WONDERFUL THINGS: Hope in difficult times
Can a rather obscure Old Testament prophet with a strange name help us amid the divisions and uncertainties in our country today? I think he can.
Habakkuk was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah around 600 BC. At this time, the northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered by the cruel Assyrians in 722 BC and carried into captivity. But by God’s grace little Judah, the southern kingdom, had been spared. However, Habakkuk looks at his country — the Israelites in Judah, the people of God — and he sees evil abounding. It’s the first complaint in his book, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise” (1:4). That is what is happening in Judah. Evil and injustice are thriving, and it seems like God is doing nothing about it. It breaks Habakkuk’s heart.
Good and easy times are not the norm for God’s people and really the world in general. Difficult times seem much more common in our fallen world. This should not surprise us. Difficult times make for difficult questions, and Habakkuk asks the question that has been asked for thousands of years in one form or another: “God, if you are so good and powerful, why do you let such bad things happen?" I love that Habakkuk asks God this question in prayer. It reminds us that God can handle our hardest questions. We do not have to fear to bring them to him — actually, he is the best one to bring them to.
Here’s where things get interesting. God answers Habakkuk’s question about why he is letting evil go unchecked in Judah. He tells him, “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 (2:5)."
God does see the evil in Judah, and he is going to respond in an unbelievable way. What is he going to do? He tells Habakkuk that he is going to send the Babylonians to conquer Judah! This answer makes no sense to Habakkuk. Why would God allow a people even more evil than the people of Israel to come and conquer them? How will that possibly make anything better?
So often God is working in ways that are simply beyond our understanding. All history is his story, and in this case, from the perspective of thousands of years, we can see how God is bringing amazing mercy out of all this injustice. What do I mean? Babylon will conquer Judah in 586 BC, destroying the temple and dispersing the Jewish people throughout the empire. However, in almost every major city of the empire the Jews will establish synagogues. These same synagogues will be the fertile soil in major cities where some 600 years later the gospel of Jesus Christ will almost always first be preached and welcomed.
In due time, the Macedonian Empire will conquer Babylon. Because of this conquest, the Greek language would become the lingua franca, the common language, of the known world. For the first time a book could be written in one language and be read and understood throughout much of the world. This opened the way for the Greek Bible to go to many countries.
Finally, the Romans would defeat the Greeks. With Rome came the pax Romana and an intricate system of roads and transportation. Because of this, the apostle Paul and others were able to take the gospel from Israel, to Asia Minor, to Greece, to Italy and finally Spain— and all throughout the known world.
Who could have seen this? That in allowing Israel to be conquered, God would be opening the way for his salvation to go throughout the world through his Son, Jesus. We must realize there is an incredibly good and eternal reason for everything that God is doing. Someday we will know what it is. Until then, we trust him, or as Habakkuk reminds us, “the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4). We continue to trust, no matter what the circumstances, in the goodness, wisdom, and grace of our sovereign God.
James Calderazzo is pastor of Safe Harbor Presbyterian Church in Destin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.