The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgement comes forth perverted. *** Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith. *** Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.
Little is known about Habakkuk other than he was called to prophecy in the run up to the Babylonian invasion and was probably a contemporary of Jeremiah. As such the stark drama of the first two stanzas make sense. The impending invasion and Exile wasn’t seen by the religious folk of the day as a result of poor foreign policy or failed international diplomacy but as a direct result of not living by the Covenant. Judah bought the disaster on herself by forgetting her relationship with God despite, as the second stanza makes clear, God charging prophets with the ghastly ministry of reminding them. The third stanza, however, contains hope. In an agricultural society there could be little worse than the type of crop failure symbolised by the failure of fig, grape, olive crops and starving livestock. In the face of that disaster – famine – Habakkuk stubbornly refuses to despair and his faith in God is undimmed. Like Jeremiah he would have given a hope – albeit a far off one – to those who believed in God as the armies of Babylon approached.
In our day we tend not to see God at work in international politics and find hope difficult when presidents conduct diplomacy in fewer than 140 characters and seek to prove machismo by increasing nuclear arsenals. Hope is hard when 20 million are displaced for fear of their lives and when rich countries build walls instead of bridges. It is hard to hope as countries retreat into narrow nationalism ignoring the links that bind us together as a human family.
Yet in Advent we must proclaim hope – the stubborn hope of Habakkuk – that things will change. We pray “thy kingdom come” yet dare we believe that the Coming King will turn things around? Dare we believe that Jesus will, finally, turn our weapons into welcoming signs and, as his mother – another audacious believer – sang fill the hungry with good things and turn the rich, empty, away?
Lord Jesus, coming King, turn our world around, bring judgement to the rich who oppress, admonish leaders who, often in your name, make your people suffer, and teach us, day by day, to pray, work and hope for your Kingdom. Come Lord Jesus! Amen
The Rev’d Andy Braunston is a minister of Barrhead, Shawlands and Stewarton URCs in the Synod of Scotland.
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