YHWH the Lord is My Strength

Written on: April 1, 2021

Article by: Paul Birston

Introduction to Habakkuk

There was a particularly hard year when my appreciation for Habakkuk grew immensely. Habakkuk’s resolve and capacity to face overwhelming events and discouraging prospects totally beyond his control yet with faith and trust in God, were particularly helpful in coping with multiple overwhelming situations beyond my control. I was, and am, inspired by Habakkuk’s courage and boldness to engage with God, to ask difficult questions, to listen to God’s answers, to wait in His holy presence, to humbly accept God’s will for the outcomes and to find strength in God, to “rejoice in the God of my salvation” (3:18).

God was clearly open to engage with Habakkuk too. We see this openness from both God’s and Habakkuk’s perspectives in the structure of their dialogue:

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Habakkuk asks big questions of YHWH (how long? why?) 1:1–4

YHWH answers 1:5–11

Habakkuk asks more big questions 1:12–17

Habakkuk waits & watches 2:1

YHWH answers and asks questions 2:2–20

Habakkuk prays & prepares for what is coming 3:1–16

Habakkuk exults & rejoices in YHWH His strength 3:17–19

We encourage you to take about eight to ten minutes to read through these exchanges with God.

Though Habakkuk began by asking God about what he perceived as God’s apparent lack of action on behalf of His people, God was clearly ready to explain. Habakkuk then listened carefully to God’s responses and humbly accepted His answers. Habakkuk prays, prepares for the future and rejoices in God in chapter 3 in the form of a psalm, a poem set to music.

Habakkuk looked around at the state of his nation and saw violence, disaster, destitution, strife, contention, Lawlessness, injustice, wickedness and confusion (1:2–4). It all sounds a lot like our world today which is one reason Habakkuk is perpetually pertinent and encouraging to us.

Following the reforms of Josiah, Judah slid back into old ways. In response, God gave Habakkuk a difficult job. He had to carry a “burden” to God’s people (1:1). This “burden,” “load,” a “lifting” (masa), refers to a message from the Lord, often a burdensome heavy message with ominous content. God was about to discipline Israel with “a grim and impetuous people” (1:6). Like many of his fellow prophets to Israel and Judah, Habakkuk’s convicting burdensome message of judgment from God ends with an exhortation of hope in Him.

What we know for certain about Habakkuk comes from within his book. Speculations beyond his revelation are inconclusive. Habakkuk is a servant of God. He is “the prophet” (1:1; 3:1), the eighth of The Twelve. While Habakkuk doesn’t give us specific dates for his work as Haggai and Zechariah do, the looming arrival of the Chaldeans places him after them days of Nahum and in the time of Jeremiah leading up to Israel’s multi-phase exile to Babylon in the late 600’s and early 500’s BC.

The Chaldeans were a Semitic tribe living in Babylonia. With the Medes and Scythians, they were God’s instruments to destroy Nineveh in 612 BC fulfilling Nahum’s burden. They defeated the Assyrian army at the battle of Carchemish ca. 605 (Jeremiah 46:2; cf. Ezekiel 30). After succeeding his father Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar II oversaw the capture of Jerusalem in 597 BC, its destruction in 586 BC and the deportation of the Jews to Babylon.

Looking at how Habakkuk braces himself for what is coming, he may well have written in this interim period before the final deportation: “I must wait quietly for the day of distress” (3:16). At the end of the day, Habakkuk has complete trust in God. He can exult and rejoice because “YHWH the Lord is my strength” (3:19).

Habakkuk’s Exhortations for Us Today

Habakkuk speaks to us today through eternally relevant exhortations and themes that permeate his book. We are grateful to our contributors for their insights from these themes in their articles on Habakkuk chapters 1 to 3. By way of introduction here is a brief overview of some Habakkuk’s precious truths to which we may apply our lives today:

Engage with God. Like Abraham, Jacob, Job, Moses, Isaiah and of course Jesus, Habakkuk engages in serious dialogue with God and wrestles with big questions about important issues globally, nationally and personally, especially about God’s relationship with His people. Abraham bargained with God. Jacob wrestled with God. He was tenacious in wanting God’s blessing. God changed his name to Israel, “one who contends with God.” Job asked big questions of God. Moses’ bold intercessions lead to God sparing his people. Isaiah reasoned with God at His invitation. Jesus was constantly Father-centred seeking God’s guidance and praying earnestly for Himself, His disciples and all who would believe.

God is just, even in the face of evil (theodicy, from Theo for God and dikaiosuné for justice).

Habakkuk asked questions of God we may ask today,

Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up

Those more righteous than they? (1:13c).

When we look at the long history of His world, God’s justice is ultimate. His justice, love and wisdom meet at the cross. Revelation graphically illustrates His final eternal justice. Habakkuk teaches us to look at that long horizon of glory beyond which God’s people are vindicated and in His peace forever.

Listen to God. After God’s first words to him, Habakkuk resolved, “And I will keep watch to see what He will say to me” (2:1b). This way of hearing by seeing occurs elsewhere in Scripture such as in John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 1:12, “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me.” We are blessed to possess God’s complete inspired Word from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 2:21 which we can see, speak and hear. Everything God decided to say to us He has. God’s Word is able to save us and fully equip us to live faithful lives of service and arrive safely home in eternity.

Live by Faith. “The righteous one will live by his faith” (2:4b; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:37). From the beginning in the Garden of Eden God has always wanted us to listen, take Him at His Word, believe Him and do it. Faith is one dimension of our justification: Abraham “believed in the LORD; and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). God requires us to “walk by faith not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Habakkuk did.

Wait on God in His holy and peaceful presence. In the context of the global and national chaos and idolatry before Habakkuk, God said to Him, “But the LORD is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him” (2:20). His words are reminiscent of Psalm 2, 46:10–11 and of course “the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:7a). In chaotic changing times, God is our unchanging Rock:

Are You not from time everlasting,

LORD, my God, my Holy One?” (1:12).

Trust, rejoice and carry God’s burden (oracle) to others. Habakkuk concludes by expressing his total confidence, trust, triumph, joy and strength in YHWH (3:17–19). With God’s strength he can walk surefooted with agility like the hind (female deer) on mountains with magnificent views. God can make us surefooted and agile too to carry His burden, His oracle, as Habakkuk did. The precious load we carry to others is the love of God and the saving gospel of Jesus.

I pray Habakkuk is a true blessing to you in times of peace when you are silent before God, and in overwhelming times beyond your control; that in both you will always be able to say, “YHWH the Lord is my strength.”

Winnipeg, Manitoba