Years before I ever met him, my mentor, Dr. Colin Smith, was the keynote speaker at a men’s conference hosted by my father’s church. My father told me the story about how Colin got up for the last session, having no clue what he was going to speak on. Standing behind the pulpit he paused for a minute before addressing the host by asking, “What should I preach from, the Old Testament or New Testament?” The host said, “Old Testament.” Colin paused again before asking, “What book?” Out of the 39 books, the host must have thought it was a joke and said, “Habakkuk.” Colin responded promptly, “Hmmm. I’ve never preached from Habakkuk before.” He then opened his Hebrew text and gave, what many later described as one of the most memorable sermons any of the five hundred men in the audience had ever heard.
That story preceded my first impressions of meeting Dr. Colin Smith. And after studying the book of Habakkuk myself, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could preach a sermon without preparation and without notes on this obscure text. After learning under Colin for several years, however, I realized where his ability came from: a clear understanding of the Bible as a whole.
The History of Habakkuk
Very little is known about the author and prophet, Habakkuk. Never mentioned in any of the other texts of Scripture, there is less known about Habakkuk than any other author of the Bible. While little is know about the writer of the book, the history of the time and place has been covered extensively. Habakkuk writes right before Israel is taken into captivity by the Babylonians. As most of his contemporary prophets, this text stands as a stark warning to the people who had wandered away from God’s precepts.
The Importance of Habakkuk
Though it only has three chapters and the chances are those pages are all stuck together in your Bible, Habakkuk has been quoted by Paul and the writer of Hebrews for the most essential point in biblical understanding, “The just shall live by faith.”(2:4) Among the Dead Sea Scrolls there is a commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk comparing the Babylonian captivity with the rising power of the Roman Empire. Many early hymn writers found this text particularly inspirational when writing about the justice of a holy God.
While Habakkuk seemed to be a vital text to the Jewish under captivity and the early Church who lived in a world that wasn’t their own, it is scarcely known among Christians today. Perhaps the problem is that we have forgotten that we are wanderers in society and foreigners in this world. Perhaps we have settled into the captive nature of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. It seems apparent that we have become too comfortable in this world, and the cries of God’s people have become cries for our human rights to be restored instead of for the coming Kingdom to be established.
Habakkuk is one of the unique characters in Scripture who conversed with God and questioned His actions. The poetic nature reveals much for God’s intent in dealing with man, and proclaims the ultimate importance for those who desire to see God high and lifted up: living by faith.
This month I invite you to study through the book of Habakkuk together with me. In light of the current events and fear for where our nations future is headed, I think it will be of undeniable value for the Church of God to appeal to this valuable text.