The prophet Habakkuk is somewhat mysterious to scholars of Biblical literature. He appears nowhere else in the canon, nor is “Habakkuk” a Jewish name. Yes, in the Apocrypha a heading of Bel and the Dragon mentions him, but that sheds little light on this enigmatic prophet.
Just three chapters long, Habakkuk is itself an idiosyncratic book, to the degree that if it weren’t divinely inspired, we might go so far as to call it incomplete. Where is the usual “thus says the Lord” proclamation of God’s word to his wayward people Israel? The Chaldeans have risen up in threatening opposition, but instead of proclaiming this to a third party as a sign of divine retribution, Habakkuk protests directly to God: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2).
Indeed, this book records a strikingly individual dialogue. Habakkuk complains of destruction; the Lord answers that it is justified, and perhaps even more enigmatically states, “still the vision awaits its appointed time: it hastens to the end–it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Habakkuk concludes his protest with, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:3 & 2:20) before offering a psalm of praise to God which compares him to a divine warrior, especially in the prophet’s own reaction to his might.
It is as if God is warning Habakkuk that he has been given only a partial vision of who God is and of what his will is for mankind. The prophet has beheld God’s power and anticipates his wrath, but God responds that a fuller picture is on the way. As hard as that may be to hear, Habakkuk manages to accept God’s reply: “patience.” To borrow the words of another Biblical author who quoted this prophet three times in his epistles, Habakkuk seems to recognize that he “now sees through a glass darkly.”
With this in mind, the prophet’s aggrieved cry takes on new depth:
You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
like crawling things that have no ruler.
He brings all of them up with a hook;
he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
so he rejoices and is glad.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
and his food is rich.
Is he then to keep on emptying his net
and mercilessly killing nations forever
Was it not God himself who declared, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19)? Did not Jesus walk this earth, that he might catch us in his net? And what do we find when we answer his call, but that we are embraced in a net of mercy? One as wide and boundless as his coming glory, so that his forgiveness floods our lives like the waters that cover the sea.
Surely the harvest is coming, when like grain brought into barns, we shall be brought into our creator’s court. And there God and we shall luxuriate in our praise of him. For we have been shielded by a divine warrior so brave and with a love so strong as to have fought and died for us, that despite ourselves we might be spared the coming destruction. Like this mysterious prophet, we may not always have the complete picture before us. But by God’s grace may we ever remember that he has paid the ultimate price to cast a net that he shall never empty, a net to draw us to himself, as closely as a Father embracing his beloved children.
[Ed. note] Here’s a link to Cameron Cole’s class “Doubt and Hope in Your Worst Nightmare” (also based on Habakkuk.)