This lesson explores the book of Habakkuk and how the prophet grapples with the issue of evil and suffering in the world. Stephen dispels the myth that becoming a Christian means that all problems go away. Habakkuk asks God why evil is allowed to go unchecked. God responds by revealing that He is preparing the Babylonians as an instrument of judgment, and that they too will be judged. Stephen will help you understand that you may not understand what God is doing, but you can trust Him as the sovereign Lord who will always do the right thing at just the right time. The primary lesson of Habakkuk is that we can trust God even in the midst of confusion and uncertainty.
While We Wait, God Is at Work
There’s a myth out there in the Christian world that when people trust Jesus Christ as their Savior, all their problems go away. That myth has been around a long time. In fact, the apostle Peter had to tell the Christians in his day not to be surprised when they faced fiery trials in their lives (1 Peter 4:12).
Go through the Old Testament, and you will find that followers of God were often confused that ungodly people were prospering while godly people were suffering (see Psalm 73). Let me tell you, Christians who claim to be without problems are either not telling you the truth or not growing as Christians.
As we arrive today at the book of Habakkuk, we discover the prophet grappling with this very issue. In fact, in the opening words of the book, Habakkuk asks, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (verse 2). He is saying, “Lord, I’ve got some problems that I don’t understand, and You don’t seem to be listening.” Maybe you are saying the same thing to God today.
Before we go any farther, I want you to note that the book of Habakkuk is unique among the Old Testament prophets. The words of this prophet are not being delivered to his people or to a foreign nation. Habakkuk is speaking directly to the Lord—and we are allowed to listen in on this fascinating and enlightening conversation.
We really know nothing about Habakkuk’s background. The opening verse simply identifies him as a prophet—and it is clear he is serving God during the last years of the kingdom of Judah.
Just because Habakkuk is a prophet of the Lord, however, does not mean he has all the answers; he certainly does not fully understand the mind of God. In fact, he is puzzled by what he sees going on around him, and this little book centers around two questions he is asking God. Here is the first one: Lord, why are You allowing evil to go unchecked?
Look again at how Habakkuk begins:
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? (verses 2-3)
That is a pretty bold question: Lord, why are You sitting on Your hands and just watching all this evil and violence take place in the land of Judah? He goes on in verse 3 to speak of destruction and strife. God’s Word is being ignored, and the ungodly seem to be having their way instead of being stopped by the Lord.
Habakkuk simply wants to know how long the Lord is going to allow this evil to continue. He is discouraged and confused.
Well, it is not quite time for the Lord to act in judgment, but He is preparing the instrument of judgment according to His purposes. He speaks to His prophet here in verses 5-6:
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans.”
In other words, He is saying, “I’m not sitting idly by. I’ve got plans in the works you just can’t see yet. I’m raising up the Chaldeans—the Babylonians.”
The Lord then goes on to describe these Babylonians. They are “dreaded and fearsome” (verse 7), they “fly like an eagle swift to devour” (verse 8), “they all come for violence . . . They gather captives like sand” (verse 9), they scoff at kings (verse 10), and they are “guilty men, whose own might is their god!” (verse 11).
This is not a pretty picture! Habakkuk and his fellow countrymen undoubtedly have heard about the powerful and cruel Babylonians, the conquerors of the great Assyrian Empire.
Well, okay then—God is indeed at work. But this raises another question in the mind of Habakkuk: How is suffering for believers at the hands of the wicked fair treatment from God? Judah and the people of God are worthy of God’s wrath because of their idolatry and defiance—and Habakkuk has already admitted that. But wait a second; the Babylonians are even more wicked and idolatrous! Habakkuk says here in verse 13, “Why do you . . . remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”
This does not seem fair at all. It just does not fit with our idea of justice that God would use wicked people to punish those who are not as wicked as they are.
But as we turn to chapter 2, Habakkuk says, “I will take my stand . . . and look out to see what he will say to me” (verse 1). He does not understand what God is doing, but he is willing to listen and learn.
God’s answer comes throughout this chapter: the Babylonians, though used by God as instruments of His judgment, are going to be judged themselves by God.
The Babylonians are not getting away with anything! The Lord says here in verse 3, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” As someone once noted, God doesn’t always pay at the end of the week, but He will pay at last.
Habakkuk’s problem is ours too. We cannot see past the moment we are living through. It is impossible to see around the corner, and the Christian life is walking from one corner to the next.
This is why the Lord tells His prophet in verse 4, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” We are to trust God that our times are in His hands—He is in control. His promises might be out of sight, but they are just around the corner.
The last chapter of Habakkuk records the prophet’s response. He has risen above the current circumstances; he has been given God’s perspective, and he now offers a prayer of praise to the Lord.
Habakkuk begins in verse 1 by praying that God will “revive” His work. This is a request for the Lord to bring about that work He has planned for Judah. So, now Habakkuk is satisfied with waiting for God’s perfect timing, knowing His will is going to be accomplished.
Habakkuk goes down memory lane here, as he recalls God’s faithfulness to His people in delivering them from Egypt. Beloved, maybe today part of the solution to your own struggle is looking back over your shoulder and remembering those times when God proved His faithfulness to you. You ought to keep a journal of those events so you do not forget. The God who was faithful in the past is the same God who will be faithful in the future.
Now notice how the prophet Habakkuk ends this little book of prophecy. He had been puzzled by the timing of God and perplexed by the plan of God’s judgment; but now he concludes with this great statement of faith:
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, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength. (verses 17-19)
Wow! This is the primary lesson of Habakkuk. We may not understand what God is doing, and we may not understand His timetable; but we can trust Him as the sovereign Lord who will always do the right thing at just the right time.
So, let’s be a little more like Habakkuk. Yes, let’s take our complaints and problems and sorrows to the Lord but then trust Him for His perfect timing.
Beloved, we will be willing to wait if we are willing to trust that God is at work.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Old Testament Prophets (David C. Cook, 2002), 412.