The book of Habakkuk is short but contains an important message for members of oppressed groups. The book opens with the prophet envisioning his people suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, an empire of ruthless oppressors. According to one source, the Babylonians were the terrorists of Habakkuk’s day. Their cruelty disheartened their enemies, who often lost their will to resist and oppose their oppressors (Bible.org). Habakkuk is appalled at the apparent injustice of God’s plan to execute judgment on Judah. The prophet must have thought, What kind of God would allow ungodly Babylon to punish Judah?
Habakkuk soon discovered that his vision represented only a small segment of God’s eternal plan. The judgment was sure to come, but harsh punishment would not persist because, along with judgment, repentance and mercy were also components of God’s redemptive plan for his people. The judgment was part of a bigger vision that would come in God’s time, but the prophet had to wait for it to manifest. The prophet’s written sermon gives the remnant a reason to hope and have faith in God’s outcome (Habakkuk 2:4), which is the central theme of the prophecy.
Hope in the old testament is a reoccurring idea. You’ll recall that the old Covenant depended on strict obedience to a set of laws. But scripture tells us that the people were stubborn and fickle and found unwavering obedience a strict standard. But God had mercy. At one point in the cycle of disobedience and punishment, scripture says that God remembered that the people were but dust (Psalm 103:13-14). Although God exercises judgment against his people, he also gives them a reason to hope.
As the Bible shows us, God did execute judgment against his wayward people, but he also gave them a reason to hope. In Jeremiah 29:1-13, Jeremiah informed community members that they would be in exile in Babylonia for 70 years. He cautioned them to follow their daily routines as generally as possible. The exiles were advised to build, plant, multiply, seek peace, and pray until the season of their exile was over. The prophet also told them that if they fulfilled the conditions God had specified for their captivity, God would bless them with well-being and, at the appropriate time, restore them to the places from which they came. Further, Jeremiah informed the people of God’s benevolence toward them. In an often-quoted scripture (Jeremiah 29:11), God uses Jeremiah to tell the people: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (KJV).
Jeremiah’s message of impending exile was not comforting for the exiles to hear. Along with the judgment, the prophet delivered a message from God. The people were to live in peace to the extent that was possible. They were to build houses, plant gardens, raise families, and seek the community’s welfare while in Babylon. These activities should not encompass pessimism, indifference, selfishness, or cynicism. Instead, they should continue with life with the reassurance that God had plans for shalom (peace) and not a calamity. Such plans provide the people of God with a future, and hope sustains the patience the people would need to wait for the Lord.
The prophet reinforces this message in Jeremiah 31:31-34, where God speaks about “the promise of a new covenant.” Verse 33 says, “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (NLT). The new Covenant represents a new relationship between God and the people of Israel. It is a covenant that foreshadows the coming of Christ.
In the present-day context, God remembers that we, too, are sinful people, often incapable of doing the right thing. God remembers that the hearts of many people are evil above all else (Ecclesiastes 9:3). Many people no longer consider themselves to be their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Many have no regard for common decency, and their desire for peace is nonexistent. They have become like dust and have lost their sense of humanity. Despite the shortcomings of humankind, God has announced through the prophet the desire to establish a new covenant with an emphasis on individual responsibility. This covenant would find a dwelling place in everyone’s heart and mind. And it would be passed from generation to generation. Not only that, as the result of this new covenant, all people would know the Lord.
God desires a new covenant relationship with us, in which the people of God are united in peace and love, not torn apart by artificial dichotomies and ideas. I contend that the relationship must stand firmly on a foundation of social justice. And social justice will have to take place one transformed soul at a time. This transformation comes through belief in Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. This transformation is a product of faith, for as Habakkuk reminded us, the righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).