Crying Out to God

We often cry out to God when we see and feel the pain around us. We recognize “things aren’t right.” We want something better. We want God to act to “put the world right.”

The book of Habakkuk began with the prophet’s cry to God. God then responds. The prophet spoke directly to God, but it seems that God responded to the entire nation. God’s response is to multiple individuals rather than the one prophet.[1] This shift helps the reader to understand the great spread of sin’s consequences. It was not just the prophet who was suffering. The entire nation suffered and God chose to spoke to the entire nation through the prophet.

The book opened with what might be described as a title for the work. It is “The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw” (1:1). “The oracle”[2] הַמַּשָּׂא֙ is a special word used by the prophets. The word is often used to describe “what is carried about, with a focus on the effort needed to transport them.”[3] The prophet used the word to describe the intense effort involved with receiving and delivering the message revealed from God.

Verse two contains the opening cry of the first complaint, “O LORD How long will I cry for help and you do not hear?” The prophet cried out “How long?” אָ֧נָה  [4] The concept of crying out is seen in שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי [5] andאֶזְעַ֥ק  [6] is used twice in this verse to describe the prophet’s action. This was a common feeling for the people of God in just before and during the exile. Jeremiah wrote, “He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; though I call and cry for help (אֶזְעַק֙ וַאֲשַׁוֵּ֔עַ), he shuts out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:6 ESV). God had warned the people that kings would lead them into exclusion from God and that “in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day (1 Samuel 8:18)[7].

Christians, we are in exile in this world. We will have tribulation here. But we do not have to be cut off from God. God promised the Israelites, “If I shut the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on my people, and my people, who bear my name, humble themselves, pray and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from Heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14).

God’s promise to Christians is greater. It is founded upon the Christ. Christian “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1 CSB).

 

ENDNOTES

[1] “Clearly a change of speakers occurs in 1:5. In response to a single individual addressing God (“How long, O Yahweh, shall I cry for help,” v. 2), the Lord himself addresses all his people (“Look [ye] among the nations and see,” v. 5). Yet the prophet employs none of the standard formulae for introducing a divine oracle so that the reader is left to his own devices to determine who happens to be the speaker at any given point in the dialogue. Not until 2:2 is a speaker specifically identified.” O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 137.

[2]The word הַמַּשָּׂא֙ is a common word in the Hebrew Bible with rich meaning. “The Qal form of this root is used almost six hundred times with basically three separate meanings: “to lift up”; “to bear, carry, support”; and “to take, take away.” Walter C. Kaiser, “1421 נָשָׂא,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 600.

[3] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[4] “Most of its thirty occurrences are in rhetorical questions” Herbert Wolf, “75  אַי,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 35. It is often used in contexts where the author wished to express exasperation with the situation. God used the term to express his exasperation with Israel (Exodus 16:28; Numbers 14:11). Joshua utilized it in Joshua 18:3. In the Psalms, the word is often used just as Habakkuk used it. The Psalmist cries out to God for action and wonders how long till God will act (Psalm 13:1-2).

[5] שִׁוַּ֖עְתִּי is defined as, “plead for relief, i.e., ask or request something, with a focus that the asking is intense or desperate, imploring for aid in a difficult or dangerous situation” James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[6] אֶזְעַ֥ק is found some 73 times in the Hebrew Bible and very often is used to describe mankind crying out to the Lord for help. “In the Qal stem, the word is used almost exclusively in reference to a cry from a disturbed heart, in need of some kind of help. The cry is not in summons of another, but an expression of the need felt. Most frequently, the cry is directed to God”  Leon J. Wood, “570 זַעַק,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 248.

[7]Perhaps this also helps the reader’s of Habakkuk to appreciate the moral and spiritual decline led by the two kings following Josiah’s reforms.

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