Tuesday of Pentecost 17 – Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted.

1 I will take my stand at my watchpost
    and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

I am glad we heard Habakkuk on Sunday. I think we too often get a rather sanitized version of God’s Word in our Sunday readings. God sometimes says and does things which shock me and others. What I love about my Bible is that it shows me that people, even those whom God called as prophets, sometimes struggled in their relationship to God. They too had questions. That means I can be completely honest with God; I don’t always have to be happy or serene about God and His ways.

Like many people today, Habakkuk saw great injustice in the world around him. He wondered how God could tolerate this. Was an unjust war by a powerful nation upon a weaker nation the problem? Was in rampant thievery? Was it gang warfare in the streets? Was it a political system which seemed to benefit the wealthy and not the poor? Or was it something else?  Habakkuk does not say, only that justice is perverted, and violence surrounds him. Perhaps that allows us to plug in whatever we are seeing. It makes his complaint our complaint too. He wants to know how long God will let this go on. I find myself wondering the same thing some days.

Habakkuk utters his complaint and then waits for God’s reply. But here is the thing. There is a whole conversation which gets skipped over in our reading on Sunday. In response to Habakkuk’s words, God says he will do something. He will send the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to deal with Judah’s injustice, violence, and wickedness. Then Habakkuk wonders how God can use such a blunt and violent instrument like the Babylonians who are cruel and idolatrous. It is a response to this second question which Habakkuk awaits in the second part of this text. God’s answer is not entirely satisfying. The righteous person will live by his faith. “Trust me,” says God. There is a point when that is all we can do. He sent the idolatrous Babylonians to destroy the temple, sack the city, and exile the people of God from their promised inheritance. That trust would be rewarded with a return from exile and eventually the birth of the Messiah. But it was hard. It is hard to trust sometimes, but God calls us to trust.

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