NEVER GIVE UP
By Lori Shuck
I had coffee yesterday afternoon with one of my dearest friends. In our conversation, she mentioned that she’d felt led to read in Habakkuk during her morning devotional. Not the most popular book for devotional reading, I thought. The passage that stood out to her was Habakkuk 2:1-3:
“[OH, I know, I have been rash to talk out plainly this way to God!] I will [in my thinking] station myself on the tower or fortress, and will watch to see what He will say within me and what answer I will make [as His mouthpiece] to the perplexities of my complaint against Him.
And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time and it hastens to the end [fulfillment]; it will not deceive or disappoint. Though it tarry, wait [earnestly] for it, because it will surely come; it will not be behindhand on its appointed day.” Habakkuk 2:1-3, The Amplified Bible
I am familiar with this passage since I’ve latched onto it before when I’ve had a strong feeling that God meant for me to have something I wanted, but might have to wait for. My friend mentioned that a minister used this passage and emphasized, “Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may read as he hastens by.” He encouraged her to write down things she was trusting God to do in her life.
I thought about the context of this Scripture as it resonated with me and I went home and read the three chapters of Habakkuk. I wondered, can we take liberties with Old Testament prophecies about the demise of ancient foes and kingdoms, apply them to our “front line of history” living, and hope to see the fruition of dreams and visions? I did some digging into what was going on during Habakkuk’s life, wanting to get a sense of what he and the Israelites were going through when he wrote.
I. Introduction to Habakkuk
“Habakkuk is the eighth of the twelve prophets in the Book of the Twelve. The Book of the Twelve Prophets was originally on one parchment roll because of the brevity of the text, and together formed one Book of the 24 Books of Hebrew Scripture. These twelve prophets were sometimes named the minor prophets, not because they are of lesser importance, but because their writings are brief. The Twelve include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
Habakkuk - חֲבַקּוּק was a prophet in the Kingdom of Judah, and his prophecy dates from about 600 BC, just prior to the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem.
Habakkuk is unique in that for the first time a man questions the fairness of God’s management of the world–is it really fair how those who are evil seem to win out over the righteous? Chapter Two is the Divine response–that in time the wicked will be punished, that it is for us to be patient in our endurance. Chapter Three is Habakkuk’s hymn of praise.
Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, who also warned that an invading country (Chaldea) would serve as the divine instrument against Judah (compare Habakkuk 1:6ff with Jeremiah 6:22-23).” 1
“Habakkuk” means embrace. Perhaps Habakkuk job was to show that it is necessary to let go of what he wanted for his people, trust that God would work out His massive, long-range plan, and embrace the sovereignty of that plan. Embracing God’s sovereignty takes the human ground out from under our feet and replaces it with a perpetual leap of faith. As we are performing this lifelong leap, God embraces us in His unseen but all-powerful arms. What an awesome dance partner!
I found interesting stories on Wiki worth sharing about Habakkuk. I haven’t read Bel and the Dragon or the Zohar, but according to Bel and the Dragon, Habakkuk “is instructed by an angel of the Lord to take stew to Daniel, who is in the lion’s den in Babylon. After proclaiming that he is unaware of both the den and Babylon, the angel transports Habakkuk to the lion’s den. Habakkuk gives Daniel the food to sustain him and is immediately taken back to “his own place”. 2
“According to the Zohar (Volume 1, page 8b) Habakkuk is the boy born to the Shunammite woman through Elisha’s blessing:
‘And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace (hoveket, therefore Habakkuk) a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, [thou] man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid.’” 3 (2 Kings 4:16.)
From biblechronologytimeline.com I gleaned:
“Daniel’s extended prophetic ministry can be dated approximately from 603 to 535 B.C.
A date, possibly about 630 B.C., but before the Chaldeans had become a power of some importance, would seem most appropriate for the period of Habakkuk’s prophetic activity.” 4
The prophet Elisha lived during the time after Ahab’s reign as king of Israel. One timeline states that Ahab was king from 874 to 853 B.C. Even if Elisha lived 100 years after Ahab’s reign (which is possible), that would be 753 B.C., which is still over a one hundred year discrepancy between his and the earliest approximation of Habakkuk’s time. Ultimately, the dates are speculative and such a shroud of mystery envelops Habakkuk, that it is possible that Habakkuk could have been the Shunammite woman’s son. It would not be hard to close a hundred-year gap in ancient history. It’s a cool idea, anyway.
I hope that gives you an interesting introduction to Habakkuk. The rest is what I gleaned from studying this fabulous book.
II. Write the Vision (because it will be a while before it happens)
There’s something official about writing things down and keeping them in front of you. Habakkuk understood that he would need to preserve the vision he wrote for future readers as it wouldn’t happen right away. Like Habakkuk, we can write our own words and words from others we want to see fulfilled. Whenever I read a significant Bible passage or quote from someone, I write it down and tack it up. Sticky notes and index cards paper the wall in front of me with Bible verses, inspirational quotes, lists of songs, checklists, book titles, goals, and sayings I like to think I came up with like, “Jesus is my Sponsor” and “Stay supernatural”. Journaling is also a great way to preserve our ground-breaking thoughts and desires. I feel contentment for deciding to put faith in God concerning my own desires every time I read back through journals I wrote ten or fifteen years ago and see fulfillment. This evidence of God’s faithfulness gives me the certainty I can continue to bring my desires, visions, and concerns to Him. It also reminds me that there is no need for me to fret about the overhanging shadow of achievement. Living a lifestyle of faith and relationship with God is an achievement.
III. Prophecy often seems ridiculous and impossible when given and seems to drag and be late–too late–in happening. But a wise man will live by faith–regardless of outward appearance.
Einstein taught us about the relativity of time. Yesterday, my husband, Brad, and I were talking about how weird it will be to live in the year 2020 and how futuristic it sounded in 1985. And it’s nearly here now. When God inspires prophets, He does so banking on one important scientific law: Time flies.
One commentator said Habakkuk prophesied about the coming of Jesus. I only found it in one verse:
“But [the time is coming when] the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
The rest of chapter two seems to give details about the Chaldeans (Babylonians) who were coming to destroy and conquer Jerusalem, which happened in 586 BC. If Habakkuk wrote in 600 BC, then he had to wait fourteen years to see the fulfillment of his prophecy. If he wrote in 630 BC, he waited for forty-four. (All this math! Numbers that go backward shouldn’t get bigger.) Habakkuk seemed appalled at God for letting these heathens come in and destroy his people. He let God know he did not like the prophecy.
IV. Being Honest with God
Habakkuk starts out complaining to God that He isn’t doing anything about the corruption in the land and the oppression of the righteous. Then God says, “Just wait until you see what I’ve got planned, Hab’. I’m bringing in this violent gang of marauders to wipe out everybody!” And Habakkuk gets nervous, thinking God is going overboard and says, “Whoa, God! How is this going to solve the problem of the good guys being bullied? It sounds like the Chaldeans will murder the whole bunch of us! How is that going to work? It sounds like these wild people will just go on slaying the nations forever!”
After he says this, he feels guilty. (He is Jewish.) So he goes up to his tower and get quiet and listen for God’s answer.
V. Watching and Waiting in the Tower to See What God has to Say
As is God’s way, He shows Habakkuk not only the far reaches of the ultimate doom of the existing Chaldeans’ but of the Chaldean–the king of Babylon. Chapter two transitions from plural (they and them), to singular (you, him, and he)–from human to spiritual–from Nebuchadnezzar and the temporal kingdom of Babylon to Satan. It is helpful that Habakkuk writes that he went up to his tower as this enriches the idea of looking down through the annals of the future to see how the upheaval coming to Jerusalem is but one of countless destructions devised by the ultimate enemy of mankind. I think Habakkuk 2:4 states the theme of the book:
“Look at the proud; his soul is not straight or right within him, but the just and the righteous man shall live by his faith and in his faithfulness.” (emphasis mine).
This also conjures a picture of Habakkuk embracing or clinging to God in faith.
Yes, this speaks of Nebuchadnezzar, but ultimately it speaks of Satan. Throughout history, he is crooked. He recruits crooked humans to do his work. We all have our turn in his workshop. But ultimately, Satan’s doom is sealed. He will pay. God wants Habakkuk to see this, to understand this. Yes, he will give the prophecy to the people–most likely on a plaque mounted in a public place, since God says in verse 2:
“Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by.”
It’s got to be visible for at least fourteen years. By the time the Chaldeans get there, the plaque will probably be a dusty, mossed-over part of the scenery. But when Neb hauls everyone through the streets to Babylon, they’ll see that plaque as they’ve never seen it before. Maybe it’s mounted on the courthouse wall beside the Ten Commandments. For some, it will cause them to curse God for letting this happen to them. For others, it will give them courage for what is ahead. Their God tells the future with deadly accuracy. When He makes promises and gives visions, He is looking through His telescope to the end of the story. Even though he is a true prophet of God, Habakkuk is still a regular human, and so looks only at the little piece of history that directly affects him.
VI. Remember, He is working on a grand scale and judges our successes and triumphs based on all He sees–not all we see.
There is a lot of toil on this earth. Most of it, futile. Verses 13-14 or chapter 2 explain this:
“Behold, is it not by appointment of the LORD of hosts that the nations toil only to satisfy the fire [that will consume their work], and the people weary themselves only for emptiness, falsity, and futility?”
Compare Habakkuk’s act of going up to his tower to get God’s perspective on his life’s work as a prophet to how we often plunge ahead into our work based on social media stats and what will make us the most money or garner the most praise or prestige. What mother ever got excited when her child walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom, I thought you should know God called me to be a prophet.” The cookie cutter has been pressing away for so long now in America that even the Mennonites look at the bottom line. We are so accustomed to the mantra of, “Go big or go home,” that we often forget the still small Voice in the tower. The One that draws our attention to the end of the story, not just our current, personal agendas. What a kind and unique God to do that for us!
We can be immune from the exhaustion of thinking we have to reincarnate until we get it right. We don’t have to play with Ouija boards or have our palms read. We can walk by faith. This lifestyle comes with useful accessories like God’s unique plan for our little lives. His assurance that everything works out for good–even the death of a child, for instance. How in the world does He do that? What about aborted babies? Abortion is now the number one cause of death. Nearly 1 million Americans die from an abortion every year in the US. Since 1973, at least 56.5 million Americans have died from an abortion. Deaths of Americans from Revolutionary, Civil, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam War approximate total? 1,110,563. 5
I’m not a fan of war, abortion, suicide, or death by disease. I’m not a fan of death in any form other than someone ancient dying peacefully in his sleep. Yet God promises to work through all our losses for His glory and our good if we keep trusting Him by walking the walk of faith. Somehow, He will work all the cruel deaths in history for good. If you are reading this and are considering having an abortion, please don’t do it. If you are looking for confirmation, billboards, or tea leaf messages, consider this to be your sign. You will regret it. It will hurt your baby. It is inconceivably cruel. Don’t do it. It will likely haunt you throughout your life. There are more peaceful ways to solve your problem.
We rarely understand how we turn the tide when we humble ourselves, turn from our unhealthy, wicked ways, pray for those who spitefully use us, give our money/time sacrificially, or listen to heart-broken people. Even just getting up out of bed again, trusting Him for a few more hours while our world seems to crumble or our child is dying or dead. Resisting hopelessness and futility one more time. We’ve got to remember that we are SPIRIT BEINGS living briefly in a physical body. That is a great quest. Even what we resist doing in our bodies can be as monumental as conquering kingdoms! Paul said our resistance can make the devil run! (James 4:7)
Recap: What I got out of studying Habakkuk
He says, look at Me. Do what I do. Listen to what I say. Walk in My footsteps. I’ve got this cool plan for your life. I want us to spend all your minutes together. I’ll give you amazing assignments that will seem impossible and will require a lifetime of faith and courage to complete. My plans for you extend far beyond your short tenure on Earth. I know you can’t comprehend that but what I’m working on with you on Earth will continue into eternity. It will all make sense there. Trusting Me and following Me in the meantime is faith, ultimately. I can carry you through any evil that comes your way–any heartache, calamity, loneliness, or suffering. Your story has a happy ending.
In chapter three, Habakkuk admits that God scares him. He recounts His fierceness when He brought the Israelites out of Egypt with His supernatural powers on full display. He admits that he trembled and his lips quivered in fright (v. 16). But then he settles down and says, “I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.” His faith kicks in, finally, and he says, “No matter what comes, no matter how tragic, I will trust God.”
“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult (dance a jig) in the [victorious] God of my salvation!
The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]! Habakkuk 3:18-19.
So, can we take liberties with Old Testament prophecies about the demise of ancient foes and kingdoms, apply them to our “front line of history” living, and hope to see the fruition of dreams and visions? If we are walking in faith, I don’t see how we can help it. God told Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you–plans to give you a hope and a future.” He shared a lot of details with Habakkuk about the future. And that was back in the inky blackness of BC. Imagine what He has to say to you, what with the Holy Spirit living inside you?