Committed to Hope
Habakkuk 2:1–20; 2 Kings 23:35–37
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Name two challenges faced by Habakkuk in relaying God’s coming judgment on the nation of Judah.
2. Explain how the knowledge of the glory of the Lord is a valuable hope.
3. Express his or her eternal hope through one act of kindness in the coming week.
How to Say It
Chios. KI-ahs (I as in EYE).
Wittenberg. WIH-ten-berg or VIH-ten-berk.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, July 9—The Lord Loves Justice (Psalm 37:27–34)
Tuesday, July 10—Judah Becomes Egypt’s Vassal (2 Kings 23:31–37)
Wednesday, July 11—Habakkuk’s Complaint (Habakkuk 1:12–17)
Thursday, July 12—The Lord Answers (Habakkuk 2:1–5)
Friday, July 13—Woes Reported (Habakkuk 2:6–14)
Saturday, July 14—The Lord Will Act (Habakkuk 2:15–20)
Sunday, July 15—The Lord Is Our Strength (Habakkuk 3:13–19)
The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Why Teach this Lesson?
An older lady in the church where I served as a young preacher did not like to hear anyone question God. She felt it was a slap in the face of God to do so. Yet at least some of your students are questioning God right now. They have questions as to why the jobs they invested so many years in were suddenly taken from them. They try to raise their children in the Lord and wonder why they stray.
They also wonder if it is wrong to question God about such things. Today’s lesson will point them toward an answer.
A. Reformation Key
The great reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) was of humble birth. His father, Hans, was a copper miner. Hans used his modest wealth to educate Martin, with plans for him to become a lawyer. So the son entered law school. But God dealt with him in mighty ways, and he left legal studies to take vows as a monk.
Luther progressed rapidly to ordination as a priest at age 23, to a doctor of theology degree at age 29, and to a teaching post at the University of Wittenberg that same year. He quickly became the most popular teacher at the university. His lectures on Psalms, Romans, and Hebrews brought standing-room-only crowds.
Yet Luther was not satisfied with this sparkling career. He had no peace in his soul. He was overwhelmed by his sense of sinfulness before a holy, righteous God. The then-current practice of penance did not relieve this feeling but only added to it. This young man, idolized by hundreds as a Bible expositor, was wracked by his own sense of inadequacy and sin.
The religious teachers of the Middle Ages instructed that people were bound to God by their love. This love must reveal itself in deeds of righteousness—“saving works of merit.” For Luther such deeds were not a bad thing, but they did not relieve his feelings of personal sin.
Luther found his answer in Scripture. He discovered a verse from the ancient prophet Habakkuk that the apostle Paul used: the righteous person will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). Luther thus discovered that salvation was founded on faith! This was the key that set in motion the reformation of the sixteenth century. No longer could the medieval church attempt to control salvation, allowing access because of sufficient good deeds. Luther may not have understood everything perfectly, but he broke the back of a doctrinal monopoly that had made salvation a tool of the church rather than a gift of God.
The Bible teaches that we cannot earn salvation, for it is a gift (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Salvation through faith (as opposed to works) was not invented by Luther; he found it in Paul’s writings. But Paul did not coin the concept either; he found it in Habakkuk. This is not just a New Testament or an Old Testament concept. It is a Bible concept. This lesson will look at the roots of this way of understanding salvation by examining Habakkuk in its original context.
B. Lesson Background
There is no clear indication in the book of Habakkuk as to when that man of God served as a prophet. Outside the Bible there is a tradition that Habakkuk was a priest and prophet from the tribe of Levi. This tradition places him in Judah during the later career of Jeremiah and the early days of Daniel. This was a time when the Babylonians had begun to dominate Judah but had not yet destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. That destruction took place in 586 b.c.
The message of Habakkuk fits very well into this period, approximately 600–590 b.c. The ancient Jews held Habakkuk in high esteem. One of the most famous of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a commentary on the book of Habakkuk.
The form of the book is unusual among the prophets and more like the book of Job. The first two chapters are a dialogue between the prophet and the Lord. Much like Job, Habakkuk challenges God with some primary issues: Why do the righteous people of the world suffer? Why does God wait to punish evil? And how could God use an ungodly people like the Babylonians to punish Israel, his chosen people? The third and final chapter is a poetic prayer of praise and faith.
Habakkuk begins with the prophet’s complaint to God: Why does lawlessness prevail (Habakkuk 1:2–4)? In the pagan world the answer to this question was easy: there are good gods and evil gods. But among the people of Israel, with their belief in one holy God, it was much more difficult. If there is one God—a good and holy God—then why is there still evil?
God’s answer to Habakkuk is found in the next section (Habakkuk 1:5–11). God asserts that he is about to do something. He is about to bring the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonians) to punish wayward Israel.
Habakkuk responds to this with amazement (1:12–2:1). How can a holy God use such evil people in this way? In other words, Habakkuk is saying that the Judeans might have been naughty, but that doesn’t compare with the overwhelming evil of the Babylonians. This second question sets the stage for the second answer of God, which is where our lesson text begins.
I. Waiting for God’s Answer (Habakkuk 2:1–3)
In the Old Testament, one of the answers to the problem of evil is that we must “wait for the Lord” (see Psalm 37:34). In chapter one, Habakkuk thinks he has asked God a very difficult question. He now waits for his answer.
A. Habakkuk Prepares to Hear (v. 1)
1. I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
Habakkuk has gone to his watchtower to wait for the answer to his question, “God, how can you think of using the evil, violent Babylonians against your people?” Habakkuk expects that God should protect his nation from foreign threats, not support the aggressors. He admits his confusion and ponders what he should say to God when the answer comes.
What Do You Think?
On a scale from one to ten, how would you rate yourself in the category of “waiting for the Lord” for a patient answer to the questions you have asked him? What steps can you take to improve your score?
It is common for us to have tough questions about God and faith. Many people have wished they could speak to God directly, to get simple, satisfying answers. It doesn’t work that way, however. As Job said, “He is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court” (Job 9:32). We should remember that God is under no obligation to answer us. He does not dance to our tune.
Watchtowers, Then and Now
Watchtowers have played crucial roles in the history of defense and communication. Consider the Greek island of Chios (or Kios in Acts 20:15), in the eastern Aegean Sea. There a series of about 50 watchtowers, called viglas, were built around the perimeter of the entire island. From the top of each vigla, the watcher could see the next two viglas, one on each side. Any sighting of pirates or other enemies could be communicated quickly to the entire island (www.chiosonline.gr).
The southern coast of Spain was also once a prime target for pirates. During the Middle Ages, the Moors built a system of watchtowers. These towers could communicate with each other using smoke signals and fires. When the Christians conquered the territory, they kept the tower system and even strengthened it. The system worked well and could transmit news over large distances in a relatively short period of time. Watchtowers helped the populace avoid nasty surprises.
Habakkuk is not looking for an enemy attack while he is in his watchtower. Rather, he is alert for communication from the Lord. We would do well to make Habakkuk’s choice our own. We can climb into our own, private watchtowers, meaning we make time for daily devotions when we’re alone with God and his Word. This will make us more sensitive to his leading. This kind of a watchtower will give us the perspective to perceive his will more clearly. In a roundabout way, using our own watchtowers in this manner can keep us alert to attacks by Satan. —J. B. N.
B. God Prepares to Respond (vv. 2, 3)
2, 3. Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
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.
The Lord does indeed respond! But before the actual answer, God gives the prophet two instructions. First, he wants Habakkuk to write the answer in straightforward, unmistakable language. The image of a herald shows that the message must be shared with others. Second, God warns Habakkuk that he may need patience in order to see God’s plan worked out. Even though there may be a delay, it will surely come, God says. As Paul would say, “This is a trustworthy saying” (see Titus 3:8). Our impatience does not require that God alter his plan.
What Do You Think?
When we pray, we often have in mind the answer we want God to give us. Is that a good thing? Why, or why not? What guidelines will help us be ready for God’s answer if it does not agree with our expectation?
II. Hearing God’s Answer (Habakkuk 2:4–13)
The response of God is a comparison between two kinds of people. This is followed by three woes or curses against the proud person.
A. Pride and Faith (v. 4)
4a. “See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
The Lord’s answer is to contrast two human reactions to the dilemma. The first reaction is that of a person who is puffed up. This refers to the proud, self-sufficient person. His or her life is out of sync with the will of God.
4b. But the righteous will live by his faith—
The second reaction God describes is the kind he is seeking. The person with the outlook mentioned here does not trust in his or her own power. Instead, this person lives by an ongoing faith in God. Even in the face of trouble and seeming injustice, even in the shadow of looming national disaster, this person is unwavering in this regard. This is the person who surrenders the need to have all questions answered. This person falls back on the simple belief that God is in control and that God cares for him or her.
The effect of this answer is to rebuke Habakkuk and any who are like-minded. If we determine the questions that God must answer, then we have assumed the position of judge and inquisitor of God. God will not allow this. We are called to live by … faith, in full realization that we do not understand why everything happens. We take hope from our trust in God.
What Do You Think?
What secrets (if that is the right term) need to be passed along to younger Christians about walking by faith versus trusting self to do it all?
B. Behavior and Attitudes (vv. 5, 6a)
5, 6a. “Indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples.
“Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn.…
The language of this description is difficult to understand. But if we examine it carefully, we can identify five characteristics of the person who displeases God. First, this person is a drunkard. Second, this person is publicly proud. Third, he or she is restless.
What Do You Think?
How would you respond to someone who says that the use of wine (or any alcoholic beverage) could never become a problem in his or her life?
[Hint: make sure to consider texts such as Habakkuk 2:5, 15-16; and 1 Timothy 5:23].
Fourth, this person’s greed is as big as the grave; the person’s greed is never satisfied. Fifth, this kind of person desires to dominate other peoples and nations; thus the greed is not just for material things but for power as well. All of this describes the leaders of Judah, who are deserving of condemnation.
C. Thievery and Woe (v. 6b)
“ ‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
The first woe describes a dishonest businessman. Stealing and extortion are his trademark actions.
The Robber Barons is the title of a 1934 book that examines the “captains of industry” of the late nineteenth century. These captains included Andrew Carnegie (steel), John D. Rockefeller (oil), Cornelius Vanderbilt (railways), as well as financiers such as Jay Gould and J. Pierpont Morgan. Their entrepreneurial methods were often questionable and sometimes downright illegal.
For example, Rockefeller made secret agreements with various railroad companies in order to create an oil monopoly. He and fellow refiners in the Standard Oil Trust had their freight rates sharply reduced while competing refiners saw their own freight rates increase dramatically. The railroads then kicked back to Standard Oil a large part of that increase. Within just a few months, many competitors yielded to Rockefeller and joined Standard Oil. He was then able to control the price for all oil sales throughout the United States.
Vanderbilt was able to consolidate several rail lines into one, also using dubious tactics. Once when questioned about the legality of his business methods, he responded, “What do I care about the law? Ain’t I got the power?”
By squeezing out competitors, these aggressive business leaders were able to gouge the public without regard to ethics. They enriched themselves by taking advantage of powerless people. As Habakkuk phrases it, they were piling up stolen goods. But the Lord still watches, even in the twenty-first century ad. —J. B. N.
D. Reactions and Consequences (vv. 7, 8)
7, 8. “Will not your debtors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their victim.
Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed man’s blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
God says that the problem will not continue for long. Eventually the victims will fight back, and the thief will become their victim. God promises that this person will get his or her just deserts. Those whom such a person has abused will eventually turn the tables and repay the scoundrel.
E. Covetousness and Woe (vv. 9–11)
9. “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain
to set his nest on high,
to escape the clutches of ruin!
The second woe is directed to the kind of person who seeks to remove himself or herself from the problems of society by setting a nest (home) on high. This person thus wants to live in the fortress enclave of wealth, untouched by the poor and needy of the community. Such an attitude begins with the sin of being covetous.
10. “You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
From the safety of a fortress-home, the greedy, covetous person continues to oppress the poor. In so doing, God says this person commits a serious sin. In other words, such a person truly sells his or her own soul. Therefore, that person’s life is now forfeit.
11. “The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
Habakkuk warns metaphorically that the components of this person’s house will bring the accusation. This is because that lavish home has been built with ill-gotten wealth. Mighty stone walls are paid for by cheating the innocent. Massive ceiling beams are financed from the proceeds of criminal activity.
F. Violence and Woe (v. 12, 13)
12. “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by crime!
The third woe is a general condemnation against the violent, wicked person of power. A town built on crime and injustice cannot endure and will never be blessed by God.
13. “Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
The exploitative, ruthless leaders have driven the workers of their land without rest. The great city they have built (namely, Jerusalem) is for nothing, because its destruction is coming from the Babylonians. Thus the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, meaning it will be burned up and not endure. Even so, God hears the cries of his people, just as he heard their cries in Egypt as they labored to build the great cities for the pharaohs (see Exodus 3:7).
These series of woes explain God’s anger toward Judah. His holy people have perverted God’s gift of the land of Israel. Rather than use it for God’s glory and for his service, they have allowed human greed and pride to reign supreme. God has been very patient with them, but his patience has run its course. Now the only hope for correction is destruction of Judah by the Babylonians. This will cleanse it of this pervasive sin.
III. Hoping for God’s Glory (Habakkuk 2:14)
Like many passages from the prophets, the predictions of doom and gloom are not the last word. Habakkuk ends this section with a word of hope, looking forward to a time when there will be universal acknowledgment of the Lord God.
Visual for Lesson 7
Point to this visual as you ask, “How has today’s lesson increased your knowledge?”
14. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.”
Although often overlooked, this verse is one of the great texts of the Old Testament. It pictures in marvelous symbolic language a time when the earth will be flooded with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. This spiritual deluge will engulf all people. There will be no holdouts who continue to deny the greatness and majesty of God.
A theme found throughout Scripture is the coming day of universal recognition of our glorious God. Isaiah saw a future time when all would come and see God’s glory (Isaiah 66:18). Isaiah also looked forward to the day when every knee would bow to God and every tongue would acknowledge him (Isaiah 45:23). This scenario is repeated by Paul in Philippians 2:10-11.
In the last chapter of his book, Habakkuk looks forward to a time when God’s glory will cover the heavens and the earth will be filled with his praise (Habakkuk 3:3). This promise comforts the suffering saints of Habakkuk’s day and gives hope to Christian believers today. Centuries later, the apostle Peter will offer similar hope when he writes that we “participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that [we] may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
What Do You Think?
How does knowing that God’s plan will ultimately be fulfilled help you deal with situations in life in which evil seems to be in control? How do you need to grow spiritually in this regard?
Habakkuk ends his book with a grim look at the bleakness of many people’s lives. He knows there are times when “the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, … the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, … there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls” (Habakkuk 3:17). Even in these times, however, Habakkuk exclaims, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (3:18-19).
The life of faith means utter trust in God. It means that we serve him diligently. And, yes, it means that we work hard and enjoy life. But at the end of the day we continue in hope without fear, for we know that God controls the future, and we rest secure in him. This is what it means to live by faith.
Most of all, living by faith means that we trust in God for salvation. We do not fear judgment, for Jesus our Savior has prepared a place for us in Heaven (John 14:3). Martin Luther said that “the only saving faith is that which casts itself on God for life or death.” May we have that faith!
Thought to Remember
Live by faith, especially in the midst of evil.
God of Glory, may it be said of us as it was of King Hezekiah, that we “trusted in the Lord.” Forgive us when we doubt. Strengthen us when we believe. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, your only Son, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing