The Unveiling Of God’s Instrument Of Judgement
Part 1 of 4
Base on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014

If you’ve been to an unveiling ceremony (or watched it on the television) of some new product, say a new car or a new aircraft or a new electronic device, you’ll know that usually, the CEO or President of the company will first give a speech and say something about what is to be unveiled before actually removing the veil for everyone to take a first look at it.

The purpose of this opening speech is really to create a sense of anticipation and to prepare the audience for what they are about to see. Then after the product has been unveiled, the CEO will continue to talk about it and give more specific details about things like its superior performance and capabilities and other unique features.

Now in some ways, we can think of Habakkuk 1:5-11 in terms of an unveiling ceremony. In this passage, the Lord unveils His awesome instrument of retribution and judgment.

We will look at it in three parts. First, the Lord prepares His prophet for what He is about to say and do (verse 5). Second, the Lord identifies His instrument of judgment (verse 6a). Third, the Lord describes His instrument of judgment in greater detail (verses 6b-11).

1.  The Lord prepares Habakkuk

Verse 5 says, “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.”

We note a couple of things about this pre-unveiling or preparatory statement of the LORD.

First, it is not introduced by a “thus saith the Lord” or “then the LORD said to me” or some other similar phrase identifying the speaker as the Lord Himself. In other words, the reader is given no warning at all that the speaker has changed. Instead, we only know that it is now the Lord who is speaking from the change in personal pronoun as well as from the actual content of what He says.

One reason for the absence of such an identifying phrase is to heighten the dramatic effect that His words are meant to have on the reader. His words are stunning and surprising indeed.

But another possible reason is that Habakkuk had just been complaining that the Lord is taking such a long time to response to his cries and pleas. “How long, O Lord,” he lamented. But then almost immediately and without any warning, the Lord replies the prophet to show that He is not unaware or indifferent to what was going on.

The second thing we observe from the Lord’s words in verse 5 is that He does not dispute the analysis of Habakkuk concerning the circumstances and situation in the land at that time. The LORD agrees with the prophet’s assessment of things. There was indeed violence and strife and plundering and contention and a perversion of justice everywhere in Judah from the king down to the common people. Yes, the Lord sees what Habakkuk sees, and in fact He sees much more.

The third thing we notice is that the Lord does not rebuke Habakkuk for asking Him those questions in verses 2 and 3. The Lord did not say, “What right have you to question my sovereignty or my ways of working?” No, the Lord understands and He sympathizes with the prophet and those like him who are suffering and are surrounded by the wicked, who seek to do them harm. Remember that this question, “How Long?” is not unique to Habakkuk. David asked it a number of times in the Psalms. The saints in heaven too ask this question in the book of Revelation. And most of all, God Himself and particularly the Lord Jesus Christ asked this question on various occasions. 

But let’s consider more closely the actual words of God in this verse. In the first half of the verse, the LORD uses no less than four words of alert and alarm to call His hearers to pay attention to what He is about to say. In English, this is not so clear, but in Hebrew, we see that He uses four imperatives or verbs of command. And these four verbs are all in the plural, which means that God is speaking not just to Habakkuk alone but to all the covenant people as well.

The first thing He commands them to do is to “behold” or “look.” The people were to look or open their eyes, and see what was really going on around them and what the LORD was going to do. God does not want His people to be ignorant or indifferent to things in their land or even in the world. Notice how He says, “Behold ye among the heathen.” It could be that Habakkuk and the covenant people were too focused on the affairs and problems of Judah that they were not paying attention to what was happening on the international horizon amongst the nations. And so God calls them to expand or broaden their horizons and perspectives.

The second thing that God commands them to do is to “regard” or “see.” This Hebrew word and its form suggests that beyond just looking or beholding, the people were to carefully consider and think about what was going on. Again, we are reminded that God wants His people to be a thinking and meditative people. We are not to go through life in an unthoughtful and unreflecting way. This is a good reminder for us since we are living in such a fast paced society and busy environment, where it is so easy to go through life without much thought or meditation on the word and works of God.

The third thing that God commands His people to do is to “wonder.” The verb is in the reflexive mood, which means something that you do to yourself. So the command is literally to “wonder yourself” or a more dynamic translation would be to be dumbfounded or stunned or astonished.

The fourth command is exactly the same verb as the third only in a different form. It can simply be translated “wonder.” But this repetition of the verb is meant to emphasize the fact that the people are to be totally astonished and amazed and dazzled by what the Lord is going to say. “Behold, see, wonder yourselves and wonder!” says the Lord.”

Why? Because “I will work (or I am working) a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.” Again, notice a couple of things here. First, the Lord was by no means inactive or indifferent to what was going on. Habakkuk had earlier complained that the Lord does not hear and He does not save even in the midst of such great injustice and violence. But the Lord replies the prophet and assures him that He is indeed at work. He is not idle or asleep or unresponsive to the situation as some people, including the prophet himself, might think.

Second, notice when the Lord will bring about this work. He says, “for I am working a work in your days…” It is not simply that God has been working in the past (although that is true) or that He will be working in the future (although that is also true). No, the Lord says that He is working even now and that that same generation of covenant people will live to see the accomplishment of His work.

Here is a reminder to us that we must never think that God is oblivious to what is going on in the world. Sometimes, we are tempted to think in that way especially when things are going wrong and when there seems to be no hope or no way out; when everything seems so dark and bleak and depressing. That was how Habakkuk felt, but the Lord assured him that He was at work even in his days.

The third thing we notice from the second part of verse 5 is that this work which the Lord was working is so amazing and incredible that the people will find it exceedingly hard to believe. Indeed, the prophet Habakkuk himself will be stunned and he will even be so bold as to question and challenge what the Lord says He will do. God willing, we will consider the prophet’s response to what the Lord will say in a future article. But for now, just remember that our God is far greater than what we often imagine Him to be. Our problem is often that we try to limit God to what we think He can or cannot do. We try to force fit Him into a kind of mould and when He doesn’t fit into our mould, we get all flustered and frustrated.

But before we move on to the actual unveiling of the Lord’s instrument of judgment, it’s interesting to briefly consider how the apostle Paul quotes Habakkuk 1:5 in his sermon to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia.

Towards the end of that lengthy sermon, he said in Acts 13:40-41, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.”

The apostle Paul saw a parallel between the covenant people in the time of Habakkuk and the Jews who were living in his own day. Just as Habakkuk warned the people in his day that God was going to bring about His fierce judgment upon them for their wickedness by using a Gentile nation, so Paul warned the Jews in his day, who refused to believe in Jesus Christ, not to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers or they will face God’s fierce wrath upon them at the hands of another Gentile nation.

In Paul’s day, that Gentile nation was Rome and the judgment he was warning the Jews about did in fact take place just over 20 years after he preached that sermon. In Habakkuk’s day, the judgment of God at the hands of another Gentile nation also took place about 20 years after the prophet preached his message.

“Behold among the nations and see! Wonder yourselves and wonder! For I am working a work in your days; You would not believe even if it were told.”

Linus Chua