The 4H Club, Part One: Minor with a Major Twist

September 19, 2014

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It’s easy to lose sight of him and his message.  His book is only three chapters long, after all.  But like all good short story writers, he dives right into the heart of the matter, packing  much in a small space and leaving his readers to realize that his book might have been small but his message is big.

You’ll find his book somewhere east of Proverbs but west of Matthew, sandwiched in between the minor prophets Nahum and Zephaniah in the part of the Old Testament that might be called Male Names You Would Never Name Your Son (Except for Joel or Amos or Jonah or Micah), and with that many exceptions maybe it’s best just to refer to them as the Minor Prophets as they have been known for centuries, ‘minor’ referring to length, not import.

His name is Habakkuk.  He is a so-called minor prophet with a major prophet message.

Habakkuk lived more than 2,500 years ago in Judah, the southern kingdom of God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  Judah’s last four kings (before Habakkuk penned his book) rejected God and oppressed their own people.  It didn’t take long for the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to run Judah into the ground.  Fear, oppression, persecution, lawlessness, immorality, debauchery – these were the signs of the times, and it seemed to Habakkuk that God seemed to be doing nothing to intervene, nothing to crush (or at least punish) the oppressors, nothing to save His own chosen people of Judah from the hands of those who had never sought Him in all their days.

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Millennia later, we can relate.  We open the paper or turn on the news to hear of ISIS and their plans for (literal) world domination through violence, fear, and force.  We read of parents harming their kids on purpose.  We see passenger planes shot down over Ukraine.  We remember the atrocities of 9/11.  We learn of the Nigerian girls kidnaped by Boko Haram.  We cannot escape knowledge of the sex slave trade and children taken from their parents’ hands to satisfy the warped cravings of strangers.  We hear about another suicide bomber in the Gaza strip.  We learn of increasing numbers of Christ followers being persecuted solely for their faith.  We see increased lawlessness among the leaders of the land and wonder when all of it will end.  We get the news of another beloved friend at death’s door, too young to be dying.

We dread whatever news is coming next.  We want to scoop up our families and find a place to shelter them from all the evil, all the carnage, all the depravity, but we know full well there is no such place, not on this side of Heaven.

And so Heaven is where we turn.  Some get angry and shake their fists at God.  If You are sovereign and You are good, how can You let this happen and keep happening?  Some grow weary and weak under the weight of it all.  I can’t do this any more, Lord.  Why does the bad seem still to be winning?  Is there no end?!  Some grow cold inside and turn from God entirely.  If He doesn’t care more than this, if He doesn’t care enough about me and us to do something to stop all this madness, then I don’t care about Him.

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Then there is Habakkuk.  He felt the weight of the crushing oppressors.  He saw the devastation of his people.  And he cried out to God.  But his cries were not cries of anger or bitterness or hopelessness or cold stoicism; they were cries of a beloved son of God who trusted His Father and knew of His Father’s love.  They were the cries of a man expecting to be heard, expecting to be answered, and knowing how to trust.

In chapter one, Habakkuk asks what any of us might be inclined to ask today:  “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear?  I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’  Yet You do not save.  Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?  Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises.  Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld.  For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.” (Hab 1:2-4).

Immediately, God replies.  In our cases, we might not get the answer to our prayers right away – or we simply might not hear it – but God always answers our prayers, and this one is one of the most comforting in Scripture:  “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days — you would not believe if you were told.”  (Hab 1:5, emphasis mine)

God’s response continues from there through much of the rest of chapter one and through most of chapter two.  His main message to Habakkuk and the people of Judah – and dare I say, to us – is Just. You. Wait.  I am here, I am coming again, and I have your back.  Just you wait and see.  I am at work here.

God’s response language is beautiful and detailed and instructive; I hope you’ll join me in reading it.  But the lesson is not over yet.  Habakkuk is, after all, three chapters long, and we’ve only looked at two.

In chapter three, Habakkuk prays.  Not just any old prayer, either.  He prays a stunning, heartfelt praise prayer as if to say, “I hear You, Lord.  I remember now that You are there, that You are in control, that You see everything, that Your will and Your word will come to pass.  Praise be Your holy name.”

Verse 3:13a says, “You went forth for the salvation of Your people.”  Is that not what He did when He sent Jesus to us?  He came forth for the salvation of His people.

And verses 3:17-19a, the last verses of the book of Habakkuk, remind us not to let our circumstances prevent our praising and having faith in God:  “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, through the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.  The Lord God is my strength.” (emphasis mine)

Habakkuk asked tough questions, waited for answers, and then praised.

Talk about a major message from an itty bitty minor prophet.

Godspeed.

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Today’s post is the first of a four-part series called The 4H Club where we’ll look at four important biblical figures whose names begin with ‘H’ and who are, perhaps, some of the more under-reported yet important folks in the Bible in terms of lessons to be learned from them.  Next Friday’s post will be  The 4H Club:  A Feverish Pray-er.  I hope you’ll join us.

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