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What is your gut reaction when you hear or read stories of violence and injustice? Why do you respond the way you do? Do you think God shares your view?

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Bible passage: Habakkuk 1:1-11

Habakkuk 1

 1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk's Complaint
 2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
       but you do not listen?
       Or cry out to you, "Violence!"
       but you do not save?

 3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
       Why do you tolerate wrong?
       Destruction and violence are before me;
       there is strife, and conflict abounds.

 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
       and justice never prevails.
       The wicked hem in the righteous,
       so that justice is perverted.

The Lord 's Answer
 5 "Look at the nations and watch—
       and be utterly amazed.
       For I am going to do something in your days
       that you would not believe,
       even if you were told.

 6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
       that ruthless and impetuous people,
       who sweep across the whole earth
       to seize dwelling places not their own.

 7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
       they are a law to themselves
       and promote their own honor.

 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
       fiercer than wolves at dusk.
       Their cavalry gallops headlong;
       their horsemen come from afar.
       They fly like a vulture swooping to devour;

 9 they all come bent on violence.
       Their hordes advance like a desert wind
       and gather prisoners like sand.

 10 They deride kings
       and scoff at rulers.
       They laugh at all fortified cities;
       they build earthen ramps and capture them.

 11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
       guilty men, whose own strength is their god."

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

Explore the Bible

We don’t know much about Habakkuk, except that he was a prophet (v 1). Even then, his prophecy doesn’t follow the standard pattern. The job of a prophet was to bring a message to the people from God, but Habakkuk addresses God first! In fact, he dialogues with God, back and forth twice before his final prayer. Through the book, we see Habakkuk move from doubting to waiting, from waiting to trusting.

Have you ever experienced doubt as a Christian? Have you ever asked, ‘Why Lord?’ or ‘How long?’, as Habakkuk does (vs 2–4)? In itself, doubt isn’t sinful. Habakkuk still believes in God, but he lets God know how he feels. The country is full of injustice and violence, and he wonders why God doesn’t step in. Ever felt like that?

God of surprises
God answers that he is going to intervene, but not in a way that Habakkuk would expect (v 5). God was raising up the Babylonians to be his agents of judgement, who would sweep across the land like an unstoppable hurricane (vs 6–11).

As Habakkuk was to discover, God’s ways can be surprising. He will use a godless nation against his people who have broken their covenant relationship with him. Would Habakkuk be satisfied with God’s answer? Would you?


If you were to complain to God about today’s world, what would you say? How might God respond?

Antony Billington

Introduction to Habakkuk and Obadiah

In Habakkuk 1:6, Yahweh reveals his plan to send the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to attack Judah and other nations. Babylon became predominant after Nineveh fell in 612 BC, so Habakkuk’s message cannot be dated earlier than that. The Babylonians invaded Judah in 605 BC and 598 BC (2 Kings 24:1,10–16). They returned, finally, and destroyed Judah in 587 BC (2 Kings 24:18 – 25:21). Habakkuk’s utterance was probably made before 605 BC or 598 BC.1 The book of Habakkuk mainly deals with the prophet’s perplexing question: why does God allow injustice to prevail? Following the superscription (1:1), the book contains: (1) Habakkuk’s first complaint (1:2–4); (2) the Lord’s response (1:5–11); (3) Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12 – 2:1); (4) the Lord’s response (2:2–20); and (5) Habakkuk’s prayer or hymn (3:1–19).

The central protagonists in the book of Obadiah are the Edomites. Descending from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother, the Edomites were kin to the Israelites (Genesis 25:30; 36:8). Obadiah 11–14 fits well with the historical situation in 587 BC, when Edom joined in the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians (Psalm 137:7; Lamentations 4:21,22). Obadiah condemns the Edomites for adding to the Israelites’ calamity and proclaims judgement against Edom. The book of Obadiah was probably written not long after 587 BC. After the superscription (v 1a), the book consists of: (1) Edom’s complete destruction under God’s judgment (vs 1b–9); (2) Edom’s unforgivable acts of brutality against Judah (vs 10–14); and (3) Judah’s restoration (vs 15–21).

Habakkuk and Obadiah share a common theme: God acting as warrior and judge. Yahweh would execute judgement against Israel’s enemies (Habakkuk 2:2–20; Obadiah 2b–9,15,16) and bring deliverance to his own people (Habakkuk 3:13,18; Obadiah 17–21). This message offers great encouragement and hope to those who are living under injustice, envisaging God’s vindication. References to ‘the Chaldeans’ in Habakkuk and ‘the Edomites’ in Obadiah can literally refer to the two specific nations, but they could also be representative of ‘all the nations’ who oppress the Israelites throughout history.


1 Nogalski, Micah–Malachi, Smyth & Helwys, 2011, p647

Deeper Bible study

As Christians, we are expected to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). It is natural for us to have the same expectation of our communities, sharing the same faith. We cannot bear to see in church or Christian organisations the kind of violence, injustice, exploitation, wrongdoing, corruption, conflict and destruction which is described in Habakkuk’s community (ie the nation of Judah, vs 2,3), let alone to suffer under such circumstances. Habakkuk complains about God tolerating the wicked, who violate the law and inflict suffering upon the righteous (v 4). When facing social injustice and economic disparity in our Christian communities, some people may be tolerant, numb, indifferent or silent, allowing the abuse of power, misuse of resources, exploitation, discrimination and other corruption to remain unchallenged. With great compassion, Habakkuk challenges the Supreme Judge of heaven and earth. We need his courage to speak up for the truth and bring the case to the highest authority of judgement. 

In response to Habakkuk’s complaint, God reveals his plan to punish Judah by using the Babylonians (v 6). The invaders’ brutality, fierceness, military strength and arrogance will only aggravate the innocents’ plight in Judah instead of alleviating it (vs 7–11). God’s response seems to have strengthened Habakkuk’s case: justice never emerges! Habakkuk asks for the internal crisis to stop, but God creates an external crisis in return. God’s logic seems to be quite different from ours.

Perhaps Habakkuk’s experience is not new to us. Sometimes we ask God to save us from our current trouble and he gives us further calamity to cope with. Before going on to study how Habakkuk responds to such an unthinkable answer from God, we need to stop and ask ourselves honestly: what would be my reaction if I got such an answer from God?

Alison Lo

Bible Background

Who wrote it?
Habakkuk, about whom we know almost nothing, beyond the fact that he was a prophet.

When was it written?
We can’t be sure when it was written, but the Babylonians are emerging as the major power in the area (Habakkuk 1:6, Chaldeans in the Hebrew and some English translations is another name for the Babylonians). They took over from the previously dominant Assyrians when the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, fell in 612 BC.

In 605 they defeated the other major power, Egypt. In 597 they occupied Jerusalem which was finally destroyed in 587. It is likely that Habakkuk was active after 612 and before 597.

What’s it about?
The book falls into six sections:

1:1–4         Habakkuk complains to God about the violence and injustice which he sees around him.

1:5–11       God answers – saying that things are going to get worse. He is raising up the ruthless Babylonians to bring judgement on his rebellious people.

1:12 – 2:1 Habakkuk complains to God about his action in using the godless Babylonians to punish his own people.

2:2–20       God replies, reminding Habakkuk that he knows what he is doing and is just (vs 2,3). He may use the Babylonians to bring judgement on his people but that doesn’t mean that they will get away with their own injustice (vs 4–20).

3:1–19       Habakkuk’s prayer or song (v 19). He recalls the power of God in the past (vs 1–15). The language is powerful and vivid, conjuring up images of creation, and the Exodus. This leads him to a position of humble faith (vs 16–19), prepared to trust God whatever happens.

Bible in a Year

Read the Bible in a Year:

Ecclesiastes 12

1 Timothy 3

What a mess!

Just like Habakkuk, we too can look around and see our world in trouble. Will we cry out to God…?


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  • Rachael Hampton | Sunday, 28 August 2016

    Well, what a cheerful start to the week! Not! How would God respond to our anguished cries for our world today? Perhaps He would look at His people, and too often be given cause for sadness. Too many of us are caught up in offence and division, tradition and worldliness, practising a form of godliness without the power so readily available to us. For too many of us, prayer is weak, and lacking in faith and passion for this world. Let us 'gird up our loins' as the old book says! We can take part in online petitions like, along with caring members of our communities, and pressure our leaders to show justice. And above all, we can remember that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it, as John said about Jesus.

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