Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year C, Proper 22, Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading

Habakkuk 1:1-6 (7-11) 12-13; 2:1-4

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 wrong-doing 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 judgment comes forth perverted. Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own. Dread and fearsome are they; their justice and dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more menacing than wolves at dusk; their horses charge. Their horsemen come from far away; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, with faces pressing forward; they gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and of rulers they make sport. They laugh at every fortress, and heap up earth to take it. Then they sweep by like the wind; they transgress and become guilty; their own might is their god! Are you not from of old, O LORD my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O LORD, you have marked them for judgment; and you, O Rock, have established them for punishment. Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they? I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 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

Reflection on Habakkuk 1:1-6( 7-11) 12-13;2:1-4 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

So far as prophet Habakkuk is concerned, and as Psalm 37 also saw, all is not right with the world. That is clear in this short prophecy’s first section, which is a dialogue between God and prophet (1:2-2:5).

Habakkuk’s problem is this: How can there be one all-powerful God who “will not listen,” “will not save,” and who remains “silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they” (vv. 2, 13)? It’s so bad that the laws are unreliable and “justice never prevails.” The tyrannical enemy of the prophet’s people respects no standard norm of transcendent Justice, for it worships its own power. But the God over all power does nothing! How can this be?

God answers, in the first place, that appearances are deceiving, incredible as that may seem. “For I am rousing the Chaldeans” (v. 6), I God am in charge, and I know full well that “they transgress and become guilty” and even are blasphemous (v. 11). But for the time being God is working through the Chaldeans to enact Justice against the prophet’s no less unrighteous nation. The goal remains the same: the outworking of transcendent Justice among all people.

God answers, in the second place, that however long-deferred the working out of transcendent Justice may be, its accomplishment is certain, and until that time the business of the prophet and of all righteous people is to “live by their faithfulness” (‘emunah; 2:4 and see Romans 1:17).

The frustrations that “tree huggers” experience, the obstacles that are increasing against ecological stewardship, the multiplication of injustices against the poor and marginalized peoples of our world—all that amounts to Justice withheld, and the wholeness of Shalom deferred. The work of “the righteous” proceeds nevertheless in an attitude of expectant watchfulness and trust in God that the promised Justice and Peace are on their way into the realities of here and now. There’s no way to “prove” this abstractly. All we can do is live concretely from day to day, putting one foot in front of the other in accord “with the grain of the universe,” as Stanley Hauerwas puts it in his book with that title (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2001).

There is an excellent discussion of Habakkuk 1:2-2:5 by Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum-Malachi (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1986), pp. 34-48).

Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Habakkuk 1:1-13; 2:1-4
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Psalm 37
New Testament 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Gospel Luke 17:5-10

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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