Is Next To Last Really That Bad? – Habakkuk 1

Over the years of recruiting 8th grade students to run cross country in high school, I used to encourage those who were fearful and had never done it before that they should not feel like they were going to finish dead last in a race. With hundreds of competitors, I reasoned that there would always be someone worse … although, I stopped using that line after having a few kids indeed finished completely last in a huge race.

It is but small consolation when the only victory to hope for is that there is someone worse at something. But some people find comfort in knowing that, though they aren’t perfect nor even honestly very righteous at all, there are truly evil people in the world who are so much worse, and that God will therefore surely overlook their small-town sinful lifestyle.

Today we begin the first of three days looking at the three-chapter book of Habakkuk. And a theme in this unique prophet’s writing that reflected the viewpoint of the nation of Judah was that “though we might be pretty bad, the Babylonians are far worse!”

I encourage you to click the link at the top of the page to take you to our summary history in order to see where Habakkuk fits into the scheme of all the Old Testament prophets. His writing was probably around 630 to 620 B.C. – just before the beginning of the Babylonian Captivity in 606 B.C.  Assyria had been defeated a few generations after their conquest of the northern ten tribes of Israel; the southern kingdom of Judah continued along with a mixed bag of good and bad kings; and the Babylonians were rising to become the world’s greatest empire up to that time.

It was difficult to be a prophet to a bunch of people who had little interest in obeying God or living life in a righteous fashion, and so Habakkuk looks to God to ask how long it will be that He would overlook injustice in Judah at every turn …

1:1  The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk’s Complaint

2 How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!”     but you do not save?

3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.

4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

Habakkuk gets an answer from God, but it is not at all the one that he expected to receive…

The Lord’s Answer

5 “Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.

6 I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.

7 They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.

8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like an eagle swooping to devour; 9 they all come intent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand.

10 They mock kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; by building earthen ramps they capture them.

11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”

Indeed, judgment was coming. God was raising up the nation of Babylon to execute his wrath upon the godless nature of sin and injustice in Judah. This was not good news at all to Habakkuk, Judah, or any other people of that time. The Babylonians were a new gang of nasty characters in the ancient world. The text here speaks pictorially and illustratively of their powerful and ruthless nature.

As an example, the Babylonians would (after Habakkuk’s time) set up a vassal Jewish king in Judah. And when King Zedekiah did not behave properly, the Babylonians killed his sons in front of him and poked out his eyes so that the last thing he would remember seeing was the death of his children. So, there is a personality sketch of the crew that God was going to use to judge Judah – not what you’d expect!

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. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

14 You have made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler.

15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad.

16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food.

17 Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?

The idea that God would use the Babylonians was incomprehensible for Habakkuk. He begins his plea in verse 12 by rehearsing what he knows to be true about God’s eternality and holiness, but in the next verse he essentially says, “OK, yep, we be bad, but they be worse! How’s it that you be using them to whoop us?”

He further laments that the wicked of the world are like fisherman who wantonly pull their unsuspecting catch out of the water in their nets in great joy; and then they worship their nets … meaning that they worship their own cruel power and ability to destroy without mercy.

God will answer this question “why” in the next chapter.

Finishing next to last in a race where the only way to win is to be perfect is, well, quite short of the goal. To be right with God, we need to have perfect righteousness, which of course can only be gained through faith in the work of Christ. Comparing our goodness as beyond others, or finding solace in our sins being less than many, will not make us a winner whatsoever. The victory is ours only in Christ – who is the victor over everything through the cross. In this way we avert God’s righteous judgment that would fall not on us, but on our substitute – Jesus.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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