I promised a friend that I would post the rest of this series when I started preaching regularly again. Well, it looks like that may be a while from now. So, I have decided to finish the series as blog posts. I hope that you get as much out of reading these sermons as I am getting from writing them – JV.
You might think that it would have been great to be a prophet – to have the very words of God come out of your mouth. But it was not easy for these guys. Their gift was a burden as well as a blessing. They could not just say what their listeners wanted to hear. More often than not, they were saying the very things their culture did not want to hear. They did not have the luxury of editing out the offensive parts.
Also, they didn’t always understand what God was saying through them. And when they did understand it, they often wished that they didn’t.
Consider, for example, Habakkuk. He is probably known best for a statement he made that the New Testament quotes: “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4).
Paul quotes that when he talks about how the gospel is for everyone. All it takes is faith in Christ whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, because faith in Christ is what God wants (cf. Rom. 1:17).
He explains to the Galatians that access to God is not through the Law, because the Law is about doing good things. Salvation comes through putting your faith in a good God (cf. Gal. 3:11).
The author of Hebrews uses Habakkuk’s slogan when he talks about how we must endure through this time while we wait for our Savior to come, and live by our faith in him (cf. Heb. 10:38).
I think that in each of these cases, the New Testament authors accurately understood what Habakkuk wanted to say, and quoted him in context.
Let’s look at Habakkuk’s context more closely. He probably wrote between 640-615 BC. That means that when he was writing Israel had already been taken over by the super-power of Assyria. Judah alone was left to represent the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The people of Habakkuk’s day were probably very interested in knowing why God had allowed that to happen. Habakkuk and the other prophets had told them that God was all-powerful. Now, he sits in shame because it appears that the gods of Assyria were more powerful than him. The people are ashamed of what has happened, and they want answers.
They are not alone. Habakkuk himself begins his prophecy from God with an earnest prayer to God. He says…
“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 1:2-4).
God’s people had witnessed the collapse of Israel. Moreover, the evil empire of the Assyrians seems unstoppable. No law and no power seemed able to stop them. Habakkuk is living in a time when “justice goes forth perverted.”
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever read about some crime being committed and ask “Where is the God of justice?” That was where Habakkuk was. That was where his heart was.
Personally, I am glad that he was allowed to ask that question. If God never wanted us to ask questions like that, he would never have had one of his prophets ask a question like that. Since God, by his Holy Spirit inspired Habakkuk to ask a question like that, I feel much better confessing to you that my prayer life is often riddled with similar questions.
It might be that for our spiritual lives – Habakkuk’s questions are more important than God’s answers. They reveal that life is going to be filled with things that happen that we do not expect. Living by faith does not mean ignoring the unfortunate realities around us. Living by faith means being able to cope with those unfortunate realities because we have someone to go to who has answers.
That does not mean – however – that the answers are going to be easy to take. Notice God’s specific answer to Habakkuk’s prayer:
“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!” (Habakkuk 1:5-11).
The short answer is that God intended to defeat the Assyrians by bringing in the Babylonians, who will swiftly destroy the Assyrian empire and take control of its lands. These were not godly men. They were a people “whose own might is their god.” But God was going to use them to do his bidding and bring justice.
It was going to take about three decades before this took place. We know from the Bible, and from history, that it did. Habakkuk probably never saw it. It was going to have to be enough for Habakkuk to know that God – in his time – would bring about justice against the Assyrians. Meanwhile, God’s message to him and to the people he ministered to was something like this: “Keep believing in me, even if you are not living in a time when I choose to manifest my power.”
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Are you willing to trust in God even if you don’t get the answer you were hoping for, or if it does not come in your lifetime? Are you willing to let God be in charge of how he answers your prayers? That is hard. It is not easy to surrender control of your destiny, but God often requires that we do it – to manifest our faith in him. His message to Habakkuk was:
“ 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” (Habakkuk 2:3).
And Habakkuk’s words of faith in response were:
“I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:16-18).
No matter what happens. No matter how contrary life seems to be compared with God’s vision of the future – faith trusts that God will fulfill his promise. That is faith in Christ. That is the heart of Habakkuk.
LORD, we choose to trust in you. We choose to believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is going to return and bring about true and complete justice upon this earth. Until that happens, we choose to endure this age of uncertainty with faith in you. We choose to quietly wait for our Savior, and rejoice in the LORD.