How long, O Lord?

Today’s passage: Habakkuk 1:1-11

The song at the end during communion is Do it again by Elevation worship. Watch it here.

This weekend, we’re starting a new series looking at the Old Testament prophetic book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk is an incredibly short book, consisting of only a few chapters. In it, the prophet Habakkuk brings his complaint to God about the state of his world.

Although no definite information is given, it seems that Habakkuk lived in the era just before Jerusalem was conquered by the invading Babylonian forces. A few years previously, things had started looking up in the kingdom of Judah. During the reign of King Josiah, the book of the law – at least a part of the Old Testament – had been found in the temple of God.

Reading it, Josiah was broken by how far his nation had fallen away from all that God asked of them. He instituted some incredible reforms, and there was something of a mini revival in the worship and celebration of God in Judah and Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, Josiah’s sons were certainly not cut from the same cloth as him. Rather than worshipping God, they did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. (2 Kings 23:32). His heir, Jehoahaz was put in prsion by the king of Egypt, who installed another of Josiah’s sons as king of Judah, renaming him Jehoiakim. But he too did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. And so the sorry tale continued.

It was during the reign of Zedekiah, just a few kings removed from Josiah, that Jerusalem finally fell to the Babylonians, after a terrible, famine causing siege of the city. The temple was burned down, and the people of Judah were exiled from their land.

But even before the fall of Jerusalem – even before the siege ramps were laid, Habakkuk had grown tired of crying out to God. Everywhere he looked, it seemed like things were going from bad to worse. But what made Habakkuk most distressed was that it seemed as if God wasn’t doing anything about it. There was violence everywhere – and yet God did not come to save. Seemingly whenever he looked he saw evil deeds and misery and destruction and violence. And it haunted him. Everyone seemed to be interested in arguing and fighting – words that perhaps have a hint of people taking each other to court. But the justice system in the land was a joke. The law was a lame duck. God’s law, which was meant to be the law of Israel, wasn’t being obeyed or honoured at all. In fact, the wicked seemed to far outnumber the righteous, resulting in the perversion of justice. Those who wanted to do the right thing just didn’t have the social clout that was necessary.

Habakkuk lived in desperate times – and it seemed to him that God should be doing something about it. Everything he knew about God told him that God was a God of justice. He couldn’t fathom why God would allow things to get so incredibly bad – and not do something about it all.

His cry of “how long, O Lord?” is one that many followers of God have cried over the centuries since Habakkuk spoke. We too might look at our society and wonder why God allows things to get into the state that they are in. Why doesn’t God simply sort out the evil in our midst? Why doesn’t God do something about a world which rejects God’s will so blatantly?

God’s response to Habakkuk’s cries is, however, not exactly what the prophet was hoping for. Although God does recognise the terribleness of the situation, His solution to all seems almost too incredible to believe. God’s answer to the violence and evil among Judah was to raise up the even more violent and cruel people, the Babylonians, as an instrument of judgement against the evil in the land!

But all of this happened a very long time ago, in a very different context. We live among the gentiles, and not under the law of Moses. We certainly don’t have to fear the imminent arrival of a horde of Babylonian warriors! So what does all of this actually have to say for you and I living in our context today?

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