9th July 2023 – Habbakkuk

9th July 2023 – Habbakkuk

Habakkuk is a really interesting book, and it contains one of my favourite verses in the Bible, but we’ll come to that at the end.  We don’t know much about him, he was a prophet serving in the temple, possibly a contemporary of Jeremiah and Nahum, but this book, at least the first 2 chapters, is really a record of his conversation with God.  And it goes like this:

“God, I’ve been praying and crying out to you but you’re not listening.  Why aren’t you answering me?”

Ever felt like that?

I can’t be the only one who looks at that prayer box we pray every week and thinks, “why is this getting longer instead of shorter?”  So much sickness.  So much sin, violence, evil, injustice.  And we pray and we pray, and nothing seems to happen.

Some time ago, I think it was back in covid times or shortly after, those of us on Wednesday night Bible studies did ‘the prayer course’.  It was about how to pray, how to connect with God in that deep way, how to build prayer into our daily routines.  And that’s all great.  I think, as a prophet in the Temple, Habakkuk probably knew all that.  There was nothing wrong with his relationship with God, there was nothing wrong with his faith.  There is a second ‘prayer course’ which I’m happy to do with you if anyone is interested, called ‘the unanswered prayer course’.  Because there are times when it seems like our prayers are not answered.  But one of the first things he says in this, is that struggling with unanswered prayer is a sign of faith.

If you don’t believe in God, if you don’t believe in his love, his goodness, his justice, unanswered prayer isn’t a problem is it?  Of course, you think, prayer isn’t going to do anything.  Shrug your shoulders, move on.  But it is when you know that God does love us, he is good, he does want peace and justice to reign, then unanswered prayer is a problem, a challenge.  Then it makes sense to say, “why, God?”  Then it makes sense to say “where are you when all this bad stuff is happening?”

And Habakkuk had that experience.

But, eventually, God does respond.  Unfortunately, his response, to Habakkuk, makes things even worse!

Because while Habakkuk complains about the violence, injustice, ungodliness in Israel, amongst God’s people, God responds that he will do something about it.  He will judge the wickedness in Israel, he will punish them – but he will do that by sending an invading army from Babylon.

It doesn’t take much reading of the Bible to know Babylon is not a good place.  It’s pretty much used as a synonym in the New Testament for all the evil empires in the world.  Habakkuk was concerned about violence and injustice in Israel – well the Babylonians were much worse!  So our prophet is left with another problem.  How can God use an even more evil nation to judge a less evil one?

He had his answer to prayer.  God was going to intervene in Israel.  But he wasn’t going to do it in the way Habakkuk wanted.  It didn’t fit with what Habakkuk thought God should do, or who he thought God was.  How often do we do that when we pray?  To ask, while knowing what we think the answer should look like?  Or even if we don’t know exactly, we know what it shouldn’t look like!  For Habakkuk, and probably for us too, it certainly shouldn’t look like the enemy winning.

So the first thing we learn from Habakkuk is that God’s answer to prayer might not look the way we think it should look!

The second thing we learn is that we need to have patience, and leave the timing up to God.

God has a bigger picture in mind.  Babylon, in turn, will be judged, as all evil must be judged.  God, as we have heard repeatedly through the prophets, is sovereign over all nations.  While Habakkuk has been praying and thinking God is ignoring him, God has already been at work in Babylon, building up this army, and he still has plans beyond that.  It’s happening somewhere else, Habakkuk can’t see it, but God is preparing his answer.

And we get those verses of encouragement and hope: “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.”

In our prayer lives, how is our patience?  How is our perseverance, to keep praying when nothing seems to be happening?  How is our faith when we don’t see the results, or when the answer is not what we wanted?  What do we do, when God’s plan is incomprehensible to us?

Here is where trust comes in, isn’t it.  Trust not just in the answer to prayer but in the God we call on.  Life as a Christian isn’t about waving a magic wand and getting everything we want, but about who we are asking – faith in the character of God, his goodness, his love, his good will, plans and purposes.

We are going to watch a short video now, an interview taken from the unanswered prayer course, about one man’s personal journey with that question.


Habakkuk 2:4 tells us that the righteous will live by his faith.  In that video, we saw Bob Sorge (sorgie)’s faith that enabled him to have life even in those times when God didn’t seem to be answering his prayers.  And the book of Habakkuk ends with a prayer or psalm of praise to God, his presence and work in nature and in nations, his power to save.  And it comes to my favourite verses, as I promised, Habakkuk 3:17-18

Though the fig-tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

When problems and doubts challenge and trouble us, when prayers seem to go unanswered and we can’t understand what God is doing, it’s ok to take that to God.  It’s ok to cry out, to complain, to lament.  But as we seek God, as we praise God, as we hold on to the knowledge that he is good though we cannot see his goodness, he is merciful though we are not experiencing his mercy, as we respond to our trials in faith we can encounter God in a way that transcends our circumstances, and rejoice.

Let us pray.

Lord, it is hard for us to understand when you do not answer our prayers.  Like Habakkuk, we cry out against the injustice and violence and sin and sickness in the world, and ask “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?”  Help us by your Spirit to have confidence that you are listening.  Open our eyes to see the ways that you are at work in the world and in our situations, even if it is not what we want or expect.  And grant us the gift of faith that holds on to your promises and trusts and rejoices in you, whatever our circumstances.  In the name of Jesus who suffered and suffers alongside us for our salvation, amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.