Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Church Family > Sermon Summaries > 12 Jul 2008, Dr Barry Wright - God's Questioning Prophet

God's Questioning Prophet

12 Jul 2008, Dr Barry Wright

(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)


There are many today who struggle to reconcile a belief in a good and righteous God while living in a world that is full of turmoil and strife. It is even hard for those who have faith not to be bewildered at the many things that are happening around us.

Why do the wicked prosper?
Why does God allow the awful crimes that fill our news every day to go unchecked?
Why does God seem to be silent in times of disaster?

The 'why' questions about God can be of two types, both as equally troubling.

First, why doesn't God do something? When a loved one is dying, or people feel desperate particularly after they have prayed and nothing seems to have changed. It is then that they may be torn with doubt.

These kinds of 'why' questions would seem to grow out of a perceived belief in regard to God's apparent inactivity - His seeming lack of involvement.

The second type of 'why' questions spring from what God does, or seems to do. While it is recognised that not everything that happens is God's direct will, it would seem that at least God permits all that happens. When disaster strikes in the community or in an individual's personal life, the reaction is often: 'Why did God do this?'

Let me tell you this morning that there is nothing new under the sun. These same questions have been asked all down through history.

For those who now live in earth's last days - a time predicted by Jesus when faith would be hard to find on the earth, it is good for us to examine similar situations that have already taken place where we may find some answers to our questions.

Over two and a half thousand years ago in the Middle East we find a turbulent era of ancient history when the balance of power was shifting from the mighty Assyrian nation to the Babylonians (Lockyer, 1986: 450).

The world empire of the Assyrians was about to fall just as the prophet Nahum had predicted. We find in recorded history that Assyria's domination was to come to an end with the destruction of its capital city Nineveh in 612 BC. Egypt and Babylon were then to contend with each other in order to fill the vacuum or the place of power. Seven years later in 605 BC at the battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians emerge as conquerors and after joining with the Chaldeans were to unite under one king. This was to be King Nebuchadnezzar (Mears, 1983: 310).

This period of political upheaval was also a time of great apostasy in Judah and it would seem to those who were closely watching these events that God's people were next in line to fall before this great rising power to the north of their borders. Babylon was now on the march.

Apart from secular history, the above story was also to be recorded in a small Old Testament book only three chapters in length. It is a book often described by Bible scholars as a literary masterpiece whose main purpose was to point people of all ages to a faith in God and to His eternal purpose.

It is now that we find a young prophet beginning to question God as to why He is inactive in the face of the changing politics of power and the mounting wickedness now abounding in his homeland of Judah.

Who is this questioning prophet who seems to have the audacity to challenge the God of heaven?

All that we know about him comes from his book. His name is Habakkuk. It is a name that is derived from the Hebrew verb meaning 'to embrace' (Johnsson, 1986: 9) - a fitting name for one who seems to have totally embraced the Lord of Heaven in his life.

With the entire book being written in poetic form it was felt by Bible Scholars that he may have been one of the singers or choristers that were commonly found in the Jewish temple or, as chapter 3: 19 indicates, he may have even helped in the arranging of its worship services.

However, he is clearly a prophet of God and this is well noted in the first verse of chapter one of his book.

We also learn much about him as a thinker and a man of faith. This can be derived from our reading of his own words in this short manuscript. Additionally, we discover he was a contemporary of the man called Jeremiah who, at the time, was prophesying in the city of Jerusalem towards the latter end of the seventh century BC (Alexander, 1999: 502).

Habakkuk begins his book with a cry of anguish. Injustice is rampant. The righteous were not only surrounded by the wicked, but were being oppressed by them. His own people were living in open sin, many of which were worshipping idols and oppressing the poor. He believes the law is powerless and God doesn't seem to care about the plight of His people. This distressing situation was seen to be a dark, dark day for this young prophet and for his nation of Judah.

However, we need to keep in mind that while Habakkuk had some honest questions for God, they were to be based on a developing faith. He was not going to pretend these thoughts did not exist or that they should be swept under the carpet. Instead he tries to deal with them by taking his concerns to the one best qualified to provide the answers. This was to be God himself. Let's read his words in Habakkuk 1: 2-4 (NIV).

'How long, O 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 wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.'

Habakkuk would seem to be confused and bewildered. It looked to him that God was doing nothing to straighten out the conditions in the world around him that, at the time, were in horrific upheaval. Violence abounded and it felt as if God was doing nothing about it (Mears, 1983: 312).

It would appear that Habukkuk was battling with much the same problem as Job and the writer of Psalm 73 in that they showed while the good and innocent suffer, the wicked seemed to flourish. Still believing in a God that is just and good, Habakkuk asks his questions, Why God, why? (Alexander, 1999: 502).

We need to remember that these were not the questions of an unbeliever who had no faith in God, but of one who believed in God's fairness and wisdom. Consequently, this made it even more difficult to understand why the Lord of heaven and earth seemed inactive in the face of evil.

What was God's reply? Let's read Habakkuk 1: 5-11.

'Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
I am raising up the Babylonians {or Chaldeans}, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.
They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honour.
Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand
They deride kings and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them.
Then they sweep past like the wind and go on - guilty men, whose own strength is their god.'

There could be no question that God's response to Judah's sin was going to be sudden, it was going to be swift, and it was going to be soon. The extent and severity was to be a surprise to everyone. This shows how wrong Habakkuk's perception of God really was.

Far from being indifferent to the evils in Judah, God knew about it and was grieved at what was happening. Far from being inactive, He was acting according to His own divine timetable. Because justice was absent in Judah the land would be invaded by a violent enemy nation who were 'a law unto themselves' (Habakkuk 1: 4, 7).

God's answer horrified Habakkuk.

He could not understand how God would allow such awful means to bring about the punishment of his people. How could He use such a cruel scourge to destroy His chosen people? Surely God realized that their sins were nothing compared to these pagan Babylonians. This action seemed to run counter to the very moral order of the universe - a contradiction of God's holiness. From a human point of view, the intended invasion of the land and the captivity of the people would seem a tragedy.

However, God, in His reply, was telling His servant that his prayers were going to be answered, but in a way that he never expected.

God assures Habakkuk that the Babylonians will prevail, not because they are righteous, but because they are temporary instruments of judgment in His hands (Lockyer, 1986: 450).

Despite Habakkuk's horror at God's plan we now see him bow in submission to the revealed will of Jehovah. In Habakkuk 1: 12 he says:

'O Lord, are you not from everlasting, My God, my Holy one…?'

And then, with his faith reaching out beyond the forbidding prospect of the immediate future, he lays hold on the precious promises that reveal God's love for His trusting children, by adding, '…we will not die…'

With this declaration of faith, he rests his case, and that of every believing Israelite, into the hands of a compassionate God (White, 1943: 386)

You know, it is good to wrestle with God about the questions that perplex you - just be sure to stop talking long enough to listen. 

Habakkuk needed a right perspective on what God was doing in His world and although it is good to pray about these things, it is also good to 'be still and know that [He is] God (Ps 46: 10)

Habakkuk now waits for God to answer him. To do this he climbs a common watchtower where he says in Habakkuk 2: 1 '…I will look to see what He will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.'

The stance he has taken is one of readiness, expectancy and shows a posture of faith. Everything around him seems to lie in ruins and Chaldea is coming to destroy what is left.

On the watchtower he was to have a clear view of what was coming. High up on this lookout he now waits with bated breath for God's response.

And let me tell you, the assurance comes.

The Lord commences His reply in Habakkuk 2: 2, 3 and this is what He says:

'…Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.'

This revelation was to be written on permanent clay tablets in such a way that it was to be easily and smoothly read. The prophesied invasion of the Babylonians would not take place immediately and, as such, would appear to be false as time passed by and nothing seemed to be happening. But at God's appointed time it would come to pass. In the meantime the prediction was to be written down, making it plain for all to read.

God then continues His reply by pronouncing five burdens of woes against the Babylonians showing that He is fully aware of their wickedness. The woes He pronounces are not arbitrary, but are the natural consequences of the sins involved.  We need to recognise that inherent in sin itself are the very seeds of its own destruction.

God will not be mocked; the end of the Babylonians is as certain as the judgement they will bring on Judah. In all of this God will vindicate His righteous character 'For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea' (Habakkuk 2: 14).

God admits the wickedness of this pagan nation, but declares that they will destroy themselves finally by their own evil. Pride and cruelty always bring destruction. However, men will sometimes have to wait to know the final outcome as God may take long periods of time to reveal His plans. Always remember that 'One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day' (2 Peter 3: 8)

God also shows in Chapter two that He knew the sins of His people and that He would deal with them in due time as the prophecy made clear.

We need to remember that God is on the throne and everything is under His control.

Humanities arrogant pride would not go unpunished. Those who greedily grab what belongs to others; those who for selfish ends justify the cruellest means: those who destroy and dehumanise; those who give their worship to idols shaped by human hands will find their lives are forfeit, whatever their nationality (Alexander, 1999: 503).

These woes that were issued also show that God is faithful. His character has not changed and his word will never fail. It may not seem that way to us now, but one day His glory will be revealed in all the earth. He certainly has not joined sides with the wicked. When the final scores are added up, only those who trust in God and remain true to Him will live (Ibid). This trust issues forth from the assurance that God will guide, protect and bless those who do His will. In accepting God's answer, Habakkuk grandly affirms that he who lives by a simple faith and trust in the Lord will be saved, but the 'soul which is lifted up through its own wilful pride and perverseness in sin will perish' (Nichol, 1955: 1053).

Although God goes on to give Habakkuk further answers to his 'why' questions, the truth that is stated in Habakkuk 2: 4 is the essential ingredient to it all. 'The Just shall live by Faith.'

Christianity basically has to do with a personal relationship with the Lord. It is trusting Him in the darkness as well as in the light. It is holding on to God even when He does not make clear to us everything we would like to know.

St. Augustine once wrote that we should '…not rejoice in earthly reality, rejoice in Christ, rejoice in His word, rejoice in His law…There will be peace and tranquillity in the Christian heart; but only as long as our faith is watchful; if however, our faith sleeps, we are in danger' (Wiersbe, 1991: 603).

Dear friends, we don't have literal watchtowers to climb today as we look for answers, but spiritual watchtowers exist. We have the watchtower of prayer, the watchtower of earnest Bible study, and the watchtower of meditation.

We need to remember that the greatest problem that has faced man down through the ages is the love of sin. This is the real cause of scepticism and doubt. The teachings and restrictions of God's word are not really welcome to the proud, sin-loving heart, and those who are unwilling to obey its requirements are the first to doubt its authority (White, 1908: 111).

Habakkuk, in taking the high place as a watchman also became known as the watchful prophet and the prophet of faith. God's words recorded in Habakkuk 2: 4 were to become the heart of this book and were later discovered many years later by one of the leading protestant reformers in his study of the Book of Romans. Martin Luther's discovery of the biblical doctrine 'the just shall live by faith' originally came from his study of the apostle Paul's beliefs in the books of Romans and Galatians. However, this famous text is a direct quotation from Habakkuk 2: 4. Thus, in this brief prophetic book we discover the seeds of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This was to become part of one of the greatest reforms of the Christian church since the time of the apostles.

After hearing God's response and assurance Habakkuk now breaks out in a beautiful Psalm of praise to God in chapter three of his book. This song is believed by many scholars to be one of the greatest testimonies of faith found in the Bible.

In this Psalm Habakkuk reviews God's past work and recalls His greatness and power. In every era of Jewish history it seems that God was there to work for His people and He would not fail them now. The Babylonian invasion and captivity were going to be painful experiences, but God would use them for His glory and the good of his people (Rom 8: 28).

Habakkuk learns that he can trust implicitly in God. He realises that he can only see a small part of God's plan at one time. It is therefore important to wait for God to reveal His entire program at a time when He is ready and accept that God's way is best (Mears, 1983: 314).

God cannot always give satisfactory answers because our finite minds cannot grasp the thoughts of the infinite. His thoughts are above our thoughts, and His ways above our ways, but we can trust God always (Ibid).

Always remember that God does not promise that He will unravel every problem for us, but He does assure us that we can put our trust implicitly in Him (Ps 37: 5; 2 Tim 1: 12).

While we live in this sinful world, both believer and unbeliever will at times face perplexing personal questions, but they will be different. We need to recognise that the believer waits upon God for answers and put his trust in Him even though he cannot understand things clearly.

Dear friends, Habakkuk, the questioning prophet, was to start in the deep valley, then went up to the watchtower, but now finds himself on the mountains. We need to remember that faith always lifts us higher and will always make us happier. Even though we cannot always rejoice in the things of this life, we can always rejoice in the Lord.



Alexander, P & D   (1999)   The Lion Handbook to the Bible. Oxford, England: Lion Publishing plc

Johnsson, W. G.   (1986)   'In Full Assurance'  SS Lesson Quarterly. Warburton, Victoria: Signs Publishing Association

Lockyer Sr. H. (Ed)   (1986)   Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Mears, H.   (1983)   What the Bible is all About. Ventura, California: Regal Books

Nichol, F. D.   (1955)   The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Vol 4. Washington, DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association

White, E. G.   (1908)   Steps to Christ. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.

White, E. G.   (1943)   Prophets and Kings. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.

Wiersbe, W. W.   (1991)   With the Word. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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