Habakkuk 1:5-11: My Ways Are Not Your Ways

Have you ever had an answer to prayer that was completely unexpected? There you were asking the Lord for one thing, and then He went and answered your prayer but not in the way you had hoped. There is a famous example of this in John Newton, it is recorded in one of the hymns we sing. It was originally called ‘Prayer answered by crosses’ here is the opening stanza,

‘I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.’

How would you expect God to answer this prayer? Newton tells us of his surprise, in stanzas 3-4,

‘I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And, by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev’ry part.’

He prayed for holiness and he got the sinfulness of his heart exposed stirred up through an onslaught of temptation, but he ends the poem with a recognition that this is how God answers prayer for holiness. Habakkuk is in a similar situation. He prays for God to do something about the sin in the people of Judah. He is part of the righteous remnant who is crying out for God to act. What did Habakkuk expect? Perhaps he thought God would raise up another Josiah and a nationwide revival break out, or perhaps cause Jehoiakim to be humbled like Manasseh and repent bringing blessing upon the nation. God’s answer to Habakkuk’s prayer is Babylon not reformation.

We are at present in the middle of a dialogue between God and Habakkuk. Habakkuk has made his first complaint accusing God of not hearing prayer, not caring, being complacent in the face of sin and now God will make His first response. This section falls into two parts, the first is v5-6a which speaks about God acting, and then v6b-11 is a description of God’s agent.