SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Habakkuk 1:1 through 3:19
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17–18)
Habakkuk wrote during a turbulent period of Judah’s history, likely during the reign of Jehoiakim, and shortly before the Babylonians’ siege and capture of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Little is known of the personal details of Habakkuk’s life; we are merely told in Habakkuk 1:1 that he was recognized as a prophet. The probable time frame of his ministry would make him a contemporary of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and possibly Zephaniah and Obadiah.
Verse 1 of our text describes Habakkuk’s prophetic vision as a “burden,” indicating that it was a message of destruction. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was deep in sin, and the prophet was troubled about why evil seemed to go unpunished. His perplexity and distress intensified when God revealed that judgment would come to Judah at the hand of the wicked Chaldeans (Babylonians). Habakkuk complained that the Chaldeans were worse than the people of Judah, with a reputation of aggression, cruelty, and horrible atrocities. He struggled with why God would use such an evil nation as His tool of judgment.
In chapter 2, Habakkuk determined to watch and wait for God’s answer to his questions. God gave him a vision (a prophecy or revelation) of events that would come upon Judah. He then pronounced five “woes” of judgment upon the Chaldeans, assuring Habakkuk that justice against that nation would be accomplished in God’s time and according to His plan.
Habakkuk responded in chapter 3. In his prayer, written in the form of a psalm, he sought revival, recalled various historic deliverances of Israel, recognized God’s power over creation and the nations, and rehearsed how God had previously delivered Israel through anointed leaders. Although the stress of the current situation remained, Habakkuk concluded with a declaration of trust in God and a proclamation of God as his strength.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- Habakkuk began with the searching question, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!” In the original Hebrew, the order and tense of his words reveal that the prophet’s question was an indictment of sorts. In essence, he was lamenting, “I have called and You have not listened!” In Habakkuk 1:3, what words describe the cause of the desperation felt by the prophet?
Your students’ responses should establish the setting for Habakkuk’s prophecy. Verse 3 references iniquity, grievance (misery or travail), spoiling (desolation), violence (injustice), strife, and contention. A contemporary rendering might be, “Must I forever see this sin and sadness all around me? Wherever I look, there is oppression and bribery, and men who love to argue and fight.” Clearly, Habakkuk was deeply concerned about the corruption that had flourished seemingly unchecked around him.
Point out that Habakkuk was not alone in feeling overwhelmed by circumstances. Many other Bible characters, such as Job, David, and Daniel, faced perplexing and desperate situations, and questioned God. Ask your group to share some present day circumstances that might cause them to ask God a question similar to the one posed by Habakkuk. Discussion could center on personal challenges such as losses, uncertainties, pain, and the struggle to thrive spiritually in a hostile environment. Alternatively, answers could revolve around a broader view of the injustices, violence, and ungodliness rampant in today’s society.
Wrap up your discussion of troubling circumstances by encouraging your group to do what Habakkuk did when his heart was overwhelmed — he poured out his feelings to God. That is still the best course of action when we face difficult situations. We never want to allow them to cause us to doubt God or rebel against Him.
- God often works in ways beyond our comprehension. He responded to Habakkuk’s question by stating in verse 5 that He would do something to cause onlookers to “wonder marvellously” — they would be completely astounded. In Habakkuk 1:6, what did God say would happen to the land of Judah?
God said the Chaldeans (Babylonians) would invade the land, and the independent and prosperous nation of Judah would become a vassal state.
It might be helpful to give your group some historical perspective. The phrase “in your days” in verse 5 indicated that the prophecy would be fulfilled during the lifetime of the hearers. History records that the Babylonians began a rapid rise to power around 630 B.C. Egypt, a former world power for centuries, was crushed almost overnight. By 605 B.C. the Babylonians had conquered Assyria, the previous dominant power, and had destroyed Assyria’s capital of Nineveh, ransacking it completely.
Though the prophesied events regarding Judah’s invasion were astounding, like all God-inspired prophecy they came to pass exactly.
- The prophet questioned why a holy God would use an evil nation as an instrument of judgment on His own people. However, in Habakkuk 2:1, he determined to station himself like a watchman on the wall and wait to see how God would respond. What attitude do you think was indicated by Habakkuk’s portraying himself as a watchman?
Your students’ responses may vary, but discussion should bring out that Habakkuk’s portrayal of himself as a watchman suggested an attitude of expectancy, alertness, and waiting. While his determination to “set me upon the tower” was probably a figurative reference to a place of prayer rather than a physical location on the city wall, the prophet had a purpose to wait and watch for God’s response. You may wish to point out that the words “I am reproved” in verse 1 do not indicate that Habakkuk was anticipating rebuke from God because of his question; in the original language, the words mean “counters my argument.”
Amplify your class discussion about watchmen by bringing out that a watchman had a view and perspective which was greater than what could be obtained from the ground. Clearly, Habakkuk wanted to be in the best possible position to receive the message from God that he knew would come in time. Bring out that when we pray and the answer does not come immediately, we should follow Habakkuk’s example. Circumstances, either personal or larger in scope, can sometimes obscure our spiritual vision. Purposing to watchfully focus on God instead of the troubling circumstances will help us be alert to His moving.
- God’s response to Habakkuk’s questions is recorded in Habakkuk 2:2-3. In what form did the answer come, and what assurance did it offer the prophet?
The answer came through a vision (a prophecy or revelation). It assured Habakkuk that judgment would occur in the future, and that God had an appointed time when what He had revealed would be accomplished. Point out that the word translated tarry in verse 3 means “be behind” and the implication was that fulfillment would come in God’s time.
There likely will come times when, like Habakkuk, we are called to wait for the Lord’s hand to move. During those times, we may gain a clearer perspective of what the Lord is trying to accomplish. However, even if we continue to be perplexed, we are called to trust the One who is above all we see and know, with the assurance that He is good and just.
You could amplify the class discussion by asking your students to suggest some strategies to employ during such times. Responses may include prayer, study of God’s Word, fellowship with other believers, sharing our burden with a godly friend or mentor, shifting our focus to others, participating in the work of the Lord, etc.
- God reminded Habakkuk that “the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). In the light of what was ahead for the people of Judah, why was this an important point for the prophet to remember?
Since the prophet himself would be impacted by the judgment coming upon Judah, it would be important for Habakkuk to remain unwavering in his personal faith in God’s holiness and justice.
Point out to your class that in our day too, God’s response concerning difficult situations such as persecution, suffering, vengeance, etc. may not be the one we hoped for. At times we may be called to simply endure. Whether or not we receive a comforting promise regarding the future, we must cling to our faith in a just God, trusting that He is arranging all things according to His purpose. Our part is to trust Him, knowing that His divine plan will always work together for good.
- List the five “woes” detailed in chapter 2 — the essence of the “burden” written and delivered by the prophet — which indicated that God’s justice would be meted out to the Chaldeans also.
The five woes can be summarized as follows:
- Habakkuk 2:6-8 — Woe to the greedy.
- Habakkuk 2:9-11 — Woe to the covetous who exalt themselves.
- Habakkuk 2:12-14 — Woe to the violent.
- Habakkuk 2:15-17 — Woe to the shameless drunkard.
- Habakkuk 2:18-19 — Woe to the idolater.
Your students should understand by this list that God will not countenance sin. The evils condemned in Habakkuk’s day will incur God’s judgment whenever or wherever they exist. One way or another, sin will always be met with God’s justice. You may wish to assure your group that as believers, we sent our sins on to judgment when we were justified through Christ’s atoning death on Calvary. Unbelievers, however, will face their sins at the Great White Throne Judgment, where justice will be delivered.
- In Habakkuk’s concluding prayer, recorded in chapter 3, the prophet entreated God for a revival of His work among the people of Judah. While his word pictures and historical allusions may not be entirely clear in our era, what clues can you find in this chapter concerning how to pray for revival in our day?
Class discussion could include the following points.
- The format of the prayer indicates an attitude of worship, and it is always beneficial to approach God in a worshipful manner.
- Habakkuk acknowledged God’s power and glory with reverential fear, and those who come to God seeking revival in our day should have a similar awe.
- The prophet referenced God’s working on behalf of His people in former days. When we pray, it is good to recall past blessings from God’s hand.
- Habakkuk stated that it was God’s work he was seeking and not anything else. Personal revival will only come when God is the sole focus of our prayers.
- The prophet expressed urgency in regard to timing. It was “in the midst of years” — the time period he was living in — that he needed God to work. Successful prayers in our day will also involve a sense of urgency.
- The prophet came in humility, acknowledging God’s wrath as the rightful response to the sins of Judah, but imploring God to remember mercy. Repentance was needed because sin was rampant in Habakkuk’s nation. In our day too, obstacles to receiving from God must be cleared out of the way before revival can occur.
- Habakkuk ended his prophecy with a dynamically personal declaration. Summarize his conclusion, given in Habakkuk 3:17-18. What do his words in these verses teach us?
A summary of these verses should bring out that the prophet’s words were an affirmation of faith. He was determined that even if devastation wiped out everything, his trust in God would remain unchanged, and he would continue to rejoice in Him.
Habakkuk’s words teach us that as Christians, our joy is not dependent upon our situation or circumstances because it flows from our relationship with God. His plan encompasses even our current situation and challenges.
- In the final verse of the book of Habakkuk, the prophet declared, “The Lord God is my strength . . .” and then went on to allude to the agility and balance of a deer in treacherous high places. What point do you think he was making with this illustration?
The agility and balance of a deer in high places is an illustration of the fact that God will give His followers surefooted confidence, even in difficult times and “dangerous terrain.” An all-powerful Creator, an interceding Savior, and the Holy Spirit as our Teacher provide the stability and agility we need in every challenging circumstance.
Conclude your class time by pointing out that in the first chapter of Habakkuk, the prophet had asked God why evil individuals seem to prosper while godly individuals suffer. At the conclusion of the prophecy, he seems to understand that in reality, this is not the case. He saw that God is in control of all events, and ultimately, His justice will prevail.
While we cannot see all that God is doing or will do in the future, we can rest assured that He is God and He will do what is right.