Habakkuk’s Second Complaint
12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
(Habakkuk 1:12 – 13a NIV)
As we continue to eavesdrop on the conversation between Habakkuk, the Old Testament prophet, and God, we see Habakkuk replying to God’s revelation of using the Babylonians to discipline Judah. Habakkuk’s reply goes from chapter 1 verse 12 through chapter 2 verse 1. We will tackle Habakkuk’s opening remarks to God today, and his subsequent questions back to God in the next few days.
Notice Habakkuk’s tone in verse 12 and 13a. It is important to note that Habakkuk is perplexed, but not unbelieving. He is saying, “wow, God, You are sovereign over the whole earth. You’re right, God, I would never have guessed in a million years that You would use the Babylonians to discipline Judah. You are righteous and holy – You cannot and will not tolerate any sin before You, even the sin of Your own chosen people. You are so holy, and we are so… not.”
Before moving on from verse 12, it is important to note what Habakkuk is saying when he uses the phrase “you will never die”. The NIV Bible uses the word “you”, while a number of other translations use the word “we”. Whichever word your translation uses, the idea is the same. Habakkuk is saying, “Lord, You made an everlasting, unconditional covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to establish Your people among the nations forever. You have promised not to wipe us out entirely. Lord, in Your mercy, leave a remnant of Your people to carry on to the next generations, as You promised.”
Habakkuk felt the heat of God’s discipline against Judah, and reminded God of His promises. Habakkuk did not remind God of His promises in a glib or irreverent manner. In fact, quite the opposite. In verse 12, Habakkuk starts off by addressing God as “Jehovah Elohim” (which is translated in the NIV into English as “Lord”). Habakkuk uses two names for God here. God’s name Jehovah means “self-existent One”, a title assigned only to God. The name “Elohim” means “mighty Judge”, again, a title given only to a deity, not to a human.
Putting these two names together, Habakkuk is saying, “God, You alone are the self-existent One. You answer to no one. You alone are able to judge the earth and everyone in it.”
Habakkuk also is remembering that God can use anyone and anything for His glory, including an entire nation. This includes righteous nations as well as unrighteous ones, like the Babylonians. Listen to Solomon’s acknowledgement of this fact:
The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
(Proverbs 21:1 NASB)
In subsequent verses (verses 13b and following), Habakkuk goes on to seek understanding on why God would choose a nation far more unrighteous than Judah to discipline Judah. Again, Habakkuk’s questions are not from a point of unbelief, but from a lack of understanding, of seeking answers to questions. If Habakkuk had a heart of unbelief, he would not be having this dialogue with God. Instead, he would be accusing God of wrongdoing and expressing his anger against God. Instead, Habakkuk is perplexed in his faith, and approaches God with humility and brokenness. Habakkuk understands and sees clearly the implications for Judah – economic and social ruin, captivity, and persecution. And Habakkuk’s role as prophet does not hold any better prospects than the future of Judah – he will certainly be mocked and abused, and may even give up his life to proclaim God’s words to God’s people.
There will be many times in our lives where we don’t understand what God is doing. Some hard times may be the result of our sin (like Judah), some not (like Habakkuk). Regardless of the reason, may we always approach the Lord like Habakkuk, in brokenness and humility, knowing that God calls us to be faithful, and seeks to draw us near to Himself, regardless of our circumstances.