Sun’s coming up on Thursday, but mingling the upcoming Sunday reading from the writing prophet Habakkuk with bitter Bart Ehrman’s book God’s Problem carries me back to Wednesday afternoon.
The lectionary framers, whom I will be closed in the sod convinced are idiots, have given us a tiny snippet of this observant prophet who sees things as they are yet faithfully works to rationalize the disturbing Hashem of Theodicy whom Habakkuk accuses of doing “nothing to save those in distress.” Ehrman aside, my own bitter glass (no, pill) is that our designated reading so glosses over the problem, with the first four verses of Habakkuk chapter one melded into the first four verses of Habakkuk chapter two, leaving us in the pew with “hunh? say what? come again” or, more likely, roll on and obliviously suffer the psalm and Second Thessalonians because the hymn and gospel story are what it’s all about, Jesus and Zacchaeus. No.
We dishonor and disfavor ourselves reading snippets, but we do it because we are too dull or ADD to suffer the whole thing and/or so we can get to Morrison’s before the Baptists. BTDT, leave First Presbyterian, Gainesville and rush down to Towerhouse on the Square before the Baptists get there and order all the black and gold pie. BTDT rushing out early Sunday after Sunday as the congregation stood during the organ intro for the closing hymn and Preacher Gordon strolls down the center aisle.
Seeing and accusing, Habakkuk nevertheless waits for God’s responsive oracle and faithfully records it. It isn’t pretty, upliftting or assuring. It’s what happens: the horrifying heilsgeschichte of humanity and Elie Wiesel’s question, “where is God?” For any but the obtuse, the answer is not ineffable but unspeakable, let the reader understand. And not only Habakkuk’s anguishing century but today, suffering, impoverished Americans, AYFSM, not to mention the rest of the world. No Hebrew scholar by any means, I can’t even remember the letters of the alphabet overnight, but I do know how to look up things online. Our NRSV unfortunately I think renders הַמַּשָּׂא֙ hammassaw as the innocent sounding “oracle” instead of “burden” or “load.” Distress this morning, wondering what the hell Hashem had/has in mind with all this, us nasty experiment in sadistic masochism like a viciously mean urchin tossing sand in a tangle of fighting dogs.
Sunday’s reading is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 from the vanilla and pleasantly correct NRSV. Checking out הַמַּשָּׂא֙ which with “oracle” had seemed off-base from verse 2 on, I scrolled until I came to The Voice, and used it for the entirety of Habakkuk (below), changing only 1:1 to NRSV, and 2:20 to KJV because it took me back to fourteen mostly idyllic years in Trinity Church
A reason I settled on The Voice was the so apt word “atrocities” (1:3). The red letter part is to set off the scholar’s enlightening explanations that are not part of Habakkuk’s text. Habakkuk makes his case well, and Hashem’s oracles are very little encouraging. Habakkuk tries but, Ehrman acquitted, the theodidact disappointment is hardly assuaged.
Habakkuk 1The Voice (VOICE)
1 The הַמַּשָּׂא֙ burden, load, oracle, trouble that the prophet Habakkuk saw. (NRSV)
How long must I cry, O Eternal One,
and get no answer from You?
Even when I yell to You, “Violence is all around!”
You do nothing to save those in distress.
Why do You force me to see these atrocities?
Why do You make me watch such wickedness?
Disaster and violence, conflict and controversy are raging all around me.
Your law is powerless to stop this; injustice prevails.
The depraved surround the innocent, and justice is perverted.
Eternal One: Take a look at the nations and watch what happens!
You will be shocked and amazed.
For in your days, I am doing a work,
a work you will never believe even if someone tells you plainly![a]
Look! I am provoking and raising up the bitter and thieving Babylonian warriors from Chaldea;
they are moving out across the earth
And seizing others’ homes and property in their path.
Chaldea is an area along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southernmost Babylon.
That nation is terrifying people, is feared by everyone.
It makes the rules and serves only its own interests.
Babylonia’s horses run faster than leopards,
are fiercer than wolves when the sun goes down.
Its horsemen rush ahead with deadly force, galloping great distances;
the troops swoop down like eagles ready to devour,
And Babylonia keeps on coming, hungry for violence.
Hordes of determined faces are on the move like a hot east wind,
Scooping up captives like sand.
Their leader mocks kings and ridicules those in authority.
He laughs at every fortress
And builds ramps of dirt against their walls to capture it.
He blows through like the wind and then presses on to the next attack.
For their king, his god is his strength, but he will be held responsible.
Have You not existed from ancient times, O Eternal One, my holy God?
Surely You do not plan for us to die.
You, O Eternal One, have made Babylonia Your tool for judgment.
You, O Rock, have established that king as Your instrument of correction.
Your eyes are too pure to even look at evil.
You cannot turn Your face toward injustice.
So why do You stand by and watch those who act treacherously?
Why do You say and do nothing
When the wicked swallows up one who is more in the right than he is?
You made humans like fish in the sea,
like creatures under no rule or authority.
The Chaldeans were known for their fishing, in addition to their brutality.
But the Babylonian yanks up his enemies with a hook,
dragging them away with his net.
Gathering them up like fish in a net,
the king shrieks and shouts for joy at his catch.
So he offers a sacrifice to his net that has made him rich;
the smoke of his sacrifices rises for his fishing net that has brought him success;
Because of it, his table is full and his belly is fat.
Will he empty and fill his net without end?
Will he continue to murder the people of the world without pity?
Habakkuk 2 The Voice (VOICE)
2 I will take my place at the watchtower.
I will stand at my post and watch.
I will watch and see what He says to me.
I need to think about how I should respond to Him
When He gets back to me with His answer.
Eternal One (to Habakkuk):
Write down this vision.
Write it clearly on tablets, so that anyone who reads it may run.
For the vision points ahead to a time I have appointed;
it testifies regarding the end, and it will not lie.
Even if there is a delay, wait for it.
It is coming and will come without delay.[a]
So I wrote, “Look how pompous he is!
Something is not right in his soul; he is not honest and just.
But the righteous one will live by his faithfulness.”[b]
Indeed, wine betrays the proud man who is always restless.
He has a big appetite; it is like the deep, dark pit of the dead.
Like death, he is never satisfied.
He gathers all the nations to himself and collects all the people for his own purposes.
Will not all these nations raise up their litany of insults?
Will they not provoke him with their taunts and mockery, saying,
“Woe to him who hoards what is not his!
How long can he profit from extortion and debt?”
Will not your creditors suddenly rise up against you?
One day they will wake up and will have had enough.
Indeed, you will be their spoil!
Why? Because you have plundered many nations,
now all who remain will come and plunder you—
Because you have made bloody and violent raids over the earth
and ransacked many peoples and their villages.
Woe to him who builds his house on such evil profits,
who puts his nest up high, safe for the future, safe from disaster!
You don’t realize it, but by cutting down so many peoples,
you have brought shame on your house;
You have sinned against your own soul.
For the stone in the wall will cry out against you;
the wooden rafter[c] will answer from the ceiling.
Woe to him who builds a city on bloodshed
and who establishes a town by injustice!
Look! Is it not because of the Eternal, the Commander of heavenly armies,
that all the people work for is consumed in fire
And that all the nations produce comes to nothing?
For as the waters cover the sea,
the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge
That the Eternal is glorious and powerful.
Woe to you who gives his neighbors a drink,
who keeps filling their cup with your anger and malice
To intoxicate them so you can uncover their shame
and look at their nakedness!
Instead of honor, you are going to have your fill of shame.
Now drink up and expose your own uncircumcised nakedness, your lack of God’s mark.
The cup in the Eternal’s right hand will come around to you,
and disgrace will eclipse your current glory.
For the violence done against Lebanon will now overtake you;
the terror you showed the animals in turn will terrorize you.
Because you shed blood and wrought violence in the earth,
you have destroyed cities and all their inhabitants.
What use is an idol shaped by its maker?
It is nothing but an image cast in metal; it teaches deception.
For a foolish idol-maker puts faith in his own creation,
a god that cannot speak.
Woe to him who says to a block of wood, “Wake up!”
or to a silent stone, “Arise!”
Are inanimate objects your teachers?
Look, it may be covered in gold and silver,
But there is no breath of life inside.
But the Lord is in his holy temple:
let all the earth keep silence before him. (KJV)
Habakkuk 3The Voice (VOICE)
3 This is the prayer that Habakkuk the prophet sang 2 to the Eternal One.
When Habakkuk looks around him, it seems the good suffer and the wicked prosper. The Babylonian Empire is threatening to destroy Judah, the Egyptian armies have abandoned their treaty with Jerusalem, and within Judah some of God’s own people are abandoning Him for personal gain. But when he asks God why the good suffer, God explains that in the long run, they don’t. God is in control of all of creation, and only He can see how current circumstances fit into His greater plan. With that knowledge, Habakkuk now praises God for answering the prophet’s questions, for being in control, and for eventually vindicating His faithful followers.
I have heard the reports about You,
and I am in awe when I consider all You have done.
O Eternal One, revive Your work in our lifetime;
reveal it among us in our times.
As You unleash Your wrath, remember Your compassion.
God is on the move from Teman in the south;
the Holy One is on His way from Mount Paran.
His splendor overtakes the skies;
His praise fills every corner of the earth.
His radiance is like a bright light, rays stream down from His hand,
and there His power is hidden.
Pestilence marches before Him;
plagues follow in His steps.
He stands still and surveys the earth;
He looks their way, and the nations jump in fear.
Indeed, the eternal mountains crumble.
The ancient hills are humbled and bow down.
The paths He carved will last forever.
I see the tents of Cushan under attack by evil forces.
The tent curtains of Midian shake throughout that land.
Was Your rage directed at the rivers, O Eternal One?
Or Your anger at the rivers?
Or Your fury at the seas?
Is this why You drove your horses, Your chariots of deliverance?
Your bow was prepared for battle.
Your arrows waited for Your command.
You split the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw You and trembled; heavy rains passed through.
The deep made its voice heard; it lifted its hands high.
The sun and the moon remained in their homes in the sky.
At the flash of Your arrows, they go out;
At the gleam of Your spear, they go away.
In fury You marched across the earth.
In anger You trampled the nations.
You went out to rescue Your people,
to rescue Your anointed one.
You shattered the head of the wicked empire;
You laid him bare from thigh to neck.
Their warriors rushed in to scatter us,
thrilled to consume their poor victims in secret,
But You turned their weapons against them
and pierced the heads of their warriors with their own arrows.[b]
You marched on the sea with Your horses,
stirring up raging waters and overwhelming waves.
This victory poem is not unlike Exodus 15, the celebration of the Eternal’s victory over Egypt and the Red Sea.
I listened and began to feel sick with fear; my insides churned.
My lips quivered at the sound.
Decay crept into my bones;
I stood there shaking.
Now I wait quietly for the day of distress;
I sit and wait for the time when disaster strikes those who attacked my people.
Even if the fig tree does not blossom
and there are no grapes on the vines,
If the olive trees fail to give fruit
and the fields produce no food,
If the flocks die far from the fold
and there are no cattle in the stalls;
Then I will still rejoice in the Eternal!
I will rejoice in the God who saves me!
The Eternal Lord is my strength!
He has made my feet like the feet of a deer;
He allows me to walk on high places.
selah: For the worship leader—a song accompanied by strings.
dictated but not read!