“Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!” – Habakkuk 1:5-11 ESV
Habakkuk thought God was disinterested in what was going on in his world or had simply decided to do nothing about it. From Habakkuk’s perspective, God was not answering his calls for help or taking seriously his description of just how bad things had gotten in Judah. The place was filled with violence and sins of all kinds. Habakkuk saw himself as this isolated and lonely figure speaking the truth of God, but seeing no response to his message. And he was growing weary waiting for God to do something.
Then God spoke. He finally responded to Habakkuk’s impassioned pleas, but the answer He gave was not exactly what His despondent prophet was expecting. God was going to provide Habakkuk a glimpse into the unseen world of His sovereign plan. He would let Habakkuk in on the hidden and mysterious ways in which He works. And He tells Habakkuk “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV). In essence, God tells Habakkuk that if he had heard any of this from anybody else but God, he wouldn’t have believed it. This was going to be jaw-dropping, I-can’t-believe-what=I’m-hearing kind of stuff.
God tells Habakkuk that His answer to the violence and iniquity of Judah is going to be the nation of the Chaldeans, whom God describes as “bitter and nasty.” And God breaks the news to Habakkuk that He will be the one to raise up the Chaldeans and use them as a weapon of judgment in His hands against His own people. Now you would think that this news would not be that shocking or surprising to Habakkuk. He would have known of God’s dealings with the northern kingdom of Israel and their fall at the hands of the Assyrians. He would have been well aware of how God had used foreign nations to inflict judgment on the people of Israel during the period of the judges. And yet, God knew that Habakkuk was not going to believe what he was hearing. The very idea that God would use a pagan nation to punish His people was going to shock Habakkuk. It would sound unreasonable and unjustified. It would come across as unfair and totally unnecessary to Habakkuk, like a massive overreaction on God’s part. Which is why God clarifies that He is doing a work in Habakkuk’s day that was going to be unbelievable. The Hebrew word God uses is ‘aman and it means “to stand firm, to trust, to be certain, to believe in” (“H539 – ‘aman – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). God warns His prophet that he is going to have a hard time accepting what God is about to tell him. Habakkuk is going to be tempted to lose trust in God over what he is about to hear. It is not that this news is going to be astonishing, but that it will be unacceptable to Habakkuk. It is not what he wants to hear from God.
The Chaldeans were the last thing Habakkuk would have expected. They were Semites, descendants of Kesed, the son of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. But they were Babylonians, and would be the final dynasty to rule the vast Babylonian empire. Under the reign of Nabopolassar, this nation had already made a name for itself as a ruthless and unstoppable force, inflicting its will throughout the ancient Near East. And now, God was telling Habakkuk that this same nation would be used by Him to inflict judgment on Judah. And as difficult as this was going to be for Habakkuk to accept, it should not have surprised him. God had warned the people of Israel centuries before what would happen if they refused to remain faithful to Him. Deuteronomy 28 contains God’s promise of blessings and curses, and He was very clear in what would happen to them should they disobey His commands and turn their backs on Him.
“Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand, a hard-faced nation who shall not respect the old or show mercy to the young.” – Deuteronomy 28:47-50 ESV
The problem was that the people of Israel had not believed God. They really didn’t think He would do what He said. Somehow they had believed that they were immune to His judgment, that as His chosen people, they were protected from His wrath. But the people of Judah should have known better. They had watched their brothers and sisters to the north, Israel, fall at the hands of the Assyrians. They had seen God use a foreign power to enact justice and judgment on the people of God and take them into captivity. But they still found it hard to believe that God would do the same to them. The ways of God are unfathomable to us. His sovereign will is not only impossible for us to know, even when He reveals it, we find it hard to accept. The prophet Isaiah provides us with a sobering reminder of God’s divine power and perspective.
Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God—the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant? God sits above the circle of the earth. The people below seem like grasshoppers to him! He spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them. He judges the great people of the world and brings them all to nothing. They hardly get started, barely taking root, when he blows on them and they wither. The wind carries them off like chaff. – Isaiah 40:21-24 NLT
God went on to tell Habakkuk just how devastating the coming of the Babylonians would be. They were going to come like an unstoppable force, laughing at any attempts made to halt their progress. Fortifications would fail. Armies would fall before them. Kings and princes would become their captives. No one would be able to stop them. But God. He would hold them accountable. He would use them, but He would also judge them. He would allow them to have their way, but He would also make sure that they got what they justly deserved: His judgment.
It is interesting to note that the apostle Paul quoted from this very same passage during a sermon he gave in Antioch in Pisidia. He wrapped up his message with the warning:
Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: “‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.’” – Acts 13:40-41 ESV
Paul delivered this message to Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was appealing to them to accept Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. He was attempting to get them to not do what their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem had done: reject Jesus as the Son of God.
“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning him.” – Acts 13:26-27 ESV
And Paul warned them that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was real. His offer of salvation was legitimate and not to be disbelieved.
“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” – Acts 13:38 ESV
Then he quoted from Habakkuk, telling them that God was doing a work in their midst that they would find hard to believe. He was doing something that would seem improbably and impossible. But God’s ways are not our ways. His methods are not what we would expect. He had used the death of His own Son as the means by whichsinful men and women can be restored to a right relationship with Himself. Unbelievable? Yes. Just as unbelievable as the idea of God using a pagan nation to bring judgment upon the people of God. But Habakkuk was going to have to take God at His word and believe that what He was saying was not only true, but the only way in which salvation and restoration was going to come to the people of Judah. God assured Habakkuk, “I am doing a work!” And God is doing a work in our generation. He is not inactive. He is not distant or disinterested. But His ways will sometimes shock and surprise us. Our job is to trust Him and believe that what He is doing is according to His will and for the best interest of those whom He calls His own.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.