Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The little book of Habakkuk

In the latter part of the Old Testament books of the Bible, we find the books of the prophets- those people who were commissioned by God to deliver messages to His people. Some of these prophets are well known and celebrated – the “big guns” like Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Then we find what are loosely termed the “minor prophets”- some who gave a much shorter message. The book of Habakkuk falls into this category, but the message that it sends to us is by no means minor.
Much significance was attached to the meaning of a person’s name in Biblical times, and the name Habakkuk means “to embrace”, suggesting that he embraced, or held fast to God and was strong in his faith. Such strength was by no means a blind devotion, as Habakkuk was certain enough in his relationship with God to ask questions of Him.
In the three chapters of his book, Habakkuk appears to be a man who is deeply concerned with issues of social justice, the law and corruption. He laments over the violence and murder common in the land of Judah, where he lived. Oppression of the poor was widespread. He sees some living in luxury through usury and theft, ever greedier for gain, proud and arrogant. He describes a practise of sexually exploiting people through drunkenness.  People worshipped false gods and idols of many kinds.
How could a just God look upon all this evil behaviour and do nothing? That is the gist of Habakkuk’s cry in chapter one. The prophet deeply mourns what is happening, to the point where he says in the second chapter “the stones of the walls will cry out” (v.11). Surely something must happen bring the evil times to a head?
God, through the prophecies of Habakkuk replies that indeed, the evils will be addressed and stopped, perhaps not in the way that might be expected. His solution is to use an invading army of Babylonians to destroy the land and take captive many of its noblest inhabitants. The oppressors would now become the oppressed. The Babylonians themselves were by no means a godly people, indeed they were greatly feared throughout their surrounding nations, yet that did not prevent them from being used by God to bring the once godly nation of Judah to account.
What do we learn today from all this? The Bible was never intended just to be a history book of days long passed in lands far away. The prophecies of Habakkuk and likewise Nahum and Amos serve to warn of assuming God’s favour. Whole nations have been established on Christian principles with laws and social structures based on the Bible. Individuals have personally embraced the Christian faith and committed their lives to God. But no one should assume that they can pay lip service to God and live as they wish.  The apostle Paul in the book of Romans reminds us that God did not spare the natural branches (the Jewish peoples) so He also will not spare the branches that have been grafted in (the Gentiles)(Romans 11:21). As the western world becomes increasingly more atheistic, humanistic and secular, one may ask- what will it take for nations to turn to God again? He is jealous for His people:
“Take notice, therefore, of the kindness and severity of God: severity to those who fell, but kindness to you, if you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.” (Romans 11:22)
One of the most comforting and joyful aspects of the Bible is the juxtaposition that occurs throughout its pages. There are few times when God reveals His power, justice and righteous anger without also reminding us of His mercy. He desires to save, not destroy, to heal and bless those who, in repentance and faith, commit their lives to Him. Many daunting passages end on notes of optimism. The final book of Biblical history, Revelation, which speaks of events yet to happen, promises to be a blessing to those who take it to heart. So it is with the book of Habakkuk, which accords glory and praise to God for His righteousness:
‘For the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14)
“The Sovereign Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go to the heights.” (3:19)

Not quite a deer but this Himalayan Tahr has the feet to climb to great heights.Taronga Park Zoo Sydney.

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