4 Reasons You Should Preach through Habakkuk
Seven centuries before Christ, God’s people were chronologically sandwiched between the horrific reigns of the Assyrians and the Babylonians. A prophet looked around at all the wickedness and wondered what—if anything—God would do about it all. The short, three-chapter book that we have as a result offers a great treatment of suffering and judgment, sovereignty and justice, and the proper posture before God for people who are in pain.
Preaching through this book will be of great benefit both to you as a pastor and your congregation. The themes contained in Habakkuk are as relevant as the daily news. But don’t just take my word for it. Allow me to call in four witnesses. You should preach through Habakkuk because of Epicurus, Luther, Leibniz, and Jesus.
1. You should preach Habakkuk because of Epicurus.
Countless people have wrestled with the problem of evil, though the most basic philosophical reasoning for the question is often attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.
His formulation was basically this: If the Christian God (who is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent) exists, then evil doesn’t exist. The rationale here is that if God were all-knowing, he’d know about all evil (as well as how to stop it); if he were all-powerful, he could stop evil; and if he were all-loving he would desire to stop evil. However, Epicurus observed, evil persists. Therefore, there either is no God or it’s not the God the Christians claim.
Pastor, as you know, Epicurus wasn’t the last to grapple with this issue. Your church is packed with people who have struggled, will struggle, or are currently struggling with the mental anguish of living life in a fallen world. The faithful professional wonders why he lost his job when he did everything right. The new mother agonizes over the inability to get one good night of sleep so she can have a decent morning devotional. The Christian collegian struggles with being ridiculed by classmates and critically graded by an antagonistic professor. And on and on we could go. Where is God when things aren’t going how we expect them to as faithful followers of Christ?
Habakkuk begins with such questions before God (Hab 1:1–4). The prophet looked around him and saw nothing but violence and injustice and oppression. He called out to God for help, but it seemed to him like God was silent. Evil persists and God seems inactive. Or at least this is the perception Habakkuk has at the beginning of the book.
You should preach Habakkuk because of Epicurus. Or, more to the point, you should preach Habakkuk because it will give you a great pastoral opportunity to talk about the problem of evil and shepherd your people through pain and confusion.
2. You should preach Habakkuk because of Luther.
Habakkuk is something of a “Q&A with God.” The prophet poses a question in 1:1–4, and God responds in 1:5–11. Habakkuk offers a rejoinder in 1:5–2:1 before God gives a final reply in the rest of Chapter 2. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer in response to all that’s taken place.
What does all of this have to do with Martin Luther? Quite a lot, actually. God’s second reply to Habakkuk contains a line that will be thrice quoted in the New Testament (Gal 3:11; Rom 1:17; Heb 10:37–38)—a line that would arrest the German monk and become known by many as “the Reformation verse.”
As you may know, Luther as the Catholic Monk hated the idea of the righteousness of God. Instructed by his professors and priests in God’s righteous wrath toward the unrighteous sinner, Luther lived in dread of God. He knew that, despite all of his efforts as a student and a monk, he was not righteous and could never stand before God.
Luther’s transformation from hating the righteousness of God to loving it—from living in terror because his works were insufficient, to joy and freedom knowing he was saved by faith alone—dates back to his meditation on one verse of Scripture. And it’s a verse that originally shows up in Habakkuk 2:4: “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Once Luther understood this verse (as quoted in Romans 1) he said, “I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”
These shackles of works-righteousness imprison more than a few people in our churches. Help your congregation think about what it means that the righteous shall live by faith. You should preach Habakkuk because of Luther. Or, you should preach Habakkuk because it affords you an opportunity to talk about the burden of the Reformation and the ever-relevant principle that there are two ways to live.
3. You should preach Habakkuk because of Leibniz.
Gottfried Leibniz was a 17th-century German philosopher who was an optimist in the formal, philosophical sense. This doesn’t mean that he always had a glass-half-full attitude as we may use the term today, but rather that he had a philosophically optimistic view of the world that God created. The world that exists must be the best of all possible worlds, Leibniz reasoned, because if a better world were possible then God would have created that one instead.
This optimism provided parameters for explaining the presence of evil and suffering in our world. If this is the best possible world, then we must be able to reconcile the evil that exists with our all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God.
Toward this end, Leibniz coined the term “theodicy”—a combination of ancient Greek words for God (qeoß/theos) and justice (dikh/dike)—as an expression for the justification of God’s attributes and actions given the presence of evil and suffering in the world.
If the problem of evil formulates the philosophical and theological questions, then theodicy formulates the philosophical and theological answers.
Why preach Habakkuk? Because it’s one of two books in the canon of Scripture that is categorized as a theodicy. While many passages help us reconcile the goodness of God and the presence of evil, only Job and Habakkuk have it as their primary theme. Preaching through Job is beneficial and commended, but it will take some time. Habakkuk, on the other hand, will enable you to introduce theodicy more concisely.
You should preach Habakkuk because of Leibniz. Put another way: you should preach Habakkuk because it will equip your people to answer the problem of evil and it will build their confidence in the goodness and sovereignty of God.
4. You should preach Habakkuk because of Jesus.
Injustice and suffering remind the Christian of the afflictions of Christ on our behalf. Habakkuk’s questions about God’s goodness in the face of injustice are a shadow of the Christ-event, where a truly and perfectly good person suffered the most unjust treatment in the most inhumane way. Habakkuk shows us that God moves in a mysterious way—a truth at the core of our faith. The Messiah will triumph not by military victory but by a criminal’s death. The Christian must likewise lose his life to save it; he who would be first must be last.
Preaching Habakkuk will bring an always-needed reminder to your church that only in Christ do we have a theodicy that answers the problem of evil. It’s only in Christ that we have a righteousness by which we can live by faith. It’s only in Christ that we can rejoice like Habakkuk, whose final words declare that even if God takes everything away, “yet 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.”
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- Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah by Kenneth Barker & Waylon Bailey (New American Commentary Series) – As is common in the NAC, there is enough technical help to aid you in some tough places, but also a good dose of pastoral wisdom to encourage you in sermon prep.
- Exalting Jesus in Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk by William Curtis & Ken Fentress (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) – Very practical; helpful outlining of the text; and, as advertised, thoughtful connections to Christ.
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You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.