Habakkuk, an early biblical counselor, faithfully applied Torah for the people of his day. Despite his brevity, this minor prophet teaches us about God’s answers to life’s most difficult questions:
- Lord, where are you when I need you (1:1-11)?
- Why do bad things happen to good people (1:12-2:4)?
- Why do good things happen to bad people (2:4-20)?
- Will I make it through this trial (3:1-19)?
In three concise chapters, Habakkuk offers seven words of counsel still relevant for today.
Share Stories (1:1-4)
First, he compels us to share our stories.
In 1998, I walked past bullet-riddled homes in Sarajevo’s “Sniper Alley” as my friend, Ado, shared how ethnic hostility had turned neighbor against neighbor in a senseless war. He was only fourteen when comrades thrust a rifle in his hands, and he saw his father killed. Ado spat his grief, “If God was real, then why would he let this happen?”
As counselors, we listen to people’s stories before we answer their theology. We compassionately acknowledge that their questions often arise from the context of their suffering. Habakkuk’s story involves unjust comrades and the looming threat of Babylon as the prophet questions Yahweh, “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (1:2a). Sharing these biblical stories of suffering can prompt others to share their own.
Lament to God (1:5-17)
As we listen, we then help our counselees lament to God though not about him. His unchanging character must remain the foundation of their prayers.
We might ask, “How does Habakkuk’s lament teach you about our covenant-keeping God?” As we explore God’s actions and exhortations in his Word, we show his character displayed:
- Wise: “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (v. 5b).
- Just: “I am raising up the Chaldeans . . . ” (vv. 6-11).
- Eternal: “Are you not from everlasting, O LORD?” (v. 12a).
- Personal: “My God, my Holy One” (v. 12a).
- Salvific: “We shall not die” (v. 12b).
- Sovereign: “You have ordained . . . ” (v. 12c-d).
- Steadfast: “O Rock!” (v. 12d).
- Holy: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil . . . ” (v. 13a).
- Inscrutable: His ways are higher than ours (vv. 14-17).
Watch Prayerfully (2:1-3)
True believers respond to impossible situations with watchful prayer. Habakkuk had pleaded for salvation (1:2-4) and the Lord sent cruel Chaldeans (vv. 6-11). Yet instead of despairing, the prophet seeks a place of solitude to stand upon God’s truth—“to see what he will say to me” (2:1). Habakkuk cannot comprehend God’s actions, but still he trusts God’s character (vv. 2-3).
We too must practice watchful prayer when emotions overwhelm us in the face of trials. Prayer humbly calls us to watch and wait for God to work.
Live by Righteous Faith (2:4)
The New Testament thrice quotes, “The righteous shall live by faith” (v. 4b). According to Paul, faith grants new life, while Hebrews claims that faith preserves your life. Paul declares the faithful made righteous in Christ (Romans 1:16-17; Galatians 3:10-14), while Hebrews affirms the righteous in Christ made faithful (Hebrews 10:19-39). Paul centers on justification and Hebrews on sanctification, though both are gifts of God.
Scripture also teaches that we either walk the path of life (Habakkuk 2:4b) or the path which leads to destruction (2:4a, 5). How we start determines how we end, for the faith that saves will truly sanctify. So we assure our doubting friends of justification through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and we exhort those truly justified to persevere in faith (v. 10).
Trust God’s Judgment (2:5-20)
God also comforts us by taunting our enemies (Habakkuk 2:6a). This battle tactic takes the structural form of a woe oracle in each three-verse stanza. Five times, the Lord condemns specific sins rooted in evil heart desires before pronouncing the appropriate judgment.
|Woes Against||Heart Desire||God’s Judgment|
|Greed (v. 6b)||Wealth||Reaping the harvest (vv. 7-8)|
|Injustice (v. 9)||Security||Family shame (vv. 10-11)|
|Pride (v. 12)||Vainglory||A precipitous fall (vv. 13-14)|
|Seduction (v. 15)||Power||The cup of wrath (vv. 16-17)|
|Idolatry (vv. 18-19)||Self-Worship||Silence before God (v. 20)|
We help those suffering the consequences of foolish choices by urging their confession (Proverbs 28:13) as they need not pay again the penalty for which Christ died. We also comfort sufferers who have been sinned against by assuring them of God’s justice. They can entrust themselves to him who judges justly (Romans 12:17-21).
Let Sorrows Sing (3:1-16, 19d)
Habakkuk then composes this prophetic word “according to Shigionoth” as one man’s struggle becomes the nation’s song (Habakkuk 3:1, 19d). He recounts God’s faithfulness to Israel through creation, exodus, and the Law (vv. 2-16). His sorrows sing forth the glorious attributes of our covenant-keeping God:
- Awesome: “Your work, O LORD, do I fear” (v. 2a).
- Wondrous: “His splendor covered the heavens . . . ” (v. 3a).
- Wrathful: “Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels” (v. 5).
- Merciful: “In wrath remember mercy” (v. 2d).
- Kingly: “He stood and measured the earth . . . ” (v. 6a-b).
- Timeless: “His were the everlasting ways” (v. 6d).
- Powerful: “The mountains saw you and writhed . . . ” (vv. 9b-10a).
Today, we still sing of God’s faithfulness as we look back at the exile, the cross, and all of Christian history. As many of our cherished hymns were born from suffering, may Habakkuk’s psalm become our prayer as well. May our sorrows sing and our laments lead into worship as we view our suffering through the lens of God instead of viewing God through the lens of suffering.
Take Joy in Life’s “Even Thoughs” (3:17-19)
Habakkuk concludes with praise: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fails 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” (3:17-18). These “even thoughs” of life denote God’s curses for disobedience. Yet they cannot steal the prophet’s joy because Yahweh himself is the Answer to our doubts: “GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (v. 19). Like the ibex, standing sure-footed on steep slopes and leaping nimbly from rock to rock, we are held firm by our Creator though we balance on life’s edge. He promises strength amidst precarious dangers and turns our quivering lips into instruments of praise.
We might ask our counselees, “What’s the worst-case scenario when you follow your fears to their furthest extent? Are you confident in the Lord as you encounter the ‘even thoughs’ of life: Though I did not get promoted—Though there’s no ring on my finger—Though we cannot bear children—Though the doctor said, ‘Cancer’? Will you still rejoice in the Lord and take joy in the God of your salvation? If God remains faithful in the midst of those storms, then surely he will carry you through the trials of today.”
Habakkuk: God’s Answers to Life’s Most Difficult Questions by Tom Sugimura