Sermons & Sunday Schools

God, What Are You Doing? Part 1: Questioning

In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia begins a mini-series on Habakkuk, the prophet who asked the same question that Christians often ask during ongoing trials: “God, What Are You Doing?” Part 1 sees Pastor Dave introduce the book of Habakkuk and examine the first step of rightly dealing with God’s difficult providence: Questioning. In Habakkuk 1:1-17, Habakkuk teaches you that, amid ongoing trials, God is working something good, but you will still have unanswered questions. Habakkuk’s teaching follows a question and answer format with God:

Question 1: God, Why Aren’t You Doing Anything? (vv. 2-4)
Answer 1: I Am Doing Something You Don’t Expect (vv. 5-11)
Question 2: God, How Is What You Are Doing Right? (vv. 12-17)

Full Transcript:

We’re embarking on a short book study today. This book has been on my heart, ministering to me, and I believe it’s very relevant for our time.

Let’s ask for the Lord’s blessing as we hear from His Word. Lord, speak to us now. You are the great God, and we are Your people. Transform us by Your Word, we pray. Amen.

There’s something inherently exciting about the start of a new year. A new year represents new hope and new possibilities. We look back at the previous year and all its problems and difficulties, and we think, surely the next year will be different. And we can think this way about our national circumstances. Surely this is the year that the pandemic will end, and life will get back to normal. This is the year that extreme political rhetoric will finally settle down. This is the year that Roe versus Wade will be overturned. We can also think this way about our personal circumstances. This is the year that I meet the One and get married. This is the year that we finally buy a house. This is the year that my lost family member will get saved.

Our hope for these changed circumstances can be very motivating. If we feel that the world is about to change for the better, then that motivates us to be better too. New year, new me. I will trust and obey God this year. I will live in a disciplined way for the Lord this year.

And sometimes our hopes for the new year do come to quick fruition, and that is a very joyful thing. The thing we hope for, it comes to pass. But many times, as January progresses into February, and February progresses into March, we discover that what we hoped for, what we hoped would change in the new year, doesn’t look like it’s changing at all. Corruption and injustice, they turn out to remain the same problems in our country that they were. Or your estranged spouse still won’t forgive and reconcile with you. Or there still aren’t enough volunteers for nursery. It’s like you’re looking at a fresh winter snowfall, which you thought would melt and reveal a clean, brand new world. But instead, when the snow melted, it revealed the same old world, just with more mud.

How do we respond? When you’ve already waited so long for circumstances to change, and you think surely now is the time that the light will give way to darkness, surely now is the time that God will act and bring deliverance, but then He doesn’t. What do you do? All too easily, in such a situation, the human heart gives way to anger and hopelessness. What’s the point of continuing on in obedience if nothing ever changes? What’s the point of praying? What’s the point of trusting God if God’s just not going to do anything? At the very least, when we feel like God needs to act, but we don’t see Him doing it, our hearts cannot help but ask God – God, what are You doing?

Is your heart asking God that question about some matter in your life this morning? God, what are You doing? You’ve heard my prayers. You see my life. You know how zealous I’ve been for you. So why is there still no deliverance? God, have You forgotten me? What are You doing?

Well, we aren’t the first to ask such questions of God. Many of God’s people in the past have asked him the same. In fact, some of their own wrestling with the hard and mysterious providences of God have been written down for us in the Scriptures for our instruction and encouragement. And one of the clearest examples of this holy wrestling is the prophet Habakkuk. That’s where I’d like us to turn this morning. Please open your Bibles to the book of Habakkuk. Or if you like, Habakuk or Habakook or even I’ve heard Habakake. I’m not sure how that one gets on there. I’m going to say Habakkuk, but whatever floats your boat.

Habakkuk is one of the last books of the Old Testament, just a few books before Malachi. He’s one of the 12 minor prophets. A minor prophet, not because he’s unimportant or his message is unimportant, but because compared to some of the major prophets like Isaiah or Ezekiel, his book is much shorter, just three chapters. But there’s a great message in this little book of Habakkuk. These three chapters outline the process of properly responding to the difficult providence of God. You see, Habakkuk also asked the question, God, what are you doing? And our God graciously leads Habakkuk through the steps of dealing with that question in the way that he should and the way that we should.

What are those steps in dealing with the question, God what are You doing? Well, there’s one step for each chapter of Habakkuk. And spoiler alert, I’ll give them to you right now. Step one is chapter one, questioning. Step two is chapter two, listening. And step three is chapter three, worshiping. When we face circumstances we don’t understand and that seem even to contradict God’s own character and promises, we can and must respond rightly before God. And we can find hope and joy again if we follow this process – questioning, listening, and then worshiping. My plan is to spend one week looking at each one of these chapters, each one of these steps.

And today we’re looking at the first – God what are You doing, part one: questioning. And since I’m looking at a larger passage than usual today, I’m not going to read the whole text in advance. But we will read through it as we go through the individual points of this chapter. But as you are hopefully turned to the book of Habakkuk and as you glance at chapter one, I do want to point out a few unique features of this text before we read it.

Habakkuk does not start as most of the other prophets do, with some powerful declaration from God or some report about how the prophet was called to be God’s spokesman. Rather, our passage begins with a prayer, the prophet himself proclaiming his trouble to God. The passage then proceeds as a conversation with Habakkuk asking God questions and God providing certain answers. Specifically, after an introductory line in verse 1 of our chapter, what we see in the rest of the chapter is a question followed by an answer, followed by another question. There is a longer answer to Habakkuk’s second question. God gives a second answer, that comes in chapter two.

Now you’ll also notice when you read the text that there are no formulaic phrases dividing the dialogue between God and His prophet in this chapter. There’s no, “the word of Yahweh came to me and I said”, or “I prayed thus to the Lord in my spirit”, or “the Lord answered me and said”. We don’t see those phrases. Rather, we just have to pay attention to the shifts and addresses or subject to know who is speaking when. So this passage, it represents a surprisingly intimate conversation between God and His faithful prophet. This conversation is passed onto us as important and instructive prophetic revelation.

Now though the conversation does extend into chapter two, I do think that chapter one does functions as its own unit, and here’s its main idea. Habakkuk 1:1-17, Habakkuk teaches you that amid ongoing trials, God is working something good, but you will still have unanswered questions. That’s the idea here. Amid ongoing trials, know that God is working something good, but you will still have unanswered questions. Let’s look at how this truth, this idea develops, starting with the introductory line of our text. Look at verse 1,

The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.

Notice the word oracle here. This is an utterance or a pronouncement from God Himself given to Habakkuk to be passed on to the people of Judah. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for oracle literally means burden. When you think of a burden, you probably think of something heavy, something weighty, something that weighs on you even. And there’s something burden-like about this prophetic word for Habakkuk.

How exactly? Well, it is the very word of God, which is always weighty, always demanding your attention. Moreover, Habakkuk as God’s prophet is obligated to give this word whether Habakkuk likes it or not. It is his burden. Additionally, the oracle contains announcements of severe judgment, which is a heavy subject. But also, the message has to do with a matter very distressing to Habakkuk’s heart. In many ways, then, this message is truly a burden for him, but we need to hear it.

Now, you see the name Habakkuk in verse one. The book identifies for us the author and tells us that he is a prophet. But who was Habakkuk? Well, he’s actually one of the more mysterious persons in the Bible. There’s almost no information about him in the Old Testament, or basically none outside this book. Like John the Baptist, Habakkuk appears as a mere voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of God. However, from the clues in the book regarding certain historical circumstances, we can pretty confidently infer that Habakkuk was a prophet of Judah ministering during the reign of Jehoiakim around 608 BC.

Now, to remind you or to inform you of what that means, what was going on at that time, know that in the late 700s going into the 600s BC, Assyria is the dominant power in the Middle East. The northern kingdom of Israel has already been shattered, already been destroyed and taken into exile for its sin. But Judah, the southern kingdom, is sliding more and more into evil corruption. Good King Hezekiah had tried to turn Judah around, but he was followed by King Manasseh, who reigned more than 50 years and was one of the most wicked kings that Judah ever had, and he led Judah into much evil and idolatry.

Josiah soon followed Manasseh. Josiah was the last good king in Judah. Josiah tried tirelessly to reform Judah, to stamp out idolatry, restore true obedience and worship according to God’s word, His Torah, His instruction, but Josiah died in a battle against Pharaoh Necho around 610 BC. Then when Egypt installed Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, to reign over Judah, Jehoiakim turned away from following his father’s example, and he returned Judah to pursuing evil. 2 Kings 23.37 says,

He did evil in the sight of Yahweh, according to all that his fathers had done.

Jeremiah adds a specific indictment of Jehoiakim in Jeremiah 22:13-17. I’ll just paraphrase it for the sake of time. He indicts Jehoiakim for neglecting justice, pursuing dishonest gain, and shedding innocent blood, all the while obsessing over building a great palace for himself. Jehoiakim would eventually preside over Judah’s first defeat against Babylon in 605 BC, which was also the first phase of Judah’s exile, in which the best and brightest of Judah were carried away captive to Babylon, including Daniel and his friends. So this is where we are in history. Though Habakkuk probably was alive during some of Josiah’s reign, Habakkuk’s prophecy probably only appears after Josiah, between 610 and 605 BC, when Judah has slid back into evil under Jehoiakim, but before Babylon has solidified itself as the new power of the Middle East. So here’s the background information and introductory information.

But now let’s move into the prophecy proper. We look at the first burdensome question of Habakkuk to God. This is in verses 2 to 4. Let’s read those now.

How long, O Lord (or that is, O Yahweh), will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, “violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out perverted.

We can summarize the complaints of verses 2 to 4 in one main question. The same question that you and I are provoked to ask when we experience an unending trial is: God, why aren’t You doing anything? Notice in verse 2, Habakkuk says that he’s been crying to God for help for a long time: How long, O Lord, will I call to You, and You will not hear? Until when will it be? Habakkuk even invokes that intimate name of Yahweh. It’s represented in our english Bibles with all caps LORD, but it’s actually the Hebrew name Yahweh.

Habakkuk invokes this name as he presents his complaint to God. You are Yahweh. You are the God of Israel. You are the eternal, faithful, covenant-keeping God. You are our God. So why, when I keep calling for help, do You apparently do nothing? I cry to You, violence, Habakkuk says in verse 2. I see violence happening in the streets. I hear about violence from among the brethren. I experience violence in my own life. I and Your godly ones are being attacked, being brutalized, being oppressed. I’m reporting this to You, God. We are experiencing shocking violence, yet You do not save.

And understand, there’s a profound Old Testament background to Habakkuk’s request for help from God. In earlier revelation, God has made quite clear, He has repeatedly stressed that He will save His people when they call on and look to Him. He says this directly in the Bible. For example, Psalm 50:15:

Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you and you will honor Me.

Or Proverbs 28:18:

He who walks blamelessly will be delivered, but he who is crooked will fall all at once.

The Old Testament has many promises like these. Habakkuk has heard these scriptures. He knows these promises, but he doesn’t see them being fulfilled. So he asked God, why? Why? You see my situation. You see our situation. Why aren’t You doing anything?

Furthermore, Habakkuk notes that his circumstances are under the perfect sovereign control of God. Habakkuk says in verse 3 that God is the one causing Habakkuk to see iniquity and to see wickedness, which is a pretty bold thing to say to God, but it’s true. God tells Isaiah in Isaiah 45:7:

I’m the one who brings well-being or calamity, God says. I’m the one who does it. I’m the one who’s ultimately causing it. Habakkuk points out this truth to God. God, You are the one according to Your own sovereign will who is causing your people to suffer under wickedness. And so I want to know why.

We see at the end of verse 3 that Habakkuk’s view of his circumstances is basically one of total chaos. There’s oppression, there’s violence, there’s strife, there’s disputing, both legal and illegal. It’s all around. And Habakkuk describes the outcome in verse 4. The law, literally in Hebrew the Torah, God’s word of instruction and His good rules, they are totally ignored. And true justice never goes forth. Now that’s quite an assertion. Never? Is it that bad?

Are there no righteous persons left in Judah? Well, no. Habakkuk would say there are some. But again, according to verse 4, the righteous are severely outnumbered. Habakkuk says the wicked have surrounded the righteous to such an extent that even when the righteous try to bring about justice in court, the wicked just intervene and make sure that justice goes forth crooked. Evil has risen to such a level that there’s nothing the righteous can do about it anymore. They can’t fix it. So Habakkuk says, God, we need You to intervene. We need You to bring about justice. We need You to bring about deliverance. We need You to bring about revival. We’re helpless. And we’ve been telling You this for a long time. So why haven’t You been doing anything?

And you know, it’s remarkable that this description of circumstances from Habakkuk, it doesn’t describe Judah in exile or Judah under Assyria’s domination. This is Judah oppressing itself, corrupting its way so thoroughly and so quickly after good King Josiah’s death. This is how bad it is, how bad it’s gone. This bleak description of Judah’s state is reminiscent, maybe you noticed, of Moses’ description of the world before the flood. Genesis 6:11 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.” It’s exactly what Habakkuk sees in Judah.

Can we relate at all to Habakkuk’s complaint to God? Certainly we behold injustice and oppression in our country and in various places around the world affecting our brethren, affecting us. And as Pastor Babij has pointed out in his sermons in Jude, we see the spirit of apostasy flourishing today while the truth suffers. Sin gets more and more protection in our society. Righteousness gets more and more persecution. So might we also ask then, how long, O Lord? How long, O Yahweh? And even beyond the direct parallels to Habakkuk of societal violence and injustice, there are also the indirect parallels of the personal trials of our lives. God, You said that You would provide for me according to Your promises, so why haven’t You? Why do I keep calling out to You, God, for help, and You do not listen, You do not save? This is the prophet’s first question. God, why aren’t You doing anything?

But perhaps to Habakkuk’s surprise, God directly responds to Habakkuk’s first question in verses 5 to 11. Let’s read those now.

Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! because I am doing something in your days – you would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared; their justice and authority originate with themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards and keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swooping down to devour. All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. They mock at kings and rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble to capture it. And they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their God.

Here’s the second point of our sermon outline. God’s answer, essentially, to Habakkuk’s first question is – answer one, I am doing something you don’t expect. Notice that God does not begin verse five with a dispute of Habakkuk’s assessment. Come on Habakkuk, it’s not really that bad in Judah. You’re just being a little dramatic. No, we don’t hear that from God. God accepts Habakkuk’s dismal assessment of Judah’s state as accurate. Yeah, it is that bad, but at the same time God clarifies by what follows. I do know, Habakkuk. I do care. And I am doing something about it. But it’s something almost unbelievable.

Notice in verse five that God begins with four commands, all related to beholding in astonishment. Look, he says, behold, be astonished, or that phrase could be translated be horrified. Wonder, God says. Why? Because, you see there God says, I am doing something. That verb form is significant – doing. That reflects the Hebrew well. It’s a participle in Hebrew. In English those are I-N-G words usually. A participle is a verb form that communicates continual and characteristic action. So God is essentially saying, you think I haven’t been doing anything? I tell you, I’ve been working this whole time. I’m always doing something. I’ve always been doing something here. And it’s not even a super long-term plan. Because notice God adds in His description of what He’s doing, I am doing something in your days. This is happening now. You’re even going to see the fruit. You’re going to see My work come to its completion, or to some fruition.

But then God adds, you would not believe it if you were told, which is interesting. And we might ask, wait a second, if Habakkuk isn’t going to believe what God says, then God, why bother telling Habakkuk? But if Habakkuk is going to believe what You say, God, then why do you say that He won’t?

Well, here’s where a nuance in the original Hebrew will help us. We probably assume because of English’s ambiguity with the word you, that the you at the end of verse five is singular. Habakkuk, you won’t believe. But actually, in the Hebrew, the you is plural. This is you all, y’all. All of you in Judah will never believe what I’m actually doing. Why won’t they believe? Well, God’s going to explain. Verses six to 11, God reveals that He is raising up the Chaldeans to act as a terrifying force of judgment on Judah and the surrounding nations.

Who are the Chaldeans? Well, technically, the Chaldeans are one of the tribes that lived in a region around Babylon. But by Habakkuk’s day, they had integrated into Babylonian society and even come to rule Babylon. So therefore, to speak of the Chaldeans was to speak of the Babylonians, and what historians call the Neo-Babylonian Empire, emerging at this point, not yet fully on the scene. As I said before, the Babylonians are still a rising power, not dominant yet.

So when God says to Judah through Habakkuk, “I’m bringing the Chaldeans, I’m bringing Babylon to judge,” Judah wouldn’t have been like, oh yeah of course. Who else? I mean, yeah, Babylon’s the one that’s going to judge. No, no, no. They would have been like, really, Babylon? I mean, I know they secured a few big victories against Assyria, but they’re not going to become the next empire. I mean, their power isn’t going to come all the way from Mesopotamia and reach us here in Palestine. You’ve got to be joking. After all, you might remember Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20, he received some envoys from Babylon and he showed them all this stuff. And Isaiah says, “Why’d you do that?” And he’s like, oh they’re only from Babylon. It’s someplace far away. He didn’t consider Babylon any strategic threat. They’re so far they’re not a big problem. No one would have expected at that time for God to use Babylon as His punishing force.

But God says, believe it, I’m raising them up to judge. And you think they’re no threat? Let Me tell you about the way I’m raising up their army to be. Notice in verse 6, in the second line, God says that they are fierce and impetuous people. Or we could also translate that bitter and hasty. They are going to invade, but they’re not the kind of invaders who are careful to win hearts and minds. No, they’re going to be cruel and quick. They’re going to be eager to conquer and seize what is not theirs. Verse 7, God again notes how frightening these invading armies will be with a double description. They will be dreaded and feared. You treat the Chaldeans like they’re no threat? You will tremble when they arrive. You will be in terror. And when they kill your men, steal your women, and seize your property, don’t think they’re going to wave some bill of rights in their faces.

God says that their justice, notice verse 7, their justice and authority originate with themselves. They don’t care about rules of war, war crimes, the Geneva Convention. They’re going to do whatever they want, and no one will be able to stop them. Verse 8, God gives a startling description of how quickly these invaders will sweep through. Their horsemen, God says, gallop more swiftly than leopards, extremely fast predators, more keenly or more quickly than wolves hunting at night. You think they’re too far away to pose a threat to you? You turn your back for one moment, when you turn around again, whoosh, there they are with their spears ready to run you through. They swoop in like eagles, God says, like vultures. They are hungry and ready to feed on a fresh kill. In verse 9, God emphasizes how unstoppable they will be. It says they are united in their will to bring violence upon you. Their faces are set as they march irresistibly to and through your greatest strongholds. They collect captives like sand, like it’s nothing. They’re just throwing more sand on the pile.

But a Judean might have wanted to ask at that time, but won’t some great hero of Judah or maybe Egypt rise up to stop this horde? You know, like in the movie, some king or prince to lead a coalition of allied kingdoms to turn back the overwhelming tide? Well, God says nope. Look at verse 10. These armies, they make fun of kings, make fun of leaders and heroes or whatever rules scramble to oppose them. As for fortresses, the Chaldeans only laugh as they pile up rubble to make their siege ramps and then overthrow those fortresses. And then God gives one more description in verse 11. God says that these brutal warriors, they will crash through like the wind and then pass on. They will arrive, they will slaughter, they will take what they want, and then they will go. They will be guilty of evil, of offense, but they won’t care. They only worship their own strength as their God. They worship power. They believe their might makes them right. They don’t fear divine reprisal. Rather, they say, with Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:15, “What God is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

This is God’s astounding answer to Habakkuk’s first question. And the answer is given to Habakkuk and to all of Judah. You ask, where is justice? God says, you ask why evil goes unchecked, why I’m not doing anything. I tell you, I am just as disturbed by Judah’s sin and injustice as you are and more so. And I tell you, I have been doing a work in response this whole time, a work so awesome you’ll hardly believe it. A nation that you never would have expected is coming with a speed, terror, and invincibility you would never have believed, and they will utterly devastate your nation with no one to stop them.

This is a pretty shocking revelation. To capture its effect, the effect it must have had on Judah, imagine some kind of parallel announcement given to America today. Imagine if God suddenly announced somehow in a way that was prophetically legitimate, yes I am terribly grieved and angry by the evil in America, its continual corruption, the rampant violence, the unending injustice, the unbreakable commitment to sexual vice, the unending slaughter of babies. I tell you, I am so grieved, I am so angry, I am doing something about it. But in a way you do not expect. I’m going to destroy America with some unexpected and brutal invader, or I’m going to bring about some overwhelming nuclear attack, or I’m going to cause some man or woman who gains power to ruthlessly discard the democracy and install a godless tyranny. I’m not saying that that’s what’s going to happen. But if we heard that, that would be a truly astonishing revelation, wouldn’t it? That’s something like what God declared to Judah through Habakkuk.

This is the kind of revelation that makes you tremble, that to some degree horrifies you. This is truly a burden of God’s judgment. This is the holiness of God. This is the zeal of God, the justice of God on display. He is a God who takes sin seriously. This is a reminder to us that we must take sin seriously. And it is also a reminder of how wonderful the gospel is, right? We will not ultimately come under the judgment of God for sin because of Jesus Christ. By faith and repentance of Jesus Christ, we are saved and safe.

But going back to our text, if we were in a conversation with God and He gave us a stunning announcement like this, we wouldn’t want that to be the end of the conversation, right? I mean, His answer to our first question would make us want to ask another question. It’s probably the same question that Habakkuk asks God in the final part of our passage. So let’s look now at verses 12 to 17.

Are you not from everlasting, O Yahweh, my God my Holy One? We will not die. You, O Yahweh, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their fishing net; because through these things their catch is large and their food is plentiful. Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?

What is Habakkuk’s second question to God? He started by asking in his first question, God why aren’t You doing anything? And God answered by saying, I am doing something that you don’t expect. And now we can summarize Habakkuk’s second question this way. Question two, God, how is what you are doing right? I mean, God, the treatment is worse than the disease. I’ve asked You to deal with injustice in Judah, but how can this be the right way? God, how is what You are doing right?

It’s like God’s first answer to Habakkuk is so unexpected and overwhelming that the prophet is literally staggered. He’s trying to find some footing again to make sense of what God has declared. And notice in verse 12, he goes really where we should all go when we don’t understand. He returns to what he knows about God’s character and promises. He even tells this to God and asks God about it rhetorically. God, are you not from everlasting? Aren’t You the One who is self-sufficient and unchanging? Your announcement cannot represent a mood swing or a change in who You are.

And notice the titles that Habakkuk uses for God in verse 12 as he appeals to Him. You are Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God. You will not utterly forsake Israel. You are God, Elohim, the powerful One. Your purposes will not fail. You are the holy One. You will never do evil, but only what is just and right. And then notice the personal pronouns attached to those terms. You are my God and my holy One. You are a personal God who loves and cares for Your people. Aren’t these all true of You, O God? Habakkuk asks. And then notice this. He uses those truths to sift through what God has declared and come to a certain conclusion. He says in the third line of verse 12, we will not die. So God has announced, Habakkuk knows, a blistering judgment against Judah, against the people of Israel. This is not Israel’s end. Habakkuk knows this.

In fact, what God has declared just now to Habakkuk is really what God already declared way back when, in the books of Moses, in the Torah. God declared even then, especially in Deuteronomy, that if Israel would keep turning away from God, that God would eventually send a judgment so severe that His people would be removed from the land and nearly destroyed. Even though God would bring them into the Promised Land, if they kept rebelling against Him, He would bring them out. But that wouldn’t be the end. God says that He would, even in Deuteronomy, He would preserve His people in exile. And when they came back to repentance, He would bring them back into the land. And the other Old Testament prophets then added to that message. The other prophets revealed that God not only would bring His people back, but He would restore the kingdom in Israel. It would be more glorious than it ever was. David’s seed would be back on the throne, and God Himself would rule from Jerusalem over all the peoples of the earth.

Thus Habakkuk knows this Chaldean assault is not the end. Judah will not be annihilated. Rather, in faithfulness, and you see Habakkuk go on and declare this in verse 12,

Yahweh has appointed Babylon to chasten and purge God’s people. The steadfast rock who is God, He is only bringing Chaldea to correct. In a way, this is exactly what Habakkuk and the godly in Judah have been praying for. This is the answer to their prayer. Yet, there’s still something about God’s mode of answer that doesn’t make sense to Habakkuk. And he expresses a new specific question to God in verse 13. God, how is it right that you would use Babylon to judge Judah? Habakkuk reminds God at the beginning of verse 13, God, You cannot look at evil with approval. You cannot ignore it.

Yet Babylon is a wicked nation, even more wicked than Judah, and more treacherous than we are. And if You cannot tolerate evil in us, which You shouldn’t because You’re a holy good God, how can You tolerate even more evil in them? How can You look on them with favor? How can You raise them up to have such great success and prosperity at the expense of others? How can you raise up Babylon to be Your judging force? Will You be silent at all of their evil, Habakkuk asks, at their raping, their murdering, their stealing, their oppressing? Holy God, how can You be okay with Babylon greedily and totally devouring nations more righteous than they are? That doesn’t seem to fit with Your character, God. How is what You’re doing right?

To emphasize the baffling nature of God’s revealed purpose, Habakkuk employs a striking picture in verses 14 to 17, a picture of Babylon as uncaring fishermen. Notice in verse 14, Habakkuk asks God why God has allowed men, namely the people of Judah, the people of the other nations standing in the conquering path of Babylon. God, how can you allow men to be accounted as mere fish with no protecting ruler over them?

Now, most people don’t care a lot about fish or the feelings of fish. I know that some of you here love to go fishing. And you probably don’t feel too bad or have any compunction at all about baiting fish, stabbing a sharp hook through a fish’s mouth, hauling that fish out of its home environment to suffocate on land, to get scaled, gutted, cooked, and eaten. Or in other cases, preserved and displayed on the wall as a trophy. Or in still other cases, sold for money so that you can sustain your family or buy yourself something nice. You don’t feel bad about doing this with fish. Most people don’t feel bad about doing these things to fish because, well, fish are fish. God hasn’t placed fish on the same level as people. Rather, God gave fish as food to mankind, another kind of food. It’s normal not to care too much about the feelings or well-being of fish.

But what about when people, people made in the very image of God, are treated just like fish or like some ruler-less creeping creature of the sea? In verse 15, Habakkuk asserts that that’s exactly how the Chaldeans have treated and will treat those that they conquer, like fish who have no feelings and exist only to be captured, sold, and consumed. And with this metaphor, Habakkuk may be alluding to an actual practice of the Babylonians. It is reported historically that the Babylonian conquerors sometimes stuck a hook through the lower lip of their captives and then led those captives back to Babylon attached to fishing lines. There are also ancient depictions of Babylonian gods taking away captives in nets.

Habakkuk points these things out to God. Holy God, this is what they do. These are their brutal practices. This is their evil attitude. Will You really use Babylon to afflict Judah? They treat Your people like mere fish to be hauled away. How can You tolerate that?

And worse, according to verse 16, the Babylonians then worship their fishing equipment. That is to say, if we’re following the metaphor and if we compare it to verse 11, the Babylonians worship their own power. They worship war. They celebrate and rejoice over all their unjust consequences because these things fill their treasuries and fill their bellies. Don’t you love just rampaging, conquering? Look at all the good it’s brought us. They love, they celebrate their evil. Habakkuk again points that out to God. God, how is it right that You use them to judge?

Finally, Habakkuk asks in verse 17, will You really let them get away with their evil? Look there again. He says, will they just go from sea to sea, lake to lake, river to river, snatching up more fish, hauling away more fish, roasting up more fish? Will you let them unfeelingly slay nation after nation? They are a people who do not spare. They have no compassion. Their warriors are ruthless. How can You, the perfectly good, faithful, and compassionate God that You have revealed Yourself to be, the God who keeps covenant with Israel, how can You abide such continuous and outrageous evil, especially against Your own people?

These are good questions, aren’t they? And maybe you have similar questions about what’s happening in our world or in your personal life. Maybe at first when you were assessing your circumstances, you thought God wasn’t doing anything. Everything was static. Nothing was changing. But then things started to change. God answered your prayer. God is on the move. But then when you look more closely, things are coming about in a way that you didn’t want or expect. And so now you’re asking God in your heart, God, how is what You are doing right? I know Your character and promises from Your word, but I don’t see how what You’ve revealed in my life fits with all that. And my heart is expressing that in grief and pain.

Take courage. Habakkuk had the same feeling, the same question about 2,600 years ago, and he brought that question to God. Now God would answer Habakkuk’s second question, and that answer will be an answer for us as well. But the answer was not total, and it did not come right away. And we’re going to learn more about that next time.

But for today, we must understand the first fundamental lesson from the prophet Habakkuk. When you or I are enduring an ongoing trial, and we cannot see what God is doing, we must still know that God is doing something good, even though it leaves us with questions that remain unanswered. It is okay, it is even right for us to bring our questions to God in our time of perplexity. But we must come in humble faith and not fault-finding doubt.

I hope you are not misunderstanding the nature of the questioning in this passage. There is a difference between righteous and unrighteous questioning, or we could say righteous and unrighteous complaining. And the difference is faith. Unrighteous complaining says, God, what are You doing? You have let me down, and now I’m not going to obey or trust You until You make things right with me. You owe me. That’s unrighteous complaining. But righteous complaining says, God, what are You doing? I don’t see how what’s happening fits with Your character and promises, and yet I know that You do have answers, and You will ultimately make things right. I will wait in faith until You do. As we’ll see next time, it is the latter stance that characterizes the prophet Habakkuk.

But we need to ask ourselves as we close which attitude characterizes us, which attitude characterizes you. Amid your ongoing trials, do you believe that God is doing something good? You do have remaining questions, hard questions, painful questions, but do you bring those questions to God in humble faith like Habakkuk does and wait for God to answer in His own way and His own time? That is the right way. That is the joyful way. That is the way of peace. We’ll see more about that as we continue on in Habakkuk, but that will do for today.

Let’s close in prayer. Lord, You are very good to us. And in times of prosperity or times where we see answered prayer, quickly answered prayer, Lord, we rejoice. That is Your kindness. That is Your faithfulness on a very obvious display. But it is not always that way. God, sometimes You have a mysterious purpose, an amazing purpose, where You are doing something that we do not expect and in a timing that we do not expect. And in those moments of waiting, God, we are sorely tempted to despair, to get angry, to say, God You have done me wrong. But You can never do wrong, God. And even when You afflict us, even when You afflict Your people, it is not because You are indifferent. It is not because You are cruel. Amazingly, mysteriously, God, it is only because You love us.

As Your book of Lamentations says, God, You do not afflict from Your heart. It is not from some evil purpose, but it is always a good purpose for Your people.Things work together for good for those who love You and You have caused to love You. So, God, as we find ourselves in more circumstances like that this morning, circumstances that do not make full sense to us, help us, God, to bring our questions to You and then wait, wait for Your answer, wait for You to show, this is what I am doing. Even if, God, that must take years, or even if, God, that must wait until we are in your presence, we know there is an answer and a good answer. You cannot do things wrong. You always do what is right.

We will rest in that. Yet, God, we also do pray, even as Habakkuk does, that these things that we long for, these things, Lord, that You have taught us to long for, for justice, for deliverance, for the turning of the people of this nation back to you, and even those who are around us that You have brought into our lives, God, that You would bring it about. Show us, revive Your work in our days that we may see it and You may vindicate our faith. Lord, glorify Yourself, and however and whenever You choose to answer, we will be, by Your grace alone, we will be a people who wait in faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.