The load that needs more carriers
There is a short, prophetic book in the Bible that I think we need to pay more attention to—particularly at this time in the life of our nation.
We need to pay attention to this book because we need to learn from people who are willing to argue honestly with God…and who are also willing to listen attentively to what God says to them in return. And we need to value this book because we need to learn from people who are driven by compassion and conviction.
The name of the book is the name of the prophet who composed it: Habakkuk. The name has rich meaning. It comes from the Hebrew verb habhak, meaning “to embrace.” As such, the name means “Embraced,” and is generally considered to refer to Habakkuk being embraced by God.
We commonly think of embracing as having to do with taking hold of something or someone we cherish, holding that precious thing close or our heart or wrapping our arms around that loved one. Every time a person called out the name, “Habakkuk,” this prophet was given a reminder of who he was: an individual who was embraced and cherished by God!
Yet the name has a dual significance to it. It is not just a passive name, but an active name as well. It speaks not only of being embraced but also of doing the embracing. Martin Luther suggested that this prophet should be called the Heartener, arguing that Habakkuk is a prophet “who takes another to his heart and to his arms, as one soothes a poor weeping child.”
Habakkuk was an individual who was embraced by God and cherished by God, and he was a prophet who embraced the people of Judah and took them into his heart. I love that combination.
The book begins with the announcement that what we have in this book is the “prophecy” or “oracle” that Habakkuk received. The Hebrew word used here is massa. It is used in other passages of Scripture to refer to a heavy load that must be lifted.
One example is found in Exodus 23:5: “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its massa, don’t leave it there; be sure you help him with it.” Here massa has to do with a load that is so heavy that it causes a donkey to collapse under its weight. Even though the owner of that donkey may hate you, you are to take pity on the donkey and help to lift its load.
Another example is found in Numbers 11:11-12, as Moses is arguing with God about the heavy load God has given to him: “He asked the Lord, ‘Why have You brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You that You put the massa of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do You tell me to carry them in my arms as a nurse carries an infant, to the land You promised on oath to their forefathers?’”
Massa is what Habakkuk received from God. He received the weight of caring for his people in a time of great ethical failings. Strife, conflict, and injustice were rampant in his land. In frustration, Habakkuk cries out to God, complaining that God has done nothing to stop it.
Habakkuk was written between 621 and 609 B.C., but Habakkuk’s complaint of strife, conflict and injustice rings true in our nation today as well. Political rallies chant, “Lock her up.” Elected officials are heckled when they go out to eat. Bombs are mailed to political opponents. Two people are shot to death in a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky simply for being black. And 11 people are shot to death in a synagogue in Pittsburgh merely for being Jewish. With Habakkuk, we could ask, “Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing?”
As I read the opening lines of Habakkuk’s massa my prayer is that God will make me more like Habakkuk, more willing to carry in my heart the pains and struggles of others. And I pray for God to raise up more Habakkuk’s in our nation at this time—more people who will care about the pain of injustice and who will complain about it and speak up about it and pray about it.