“Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” — Habakkuk 1:5
As we make our way through life, sometimes the sinful choices of people around us will deeply affect us. Added to this, the Bible indicates that personal trials will arise to test and strengthen our faith. When such occasions come into our lives, we may be tempted to wonder whether God is still in control. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of America’s best-known poets, captured such thoughts in a poem that was later adapted into a beautiful Christmas carol.
On April 12, 1861, the American Civil War began. According to the American Battlefield Trust Organization, the war cost the lives of approximately 620,000 soldiers.1 Longfellow, who was very patriotic, was deeply affected by the war. Also, in July of that same year, he lost his wife of eighteen years in a tragic accident. Two years later, in 1863, his oldest son Charles, who was serving in the Union Army against his father’s wishes, was horribly wounded.
We get a sense of the inner struggle Longfellow felt as he wrote the following words on Christmas Day in 1863: “I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat, of peace on earth, good will to men!” A few stanzas later, the poem continues, “And in despair I bowed my head, ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men!’”
We could argue that Longfellow had just cause to despair, given all he had suffered. Yet, the poem continues with these words of hope: “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men!’” Longfellow’s words remind us that God is still sovereign and rules in the affairs of mankind, regardless of our individual outlook.
Habakkuk must have felt a similar mounting despair as he looked around at society in his day. Yet, he too found a solace in the God of the ages. In our text, the prophet spoke of feeling compassed about by wickedness, and mourning because iniquity, grievance, and violence were prevalent. However, God responded to his cry and let Habakkuk know that He was doing something that would cause the world to wonder marvelously. This passage is a good reminder that God is always in control of the events around us.
Perhaps you’ve suffered some great personal loss that has left you wondering whether God notices what is going on in your life. It may be that the tragedy is yet unfolding at this very moment. Take courage in the Lord! Like Habakkuk and Longfellow, you too will find that God knows what you are going through. He will comfort and reassure you. And perhaps through these very trials, He is producing something so eternally beneficial that your present challenges will fade into insignificance when compared to the end result, so hold onto your hope in Him!
In this first chapter, verse 1 is the title that Habakkuk applied to his prophecy, which originally would have been a manuscript. The prophet’s name occurs in only two places in the Bible, both times in this book. Very little information about Habakkuk is given in the Word of God, but whatever his background, at this point in history, God relied on this man to disclose His plans for the future of Judah — a future that included God’s coming judgment using the Chaldeans (Babylonians) as His tool.
Verses 2-4 contain Habakkuk’s first question to God, which was actually a lament rather than an accusation. Two different words are translated as “cry” in verse 2: the first is a plea for help, and the second refers to a sudden cry of alarm. Habakkuk expressed dismay that sinfulness and corruption had flourished unchecked in society. He questioned if this evident rise of iniquity signaled some level of disinterest on the part of God. It is clear from Habakkuk’s words that he correlated God’s apparent level of benefaction to the rate at which He quashed wrongdoing.
Verse 3 gives insight into the main characteristics of Habakkuk’s society — iniquity, grievance (misery or travail), spoiling (desolation), violence (injustice), strife, and contention (discord) were rampant. His statement that the wicked “doth compass about the righteous” meant that sin surrounded and was affecting every member of society, including righteous individuals who were not participating in it.
Beginning with verse 5, God responded to Habakkuk’s question by assuring him that judgment was coming. The word behold is an imperative command meaning “look up, see, or take notice.” God stated that this would happen “in your days,” which indicated that it would happen very soon, within the prophet’s lifetime. What God would do would cause those who observed to “wonder marvellously,” indicating onlookers would be completely astounded.
In the remainder of God’s response to Habakkuk, He explained what this judgment would consist of. Since the city of Babylon was in Chaldea, references to the Chaldeans were about the Babylonian Empire. Historians relate that the Chaldeans rapidly gained in power around 630 B.C. By 605 B.C. they had conquered Assyria, the former world power. In verse 6, the Chaldeans were described as “that bitter and hasty nation,” meaning that they acted on rash impulse, committing their fearful deeds without forethought.
Verses 7 through 11 foretold what the Kingdom of Judah would experience at the hands of the Chaldeans. God said the invaders would march rapidly through and take possession of the land. The phrase “their dignity shall proceed of themselves” (verse 7) likely meant that since the reputation of the Chaldeans was well-known, it would cause great fear throughout the land. The horsemen of the aggressors would ride faster than leopards, their attack would be fiercer than that of wolves that prowl at night, and they would come suddenly, like an eagle swooping down on its prey. With one vivid description after another, God indicated through Habakkuk that the invaders would cover the land like a sandstorm, and nothing would be spared from their onslaught, not even kings, princes, or strong towers.
God’s answer to Habakkuk’s question ends in verse 11 with a prophecy regarding the leader of the Chaldeans, Nebuchadnezzar. He would offend the one true God by crediting their military success to an idol. The whole of the message indicated that the events about to transpire were an outpouring of divine wrath, despite any human opinions to the contrary.
I. Prologue (1:1)
II. The dialogues
A. The first dialogue (1:2-11)
1. Habakkuk’s complaint of God’s inactivity (1:2-4)
a. His indifference to his prayers (1:2)
b. His indifference to sin (1:3-4)
2. Jehovah’s answer (1:5-11)
a. The fact of coming judgment (1:5)
b. The instrument of coming judgment (1:6-11)
(1) Their destruction (1:6)
(2) Their description (1:7-11)
(a) Their reputation (1:7)
(b) Their swiftness (1:8)
(c) Their warfare and judgment (1:9-11)
When we are tempted to wonder about God’s level of care, we can look to the example of Habakkuk as a reminder that God is working out His divine plan, even when the events around us seem out of control.
1 American Battlefield Trust, “Civil War Facts,” https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/civil-war-facts, accessed Sep. 1, 2021.