October 18, 2005
Good morning. My name is Michael Talley and I’m the college pastor at ABF. If you have your Bibles today, I’d like to invite you to turn to the book of Habakkuk. No, this is not a prank: Habakkuk is, in fact, a real book of the Bible. If you’re not sure how to get there, just find Mark’s gospel and go back six books. When you find the portion of your Bible that is free from pencil marks and general wear & tear, you’re getting close. Pastor Scott Andrews is on a much-needed 2-week vacation, so we will take a brief pause in our study of Mark’s gospel and look at Habakkuk.
As you’re making your way there, I’d like to try to explain why we’re going to spend two weeks studying a book that’s hard to find and hard to pronounce. I think most of you would agree that the Minor Prophets are difficult genre to understand. If the Bible were a map, the Minor Prophets would be the unexplored and hazardous region tucked away in the corner. You don’t go there because you’re not sure if you’ll ever make it out. Almost everything about these books is unfamiliar. Habakkuk and God will speak to each other in poetry. They’ll speak of evening wolves and men burning incense to fishing nets. We’ll learn about the famous Chaldean army and the slopes of Mt. Paran. It’s a strange land.
So, why are we going there? When you strip away the literary and contextual differences and get to the heart of this book, you’ll find that Habakkuk is not very different from us. He asked the same questions that we’re asking today. || Habakkuk had to deal with the fact that his beloved country was falling apart. The law was perverted and injustice was everywhere. There is a growing sense of frustration among Christians in our own country as we drift further away from Christian morals. || Habakkuk also lived in a time of global unrest. The world powers were shifting yet again. Again, many of us can relate to these fears. We’re not really sure what is going to transpire in the Middle East or Russia or China. || Habakkuk’s prophecy goes even deeper. He wanted to know where God was in the midst of his chaotic world. Could he be trusted? He wanted to know how the people of God should respond to these adversities. That’s the message of Habakkuk. And it’s the message that we need to hear today. Let us pray.
We don’t know much about Habakkuk the person. The first verse of his prophecy simply says: The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. We don’t know where he came from or when he lived. We don’t know anything about his family. The other day, my five-year-old daughter asked me why Habakkuk’s mommy named him Habakkuk. I didn’t have a good answer. Apparently, the Jews didn’t either. Most commentators believe that his name can be linked to an Assyrian flower called the Hambaququ, but that doesn’t help us at all. This flower didn’t contain any secret powers; it was just a flower. || Commentators also disagree about the exact date of the prophecy. We know that he prophesied to Judah sometime before the Babylonian invasion and exile. He was most likely a contemporary of Jeremiah, but we’re sure. || We’re not even quite sure how to pronounce his name. Most scholars emphasize the last syllable: Ha-ba-KUK. I tend to agree with this, but since we’re in the South, I’ll stick with the preferred southern pronunciation: Ha-BAH-kuk.
Here’s what we do know about Habakkuk. He was frustrated. The Hebrew word oracle in the first verse carries with it the idea of a burden. Habakkuk was frustrated with his country. Why had they turned from the Lord? On top of this, he was frustrated that God seemed slow to respond. Where was God?
And so Habakkuk engaged God in a conversation. This is what makes the book of Habakkuk different than most of the prophets. You see, most of the prophets brought a message from God to the seemingly deaf people. But Habakkuk worked the opposite way. He brought the people’s complaints to a seemingly deaf God. Here’s the outline for this incredible conversation. It is pretty straightforward.
- Habakkuk’s Complaint (1:2-4)
- God’s Reassuring Response (1:5-11)
- Habakkuk’s Second Complaint (1:12-2:1)
- God’s Reassuring Response (2:2-20)
This is quite a bit of material to digest in one morning, so we’re going to analyze the major theological themes in each section. Let’s begin with Habakkuk’s first complaint in v2:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
Habakkuk begins the conversation with a classic lament. His beloved nation – God’s covenant people – had perverted justice. As he scanned his country, all he saw was violence and injustice and rebellion. The covenant people of God were acting like anarchists and Habakkuk could not understand why God was silent. And so he boldly questioned him: God, can’t you see? Don’t you hear? Why don’t you do something?
This type of lament makes most of us uncomfortable. Whenever we run into these passages in Scripture – and they’re all over the place – we get nervous. We feel like Habakkuk would be wise to tone it down a bit. We feel like he should brush up on his theology and simply accept the current condition of his country. Of course God sees, Habakkuk. Settle down. Everything is going to be fine. God will take care of it.
But we need to realize that it was Habakkuk’s good theology that drove him to lament. As we’ll soon discover, Habakkuk was a very good theologian. His understanding of the Scriptures formed his understanding of God. According to Deuteronomy 28, God should have cursed Israel for blatant disobedience. But what he saw on the ground did not line up with what he knew about God. Israel was sinning, but they weren’t being punished. That inconsistency drove him to lament.
One of the reasons we shy away from this emotional interaction with God is because we are heavily influenced by an ancient philosophy called Stoicism. This philosophy essentially tells us that our universe is fixed. We cannot control anything, so we should stop trying. We’re like dogs tied to a cart; we just obediently go where the cart goes. Stoicism is opposed to emotions. You have reached maturity when you learn how to accept the status quo.
If you want a good example of Stoicism, read Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore the donkey is a classic stoic. The poor donkey lost his tail and there’s nothing he can do about it. Christianity is not a good example of Stoicism. We believe in a living God that can see and hear. We believe in a good God who cares. When our world is falling apart, we don’t blindly accept fate; we cry to God. Why are you letting this happen? How long will it be this way?
It turns out that God was already aware of Judah’s injustices. In fact, he was putting the final touches on an unbelievable plan. Literally, God told Habakkuk that he wouldn’t believe it. Let’s explore God’s first reassuring response. Pick up in verse 5:
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
They all come for violence, all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it.
Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
I have titled this God’s reassuring response because it at least begins with some reassurance. The first two sentences are pretty good. God told Habakkuk that he did, in fact, see and hear that Judah was out of line. He actually had a great plan to deal with it.
This must have provided some immediate comfort for the confused prophet. But as soon as he began to outline his plan, Habakkuk’s comfort was certainly dashed. God told Habakkuk that he was raising up the Chaldeans. This was an ethnic tribe in Southern Babylon that ultimately became known as the Babylonian Empire. God’s description of this nation is shocking. They were bitter and hasty. They had no law. They had no ethics or morality. They did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. When they came to a fortified city, they laughed. Then they would build a ramp, conquer the city and move on.
That was God’s plan in a nutshell. He reassured Habakkuk that he saw the injustice and that he had a plan to take care of it. The Babylonians would judge Judah. In Noah’s day, God sent water to cover the earth in judgment. In Habakkuk’s day, God would send Babylon to cover the earth in judgment.
As you can imagine, this did not comfort Habakkuk. Perhaps we can wrap our minds around floodwaters as an instrument of God’s judgment; rain is morally neutral. But the Babylonians were wicked. Their sin surpassed Judah’s sin. How could God use Babylon as an instrument of judgment? This led to Habakkuk’s second lament. Pick up in verse 12
Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die.
O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent
when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?
When Habakkuk was confused and scared, he responded with theological prayer. I want to be able to dialogue with God like Habakkuk did. I will confess to you this morning that I do not typically respond like this when I’m confused and scared. When I learned that ISIS beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians, I immediately scoured the Internet for information on Coptic Christianity and poured over blogs from trusted pastors and theologians. I have spent more time in the past few months watching good videos about the Planned Parenthood videos than I have spent praying about abortion. I tend to let really good, gospel-centered resources help me. Habakkuk went to God. Let us learn how to do the same.
And when we go, let us do so with the theological precision of Habakkuk. He began by reminding God of his eternal existence. He used God’s covenant name, YHWH, reminding him of the covenant he made with Israel. He called God his Rock, his fortress in the midst of adversity. He called God his holy one and reminded him that he could not tolerate injustice. He wasn’t buttering God up. He was simply recalling God’s divine attributes. This is the mark of a good prayer. And because Habakkuk had a Scriptural understanding of God, he concluded that God could not wipe out Judah. This is why he says, We shall not die! Remember us God. Remember the covenant.
Habakkuk did not have a category for God’s plan. If God would allow Babylon to ruthlessly judge Judah, he would have to remove all sense of law and order from the universe. Humanity would then become like the fish of the sea, with no ruler.
This was a major problem & Habakkuk didn’t have an answer. Look at his response in 2:1.
I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
This is the crux of the book. At this point in the narrative, there is a lot of tension, and no resolution. Habakkuk is sitting on the watchtower, waiting for God to speak.
Suddenly, the Minor Prophets seem a bit more relevant. Some of you are very confused about your life right now. You’re not exactly sure what God is trying to teach you. You’re not sure if he is good. You’re not sure if he even cares. You might even be terrified about your future. Some of you are just frustrated. Perhaps you’re aware of God’s plan for your life, but you don’t like it. Maybe you are terrified about the future of our country and the future of our world. If you are confused or scared or frustrated, you’re not alone. I want to invite you to join Habakkuk on the watchtower as he waits for God’s response. The narrative picks up in verse 2, but you need to know that God’s response will drastically altar Habakkuk’s life forever. He will climb down the watchtower changed. Lets read 2:2.
And the LORD answered me:
“Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
God could not have been more reassuring. He told Habakkuk to write down his vision on stone. In other words, these words will endure. He wanted these words to be carried by a runner. In other words, these words would be proclaimed throughout the world. And finally, he told him to rest in the confidence that his vision would be fulfilled. Habakkuk, this vision will happen, it will be proclaimed, and it will endure! The vision will continue through the entire 2ndchapter, but the entire prophecy is summarized in verse 4. Lets read.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
It is difficult to underestimate the importance of this one verse. One commentator called it “the watchword of Christianity and the central theme of all of the Scriptures.” It is quoted three times in the NT and was foundational to Martin Luther’s theology. This verse was influential in sparking the Protestant Reformation. In other words, if Scott ever preaches through Habakkuk, he’ll probably spend an entire week introducing this one verse.
So, what does it mean? The promise of this verse is that the wicked will be consumed by his wickedness, but the righteous will live by his faith. Let me say that again, the wicked will be consumed by his wickedness, but the righteous will live by his faith.
This is the terror and the beauty of the gospel in one sentence. The terror of the gospel is that judgment is coming. The wicked will perish. Though they prosper now, they will not always prosper. Though they get away with injustice now, they will not always get away with it. Verse 5 says that like death, the wicked are never content. If you are indulging in your flesh this morning and living in blatant rebellion against God, be warned. According to God’s word, you will not always enjoy the luxury that you are enjoying now.
In fact, the rest of chapter 2 graphically demonstrates this truth. God will pronounce five woes on the wicked. Specifically he is talking about the Babylonian Empire, but these words can be applied across the board. Let me briefly run through the five woes. The wicked will be judged for these five atrocities. We don’t have time to study these in depth, but let me at least list them.
In verse 6, the wicked were condemned for taking what does not belong to them.
In verse 9, the wicked were condemned for finding their security in their own resources.
In verse 12, the wicked were condemned for using violence and injustice to get ahead.
In verse 15, the wicked were condemned for manipulating the weak to demonstrate their own glory.
Finally, in verse 19, the wicked were condemned for bowing down to dead idols.
After each woe, God emphasized their certain downfall. Their debtors would rise up against them. Even the stones and beams of their elaborate houses would cry out against them. God promised Habakkuk that justice was woven into the fabric of the world. It is impossible to build a sustainable life of injustice on this earth.
The wicked will not get away with their violence and injustice. Let us hear these words before we move on. If you have trusted in our own resources and wealth for our salvation this morning, I want to invite you to repent. You may not see the need to repent because it may seem like you are getting away with your rebellion against God, but you cannot build a sustainable life of injustice on this earth.
Let’s close by exploring the second half of verse 2. God’s vision demonstrated the terror of the gospel, but it also demonstrates the beauty of the gospel. The wicked will perish, but the righteous will live by his faith. God reassured Habakkuk that salvation is possible, even in the midst of judgment. Remember, Habakkuk couldn’t see it. He was confused; injustice was everywhere. The wicked were swallowing up the righteous. It felt like God’s people were doomed. But God reminded Habakkuk that the righteous will live by his faith. They will find salvation by renouncing their own strength and trusting completely in God.
I feel like I need to remind you right now that we’re studying Habakkuk. This powerful verse is found in the OT! It was written six centuries before Jesus came and preached Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand. And it explains the powerful truth that God’s people have always found life by faith in God alone. We cannot say that people were saved by observing the law in the OT and saved by grace in the NT. God’s people have always been saved by faith. This theme was so foundational to the apostle Paul that he placed it at the very beginning of his gospel presentation to the Roman church. Listen to it: (Romans 1:17)
For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
God’s people respond to adversity in faith. It has always been this way. Habakkuk lived in a chaotic time and God asked him to respond in faith. Brothers and sisters: let us respond in faith. Let us turn our hearts to God. As Paul continued in Romans, the righteousness of God is expressed most clearly through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Habakkuk held on to the promise that God would save his people in the Babylonian invasion; we hold on to the promise that he has eternally saved his people through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We wait for his return.
If you want to know how to cultivate that type of saving faith this morning, the final verse in chapter 2 gives us a clue:
The LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”
I would like for us to respond to God’s message this morning in the same way that Habakkuk responded: with humble, reverent silence. God hears your pain; he hears your frustration. He knows you are confused. He is in his holy temple. Let us worship him in silence. The band will lead us in one final song after a few moments of silence.