The book of Habakkuk is an oracle in the form of dialogue between God and his prophet. Habakkuk does not understand the ways of his God, and he wants an explanation. The dialogue proceeds as follows:
- C1: God, you allow evil an injustice to persist throughout your people and throughout your land.
- A1: I will punish Judah by means of the Chaldeans.
- C2: How can you use the Chaldeans, that wicked nation, to punish your people?
- A2: The Chaldeans will be punished in due time.
Stripped down, I don’t think many will struggle with this dialogue. God will punish his people for their iniquity, and he will judge the Chaldeans for theirs. The struggle arises, however, when we take a closer look at the manner in which Habakkuk presents his complaint.
Habakkuk complains that “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (1:3-4; ESV). Take note of the sins Habakkuk levels against his people. Justice does not go forth. Justice is perverted. The righteous are surrounded by the wicked. This should remind us of similar charges Micah levels against the people. The rulers are corrupt. They engulf the poor. They seize land. They use the law of the Lord to take advantage of the righteous and the poor.
God will not allow this behavior to stand unchecked. He arises the Chaldeans, a blunt instrument, to effect his judgment. God describes them as a “bitter and hasty nation” (1:6), “dreaded and fearsome” (1:7), violent (1:9), and a haughty nation “whose own might is their god” (1:11). This nation seems to be just as guilty of the same sins as God’s people. They heap up what is not theirs (2:7), and they plunder the nations (2:8). The strong wicked conquer the week righteous (well righteous . . . relatively speaking).
Habakkuk recognizes this inconsistency in God’s character in his second complaint. He affirms that God is eternal and holy. He cannot look upon evil because he is pure. Yet, in using the Chaldeans, Habakkuk asks, “why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (1:13). A restatement of the problem:
- Judah’s rulers are wicked.
- They use the law to exploit the people, plunder their goods, and set themselves up as gods.
- God will use a wicked nation to punish his people, allowing them to plunder his people, swallow up the wicked along with the righteous, and set themselves up as gods.
Habakkuk does not draw any conclusions. He falls short of saying that God is guilty of the same iniquity of his people and of the Chaldeans: allowing the wicked to swallow up the righteous. There are many ways we can go about resolving this “problem.” Yet, Habakkuk never receives an answer. He is simply told that God is faithful, Judah will be punished, the Chaldeans will be punished, and men are able to find salvation in the Lord. Habakkuk quietly waits for God’s justice, and he rests in the character of the LORD.