The agony of disappointment in what God allows, frustration over unanswered prayer, and confusion over how God works in the world has brought Habakkuk to a spiritual precipice. He has struggled with God’s perceived injustice, indifference, and inactivity. The blessed of God suffer while the cursed of God thrive. God has expressed His displeasure with everyone. Habakkuk needs to turn a corner or despair may set in.
His quiet meditation, combined with his agonizing prayers, over the course of time, finally yield a result: He has come to an understanding with which he can live. We know he has been meditating on God and His word because the thoughts of his prayer in chapter 3 come from several Psalms and from Deuteronomy. God has spoken to him from His word and brought Habakkuk to a place of settled peace. In this last chapter we hear his impassioned and triumphal cry.
We learn what godly people do when the pressure gets the strongest: they think on God’s past deeds, rehearse God’s great power and love, and worship Him. Often in the Psalms when David is writing a lament, the poem ends with praise. Praise seems to be the biblical model for the road out of despair and confusion. Though God doesn’t work in every era or life with the same clarity, deliverance, or individual help, it is wrong to begrudge that God doesn’t favor me. Not every faithful person gets blessed; not every trouble is cured in a snap. And yet we are still right to pray, “God help me. I’ve seen You do great things before, and I ask that You revisit us with your blessing.” But just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego declared in Daniel 3: The God we serve is able to save us, and he can rescue us from your hand. But if He doesn’t, we will still never bow down to the image you have set up.
Habakkuk prays for mercy in the midst of judgment. “Yes, we deserve to be punished, but do it quickly and bring us back to Your arms as soon as we have learned what we need to learn.”
In his meditations and prayer (vv. 3-7) Habakkuk sees God as righteous in His judgments, judicious in the exercise of His power, and deserving the glory due His name. He sees the dramatic contrast between light and darkness, splendor and sin, and true power vs. the corruptive power so common to humanity. He sees that salvation can only come by way of judgment, so we must trust the wisdom of God’s scalpel in where He cuts and how He will heal. His divine presence—one of the themes that pervades all of Scripture—is in the storm and the calm, denunciation and deliverance, destruction and restoration. We cannot afford to assume His hand is only in what makes people happy. He is in the business of making us holy.
Verses 8-12 constitute another section of the poem. The wicked should not be deceived: their prosperity is not a sign of God’s blessing. The wicked (whether the “people of God” living in sin or the sinners thinking they are getting away with it) are always objects of God’s wrath. We are not to judge God by today’s news or the circumstances that swirl around us; God’s sphere is action is far bigger than current events or even by our lifetimes. He sees the whole picture and is working out the macro-scheme as much as the micro-details. In his meditations Habakkuk sees how dreadful it is to fall into the hands of a justifiably angry God (Heb. 10.31). As God says in Hebrews 3.7-19, don’t think that because you have identified yourself as a child of God that He will put up with your rebellion and disobedience. Make it your business to ensure that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (Heb. 3.12). Help each other, stay close to the Lord, and enjoy His presence instead of His displeasure. The promise of entering God’s rest still stands (Heb. 4.1), so be careful not to fall short of it.
Habakkuk, because of his meditations on Scripture and his prayers, is beginning to see the truth he has been seeking (vv. 16-19). Peace is settling into his heart as he distances himself from the surrounding circumstances and the way his eyes and thoughts have misled his spirit. He is seeing the larger picture he has struggled for, and his patient persistence is paying off. God has not lost His grip, God is not ignoring His people, nor is God cavalier in His judgments. God is not to be assessed by our perceptions of current events or our limited and trite interpretations of our circumstances. There is a much larger picture of which we can only see a slice, and we need to trust the wisdom of God to deal the cards as they ought to be dealt. God will bring judgment when it is right; God will bring mercy when it is right, and it has little to do with what we may perceive as happening to us on any given day. It is not the loss of comfort and security that should dismay us, but the loss of God’s presence; it is not material blessings and freedom from troubles that should motivate us, but to experience the presence of God, come what may (Mt. 6.25-34; 2 Cor. 4; et al.) God Himself is all we need: our strength, our stronghold, our salvation, and our purpose for living. Take the world but give me Jesus. Questioning has its place, and doubts can motivate us to learn, but we find peace not in the answers but in the power, holiness, and presence of God. All that ultimately matters is God’s will and God’s kingdom. True joy is found not in a trouble-free life but in the presence and promises of God. That’s where our hope lies. We get tricked into thinking that the stuff of this life plays a part in our wholeness and happiness, that finding security in possessions, places, and roles is the significance of life. Instead, Habakkuk has found the place of peace where he can see God with clarity (cf. Phil. 3.7-14). It’s not that he is denying the reality of evil, the agony of pain or the griefs of life. Instead he understands what life is all about, what drives life, and where the true meaning of life is grounded: a relationship with the living God and being found in Him. The other things, though real, fade into the background, and we see life as it was meant to be seen (2 Cor. 4.17).