Have you ever wanted God to explain himself, just tell you what he’s doing? Sometimes I think it would be so much easier if I knew the future. But my laments aren’t met with grand visions or words from on high. Often I emerge from prayer with more questions and a confused, unsatisfied heart.
Habakkuk was a man of prayer. He lamented to God about the injustice and violence around him, amidst the people of God. Wickedness abounded and the Law had become perverted. What was God doing? Was God even paying attention? Why are you idle, God? Why do you remain silent?
We don’t know how long Habakkuk spent lamenting the spiritual degradation of Judah, but God answered Habakkuk in a unique and surprising way. God revealed to him what was going to happen to Judah for their sin. In vivid detail, God described how he would raise up the Chaldeans to judge his people. But for Habakkuk, this brought more questions and complaints. God, why would you use such a wicked nation to judge us? Will they get away with it? And so he continued to ask God for an explanation. And God condescended to Habakkuk again. He revealed more of his plans and purposes not only for Judah but for the Chaldeans. In the end Habakkuk is stunned and humbled by the glorious vision God gives him.
We wish God would answer us like Habakkuk. We want to know the secret counsel of the Lord and specifics for our lives. What are you doing God? How is this going to turn out? But God rarely works like that. He wants us to walk by faith, not by sight.
But even though God doesn’t give us specifics, he does give us patterns. The more I read the Bible the more I see these patterns. And this helps to build my faith because I realize that God doesn’t act in a random manner. He can be trusted.
We can see these patterns, these threads, weaving their way through the whole story of Scripture. Patterns of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. God creates, man falls and the rest of the story goes through stage upon stage of redemption building on itself until the final restoration.
The Bible takes a long time to develop the story of redemption and as it does we see more patterns and God’s character shines brighter and clearer. There are many aspects and attributes of God’s character, but in Exodus 34 God reveals himself to Moses in a significant way. It’s a declaration of his character that we can see throughout the story of redemption and it’s particularly emphasized by the prophets. God says to Moses – “The Lord passed by him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” Exodus 34:6-8. What is highlighted in these verses? It’s God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. He is long-suffering. God is also just; we see that at the end of the passage. He will be no means clear the guilty. But he waits, he desires to be merciful to his people.
God waits throughout the story of Scripture. Even before God made that revelation of himself to Moses, he waited. He was giving time for people to repent. It took Noah a long time to build the ark. People would’ve been asking questions. As God’s righteous representative, Noah would have opportunities to preach. God was being merciful.
When God sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver his people, he didn’t destroy Egypt all at once. God sent many plagues and Moses declared God’s message many times. There were chances for Pharaoh to repent.
Have you ever gotten impatient reading through Kings and Chronicles? The evil kings seem to outnumber the good kings by a wide margin. What is God doing? I’m sure he’s doing many things, but He’s also waiting. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Ezekiel 18:23
This mercy and faithfulness of God is stated in the New Testament as well. In 2 Peter 3:9 it says “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
We may not understand the specifics of how God is working but in seeing the patterns of faithfulness and steadfast love we can grow in faith and trust. We can have assurance that the way he worked in the past is the way he is working now is the way he will work in the future. He never changes, he never lies and he doesn’t disappoint us. He is not silent. He is not idle. “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18
God is merciful and he is just. We may not understand how these things come together, but Habakkuk learned that God’s patterns of working culminate in his glory being known. Everything will culminate in this one truth: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14
For Habakkuk that was enough. He didn’t need to see the specifics. He didn’t need to understand how everything was going to come together. He trusted God and rejoiced. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19