The Art Of Complaining The Biblical Way: the example of Habakkuk


We tend to say that all complaining is wrong, but is that really true? Much com;plaining shows a negative mindset especially when we are complaining about other people or indeed how God has treated us. I believe that Habakkuk shows us an alternative and that is to bring our complaints to God, Habakkuk is not the only Bible writer to do this as many of the Psalms show us. Habakkuk shows us how to complain to God while at the same time he worships and trusts this God. By the end of this little book we find that Habakkuk’s faith is strengthened although the situation has not changed.

Habakkuk’s first complaint: In his first complaint Habakkuk brings his perplexities to the LORD, listen to his words,

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.

Can you imagine the outcry that there would be if such a prayer was prayed in church, people would condemn it as a prayer of unbelief, but it is not that at all. Habakkuk has prayed and prayed about the situation facing Israel, but God does not seem to hear, so in his desperation he pours out this prayer. He sees evil prevailing, and God does not appear to be doing anything about it, we can look at our nations and see the same thing. When we look at where our nation is we can feel depressed. Here, Habakkuk is a model for us in our praying, he is absolutely honest with God, after all God knows how we feel, so praying nice prayers as though he does not achieves exactly nothing. We are called to be honest with God, this is not unbelief as many would tell us but an honest wrestling with God. In this day when we are told that we must always have a positive confession, Habakkuk’s praying seems distinctly odd. This complaint assumes that God is just and holy, and it is because of this that the prophet has a problem, why does not God do something? Very often at this point we express our frustrations to other people instead of doing like Habakkuk and taking them directly to God. Habakkuk makes his complain but then he waits for God to speak, he shows us a real example of listening prayer. The Lord does answer but in a way that increases Habakkuk’s perplexity! God seems to be saying things are going to get much worse because I am going to bring my judgement upon my people. God is going to use the evil Babylonians to judge his people, just as he said he would in the law (see Deuteronomy 28:49-57).

Habakkuk’s second complaint: Once Habakkuk had heard what the LORD had to say his perplexity increased, listen to how he addresses the LORD,

Lord, are you not from everlasting?
    My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
    you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
    you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
    Why are you silent while the wicked
    swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
    like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
    he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
    and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
    and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
    and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
    destroying nations without mercy?

I will stand at my watch
    and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
    and what answer I am to give to this complaint

Habakkuk starts his second complaint by acknowledging the holy character of God, yet in the light of what he knows about this he cannot understand how God can use the Babylonians who are more evil than the people of Israel, to bring his judgement upon his people. He looks at the pagan worship, the exploitation of others and yet the Babylonians live in luxury and God’s people are going to be judged. He looks at the situation realistically and just can not comprehend how this righteous loving God who is the rock can be doing such things. Although the prophet launches this second complaint we must notice that he always treats God with reverence, and it is that reverential fear of God that leads him to listen for God’s reply. In that second reply the LORD show Habakkuk that he will judge and maintain his righteous laws. In the midst of his judgements the Lord reminds the prophet righteous person will live by his faithfulness that his people are to be those who live out their faith when he says,

the righteous person will live by his faithfulness

This verse is referred to 3 times in the new testament, and on each occasion we are reminded that salvation is of grace not of works, but that the grace of God brings transformation. Yet poor Habakkuk is exposed to a revelation that he finds hard to accept but still he puts his faith in the LORD. after showing that his judgement will come the Lord says,

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth be silent before him.

Once again the prophet is reminded of the greatness of God and the need to be still before this great and awesome God. As Habakkuk is still before the Lord he starts to meditate on God’s acts in the history of Israel particularly the events of the exodus.

Habakkuk Worships God: Habakkuk says,

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

in saying this he declares his faith in a good God who is Holy and faithful, and as he reflects on what god has done in the past he asks God to renew his acts of grace. As Habakkuk reflects on the covenant keeping character of God, he suddenly finds that he is in the presence of God in a very tangible way,

I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

It is a Habakkuk realise the awesome presence of the LORD that his faith increases and we find Habakkuk saying even though everything will go wrong he will still trust in God. He is going to rejoice in his saviour  in the toughest of situations. Through the process of the complaints to God and the listening to him and encountering him the faith of Habakkuk is strengthened. We can learn a lot from this account because it calls us to be honest before our God voicing our complaints to him not other humans. As we seek God’s face we will sometimes be like Habakkuk perplexed but at the same time we will know that the Sovereign LORD is in control of all of history and when the Lord reveals himself to us we will rejoice in the Lord who is our saviour.

About pneumaandlogos

David Rollings was born in Luton in1949 and raised by my Christian parents in the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist denomination( Hyper-Calvinistic} in the sixties I rebelled against this background and got involved in left-wing politics. I became a Christian in 1969 and soon started reading Francis Schaeffer's books and came to embrace a Christian Worldview. I had the privilege of being on the staff of L'Abti Fellowship from1975 - 1979. After L'abri I studied at London School of Theology where I gained my BA.(1983) A few years later I studied for my MA by distance learning with The Nazarene Theological College Manchester (1999) For the last 22 years, I have been an elder of Shoreham-by-Sea Baptist Church. I also regularly attend the Christian Doctrine Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship.
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2 Responses to The Art Of Complaining The Biblical Way: the example of Habakkuk

  1. Yet what puzzled Habakkuk the most was that God was going to use them! Them… of all people! How could God use such a godless nation? Why would He do that?

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