Lessons from the Holy Prophet Habbakuk

On this Eve of the feast of the Holy Protection of the Mother God, in which, by her prayers, God miraculously delivered the city of Constantinople from destruction, perhaps some might ask why we have not seen similar deliverance in this century. We have seen the Orthodox in Asia Minor almost completely wiped out or displaced. We have seen Russia and eventually all of Eastern Europe over run by militant Atheists -- much of its clergy and faithful killed, its Churches destroyed and defiled, and many sent into exile. Even today we see the plight of the Serbian people as hundreds of thousands are uprooted from their homes, their Churches destroyed, and hardly a word spoken in their defense.

In our hearts we ask why this was allowed to happen, and though some may charge that this is blasphemous to do so, this was also the question of the Prophet Habakkuk as he saw the pagan Babylonians destroying his nation, and ultimately even the Holy Temple in Jerusalem:

"O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save! Why dost Thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth" (1:2-4).

Only a hundred years previous to this, God had indeed miraculously delivered Jerusalem from the invading Assyrians; but since that time rather than Judah responding in sincere repentance it instead increased in wickedness. The people of Jerusalem began to believe that God would not allow Jerusalem to fall for the sake of the Temple that was there, regardless of the faithfulness of the people. The Prophet Jeremiah was responding to this false belief when he stood in the gateway of the Temple and prophesied:

"Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, "the Temple of the Lord," "the Temple of the Lord," "the Temple of the Lord are these." For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are delivered to do all these abominations"?

Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord.... Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. [Note: a reference to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, which had happened only a hundred years previous at the hands of the Assyrians] And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim" [again, the Northern Kingdom is referred to] (Jeremiah 7:3-11, 14-15).

Though the people believed that God was obligated to deliver them, God was not under the same impression. Had they responded to the preaching of the Prophets in repentance, they would have been delivered as before, but instead their hearts were hardened and they only increased in wickedness -- and even persecuted the prophets of God and listened instead to the false prophets that promised deliverance. Nevertheless, the Prophet Habakkuk asked God why he would allow a nation even more wicked to triumph over his people:

"Thou are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" (Habakkuk 1:13).

Thus Habakkuk cried:

"I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved" (2:1).

The answer?

"Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith" (2:4).

The Babylonians were indeed an evil nation, but God was using them as a rod of chastening to bring his people to repentance. It was the arrogance of their sin that brought about God's wrath -- it would have to be their sincere repentance and true faith in God that would deliver them. Judah had shed innocent blood, it had worshipped false gods, and it had oppressed the poor. Their worship of God had become a sinful mockery and an abomination, and the Law of God was flaunted. Despite the attempts at reform of the righteous King Josiah, the people themselves had not repented -- and so he was taken from them at a young age (killed in battle) and Judah was instead given weak and wicked rulers who hastened their downfall.

As the Babylonians began burning down the cities of Judah, raping and robbing, and began leading the people into exile, no doubt many of them began to cry out to God for help. Why did God not then deliver them? What would have happened had he then done so? No doubt their arrogance and sin would just as quickly resumed as it had stopped. Instead God allowed Jerusalem to fall, the Temple to be destroyed and for the people to remain in bitter captivity for 70 years. At first the Prophet did not understand this, but God have him a vision of Him in His majesty and holiness. Filled again with faith he concluded:

"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places" (3:19).

What then is should be our response to the suffering of the Russian and especially of the Serbian people. We must all sincerely repent of our sins. We must humble ourselves. We cannot take God's grace for granted any longer. Finally we must put our trust in God, whether we see justice, peace, or deliverance in our life times -- or whether we do not.

"Wherefore with the Prophet Habbakuk (Abacus), I cry: To Thy power be glory, O Thou who lovest mankind" [from the 4th heirmos of the 8th tone].

From a Post to an Orthodox Mailing list, Oct 13, 1995, written by Deacon John Whiteford. Used with permission.

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