27 October – 2 November 2019.
Like many other prophets, Micah saw the way that the people of Jerusalem had turned to evil to make a profit – robbing, cheating, stealing from the needy, and oppressing the weak and poor. Like other prophets before him, Micah warned the Israelites that God would not put up with this injustice but would punish them for their evil behaviour. The prophet Habakkuk now watches in horror as this divine punishment on Jerusalem slowly becomes a reality.
Whereas Micah saw Jerusalem’s destruction as a just punishment for evil, Habakkuk comes to God with prayers of lament. In his conversation with God, Habakkuk wants to know why God seems to have abandoned the Israelites in a time of so much suffering and violence. Where is God’s love and care for his people? But God doesn’t give the answers that Habakkuk and the Israelites may have wanted to hear.
In vv. 2–4 Habakkuk cries out to God describing the chaos going on in his country. Violence and evil are everywhere, people are suffering and living in misery, watching as the wicked outnumber the righteous and as justice is perverted even in the courts. But God, instead of giving a comforting answer, responds in vv. 5–11 by telling Habakkuk how much worse things are going to get. If the Israelites are happy destroying each other with injustice and violence, then God will give them what they love: he will send the mighty Babylonian Empire to violently destroy them and give them a taste now of what suffering and injustice are like. If Israel doesn’t want the true justice, fairness, and goodness that comes from God’s command of love, then they can have the so-called “justice” of a horrible conqueror that only knows and worships violence (v. 11).
Powerful Israelites filled their society with evil, hurting the weak and needy, using corruption, extortion and deceit to get ahead, destroying justice and fairness, and encouraging violence – and then they want to cry out to God when their society is left in ruins as a result. In Matthew 26:52 Jesus teaches us that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. If we are willing to make violence, meanness, and injustice the principles of our life, then we shouldn’t be too shocked when those same evils backfire on us. Israel’s bad example is a good reminder that we should stop and ask ourselves, too: What are the principles that we and our society are living by? Are they also the principles of violence, aggression, and unfairness? Or are we living by the rule of goodness, compassion, and love?
Pastor Stephen Lakkis