Habakkuk and the Sermon on the Mount

In an earlier post, Habakkuk’s Lament, we saw that Habakukk was on the receiving end of a “teachable moment” by God, precipitated by a complaint lodged actually by Habakkuk — why does he see violence and injustice all around him, and God remains silent?

As was shown, Habakkuk is actually asking a narrow, ethnically based question. He wants to know why he sees violence and injustice, but his concern is really for his own people.

In three very short chapters, however, a kind of character realignment takes place for Habakkuk. Obsessed with godly revenge on enemies in chapter one, he comes to be in awe of what God can do, and by chapter three instead prays to God that, “in wrath may you remember mercy” (3.2).

So, what happened?

Like us, Habakkuk has a kind of selective morality. Angered by injustice and violence, he calls on God to act (1. 1 – 4). God’s response is, “Well, of course. Look! I can raise a people more violent than the ones you are worried about, and I will send them over to clean house. Look at my power!” This troubles Habakkuk, since this does not seem like a solution at all, and so he demands a better response from God (2.1). God comes across in chapter one as arrogant and violent, whose solution will only bring more suffering.

The Lord’s response in chapter two is a panoramic view of his power, and he shows the justice he can mete out to the enemies of righteous people all over the earth. But a question is implied for us, which Habakkuk realizes: if every person suffering around the earth asks God for the same thing (i..e, punishment of one’s enemies), then what?

Human beings express outrage, demand justice (especially from God ), and so for certain wrongs, but fail to recognize their own failures to act justly, or to right wrongs when they can. Habakkuk’s realization of his selective morality and outrage is seen in 3.2 when he asks God to forgo violence and revenge against the nations, and rather to shows the power of his mercy. In other words, give them a chance!

While nations rise according to the mercy of God and are removed by him because of their sin (Tarazi, Land and Covenant), these events take place over vast time periods. But what about injustice today?

This remarkable short book is a lesson for us to do something about how we see things, beginning with an examination of our own selective morality. For example, we protest wars in other lands, but have remained silent when our own country enacts violence. Worse is when we have “God on our side.”

Still, Habakkuk’s value is immense throughout the Bible. As has been expressed many times on this blog, Jesus carries the arc of Scripture to its conclusion . He alone is its true interpreter, sent by the Father to save the Scriptures from a religious and political class that appropriated it for its own use, including calling on the God of Scripture to punish enemies.

All that appears in the New Testament has its basis in what was already written. This is why I believe Jesus uses Habakkuk as a basis for the Sermon on the Mount:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5. 43-48)