From Protest to Praise

An amazing progression occurs in the 3 short chapters of Habakkuk.

The book begins with the prophet protesting that God seems to be standing idly by while his people in Judah plummet into rampant evil and injustice (1:2–5).

God responds that it’s not going unnoticed, and, to Habakkuk’s surprise, God’s already attending to it—by raising up the wicked Chaldeans, “that bitter and hasty nation," to punish Judah (1:5-11).

Habakkuk protests the justice of punishing a wicked people with a people even more wicked! (1:12–2:1). The prophet is confident that God can’t answer him on this score, and so he will “look out to see what [God] will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint” (2:1). Habakkuk is optimistic that he can rebut whatever answer God has to give for this.

God answers and again Habakkuk is floored: God will punish the Chaldeans in due course and bring destruction to their home in Babylon (2:2–20). He assures the prophet, “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20). That includes Habakkuk and his plans for rebuttal.

Habakkuk marvels at the plans of God and consents that he has been duly silenced: “I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us” (3:16). Only he pleads that God will “in wrath remember mercy” for his people (3:2).

Habakkuk now joyfully submits to the sovereign hand and plan of God. O. Palmer Robertson calls these last 3 verses (3:17–19) “the most beautiful spirit of submission found anywhere in scripture” (The Christ of the Prophets, 260).

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

The book’s final line reads, “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”

What is that?

Habakkuk has ended in song! He has gotten a glimpse of the glory of God, and despite the certain suffering that looms on the horizon, he knows that this God will be enough for him. What a progression—from protest to praise.

            . . . yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.