oppressors in Habakkuk, whom God strictly warns, and what the believer’s response should be to these things.
The Embezzler steals or misappropriates (2:6-8).
This person takes advantage of the needs of others for the sake of advancing himself. People like this use their authority to enslave others to themselves with money. It doesn’t end well for the person who uses their position to exploit others.
The Exploiter benefits unfairly from another (2:9-11).
This is someone who doesn’t mind throwing someone else under the bus to keep himself safe. He uses others to protect his own interests. Having a disregard for the people that are “cut off,” as long as you are sitting pretty, will not end well. You might think you have covered your tracks, but your little fortress of protection will be your very downfall.
The Tyrant exercises power in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way (2:12-14).
In modern society, towns are rarely built by captives who are worked mercilessly, sometimes to death, for the sake of building the conqueror’s kingdom. Today jobs build cities. What measures are acceptable for the sake of building a successful business? It is okay to build up your own security if it is at the expense of others? This passage says that, one day, those who are wearied for nothing will see an earth filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. That is why being a Christian businessman or woman can be one of the greatest mission fields in our day.
The Debaucher corrupts others to indulge in sensual pleasure (2:15-17).
This is not people who abuse drugs or alcohol because they feel oppressed by life, but someone who coerces others to use substances for his own gain. This oppressor puts others in helpless situations to take advantage of them or to humiliate them. Using intimidation to hurt, damage, or kill someone will ultimately result in experiencing the same type of terror yourself, though this time it will be at the hand of an angry God.
The Idolater greatly admires, loves, or reveres something, that is not God, as if it has power over life (2:18-19).
We live in a consumerist society and are constantly bombarded by the next great thing that consumes our thoughts. There is no profit in worshipping manmade things. And there is no profit in worshipping profit itself. That new technological gadget, vehicle, home, outfit, pair of shoes, or even your next paycheck itself has no breath within it. Ask yourself why it is so important to you.
Instead of being caught up in all of these oppressive practices, or overwhelmed by them, be quiet. Stop. The Lord is in his holy temple. For us as believers, verse 20 is so extremely powerful: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (ESV). What is in you is greater than that which is in the world. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. The goodness of the Father invokes silence and peace, because He has overcome all of these things.
Just to be clear, the sinner, amidst his confidence, will surely perish, but the righteous should be faithful and will live abundantly. Continue to trust God and keep His commandments, even if you cannot see His favor. Sin, evil, crime, greed, oppression, debauchery, and idolatry are all doomed to destruction. Is God still in control? Yes, absolutely yes!
Chapter three is a psalm. It is designed as a liturgy, meant to be sung by the congregation or someone representing the congregation. It serves as a reminder of some wonderful things:
God has proven himself before
God is all powerful
God saves His people
The unrighteous will meet justice
We should fear God’s power
We should wait quietly
We can take joy and rejoice in the God our salvation
If you can, pull out a copy of the Bible and let the words of Habakkuk 3 sink in while you read (Click HERE to read online). What stands out to you? Here is a song that I wrote after reflecting on the passage. Which verses from the chapter impacted you?
God will not allow the wicked to go unpunished, and He has shown us tremendous love and grace. The passage conveys, in the strongest possible way, that we should be determined to rejoice in the Lord regardless of the circumstances. Think of 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 (ESV):
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
We may live in countries where oppression is very obvious, but we serve a God who has overcome the world!