Reconciling Habakkuk with Job

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on November 3, 2003 under Ask the Pastor | Be the First to Comment

Question: In Habakkuk 1:13, the prophet says that God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness,” and yet, in Job 1 and 2 Satan not only enters into the presence of God, but carries on a conversation with Him. How do we reconcile Hab. 1:13 and Job 1 and 2?

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Dear friend,

God does, clearly, have dealings with and uses those upon whom His eyes are too holy to look in an approving way. And though I don’t believe that we could ever fully resolve this aspect of the mystery of God’s providence to our complete satisfaction, I suggest that things may become a bit clearer to us if we consider the whole message of the book of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk was, at first, posing the question to God of how long God was going to tolerate the sinful conduct of His own people (1:1-4). God’s answer was that He was about to deal with their sin in a dreadful way < by raising up the Chaldeans to be the administrators of His punishment upon Israel (vv. 5-11). This shocking piece of news was worse to Habakkuk than the problem of Israel’s sin; and it led to then ask the very sort of question you’ve raised: How a holy God could use such an instrument as the Babylonians? Israel was bad; but not as bad as the Babylonians! How could a holy God seem to stand by and permit such an evil nation to punish His covenant people?

Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he? (vv. 12-13).

To “behold evil” or to “look on wickedness”, in this context, seems to mean “to show favor to” those who are wicked and evil. (The standard biblical Hebrew lexicon, in fact, specifies the use of the Hebrew word “look” in Hab. 1:13 as to “look upon, i.e. endure to see”, with the idea being that of showing regard to someone or something.) So, there’s more in mind than God simply ‘seeing’ evil. The sense of Habakkuk’s complaint seems to be that God appears to showing regard or favor to the wicked in that He not only does not punish them, but even positively uses them and allows their treachery to be gotten away with to the disadvantage of His chosen people Israel.

Habakkuk was not, I believe, being irreverent in asking such things of God. His words in 2:1 suggest strongly that he was very reverent in his approach, and was willing to be taught and corrected. And I believe that God’s answer to Habakkuk’s second question helps us work toward an answer to the question you’ve put forth.

First, that God tells Habakkuk to write His answer down the vision for future readers, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (2:2-3). This suggests that Habakkuk hadn’t really seen the full story when he only saw God’s use of the wicked Babylonians. There was more to the story yet to come. God hints to Habakkuk of the full “end” of the story when He says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). However poorly we may understand God’s interaction with the wicked now, we can be sure that, in the end, He will prove to be righteous and just in all His actions.

Then, secondly, God seems to exhort Habakkuk not to allow the situation to cause him to have any doubts about the constancy of God’s character in a practical sense, but to keep on trusting that God is acting faithfully. “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith” (2:4). (This Habakkuk seems to do in the end: see all of chapter 3; but especially 3:17-19). We are to trust that, however God may use the wicked and discipline the righteous, He still “‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continence in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness; indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God” (Rom. 2:6-11).

Finally, God overwhelmingly reveals to Habakkuk how the instruments of His judgment upon Israel were not going to be exempt from judgment themselves. In fact, the whole rest of chapter 2 seems to describe the greater and more dreadful judgment and “woe” that was yet to be brought upon come on Babylon and all evil-doers. Evil may have been on the rise; “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (2:20).

In chapter 3, Habakkuk offers a humble prayer in which makes the appeal, “In wrath remember mercy” (3:2). He goes on to speak prophetically of God’s glorious salvation of Israel in the future. “You went forth for the salvation of Your people, for salvation with Your Anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked, by laying bare from foundation to neck” (3:13). In other words, God demonstrates that what wickedness Babylon meant for evil, God meant for the good of His disobedient people (Gen. 50:20); and that He knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Pet. 2:9).

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Our holy God, then, does allow evil, sometimes even allowing it in His presence; but never does He do so in such a way as to approve it. “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is, nor can be, the author or approver of sin” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, “Of Providence”, v, 4).

And so, to answer your question, I believe that we can best resolve the seeming contradiction between God’s absolute holiness and His allowance of evil in His presence, without compromise of His character, if we remembering that (1) what the wicked mean for evil, God always means for good, and sovereignly uses such evil bring about the good of His people; and that (2) God, in absolute holiness and justness, eventually fully punishes the evil that He temporarily permits in the fulfillment of His sovereign purposes. This certainly happened in the case of Job. God permitted the evil of Satan’s accusations in order to bring about His own glory and the eventual good of Job; and His use of Satan didn’t change the fact that He will ultimately cast Satan into the Lake of Fire.

Perhaps the prayer of Psalm 10:12-15 sums up the best of what we can say about this: “Arise, O LORD! O God, lift up your hand! Do not forget the humble. Why do the wicked renounce God? He has said in His heart, ‘You will not require an account.’ But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief, to repay it by Your hand. The helpless commits himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and the evil man; seek out his wickedness until you find none.”

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Greg

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