Exploring the Sovereignty of God in Habakkuk
Written by: Michael LeDuc
While reading the less tethered areas of my Bible, I spent some significant time in Habakkuk and was astonished at one particular theme of the book: God’s sovereignty. When discussing God’s sovereignty with believers and unbelievers alike, it is not common to head to this particular prophet to make a case. This is a brief outline and discussion of sovereignty as discussed in Habakkuk, and I pray it encourages you. The book itself is unique because it is God’s answer to Habakkuk’s personal and painful questions, not just a prophetic word to the people of Israel. Habakkuk’s questions are those that we find ourselves asking God in our own hearts, so let’s learn from Habakkuk’s passionate dialogue with our Creator.
[Since I am pulling from the entire book, I will spare some space and not put all the verses here on this page. So if you wish, take a few minutes to read all three chapters of Habakkuk, or follow along one section at a time].
First, we must understand that Habakkuk wrote down these inspired words during a particularly difficult time in Judah when the New-Babylonian empire had been steadily growing. Judah was under attack by the Chaldeans and even the people of God suffered at the hands of such violent men.
Habakkuk’s Complaint [Verses 1 through 4]
The questions comprised in this section consist of “will you not hear?”, “will you not save?”, and “why do you idly look at wrong”? Habakkuk’s concern is God’s apparent inactivity in the face of wickedness. He has been crying out to the Lord, but is not seeing God act. The wickedness Habakkuk describes is destruction and violence. These acts are ultimately a perversion of justice. “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted.”
We can hear these questions echoing in our nation amongst the people of God. We can apply this historic event to the most mundane parts of life and the most striking, horrific events that take place around us. We see racism, war, the murder of the unborn, and poverty. As we stare into the glaring eyes of injustice, we long for true and lasting justice and for God to act in times of desperation. If God is in control, why is this happening? If God is all-powerful why doesn’t He stop these injustices? If God is holy and good, why do these evils not only exist, but seem to dominate?
The Lord’s Answer: [Verses 5-11]
Sometimes when man poses a question towards God regarding His choices and actions, the answer might be, and deservedly so, “who are you, o man?” We see this in Romans 9 regarding God’s purpose of election and mercy in salvation. However, in this case, the Lord is willing to hear the complaints of Habakkuk and answer him. How does he answer him? He answers Habakkuk by conveying his complete, sovereign control.
We see in the Lord’s response that He is not idle. He is not inactive in the face of wickedness. In fact he says in verse 5, “For I am doing a work.” What is this work exactly? God is raising up the Chaldeans in order to “seize dwellings not their own.” God is raising up these wicked men who are doing horrific acts in order to accomplish His will. To this you may say: wait, God is raising up the New Babylonian Empire? Yes, the Chaldeans’ violence toward Israel is revealed to be part of God’s decree.
It is extremely important to note that what God has decreed does not take away man’s responsibility for the lawless acts they commit. The Chaldeans are used to carry out what is known as His decretive will, which is God’s sovereign decree. But they are still in direct opposition to His prescriptive will (or moral will), which is the summation of His commands and Laws. It is the standards of righteousness by which we are governed.
In verses 7 through 11, God goes into great description of how wicked these people are. They are “dreaded and fearsome,” “more fierce than the wolves,” and “they all come for violence.” The standard of justice they carry out is not God’s standard, but “goes forth from themselves.” In verse 11, God says they are “guilty men, whose own might is their god!” God uses them according to his decree, yet they are guilty. His decree does not excuse their sins. At times, God allows wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them.
Every transpiring event and circumstance occurs according to what God decrees. If any evil act occurred without God’s decree, then God is impotent. But the omnipotent God has decreed all things to take place, so we can know and be certain that no act of violence is meaningless or without purpose. God not only uses these acts of evil for our good (Romans 8:28), but to carry out His purposes which are right, just, pure, and ultimately for His glory.
Let’s briefly look at two other places in scripture to help harmonize these truths.
(1) “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
This portion of scripture comes from Genesis, which is recording the story of Joseph and his brothers. Driven by their jealousy and hatred, his brothers beat Joseph and sell him into Egyptian slavery. In Egypt, Joseph finds himself in a high, respectful position. Years later when he and his brothers are reunited, they realized their sin and desired to be reconciled with their little brother. It is at this point that we learn just how much Joseph recognized and trusted in God’s sovereignty. What the brothers did because of their own sinfulness, God had already ordained to accomplish His good will.
(2) “This Man (Jesus), delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:23 (NASB)
In Acts 2, Peter is addressing the people in Jerusalem after Pentecost. In verse 23, he zeroes in on the Jewish leaders responsible for the murder of Jesus. The greatest act of evil ever committed was the murder of the Son of God who lived a perfect, sinless life. Yet this violent murder, a horrific sin carried out by “godless men” was “predetermined” and “foreknown” by God. Revealed in both of these verses is the reality that God ordained the events to take place. He decreed the acts of the sinful man to accomplish His will. But these men were still responsible for their actions and were accountable to God. And we know the acts committed by these men accomplished God’s plan of redemption for mankind.
R.C. Sproul puts it this way: “Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty.”
Habakkuk’s Second Complaint
After receiving an answer from the one true God, Habakkuk is still perplexed over God’s answer and His plan. The prophet recognizes the truth that the Everlasting God is in complete control over the events taking place and the men carrying them out. The Lord “ordained them as a judgment” and “established them for reproof.” However, Habakkuk is having trouble harmonizing this truth with God’s revealed character. To Habakkuk, God’s actions were in contradiction to His character.
“You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” In other words, how could a loving God allow so much suffering? We are like Habakkuk and struggle with the same notions. It is a valid question that we all end up facing at one time or another: how does an all powerful God, who is perfectly holy and good, seem to let sin and wickedness reign and go unchecked? Habakkuk follows with a series of bold accusations toward God. Yet, God is patient with the prophet, and answers him again.
God answers Habakkuk by again declaring His complete control and sovereignty over His creation. Chapter 2 Verse 3: “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it testifies about the end and will not lie. Though it delays, wait for it, since it will certainly come and not be late.”
The vision mentioned here is the prophecy of the judgement of Babylon spelled out in verses 6 through 20. Verse three demonstrates two things:
1) The wicked men used by God to accomplish His will are seen as guilty, and will face God to be rightly judged for their wicked acts.
2) God’s perfect timing is promised.
The great preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon says it best, “To our impatient spirits, it seems long in coming; but God knows that it will not be a moment beyond the appointed time.” We often cannot see past our circumstances. The walls of suffering close in on us and we fail to see the work God is doing. We ask, “will you not hear?”, “will you not save”, “why do you idly look at wrong?” But all along, God declares “I am doing work in your days that you would not believe if told.” We may never know the end result and we never quite understand the means it takes to get us there. But our hope is that God ordains all these things to bring Himself glory.
One of the greatest sources of comfort is found in Chapter 2 verse 4: “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” God draws a contrast between the wicked Chaldeans and the righteous remnant of Judah. The wicked, even though used for God’s purposes, take paths that lead to death and defeat. The righteous may find themselves in evil circumstances, but they live by faith, and that leads to life and victory. This reminds me of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
God causes all things to work together for good for those who are in Christ. Those who are in Christ, are righteous because His righteousness is imputed to us. We are declared righteous when we put our faith and trust in Jesus and make him Lord of our lives (see Romans 3:23, Romans 10:9). God says to Habakkuk that the righteous who live by faith can trust in God’s promises, and know that God is either working all things for our earthly good or for our ultimate glorification. Paul doesn’t end his offer of comfort in verse 28. The next two verses stir in the believer even more comfort, assurance, and certainty of God’s purposes.
“For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.”
God not only predestined believers to be conformed to His image, but those He has justified, he will most certainly glorify. It’s as good as done. God has put his seal on those who believe in the Son.
Habakkuk’s Final Response
Chapter 3 records Habakkuk’s beautiful prayer in response to what God has graciously declared to him. It is filled with truths about the Almighty God. Here’s a quick recap by section:
- V. 1-7: Habakkuk offers high praise through theophany of God’s attributes.
- V. 8-11: God’s divinity and how He demonstrates his Lordship over the cosmos.
- V. 12-15 Habakkuk’s heightened understanding of how the Lord has absolute power over all of history. We see how God is just by punishing evil doers and that He is merciful in the deliverance of salvation to His people.
Perhaps Habakkuk’s changed heart is most notably highlighted in verses 17 through 19.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Instead of questioning God and his actions or boldly accusing God of debauchery, Habakkuk puts his total trust and faith in God’s complete sovereignty. Habakkuk understands the awful events he was facing do not change God’s character, nor should it change our attitude toward our Creator. Though at times God allows us to question Him, we do not cease to offer praise to Him, rejoice in Him, and glorify Him. Prosperity is not promised, only a life that is being conformed to the image of His Son.
Lastly, consider the words written by the Prophet Isaiah:
Remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
Do we believe that God declares the end from the beginning and that He will do what he has purposed? Can we heed the words of Peter and rejoice in the midst of our trials? Do we take to heart when Paul says that all things work together for our good?
Yahweh is the Lord of the cosmos, He has absolute power over history, He decrees and ordains all things to take place. Since this is true, we know that no act of violence, injustice, or wickedness is meaningless, but that it all is serving a purpose in the council of His will.
When you understand these truths and if you have put your trust and faith in Christ alone by God’s grace alone, you can say with Habakkuk in the midst of wickedness “yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” We serve a great God who is worthy of praise, honor, and glory. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36).