by Mark Ross
Here is the bad news: in this world, we will have tribulation. But, thanks be to God, there is also good news: we can take heart, for our Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). These are two firm facts about the life of believers in this world.
The book of Habakkuk is a good study in holding these two firm facts in a proper relationship. Habakkuk lived during a time of great moral and spiritual decay in Judah, sometime before the Babylonians overthrew the nation and carried them into exile. That God should allow such evil to continue among His people acutely troubled Habakkuk, and he cried out to God: “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” Details of the severity of the crisis are then listed (1:2–4).
There are many such prayers in the Bible. God’s people are often perplexed by the fact that God allows evil to continue. It is, of course, not just a theoretical problem for us, for more often than not this problem presents itself to us in our own sufferings. The problem is not just that evil continues, but that it continues against us. Job is, of course, a standard example here, but he is far from alone. See, for example, the laments found in Psalms 3–7; 12; 13; 73; and many others. Life is full of difficulties for the people of God.
When difficulties come, the people of God should cry out to Him in prayer, seeking His help and deliverance. Surveying the many examples found within the Scriptures, we see two basic patterns to God’s deliverance. In the first, let us call it type A, some threat appears to the people of God. The people cry out to God for deliverance. God comes to their aid and the threat is removed. The deliverance of good King Jehoshaphat and his people is one example of this. In 2 Chronicles 20, we read that three armies came against Judah. Jehoshaphat and his people had insufficient military resources to stand against this threat, so they proclaimed a fast and called out to God in prayer: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The Lord answered with a great deliverance.
Time and again we see this pattern: a threat arises against God’s people, they call out to God in prayer, and He sends deliverance immediately. But there is a second pattern of deliverance we see in the Scriptures, which we may call type B. In this pattern, a threat arises against the people of God, they call out to God, but the threat is not removed and the people suffer its consequences. Deliverance is promised for a future time, but it will come after the present disaster has run its course. We see this pattern, for example, in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Habakkuk. In their day, the Babylonians were growing in power against the nations. At last the threat came upon Judah. Prayer was offered to God for deliverance, but deliverance did not come. The Babylonians conquered the nation, destroyed the city, and carried the people away into exile. Deliverance was promised for a future day—after the disastrous conquest and exile had run their course.
Habakkuk’s words are most instructive for us in facing type B situations. His burden at first was the Lord’s toleration of great evil among the people of God (Hab. 1:1–4). He wanted to know why God would allow it to continue. God answered, revealing that He was not going to tolerate it forever. In fact, He was at that moment preparing Babylon as His instrument to judge His people (1:5–11). This answer displeased Habakkuk, who believed the Babylonians were far worse than the people of Judah. How could God allow that to happen, the prophet asked (1:12–17)? The Lord replied by indicating that the Babylonians would also be judged one day. First, however, they would bring judgment against Judah (chap. 2). This left Habakkuk stunned and in awe. The threat he feared was now sure to come. Yet the Lord’s saving purposes for His people would still be fulfilled one day. Deliverance would come on the far side of disaster.
With this reply, Habakkuk could face the future with the assurance that even in disaster, the Lord would still hold fast to His promises of salvation. His final words will serve us all well as we face these type B situations (3:17–19).
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; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk knew that even type B situations have type A endings. Our Savior God will fulfill His loving purposes for His people.