Habakkuk 1.12-2.4: Faith...in God's Work
March 21, 2010 Series: Habakkuk
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Habakkuk 2:4–2:4
March 21, 2010
Fly on the Wall
Last week, we were introduced to a man named Habakkuk who, outside of these 56 verses, we know little to nothing about. Habakkuk’s book, however, has become one of the most influential of all of the minor prophets. This short book is referenced by Paul in sermons (Acts 13), and Habakkuk 2.4 is quoted three times in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews; the very verses which also sparked the Protestant Reformation contributing to the reason why we’re all sitting here today.
We might find it difficult to see how a book written 2,500 years ago could have significant meaning for us today. But Paul wrote about the O.T. in Romans 15.4 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. And we know that the “hope” he was talking about is Jesus—a fact confirmed by Jesus himself, in Luke 24 when he taught that the entire O.T. was about Him. BUT, this is not a book like Proverbs or James that gives practical wisdom and plain answers. Instead, God allows us eavesdrop on a conversation he has with Habakkuk as he wrestles with his faith. There are many such private conversations that God wanted us to overhear for our benefit and for His glory.
Habakkuk writes around 607 BC, about 20 years before the Fall of Jerusalem, at a time when God’s people are full of moral, physical, and spiritual corruption. What he sees overwhelms him, and Habakkuk is driven to prayer, to cry out to God to do something. Habakkuk asks, “How Long” to which the Lord replies, “Soon.” And when God gives him insight into a plan that includes raising up an idolatrous nation to judge the idolatry of God’s own people, Habakkuk cries FOUL! “That’s not fair! What about justice?” And the Lord answers, ““My perfect justice will bring judgment on ALL sin, even the sins of my own people.”
We’re the bad guys
At the heart of Habakkuk’s problem is the same thing we all struggle with—we don’t believe we’re the worst person sitting in the room, even when we’re sitting alone. We play judge and jury, comparing ourselves, our lives, and our work with everyone else’s. And most of us come out on the positive scale—especially when we have people like the Babylonians to compare to in the papers everyday! It is called the sin of entitlement. We believe God should give us something, or not, because of how good we are when compared with all of the “bad people”. As God reveals his “unbelievable” plan to Habakkuk, we begin to see Habakkuk play the same compare game…taking one step closer to believing that God saves “good” people and punishes the “bad” people based on works. The cross shows us not that he loves “good sinners”, as much as it shows how much he loves his own righteousness. God’s love for you and I does not consist in making much of us or our works, but in making much of himself for us.
I don’t believe Habakkuk’s faith is weak. As we all should, Habakkuk wrestles with what God SAYS because it contradicts who he THOUGHT God to be. But, instead of allowing that, instead of allowing that tension to lead him to judgment on God, he gets on his knees before God. And though he expresses doubts, we also hear a confidence in WHO GOD IS even when his faith has been shaken to the core.
Habakkuk’s 2nd Complaint – 1.12-2.1
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.
Habakkuk 1.12 – WHO GOD IS
What is our first response when we experience unexpected suffering, trials, pains whether they be emotional, physical, or spiritual? Though there are, without question, times in our faith when we fall flat on our faces, when we run and hide, even times when we raise our fists in anger at God. But what is the norm? For the most part, we are either governed by a fear and reverence for God OR fear and reverence for the circumstance. Faith is being overwhelmed with awe for God in the experience, as opposed to be consumed by experience. When Habakkuk is disturbed about what he DOESN’T know or understand, he turns to what he DOES KNOW and finds confidence in who he knows God is. The moment we take our eyes off of God’s beauty, we’ll only see ugliness.
The Bible does answer the question, “What is God like?” In doing this, it provides us descriptions of character qualities. Being made in the image of God, man can exhibit some of these qualities such as love, beauty, justice, however marred by sin they might be. Other attributes are reserved for God alone. It is here that Habakkuk chooses to meditate—the things that make God, God. The FIRST thing Habakkuk does is declare that God is from everlasting, He is ETERNAL. God has no beginning or end; he does not grow, learn, or change; he is not limited by anything outside of himself—even time. Eternity is an impossible concept for us to fully grasp. Habakkuk starts here because it is comforting to know that God sees things from an eternal perspective. He knows what is best for our lives, and for the world.
“O’LORD, My God”
God also acts IN time and Habakkuk next declares that GOD IS PERSONAL. God did not start the machine of the world and walk away. He planned to be personally involved in the world before it was created. Here Habakkuk uses the covenant name of God YAHWEH (LORD) and calls him “My God.” In not so subtle ways, Habakkuk reminds God that he has a special relationship with his people. 10 of the 12 tribes of God’s people have been wiped out and spread throughout the world. He gently reminds God that he has promised that these will be HIS people and HE will be THEIR GOD.
My Holy One
Habakkuk also focuses on the fact that God is Holy. He trusts that God is completely separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own glory. God’s holiness is the attribute through which all of his actions must be filtered. God seeks to purify us from sin that we might be fully devoted to His glory—but, in our sin, we fall short of his glory. The Holiness of God is both fearful and awe-inspiring. Since He is absolutely Holy and we are totally UNHOLD, it is only through something that he does that will make it possible for us to come into a relationship with Him, to even enter into His presence—enter Jesus. And so we trust that ALL of HIS WORK, however painful, uncomfortable, or undesirable, is His means through which he leads us to the cross AND makes us to look more and more like his Son.
We shall not die… O Rock
Verse 12 ends with Habakkuk standing firm on the ROCK, the foundation of God’s character. This is where all hard questions must begin AND end. Without a basic understanding of God, we will judge all of his actions from our humanity. Habakkuk has some hard questions to ask, but he asks them on top of the rock God has already proven himself to be. If Yahweh is their God, they’re enemy is being raised up as God’s tool to judge, he knows they will not ULITMATELY DIE.
Habakkuk 1.13-17 – WHO BABYLON IS
13 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?
14 You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
like crawling things that have no ruler.
15 He brings all of them up with a hook;
he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
and his food is rich.
17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net
and mercilessly killing nations forever?
The Evil of Babylon
After declaring WHO GOD IS, Habakkuk turns his focus to the Babylonians. He begins to play the compare game. Habakkuk struggles with how God can allow such an evil people succeed when compared to the righteous Israel. Next the Babylonians, the Israelites look like saints. He rightly wonders, “How can you judge Judah who is admittedly bad, but not judge Babylon who is so much worse?”
In order to help God understand the comparison, Habakkuk creates a word picture where the helpless Israelite salmon are dragged away by the Babylonian fisherman. In truth, God didn’t MAKE mankind fish or worms without a leader—he put him in charge of everything and man chose to rebel. God did not give them BAD KINGS, he was rejected as THEIR KING. Nevertheless, Habakkuk the word picture does mirror the military methods of the Babylonians who, like the Assyrians, would string their captive enemies together in a single file by placing a large hook in their bottom lip. Habakkuk wants to know if the tool of judgment will ever be judged themselves, asking – “Will they be able to do this forever?”
God isn’t Fair
In essence, he is challenging God’s JUSTICE. Habakkuk doesn’t believe it is fair. “It’s not fair” is one of the earliest phrases that kids learn. My kids use it today to which our response is usually, “Life isn’t fair”. As kids, or adults, we don’t use it when we’ve been wrong according to a STANDARD; we use it in we’ve been wronged in COMPARISON to someone else. God isn’t fair, and it’s a good thing—fair would be hell. God is gracious and merciful. Habakkuk conveniently forgets that Judah has been acting wickedly for years, and that God has been patient. If God was to give what was “fair”, he would have showed justice without patient, wrath without mercy, and destroyed Judah many years. Like Habakkuk, we only concern ourselves with God’s mercy, grace, and love when it is ABOUT US, and we only concern ourselves with God’s holiness, justice, and wrath when it’s about SOMEONE ELSE.
Habakkuk 2.1-3 WHO HABAKKUK IS
In verse 17, Habakkuk with a bit of cynicism asks, “Will you allow them to do this forever?” When will God’s patience run out and his justice take over for the Babylonians? Then Habakkuk waits for God:
2 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
2 And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
3 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.
v. 1 Running to the Tower
Habakkuk says he will go into the tower and he will wait to see what God’s answer is. It is tempting to read this as if Habakkuk is an angry little boy, stomping up the stairs, and waiting for Dad to prove he isn’t as mean as it looks. I am not sure that is what is happening here. Proverbs 18.10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. The watchtower in a city was the place of protection where men who stand watching whatever came into view. Figuratively then, Habakkuk retreats to a place to focus his attention on what Word God will give. When things get difficult, when we have doubts, when we don’t understand, we can either WANDER looking for answers, or we can RETREAT into a place of strength and safety. We must go a place above the frey, where we can see everything, a place of solitude, a place of silence, a sanctuary of God where we can fix ourselves on God’s Word.
v. 2-3 Write this down…the vision will not delay
When God responds, he tells Habakkuk to write down what he says. We have a God who writes and who sustains what he writes. The Word of God has been permanently recorded that it might be perpetually proclaimed in all purity. It is not written down for Habakkuk, but for future audiences and messengers—we are both. The message that Habakkuk is told to write is one of judgment on the prideful self-glory of men and promise of the glory of God’s Kingdom. God will judge the Babylonians, but it will not happen for many more years around 586 B.C. This is not a delay, this is not slow, this is how God has appointed nations, events, people, to come, go, live or die. He assures Habakkuk that, in the end, all will be judged and in the verse 4 speaks to how anyone will be saved--faith.
CONCLUSION - Habakkuk 2.4 WHO JESUS IS
4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
God declares the problem with the Babylonians—they are prideful in their SOUL, “might makes right” works with other nations but NOT with God. The Babylonians aren’t the only ones who struggle with pride in their hearts, Habakkuk does, all men do—it is the heart of sin. We not only believe that we are “good” but that we can in fact save, fix, or make ourselves “right” before a holy God. BUT God says that rightness with God, the only thing that counts, comes through faith.
Many of us live by faith, in ourselves as we compare ourselves to others. We like to play the compare game and check out score sheet with the Babylonians. What we don’t realize is that you and I ARE Babylonians. God is good. God makes good laws. We are all bad because we don’t keep God’s Laws. So and so deserves judgment, I mean, I’m not as bad as _______________. If you want to compare yourself to someone, compare yourself to Jesus. Very quickly, we will see that there are no good guys, we’re all bad guys and we all deserve judgment.
God is holy and perfectly just, therefore, every sin must be punished. The question isn’t why does God not kill all the sin he sees, the question should be why doesn’t God kill me? Are we banking on the HOPE that we’ve tipped the scales enough in our favor—that we’re good enough or not “that bad”. Let me tell you how good you have to be…perfect. If “good enough” is acceptable God is not really just. Go ahead, try and be a good moral person, you’ll either end up PRIDEFUL because you’re “pretty good” or FRUSTRATED because you’re “pretty bad”. OUR HOPE IS IN JESUS. Paul says that God’s commands show us our need for Jesus: Galatians 2.16-17 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Galatians 3.11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
I am made right because of Jesus. We place our faith in the work of Jesus because the cross satisfies all of the faith doubts that Habakkuk has. Is God just? Yes. He deservedly punishes all sin, pouring out his wrath on his own Son who died as my substitute. Is God Holy if he uses an evil people like that? Yes. He purposes all things, even evil, to bring about His glory which is my joy. Is God loving? Yes. God not only paid for my sin, but he made me right by giving me Jesus perfect sinless life. The righteousness of God comes through faith in what Jesus did, not what I do, not what I didn’t do. Romans 3.21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.