- Main text: Habakkuk 1:1-7; 2:1-4; 3:[3b-6], 17-19
- Accompanying text: Matthew 26:36-38
The depth of the prophet Habakkuk’s despair and deep sadness comes to mind when we read Matthew 26:36-38 (NKJ throughout), “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” Habakkuk was sorrowful and troubled, overwhelmed by the immorality and godlessness of his people. Thankfully for us, unlike the disciples who fell asleep, Habakkuk stayed alert to God’s presence, and, when he decided to “watch and see” what God would say to him (2:1), the Spirit revealed to him one of the most hope-filled messages of the Old Testament: a vision of God’s Deliverer who comes to intervene and to save.
Nothing is known about Habakkuk outside the book that bears his name. The beautiful poem which is chapter 3 implies that he might have been a composer or worship leader when it mentions “Shigionoth”, possibly referring to stringed instruments (3:1) The historical setting can be gleaned from the allusions to the Chaldeans (Babylonians) in 1:5-11, who defeated the Egyptians in 605BC and were the dominant power in the Middle East for the next 70 years. Given the state of Judah as described in 1:1-4, it is likely that Habakkuk prophesied during the reign of Judah’s final king, Jehoiakim, just before the nation is overrun by the Chaldeans, that “bitter and hasty nation” that would “slay nations without pity” — Habakkuk declares this as God’s punishment on Judah (1:5, 17).
The central message
The Hebrew meaning of the name “Habakkuk” is “embrace” or “cling to”, and his message is that in faith we hang on to or embrace the hope of God’s deliverance, no matter what. This idea begins in 1:13, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die”. There is hope because of who God is, the Eternal one whose saving power is everlasting. In despair Habakkuk cries out for God’s intervention, but, when he stands upon his tower (the vantage point of faith), Habakkuk rises above the hopelessness of what he sees around him. He understands, through the inner light of revelation, that what the Spirit will say in answer to his concerns is so important that it should be written down on tablets because it is of permanent value. Also, to make it so clear that any passer-by, even if he or she is running, can read it easily. Is there a message here for us in the way we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ? The fulfilment of God’s word to him may not happen in his or our lifetime, Habakkuk realizes, but let’s continue to embrace the message because it will happen. “The just shall live by his faith” (3:4), he explains, as quoted in Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38. In other words, God’s people live each day in their firm trust in God, in his presence, and in his promises.
It is in chapter 3 that the vision of God’s deliverance comes alive. It should be read aloud clearly and with mounting excitement. It is the triumph of faith, pure faith in the certainty of his coming. We can understand this as the return of Jesus Christ and the final establishment of his kingdom. Habakkuk understands that faith is not the substance of things seen (3:17-19) – “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation”.
In Gethsemane, when, on a human level, Jesus is weary in his soul, knowing that his hour had come when he would intervene in history and sacrifice himself for our salvation, he looked forward to the joy of sharing salvation with us (Hebrews 12:2). When we stand our watch, let’s look forward, as Habakkuk did, and let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
- Romans 1:17
- Hebrews 10:38
- Hebrews 11:1
- Hebrews 12:1-2