““Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!””
(Habakkuk 1:5–11 ESV)
Habakkuk had been complaining to God that He seemed distant, disconnected and slow to respond to the wickedness of the people. But God responds that He had already been acting – though Habakkuk could not see it. God is always at work, but we rarely see what He is up to. That is why we are called to walk by faith (trust) and not by what we can see (2 Corinthians 5:7). God was bringing the Babylonians to punish His people for their wickedness. What? Wicked Babylon will punish God’s wicked people? That certainly was not the response that Habakkuk was expecting. Verse 5 is far from a coffee cup or t-shirt verse (“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” ESV). Habakkuk did not have anywhere to file that – how could a loving and just God use such wicked people – people more wicked than the Jews – to punish them? This did not fit in Habakkuk’s (or our) belief system.
The next verse (6) tells us that God is raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians). What? God is the One who is raising up Babylon? The sweet sovereignty of God comes into crystal clear focus in this verse. God sovereignly rules and reigns over the earth – all people (even the most powerful rulers) are His servants. God guides history, it is not randomly unfolding. He orchestrates it to accomplish His purposes. He calls Cyrus His servant (Isaiah 44:28) as He determined to use him to deliver His people. Indeed, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” (Daniel 2:21 ESV). God’s answer to Habakkuk: The Chaldeans (Babylonians) which He calls bitter & hasty are the tool of judgement that HE IS RAISING UP! God orchestrates all things for His purposes. He knows their traits and uses them as His tool of judgement. When you are God you get to do whatever you want and what you do is always good, just and right! We aren’t God, but we want to accuse & complain as if we were sovereign.
The Babylonians were wicked and had no common decency and in their lust for power and dominance they abused their power and oppressed those under their rule. They were strong, swift and skilled warriors that could conquer opposing nations before they knew what hit them. Their violence exceeded that of the Assyrian’s and they had no regard for weaker kings and kingdoms. God was telling Habakkuk that this was what He was bringing to Judah – His chosen people. This was His tool of judgement. He was going to use a wicked people to judge His people for their wickedness. Only God gets to do that! We read this story separated by 2500 years in three chapters and it is easy for us to digest. Sit & think about what God is doing and what that would have done to Habakkuk.
Verse 11 tells us that their strength is their god. Most nations “depended” upon their superstitions and gods for victory, but the Babylonians were such proficient warriors that they had come to rely upon their strength to overthrow their enemies. Self-reliance on our strength or abilities (ones that God gave us) makes us glory thieves. There is nothing that we have that we have not received (1 Corinthians 4:7). Are smart, successful, compassionate, moral, wealthy, driven, entrepreneurial, patient, technical or __________? Those are things that God gave you. Don’t be a glory thief (Psalm 18:32).
If you find yourself wrestling with where God is in the midst of a difficult season, preach to yourself that He is never distant, disconnected or slow in acting. Wrestle through it, but walk by faith and not by what you see and feel. He is in control, He is working and He is doing good for His children. In the dark night of the soul, these are the truths that we need to preach to our downcast souls (Pslam 42) and beg God to awaken them!