Last night I began reading the prophet Habakkuk. A short book containing only three chapters it is unique in many way among the prophets in that it is primarily a theodicy. That is, it is a prophecy about the impending fall of Judah and Jerusalem and also the ultimate fall of the Babylonians at the hands of the Persians but the main thrust of the book is about how confusing God’s ways can be, how distant He can seem in our trials, how unexpected and even alarming some of His solutions to our problems or answers to our prayers can be.
The prophecy focuses on how Habakkuk processes this in his relationship with his God and finally comes to peace, trusting in God’s governance and care for the world.
In tandem with reading Habakkuk I was also following along in St. Cyril of Alexandria’s fifth century Commentary on Habakkuk. While reading the preface of the saint’s Commentary I came upon a line in which he expressed what he believed the purpose of the prophetic book to be. Using that statement as a template I ruminated on a macro-meditation of the book overall.
Here is the theme of Habakkuk according to St. Cyril, “While the present prophecy has also been developed for us with great wisdom and skill, we shall find it concentrating on God’s management of things in a way becoming the saints.” (St. Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, Volume 2, preface to Habakkuk)
In other words, the purpose of the book is to teach us by Habakkuk’s example how to question God’s theodicy and how to resolve it for ourselves as saints. In the beginning of the prophecy Habakkuk is very troubled by the injustice in his nation and asks the Lord how He can allow such things to continue, why won’t God step in and make things right?
“How long, O Lord, will I cry aloud,
and you will not listen?
After being wronged, I will cry to you,
and you will not save?”
(Hab. 1:2, Lexham English Septuagint)
He is taken aback and even more troubled when the Lord tells him how He will resolve the problem of evil in Judah. God will bring the even more wicked Babylonians to tear down the nation!
When Habakkuk questions God about the justice of this- yes, it is alright to struggle with God, to be angry with Him, and to question Him so long as it is done sincerely in faith and love- the Lord answers that He will eventually set the Babylonians straight as well.
The exchanges between the prophet and Yahweh continue until Habakkuk arrives at the solution recommended by the saints throughout the ages: we wait for God’s help howsoever it long it takes for He is our joy and our strength.
The prophet begins his final prayer with the mental and emotional anguish he has shown throughout the book as he questioned God and His ways throughout the prophecy,
“I kept watch, and my belly was terrified
from the sound of the prayer from my lips,
and quivering entered into my bones,
and from underneath me my body was stirred.”
(Hab. 3:16, Lexham English Septuagint)
But he remains in prayer until he finds his peace by abiding in a relationship of trust and love for God, leaving us an example to follow whenever we are ourselves troubled by the circumstances and trials of our own lives,
“But I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will rejoice in God, my Savior.
The Lord God is my strength,
and he will set my feet to an end.
He will cause me to ride upon the high places,
so that I might conquer with his song. “
(Hab. 3:18-19, Lexham English Septuagint)