The entire book of Habakkuk is a series of conversations the Lord and his prophet have together. Basically the prophet is complaining about how the Lord is running the world, specifically in how he’s ruling the nations. Please notice that nowhere does Habakkuk question the Lord’s omnipotence or sovereignty, his ability to do as he pleases. The Lord is working out his plans, and in doing so he’s moving nations and kings like pieces on a chess board, but still he’s doing so by moving through the free wills of people.
Let’s review what we’ve seen so far here. The prophet started out with a complaint to the Lord, pointing out all the injustice and corruption and immorality he sees in Israelite society. The Lord responded by saying he (the Lord) would take care of it by sending the Babylonians to invade.
Habakkuk was flabbergasted by this answer. What?! You’re going to punish my people. . . by handing them over to the Babylonians, who are thousands of times worse? This makes no sense! He doesn’t know everything about God, but he does know this: “[His] eyes are too pure to look on evil; [he] cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” And this would seem at first blush to completely contradict that.
My favorite quote from Ayn Rand seems relevant here: “Contradictions cannot exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” He knows (A) about God, and (B) what God has revealed to him seems to contradict this. Therefore, he concludes that he doesn’t know all the facts, so he does the wisest thing he could possibly do: He waits on the Lord (2:1).
And the Lord gives him an answer, or rather an answer with three parts. The first part affirms Habakkuk’s decision to wait on the Lord, to give him the benefit of the doubt: “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” You don’t know all the facts yet.
The second part of the response is tied to the first. Paul quoted it in a different context: “[The] righteous person will live by his faithfulness,” or as traditionally translated, “faith.” No matter how you translate it, the overall point is the same. In the end, the Lord will make a distinction between those who trust and obey him, and those who don’t. The former group will ultimately come out fine, the latter group—not so much.
The third part is found in vs. 20, which I skipped to in the reading because I didn’t want to make it too long. Bask in this verse for a moment: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” In other words, God is reminding the prophet (and everyone else) that the sovereign Lord over all creation is still in his temple. He’s still on his throne. He’s still in charge. He still knows what he’s doing. In the end, he'll make all things right.
There’s a time and place for bringing your complaints and concerns before him, and then there’s a time when it’s appropriate to just be silent before him. Job certainly learned this. He’d spent so much time and effort screaming against God, demanding an audience. And in the ultimate example of “Be careful what you wish for,” he got what he wanted. The Lord showed up, and instead of telling the man what had been happening in Heaven, he overwhelmed Job with an awesome display of his sovereignty, wisdom, power, etc. Job’s response?
“I am unworthy —how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer —
twice, but I will say no more.”
I’ve discovered in my life as a believer that when I visit with him in his “temple,” in other words when I spend time in his word and in deep prayer and in listening to the voice of his Spirit, he quiets my soul as well. Not as a bully or a tyrant who censors critics, but as the One before whose presence I can do nothing but bow.
Lord God, once again I find Job an excellent example to follow, and I’m going to do so—right now.