Sometimes the words in our Bibles become stale. I don’t mean that the words lose any power; I mean that we become so familiar with the cadences and phrases they lose some of their freshness for us.
Recently as I was studying justice, lament, faith, and abiding in the presence of God through difficult circumstances, I landed in Habakkuk. This short Old Testament book deals deeply with each of those topics. To ‘freshen up’ the words for myself, I went through the book phrase by phrase to soak in the meaning and re-word the Scripture as if I were preparing to learn it well enough to share Habakkuk’s call and response with the Lord as it was meant to be heard and shared originally. Below you’ll find my manuscript for a ‘storied’ version of Habakkuk, with no content changed from the Biblical narrative and only small phrasal changes. I hope you enjoy a fresh look at this incredibly timely book of the Bible. Try reading it aloud to yourself to give the text some extra life.
The prophet Habakkuk received this burden:
Habakkuk: God, how long do I have to call for help and you refuse to listen?
I yell for help: “Violence!” but you don’t save?
Why do you turn my head and force me to watch injustice?
Why do you let sin pass?
Ruin and hurt are in my face: there is too much fighting and division.
Because of it, the law is impotent and frozen, and right never wins.
The evil rope up and surround the good so that right and fair become crooked.
God: Watch the world and be completely shocked.
I’ll do something in your time you wouldn’t believe if I told you.
I’m grooming the Babylonians — merciless, rude, and unpredictable —
to burn through the earth and make foreign homes their own.
They fill people with terror, make their own rules, and make a name for themselves.
Their horses are faster than cheetahs and more fearless than wolves at nightfall.
They come at top speeds from farther than the eye can see.
They swoop down like a hawk to the kill, focused only on death.
Their armies oppress like a desert wind, catching hostages like dust.
They lecture kings and humiliate leaders.
They laugh tat fortresses and move the earth itself to conquer them.
They barrel through like wind with no obstacles, convicted men who deify their own power.
Habakkuk: Lord, haven’t you been around forever?
My God, my perfect God, we can’t die.
You elected them to carry out retribution.
Steady and Unchanging One, you picked them to punish.
Your gaze is too pure to look on evil.
Why do you let them betray?
Why do you sit quietly by while evil people eat up others better than themselves?
You make people like fish in a barrel, like fish with no leader, no one in charge.
The evil enemy catches all of them in traps,
lures all of them in, nets them with ease.
So he is giddy with delight, and he worships his net.
He offers it food and rituals because his net lets him live like a king and feast like one too.
You’re going to let him keep pillaging the sea — wiping out empires ruthlessly?
I will be at my station on the watchtower of the defensive wall.
I’ll look for his answer, and for how I should reply to these concerns.
Then the Lord replied:
God: You’re going to want to write this down, plain for all to see and hear.
This message is ready for the right time — it’s about the End, and this one will prove true.
Even if it’s a long time coming, wait for it.
It is certain to be on time.
Look at him, all big-headed—he wants crooked things,
But a good man will live by faith—
Alcohol is a traitor to him. He is proud and never sits still.
He’s as hungry as the grave and like death, he’s a bottomless pit.
He gathers all the nations and steals from all the people to make prisoners of them.
Won’t all these people want retribution, and mock him with humiliating sarcasm:
“Look out, if you hoard loot and get rich manipulating people!
How long will you keep this up? Won’t the people—who you owe—rise up?
Won’t you shiver when they wake up?
Then it’ll be your turn to be the victim,
because you have looted many countries.
And the people you overlooked will loot you.
The blood you spilled was from people.
You have flattened fields and cities, along with their people.”
“Look out, if you build your kingdom on foundations of slavery and injustice,
To try and build it high out of reach,
so you can dodge the claws of destruction!
You planned to destroy many people,
so you shamed your home and gave up your right to life.
The stones in these walls will testify against you,
and the wooden beams will affirm them.”
“Look out, if spilled blood has built your city, and crime founds your town.
Hasn’t the Lord said peoples’ work just feeds the fire,
and the countries wear themselves out for nothing?
Regardless, the full earth will know the glory of the Lord,
like the oceans know water.”
“Look out, if you push drinks on your friends,
refilling till they’re drunk so you can feed your hungry eyes with their naked bodies.
You will be full of shame instead of triumph.
Take your turn! Drink and be naked!
The Lord’s strong hand brings the cup to you, and disgrace will cover up your power.
Your violence to Lebanon will sweep you away,
and your slaughter of animals will haunt you.
Because you have drained human blood—
you destroyed fields and cities still full of people.”
“What is an idol worth, since it is only carved by man?
What about a figurine that only reinforces lies?
Whoever makes them trusts the work of her own hands.
She makes mute godlets.
Look out, if you try to make wood come to life
Or to make stone wake up.
Can it lead you?
It’s covered in gold and silver—it doesn’t breathe!
But the Lord is alive and well in his holy temple.
Let the whole earth fall silent for him!”
The prophet Habakkuk’s prayer:
Habakkuk: Lord, I have heard the stories they tell about you.
Your work has me stock still with amazement.
Do these things again in our time!
Let people these days know your works!
Remember to show mercy in your retribution.
God comes in holiness from the south as of old.
His throne-glory spreads over the skies
and his court-fanfare sounds from all the earth.
His radiance like sunrise gleams from his hand where he hides his power.
Plague makes a way for him, and disease carries his train.
When he stands, he shakes the earth.
Under his gaze the nations tremble.
The time-strong mountains crumble,
and the time-worn hills fall in on themselves.
He has eternal work.
Ethiopia’s tents are disarrayed, and Midian’s homes are distressed.
Lord, were you angry at the rivers?
Did the streams provoke your rage?
Was your wrath toward the sea when you rode with triumphal horses and chariots?
You unwrap your bow and call for endless arrows.
You carve the earth with rivers and mountains writhe under your glance.
Rushing water roars by and raises waves high.
The sun and moon in the sky are paralyzed
as your arrows glint and fly, and as your spear flashes lightning.
You march through the earth with rage and your wrath culls the nations.
But you sought out your people to deliver them.
You rescued your chosen one.
You trampled the leader of the wicked land and stripped him of everything—head to toe.
You crushed his head with his spear when his warriors made their move to scatter us.
They gloated as they prepared to prey on the weak in hiding.
Your horses disturbed the sea and frothed the wide waters.
I heard the stories and my heart pounded.
The words made my lips tremble.
My bones rotted hollow and my legs quivered.
But I will patiently wait for the day of disaster to crash over our invaders.
If the fig tree doesn’t even bud, and the grape vines hang empty,
If the olive harvest fails and the farms lie bare,
If the barns shelter no sheep and the cow stalls are vacant,
STILL the Lord is my joy:
I rejoice in my Savior.
My strength comes from the powerfully ruling Lord.
He gives me stable footing like the deer
And prepares me to climb the summit.