Habakkuk The Wrestler
Habakkuk 1:1 “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” Habakkuk’s name means “to embrace or to cling”. As I was meditating on the meaning of his name and the context of this short prophetic declaration, I found it almost too coincidental. Habakkuk is wrestling with God for answers and he is undoubtedly clinging to the Lord until He comes and answers his dilemma. Habakkuk begins this prophecy with a clear indication that the situation has reached the conclusion. He is recording the events after the fact. This whole prophecy is him relating an unfolding experience that he has had. It is his way of conveying to the people and to us what took place when he challenged the Lord. He has wrestled with the Lord and the outcome of that wrestling match is settled. As we will see in the final chapter, the outcome is satisfying to Habakkuk, but the process was, for him and as an example for us, can be excruciating.
Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And, we might add, “and sometimes even with God Himself”! I think there are a couple of points that it would do us well to consider concerning this verse as we approach our study on Habakkuk. First, it is assumed in this verse that we, who serve Jesus, are called to a wrestling match. We are professional wrestlers, not in the dramatic pretense of modern, so-called, professional wrestling; but we are called to a life and death wrestling match in an invisible world of angels, demons, and in the presence of Almighty God. Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be an exception. I have seen many Christians who went to great measures to avoid the call to the arena of spiritual warfare. I have even known Christians who denied that there was such an arena. I have often met Christians who, because they were literally exhausted with the battle, tagged out and thought the match was over for them only to discover that the enemy refused to back away.
I have also met a few Christians who have been in the arena with God. They have either challenged the Lord or been challenged by the Lord and have found themselves in a conflict with the will of God that left them limping away from the confrontation and surrendering to the inevitable call of God. The price was steep, but in the end unavoidable. God demanded their obedience. We recently did a study on just such an individual, Jonah. We could also look at Job, a man thrown into the crucible of the conflict without any consultation with the Lord or even knowing until the end that the Lord had singled him out for combat with the enemy. Or, maybe Paul is surrounded by the pricking, prodding call of God on the road to Damascus. Or, how about Jesus himself in the garden of Gethsemane, shedding blood, crying out, “If there’s any other way, let this cup pass from me and finally surrendering, “Not my will, but yours be done”. There is another event in scripture that comes to mind, Jacob wrestling with a man in Genesis 32. I want to look at that for just a minute because not many get the story right. Please take time to read Genesis 32, verses 22-31. Also, read Genesis 28:15 and Genesis 31:3. It is important as we consider the battle that is found in Genesis 32, to remember that God has promised that He will bring Jacob back into the promised land and that God will not forsake him until He has fulfilled the promise. Also, in Genesis 31:3 God told Jacob that it was time to return. Jacob is obeying God in returning to the promised land.
Notice in Genesis 32 that the first thing Jacob does is send all of his possessions and his family across the brook. He separates himself from all that he values and finds himself alone at the crossing place. Next comes the part of the story that many of us miss, Jacob does not start the wrestling match! In parts of the story the individual is called a man, in Hosea 12 the prophet calls the man an angel and also God. Jacob himself calls the place Penuel because he had met God face to face. God chose this fight with Jacob. There seem to have been a couple of major issues in Jacob’s life that God determined to finally settle once and for all. It becomes very obvious during the wrestling match that God could have defeated Jacob any time He wanted to because with just one touch He is able to dislodge Jacob’s hip. It almost seems that God wants Jacob to realize the full extent of his own ability. It also seems obvious that the most important thing that God wanted to accomplish in the battle, was an identity exchange. From Jacob (supplanter) to Israel (a prince with God).
In one sense, every one of us who names Jesus as Lord has had an initial battle and an identity exchange, but for many, there is a brook Jabbok in our past, present, or future. There seem to always be those of us who wrestle with the choices God has made for us. The path that He has chosen, or sometimes even the place that He has chosen for us. I Corinthians 12:18 says that God has chosen our identity and our place in His body as it pleases Him. The lessons learned in the stories of Jonah, Job, Paul, Jesus, or as we will see in our next series of lessons, Micah; is that God chooses our path and on the course of following our path, God chooses our battles.
There is a principle in scripture that I call divine delay. Abraham is a prime example, waiting decades for the promise. Not only did he utterly fail in the test of patience and trust, but he surrendered to the urgency of the situation and decided to take matters into his own hands. Abraham was established by God as an agent that would affect nations, “In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Incapsulated in that statement is inferred that in Abraham all the families of the earth will be influenced, for good or for evil. To this day, Abraham’s failure in waiting on the Lord’s time and his giving in to the sense of urgency has brought violence and hate and prejudice to the Middle East.
The Psalmist urges us frequently as an encouragement to wait patiently. Waiting patiently does not come easy to any of us and God seems most often determined to teach us this lesson and it seems the class is always called into session in the most desperate and urgent times of our lives. Faith and patience are tied inseparably in the life of a Christian, and James is amazing in his development of these two pillars. James 1:1-8 is a context, that very often is misunderstood because of the temptation to pull verse 5 out and set it alone as a complete thought, but it cannot stand alone. The offer of wisdom is not a free offer despite how often that has been implied. The price of wisdom is extreme, the offer is certainly generous in its content, but the cost is high. God will give wisdom to us generously if we will pay the price to have faith that is tried in the fire!!! If we seriously and fairly read the context, there is nothing in these verses that indicates that you can have wisdom without paying the full price.
Wisdom entails the accumulation of knowledge through experience and understanding through revelation Psalms 119:99 in the Passion Translation, “You have given me more understanding than those who teach me, for I’ve absorbed your eye-opening revelation”. Also, Proverbs 2:6 in the Passion Translation, “Wisdom is a gift from a generous God, and every word he speaks is full of revelation and becomes a fountain of understanding within you.” The principle is also seen in Ephesians 1:15-20, “Because of this, since I first heard about your strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your tender love toward all his devoted ones, my heart is always full and overflowing with thanks to God for you as I constantly remember you in my prayers. I pray that the Father of glory, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, would impart to you the riches of the Spirit of wisdom and the Spirit of revelation to know him through your deepening intimacy with him. I pray that the light of God will illuminate the eyes of your imagination, flooding you with light, until you experience the full revelation of the hope of his calling—that is, the wealth of God’s glorious inheritances that he finds in us, his holy ones! I pray that you will continually experience the immeasurable greatness of God’s power made available to you through faith. Then your life will be an advertisement of this immense power as it works through you! This is the mighty power that was released when God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him to the place of highest honor and supreme authority in the heavenly realm!”. Notice here in Ephesians 1 that Paul is prompted to pray this remarkable prayer for the Ephesians because he has heard of their “strong faith”. Wisdom is the living application of God-given knowledge through God-given experience and understanding/revelation of the purpose of God. Wisdom is the outworking of years of the Holy Spirit’s leading and guiding us into all Truth! Wisdom is the primary means of being led by the Spirit!!! It is through wisdom that we wrestle with principalities and powers on behalf of the Lord Jesus. Only through wisdom can we decern in such a way that we can continue to choose rightly the will of God! Philippians 1:9-11, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Habakkuk was wrestling with God to discover the will of God, the purpose, and the reason that God seemed to be standing mute to the evil that was rising in Israel and in the world.
Habakkuk 1:1 “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” Or as most translations say, “The burden that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” Habakkuk declares openly of himself that he is a prophet of God. He was likely an acknowledged prophet in the courts of the king. I want to look at 2 words that he uses concerning all that we are about to study, first, “the burden” and second “that he saw”.
The phrase, “the burden or oracle” is a phrase often used by the prophets to indicate a revelation from the Lord that brings a heavy responsibility. It literally means, “a heavy weight to be carried”. The burden of the Lord is not just a weight to be carried but to be delivered to a destination. The burden of the Lord is a message that the people are supposed to receive from the prophet of God. Unfortunately, seldom do the people lift the burden from the prophet’s shoulders, but rather the prophet often staggers away still loaded down with the weight of the message refused by those it was sent to. We see this, especially through the life of the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. The book of Lamentations is the aftermath of a burden refused. Jeremiah tried to tell the people that judgment was coming, but the people refused to receive and repent. Jeremiah is not celebrating fulfillment. He is not haughtily walking through the city of Jerusalem saying, “I told you so”, but rather he is walking through the streets weeping because the message has come to pass.
To declare “the burden of the Lord” falsely carries an extreme judgment of God. Jeremiah himself prophesied an everlasting punishment on those who falsely declare that they are carrying the burden of the Lord. Jeremiah 23:23-40 notice especially verse 40, “And I will bring upon you everlasting reproach and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.” Habakkuk would not have used these words lightly.
The other phrase that Habakkuk uses in the first verse is “which he saw”. Habakkuk does not describe a picture or a physical description of what he is beholding, but his words alone almost move us into the event of his waiting on the Lord and the emotional reaction that he has to what the Lord speaks to him. The words may actually mean that Habakkuk was in a visionary state of mind as the exchange happens between him and the living God. Perhaps this is why Habakkuk is moved to declare that he will not move from his watch until the Lord answers him. It’s as if he pictures himself actually sitting in the watchman’s tower as he is wrestling with the Lord.
As we notice when we read the prophecy of Zechariah, sometimes with the prophets it is indistinguishable to them and to us whether they are experiencing a vision or a dream. True visions in scripture are daydreams, as real as if the person were dreaming, except they are awake. The individual is actually seeing the vision, not just receiving an impression. At times just like with Paul they can declare, “whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell”. At times the prophets also do not or perhaps cannot distinguish whether the words come as a simple thought process, or whether the prophetic understanding is while in a vision. It may be that Habakkuk is not sure, or it may be that he is only indicating that part of this prophetic experience included a visionary experience.