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Posts Tagged ‘Day of the Lord’

We are ending our series on Habakkuk today, with a message entitled ‘Habakkuk on the end.’

Let me begin by saying, it’s not unusual when prophets speak, for there to be more meaning than even they know in what they say. That’s because the Spirit is the one who speaks through them. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And Peter says in 1 Peter 1:10-11 that the prophets “searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating . . ..” That is, they did not always fully understand what the Spirit was doing through them. But now with the coming of Christ we have the benefit of hindsight.

This surplus of meaning can be seen in relation to various prophecies about the day of the Lord. These passages speak to specific acts of judgment by God in the time frame of the prophet. But they also point beyond this to the final day, which is also called the day of the Lord in the New Testament; the end of all things (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10)

Here is one example from Isaiah 13:6-7. “6Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come! 7Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.” This is specifically talking about a judgment on Babylon. But just from this small sample you can see how it becomes a picture also of the final judgment.

Habakkuk can be read in this way as well. Even though its most basic meaning is of a literal judgment on Babylon and the resulting salvation of Judah, that has already happened centuries ago – there can be more to it than that.

Hebrews 10:37-38

– reads Habakkuk in just this way. “37Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” He is quoting Habakkuk 2:3-4. The coming of the vision of judgment and salvation, or “the coming one,” according to the translation he is using, has to do with the second coming of Jesus. [The Greek Old Testament or LXX. Also in this translation the phrase, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him” is rendered, “If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” The author of Hebrews then puts this phrase after the phrase, “my righteous one shall live by faith.” He departs from the LXX by not having the “my” before “faith” although some LXX manuscript traditions do have this.]

So he sees in these verses a reference to the final judgment, not just the judgment of Babylon; and a reference to the salvation of all God’s people throughout the world, not just the righteous in Judah. And living by faith has to do with faithfully waiting for Jesus’ return (v. 36) in the interval of Jesus’ first coming and his promised return. This is the context of the broader passage here in Hebrews. [The word faith in Habakkuk 2:4 can mean faith or faithfulness. Also, in Greek the word faith means both trusting in God and God’s promises, and also faithfulness – faithfully continuing to believe and faithfully living according to the promise. The latter is emphasized here in Hebrews.]

If we read Habakkuk in this way, we get an idea of what will happen on the final day. So let me share with you five things we learn about the end of all things from Habakkuk.

1. On the final day all nations and peoples will be judged

Habakkuk said much about the judgment coming upon Babylon; the bulk of his book is about this. And this was literally fulfilled not long after his time. But this judgment on Babylon, like in Isaiah 13, points us also to the end-time judgment.

Habakkuk 2:3 also takes us in this direction. When it talks about the vision of judgment having to do with “the end,” well, this can have a double meaning – the end of Babylon for sure, but also, the end of all things. And as we just saw the author of Hebrews sees in this also a reference to the end of all things.

Read in this way, we can say that those who are like Babylon – arrogant (2:4,5), violent (1:9), greedy (2:5), those who are strong, but use their strength against the weak – to take advantage of, shame and kill them (2:6-17) – all of these will be judged. And just as with Babylon in the five woe oracles in chapter 2, they will receive as judgment, what they did to others. They will get from God what they gave to others. For instance they killed, and so they will be killed (2:10); they shamed others, and so they will be shamed (2:16).

2. On the final day all mouths will be silenced

As a part of the judgment on Babylon Habakkuk 2:20 says, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” There is a fulfillment of this just after Habakkuk’s day, when Babylon was judged.

Babylon had its idols who couldn’t even speak, but when the one, true God speaks and acts the result is that everyone has to be silent. And Babylon was silenced as it saw God’s judgment unfold against it.

But the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment; a time when this will literally happen, as it says over “all the earth.” It points us to what will happen on the final day. This will be God’s day. God will speak and act and there will be nothing that anyone can do. And as we see the greatness and righteousness of God revealed, and as we see the depth of our sin – there will be no excuses, no rationalizations – only the silent acknowledgement that God is right.

3. On the final day God’s people will be saved

Habakkuk mostly talks about waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to judge Babylon. It doesn’t say a lot about the salvation that Judah will experience when this happens. Although this was certainly expected. 

As he says in reference to the Red Sea deliverance, “you went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed” – 3:13. And this is what was pictured as about to happen in his day on Babylon. And he ends his book with a reference to “the God of my salvation” – 3:18. This is what he was waiting for.

And sure enough, just after Habakkuk’s time Judah did return from exile, like the children of Israel escaping Egypt, as is pictured in chapter 3. The fig tree did have fruit, and the fields did have a harvest, in contrast to 3:17.

  But as we saw, the author of Hebrews reads it also as a reference to the salvation that God’s people will experience when Jesus returns.

But there is more. Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith” and especially the phrase “shall live” can have a double meaning.

  • The most basic sense of “shall live,” and what the book focuses on is living life while waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Their lives will be characterized by faithful waiting on God.
  • But it can also be read, not as waiting for the fulfillment, but as having to do with receiving the fulfillment. The phrase, “shall live” then means what is received when the promise is fulfilled – new life, salvation, God’s blessing.

“The righteous shall live by his faith” means that by faith they will receive the promise, which is new life; God’s blessing as they return to their land.

And this second, double meaning can also be read as pointing to the end time when God’s people will be raised from the dead. They “shall live” because of their faith in God’s promise.

Paul uses the double meaning of this verse. When he quotes Habakkuk 2:4 in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 it refers to what we receive when the promise is fulfilled. And he sees it as referring to God’s end-time promise to give his people new life by the Spirit. We “shall live” because by faith we receive the Spirit, the same Spirit who will raise us up on the final day (Romans 8:11).

4. On the final day evil will be fully defeated

Habakkuk 3 teaches us that God didn’t just defeat Egypt when he battled at the Red Sea. He defeated the spiritual powers behind Egypt. Habakkuk saw in this vision God fighting and overcoming the cosmic powers of chaos and evil –  “the sea,” “the rivers,” “the deep.”

And as we saw, the sea is pictured as a sea serpent or dragon. The word “sea” is Yamm, the name of a sea serpent. It had a tail – v. 13, and it was trying to devour the Israelites – v 14. But God crushed its head, so that it was laying down – 13, and then he trampled it with the horses of his chariot – v. 15.

This vision of what God did to Egypt is then what is forecast for Babylon, which was fulfilled. It will be defeated, along with the spiritual powers behind it.

But this serpent language continues on in the New Testament and is applied to Satan.  Revelation 20:2 talks about “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.”

Well, God will defeat once and for all Satan and all the spiritual powers behind evil in this world. On the final day Revelation 20:10 tells us that God will throw the devil “into the lake of fire.” And then notice what Revelation 21:1 says. “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” No more chaos, turmoil and evil.

5. On the final day God’s glory will be everywhere

Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” So the metaphor is that just like the waters cover every part of the sea, so the knowledge of God’s glory will fill the earth; it will be everywhere.

Now this was fulfilled in that when Babylon was judged and his people came back to their land, just as predicted by God’s prophets, all who heard of this exalted Yahweh and his power. “What an amazing God!”

But once again the language here yearns for a greater fulfillment, because it speaks of the whole earth and a filling that goes beyond what happened in the ancient world.

And indeed on the final day, when God’s goodness and righteousness is revealed everyone will actually know and worship Yahweh – all over the earth. Even those who have rebelled against him, who have scorned him will have to bend the knee and acknowledge his greatness.

William Higgins

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