The Blues are a distinctive musical expression that emerged from the African-American experience of slavery and reconstruction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries here in our country. The form is simple – we can all write a blues verse: 1. Identify a basic situation you want to express from your life’s experience (usually based on a hardship of some sort). 2. State the situation in a line of 13 beats – example: I was with you, baby, when you didn’t have a dime. 3. Repeat. 4. State the complaint (lament - how it directly affects you) in 14 beats – example: Now since you got plenty money, you’re gone now all the time. This example is by the great blues singer Besse Smith. And you can go on and on and on. This particular blues has a number of verses and by the end of it all she has gone from lament to resolution; from the complaining that he is a no good bum to resolving to dump him!
We talk about “singing the blues” when things are not going well. And usually it is a way of expressing that things are not going well and that these things have got us down. Even if we don’t go to the extent of actually writing or composing a blues song we have all “sung” the blues at some time or another when things have not been going well.
The prophet Habakkuk is certainly one who knows how to “sing the blues.” Things are not good for him and the people of Judah. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help…. All around him he sees violence and injustice. Those in authority are only interested in their own agendas so that they and their friends can get rich and maintain their power. Those in power pervert justice, abuse the poor and powerless. And not only that, but over the horizon looms a great threat: Babylon. And in the midst of all of this, God, YHWH, where are you? Why do you remain silent? Why do you allow such horrid things to happen?!?
We are not used to such blunt talk directed at God. But this is part of the Old Testament tradition of lament. We can find many examples of this kind of blunt talk in the Psalms (the most well-known example is Psalm 22, which Jesus spoke from the cross). The Hebrews are not afraid to confront God and this is what Habakkuk does. And after he finishes his complaint, his lament – the first verse of his blues – he states that he will take up his place on the ramparts and watch and wait for an answer. This is extraordinary. He is willing to wait for an answer. In instant gratification world the image of the prophet Habakkuk standing in the watchtower waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting until he receives a word from the Lord is a profound image for me and it tells me that 1st – God has a timetable that is different than mine and 2nd – that God will answer in due course.
At the end of it all, God does respond and states clearly that out of death will come resurrection; that justice will sweep away injustice; that peace or shalom will bloom everywhere and that the love of God will triumph. This is the proclamation of the cross. God is working to bring this about and it will happen – not in ways we expect or on our time timetable – but God will accomplish it. The mustard seed of the Kingdom of God is planted and is growing in our midst - even if we can't always see it. And in the meantime? Hear the closing words of the book: Habakkuk writes: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. Amen! (Actually, read 3:17-19 – it is a powerful and beautiful statement of faith). No matter what I will continue to live my life faithfully as a follower of Jesus and will look to God with thanksgiving and praise!
Suggested reading - the entirety of the Prophet Habakkuk - 1:1 to 3:19
Bibliography: Why Habakkuk? By Don Gowan
Statue below by Donatello
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