The Righteous for the Unrighteous

If there’s one thing in life you can count on, it’s that God will often subvert and surprise your expectations. He’s been doing it for thousands of years. 

We see this quite clearly in the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was a prophet who loved the Lord and hated evil -- and as it turned out, he witnessed a lot of evil men get away with a lot of evil things during his ministry. He lamented this sad reality to God, and God responded that he would indeed judge these evil men -- by exiling the nation of Judah to Babylon. Habakkuk was hoping for judgment, but not that kind of judgment. God had subverted and surprised his expectations. 

The Wicked Swallow Up The Righteous

Habakkuk had a difficult time wrapping his mind around this impending doom. 

“Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Habakkuk 2:12-13).

Habakkuk knew just as well as any prophet that God is holy, immortal, sovereign, pure, just, and incapable of looking upon wrongdoing with approval -- and yet, God in his wisdom used a ruthless and impetuous nation to exile the kingdom of Judah. Habakkuk couldn’t understand, and he essentially cried foul: “That’s cheating! You can’t use people more unrighteous than us to discipline us!”

But that’s exactly what God did. And he was perfectly justified in doing so.

You Wouldn’t Believe

So often in Scripture and in life, God reveals himself and accomplishes his purposes in very unexpected ways. He wasn’t joking when he told Habakkuk (and when he tells us), “I’m going to do something in your days that you wouldn’t believe even if you were told.” Indeed, we have a very hard time believing it: how can God be who he says he is, and use ruthless and impetuous people to accomplish his purpose? It’s unfair!

Yet this “unfairness” is not unprecedented in God’s work. If we were to read only Habakkuk and try to derive some sort of life principle from God’s judgment of Judah, we might come away with something like, “God will sometimes use ‘unrighteous people’ to root out sin in his chosen people.” That can certainly be true, but let’s consider the bigger picture.

This moment of judgment, of the wicked swallowing up those more righteous than themselves, is pointing to and foreshadowing something else entirely -- something that most people won’t believe even if they’re told. This is not the only time God used a ruthless and impetuous people to accomplish his purpose. 

Once, there walked on this muddy globe a man named Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, beloved, the only truly innocent and good person who ever did walk this muddy globe -- and in his innocence, he was murdered on false charges by ruthless and impetuous people: religious hypocrites and pagan Romans. He was only “guilty” of preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand, calling out religious hypocrisy, and healing people on the sabbath. So those ruthless and impetuous people nailed him to a cross and got away with it. God did not intervene. He did not save Jesus from this gruesome death. 

And yet, God accomplished something through that horrific injustice. 

We Are All Lawless

In Habakkuk’s day, Judah became evil and lawless because they had forsaken God -- and because God can’t look upon evil and lawlessness with approval, he sent the Babylonians to exile Judah and root out their evil and lawlessness. 

But here’s the trick: all of humanity shares this same problem. We, all of us, are evil and lawless people -- not because we’re necessarily murderers or rapists, but because we do not love our Maker with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. We forsake him in favor of our own way. And God cannot look upon our ways with approval, he cannot abide our rebellion. And so, to deal with our evil hearts, God sent Jesus. First Peter 3:18 says that Christ suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. 

In other words, God used a ruthless and impetuous people to exile Jesus to the desolate valley of death for our sakes, so that through faith in him we could be transformed and be adopted as God’s children. That’s not fair. We’ve done nothing to deserve such treatment. It subverts all expectations. And yet it pleased God to do this for us (Isaiah 53:10). 

So when we read the Bible and see God exiling Judah through the evil nation of Babylon, or when it feels like the wicked surround us and get away with their evil deeds, and we begin wrestling with God over why he would accomplish his purposes in such unbelievable ways -- let us remember Jesus, the righteous for the unrighteous, that we could be brought back to God.