Questioning God.

Are you not from everlasting,
    O Lord my God, my Holy One?
    We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
    and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
    and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
    the man more righteous than he?
You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
    like crawling things that have no ruler.
He brings all of them up with a hook;
    he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
    so he rejoices and is glad.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
    and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
    and his food is rich.
Is he then to keep on emptying his net
    and mercilessly killing nations forever?
Habakkuk 1:12-17 ESV

In this section, we have the beginning of the second exchange between Habakkuk and God. His oracle opened with him asking the question: “When? ” He wanted to know when God was going to hear his prayers and do something about all the wickedness and iniquity that surrounded him in Judah. But God answered Habakkuk’s question by addressing the issue of “How.” In other words, He simply told Habakkuk how He was going to deal with the people of Judah – by using the Babylonians. God didn’t give Habakkuk a time frame or a firm date. He just simply let the prophet know that He had it all in control. In the verses above, we have Habakkuk’s response. He asks the question: “Why?” He wants to know why God would choose to use a pagan nation like the Babylonians to punish His own people. He boldly voiced his concern to God:

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
    and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
    the man more righteous than he? – Habakkuk 1:13 ESV

Habakkuk is a man who is filled with inner conflict. On the one hand, he realizes that Yahweh is the one true God. He refers to him as everlasting or eternal. He even views Him as holy, gracious and compassionate, faithful to the end – which is why he is able to state, “We shall not die” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). Habakkuk did not fear annihilation at the hands of the Babylonians, but abject humiliation. He knew God would not wipe out His own people, but Habakkuk was struggling with why God would choose to use a wicked nation like the Babylonians to do His bidding. Over and over again, Habakkuk asks the question, “Why?”

…why do you put up with such treacherous people? – Habakkuk 1:13 NET

Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour those more righteous than they are? – Habakkuk 1:13 NET

Habakkuk goes on to describe the situation as he sees it. As far as Habakkuk could tell, mankind was no better off than the fish in the sea – easy pickings to someone like the Babylonians. He describes the fate of the people of Judah using helpless and hopeless imagery.

Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
    Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
    and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate?
Then they will worship their nets
    and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
    they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:14-16 NLT

There are actually ancient Babylonian monuments that have been discovered which depict what Habakkuk has described. Etched on these monuments are images of captured people being led along in chains, single file, with their lower lips pierced through with hooks. The Babylonians were known for worshiping or giving credit to the tools they used in their conquests. Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian tells the story of the Babylonian king, Xerxes, who was attempting to cross the Hellespont with his massive army by using pontoon bridges his engineers had built. But a storm came and destroyed the bridges before they could use them. In his anger, Xerxes had the engineers beheaded, but he also had the waters of the Hellespont flogged 300 times. Then he had shackles dropped into the water as a mark of enslavement.

Habakkuk finds it hard to believe that God would use pagan people like this to do His bidding. They did not honor Yahweh. They worshiped false gods and even gave undue credit to inanimate objects. Why would God, the faithful, holy, compassionate God of Judah, stoop to using such wicked people? And, because Habakkuk was convinced that God was going to do exactly what He had said, he asks one final question:

Will you let them get away with this forever?
    Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquests? – Habakkuk 1:17 NLT

Habakkuk understood that God was punishing Judah. He just was having a difficult time understanding why God was going to use a nation like Babylon. They were wicked, unjust, known for their excessive violence and renowned for their disregard for human life. Habakkuk knew God was justified in His punishment of wicked Judah. The prophet had even asked God how long He was going to delay in dealing with all the violence that surrounded him. But God’s chosen methodology caught Habakkuk by surprise. He just could not fathom why God would accomplish His will in this manner.

There are times in every believer’s life when they are forced to ask of God, “Why?” Those circumstances inevitably arise that cause us to question God, demanding to know why He is doing what He is doing or why He has not done something to stop what is happening. We struggle with our circumstances. We see what is happening to us as unfair or undeserved. And we either conclude that God doesn’t love us and has chosen not to help us or we wrongly determine that God is powerless to help us. But the prophet Isaiah has some timely words of warning for us:

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
    Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
    ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
    ‘How clumsy can you be?’ – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

We are free to ask God, “Why?” But He is not obligated to provide us with an answer or defend His actions by explaining Himself to us. He is God. He alone knows what is best. He can choose to do whatever He wants to do and use whoever He wants to use to accomplish His perfect, divine will. Habakkuk was going to have to trust God. He didn’t have a clear picture of how the story ends. God had not yet revealed the entire scope of His plan. What appeared to Habakkuk as illogical and unfathomable, was part of God’s just, righteous and sovereign plan for the people of Judah. We always have to remember that God’s plan is bigger and more comprehensive than what we can see at any given moment. We also need to recall that His plan is universal in scope. It is not limited to our isolated, individual life. His plan was bigger than Habakkuk. It was grander in scope than just the lives of those living in Judah at that time. God was looking down the corridors of time, with His eyes fixed on His future plan to send His Son into the world. He would be born into the tribe of Judah. Bethlehem, in Judah, would be his birthplace. He would do all of His ministry within the confines of that region of the world and be crucified outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. For all that to happen, God would need to spare the nation of Judah. This coming calamity was nothing more than a blip on God’s radar screen of history. God had greater plans for Judah. He had an inescapable destiny of destruction already planned for Babylon. But for now, they were going to be His chosen instrument to accomplish His divine will and bring about this portion of His perfect plan for mankind.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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