Behind our life the Weaver stands
And works His wondrous will;
We leave it in His all-wise hands,
And trust His perfect skill.
Should mystery enshroud His plan,
And our short sight be dim,
We will not try the whole to scan,
But leave each thread with Him
The prophet Habakkuk has often been described as the Grandfather of the Reformation because of his reference, unique among the prophets, to the great doctrine of justification by faith so strongly emphasized by the apostle Paul. It was, of course, from the Pauline epistles that Martin Luther learned this sublime truth. Very little is known of the prophet himself, but it is thought that he prophesied in the latter years of the reign of King Josiah.
The prophecy itself is sometimes referred to as a book declaring and dispelling doubt. It is also the story of a prophet’s deep perplexity. The situation in Habakkuk’s day was very similar to that of the present time: darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people. The whole world appeared to lie in the lap of the Evil One, and even the chosen nation so singularly blessed and favoured by the Almighty has wandered far away from God. The puzzled prophet cannot understand why the rebellious people are not punished, and in his bewilderment, he questions the wisdom of Jehovah. Here is the free thinker among the prophets, the doubting Thomas of the Old Testament, and there is certainly some reason for his doubt. The nation’s priests are hypocrites, her prophets are hirelings, her princes are oppressors, and as for the people themselves, they are stubborn idolaters. Why does not God send fire down from heaven to destroy them all? The prophet prays in desperation that the Lord will act.
“O Lord, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save! Why dost Thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth”. (Hab. 1:2-4)
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
The righteous appear to be engaged in an unequal fight with no possible chance of victory: the evil flourish continually as a green bay tree, but those who serve God are always being cast down: again the prophet in his trouble and perplexity turns to the Lord for an explanation of the silence of heaven. This time Jehovah, patient with doubting Habakkuk, even as he was with petulant Jonah, answers the prophet’s questions in some detail. Evil may perform its part upon the world stage in the blinding glare of publicity, ever occupying the limelight; but within the shadows God is silently working out His purpose as year succeeds to year, and is hourly keeping watch above his own. Gently the prophet is rebuked for his blindness, and is instructed to remember that the just man shall live by His faith. The servants of the Lord must learn to trust even when they cannot trace, resting secure in the unchanging love of Him Who never faileth. God is never a minute too soon, but neither is He a moment too late, and when His hour has come, He will act, and the powers of darkness shall become less than the dust. Just as we must walk by faith and not by sight, so we must be justified by faith in the finished work of the Risen Redeemer, and not by our own works or virtues.
THE CORNERSTONE OF THE REFORMATION
Here we have a brief glimpse of that sublime doctrine which was to revolutionize the Europe of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and was destined to shake the Holy Roman Empire to its very foundations. The coming of Christ to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself was to usher in the era of grace, when men would find favour with God, not by asceticism and mortification of the flesh, not by pilgrimages and indulgences or the manifold works of the body, but by faith in the world’s only Saviour. From henceforth, men would be justified with God by faith alone, and the ‘whosoever will’ might freely come unto Him. Here once again the Old Testament sowed the seed that was to come to wondrous fruition in the Testament.
THE TRIUMPH OF FAITH
The prophet’s response to the Divine revelation was amazing indeed. First came a recognition of the Sovereign power of Him Who had spoken: “But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him”. (Hab. 2:20).
Then follows a prayer for the success of Jehovah’s great purpose, and a testimony to the glory and majesty of the All Highest: “0 Lord . . . revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy”. (Hab.3:2).
“God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. And His brightness was as the light; He had horns coming out of His hand: and there was the hiding of His power. Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at His feet’. (Hab. 3:5)
The prophecy ends with one of the most sublime confessions of faith ever recorded. Evidently the prophet’s doubts had all been resolved, and henceforth he was prepared to trust God through sunshine and storm, through good or ill. If only we could reach that place, how happy we should be.
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Hab. 3:17-18)
So, the main lesson of this prophecy is summed up in the words of the poet shown at the outset of this article. (Courtesy Rev. Rash’s booklet “The Message of the Minor Prophets”