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Posts Tagged ‘Habakkuk’

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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We are moving forward in our study of Habakkuk today, looking at the topic of living by faith.

Habakkuk 2:3-4 – “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. . .. but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19 – “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. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

Before we get to our topic, let’s remember where we’ve been:

  • Habakkuk complained that God was not doing anything about Judah’s sin. God answered that the Babylonians will be his instrument of judgment on Judah.
  • Then Habakkuk objected that the Babylonians are worse sinners than the Judeans. Will they prosper? Will they not be judged? God answered that they will be judged in due time, and this is laid out in some detail.
  • Then last week in chapter 3, Habakkuk prayed for God to bring this about. Seeing in a vision God’s judgment of Egypt at the Red Sea, he says of Babylon in 3:16, “I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” (NIV)

Now all of this is the background against which the core message of Habakkuk comes out – what living by faith means. God gives promises to his people. But there is an interval between the promise and the fulfillment. And faith has to do with this in between time, living between promise and fulfillment.

So I want to share with you five things we learn from Habakkuk about what living by faith means; living between promise and fulfillment.

1. It means trusting in God’s promises

Habakkuk 2:4 says it simply – “the righteous shall live by his/her faith.”

Even if God’s promise seems to tarry, we are not to give up, but we are to keep God’s promises before us. We are to faithfully and steadfastly trust in God and his word to us.

Habakkuk lived by his faith. He knew what was coming and it wasn’t good. But he chose not to focus on the bad that was present and that was coming. He chose to stay focused on the promise.

In the same way we are to move forward, even though we don’t see any evidence that God’s promises to us are coming true. As Hebrews 11:1 says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Romans 4:18-21 are some very powerful verses about trusting in God’s promises. Here, Paul talks about the faith of Abraham. “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Faith is not putting on rose-colored glasses. “Everything is just fine!” “There’s no problems here!” No, faith is seeing how bad things really are, yet still choosing to trust that God will come through for us. Abraham and Sarah really were too old to have a child, but they did anyway because of God’s promise.

2. It means waiting for God to act

Habakkuk was given a promise that God would act to save his people and judge Babylon for its violence and evil. Then the Lord said to him in Habakkuk 2:2, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” And this is what he resolves to do in Habakkuk 3:16. “I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” (NIV); and for the day when God will deliver Judah.

And while he waited things were really bad. Judah was invaded. The temple and city were to be destroyed. And many would be killed or taken captive to Babylon. This was the reality he was facing presently and for the foreseeable future.

And although we will not find ourselves in just these circumstances, we will have our share of difficult situations as well. And so like Habakkuk we have to learn patient waiting also.

As Peter reminds us, with God a thousand years is as a day (2 Peter 3:8). God’s timing is not ours. But his promise will come. As the Lord says in 2:3 the promise has “it’s appointed time.” And so we must wait for it.

3. Living by faith means praying for God to act

It is not doing nothing; it is not about being passive. It is doing that which counts the most – praying.

This is what Habakkuk did as we see in Habakkuk 3:2. “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” (NIV)

We talked about this last time. God, you have said “it will surely come; it will not delay” (3:2). Bring it to pass even now! Make a name for yourself even in our day! Do great deeds of deliverance and salvation even now!

Through prayer God allows us to be a part of the process of bringing his promises to fulfillment.

4. Living by faith means having joy even while we wait

Habakkuk 3:17-18 are some of my favorite verses in the whole Bible. “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 is living in very difficult circumstances. God hasn’t acted yet, and there is no sign that the fulfillment is just over the horizon. But he chooses to have joy because he knows God will act.

This is an anticipative joy. You know by faith how the story will end, and thus you can already have a taste of that joy, even while waiting for it.

It is as Jesus said in Matthew 5:12. When you are persecuted and slandered, “rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.” Rejoice already, knowing how things will end, when God’s promises are fulfilled.

5. Living by faith means receiving strength from God to endure

I am using the NLT here of Habakkuk 3:19, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.”

Even though things are bad, and that for the foreseeable future, God gives him strength. In fact, God is his strength. In all of the chaos and suffering of his day God gives him stability – he is surefooted like a deer.

And thus God makes him able to go through the most difficult terrain – climbing through the mountain heights.

And God can be our strength too, so that we can make it through the difficult path we have to walk, waiting for the fulfillment.

What about you?

How are you doing living by faith this morning? How are you doing living in the in-between time; between promise and fulfillment?

Maybe you are looking to God to take care of you and your needs in this life. And maybe things are really hard right now. And you wonder when  God is going to come through for you.

Or perhaps you are looking to the future and the life to come when all of God’s promises are fulfilled. And you  wonder if you can make it to the end so that you can receive these.

Whatever your situation I want to pray for you this morning . . ..

William Higgins

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Today we are in chapter 3 of Habakkuk. This is a very interesting chapter and I hope that you will find that to be true.

By way of review we have already seen how Habakkuk complained that God wasn’t dealing with Judah’s sin. God’s answer was that he would raise up Babylon to judge Judah. Then Habakkuk complained that Babylon was a worse sinner than Judah, and that they should be judged as well. And God’s answer was that Babylon would indeed be judged in accordance with their sins. But that the righteous must wait for this salvation in faith.

Today we look at –

Habakkuk’s prayer

As we will see, this is a prayer for God to act to bring about his promise to judge Babylon and save his people.

“1A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.” Habakkuk 3 is a prayer in the form of a song, or Psalm.

  • The word here in v. 1, “Shigionoth,” may indicate a musical style (Similarly, Psalm 7:1).
  • It uses the word “Selah” several times, as in the Psalms. (Although its meaning is not known it seems to be musical).
  • And in v. 19 it ends with the phrase, “For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.”

He prays, “2Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known, in wrath remember mercy.” We will come back to this prayer at the end, but for now I would just note how this sets up the main part of our text today, vs. 3-15.

Habakkuk has heard what God has done in the past; he is in awe of God’s deeds. And as he thinks of the current situation with Babylon invading Judah (v. 16), he has a visionary experience (v.7) where he sees God defeating another superpower that opposed his people – Egypt at the Red Sea. This is the context then, for when he prays here. God, do what you did to Egypt again in our day – in reference to Babylon.

vs. 3-15 are poetry, with many evocative images. I will try to briefly give you the outlines of what is happening. You may want to reference the handout. It has two main sections. The first describes –

God’s march to war

“3God came from Teman,  the Holy One from Mount Paran.” These are the regions of Edom and south of this. Geographically speaking, God is coming from the East toward Egypt.

“His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. 4His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.” Here we have a description of a brilliant sunrise and rays of light filling the heavens and the earth.

But then the mood changes. “5Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. 6He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed –  but he marches on forever.” All is not well plague and pestilence are coming. Judgment is coming

Now also, storm imagery comes to the fore, which carries through the rest of the poem. Here it is in the form of thunder that shakes even those things that seem permanent and immoveable – the mountains and hills. A great storm is brewing and continuing West toward the Red Sea.

“7I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish.” This speaks of the effect of God’s march to war on those he passes by Midian and Cushan, on his way to the Red Sea. They are in distress and anguish. [Or if one holds that the Red Seal crossing took place through the Gulf of Aqaba, just West of Midian, then this would narrate the arrival of God at the Red Sea.]

These verses refer back to Exodus 14:24. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea at night. The Egyptians entered the Red Sea in the morning to pursue them. It was in “the morning watch,” as the sun rose, that the Lord came to fight against Egypt.

The next section of the poem describes –

God’s victory in battle

“8Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?” The prophet asks why God executed judgment on the deep waters – the rivers and the sea. The answer will come in vs. 12-15.

As we have seen before the waters and the sea represent evil and chaos. Specifically, the word “sea” is Yamm, which is the name of an evil sea serpent. Well, these forces of evil and chaos were incarnated in Egypt’s armies, as they sought to come through the Red Sea to destroy Israel. And God is pictured riding on the clouds as his chariot, or in this case, a great storm.

Next we have the battle scene. “9You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. You split the earth with rivers” God begins the fight. The arrows are his lightning bolts. The rain splits the earth with rivers. “10the mountains saw you and writhed.” They wanted nothing to do with God’s great power and this fight.

“Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high.” Here God overpowers and defeats the deep. This may be a reference to the waters being forced to cover over the Egyptian armies to destroy them.

“11Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear.” Like the mountains they wanted nothing to do with God’s fight with the deep; they stood still to avoid God’s arrows as they passed by into the deep; into the body of Yamm.

Next, we have the answer as to why God came to fight. “12In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. 13You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.” He came to save his people from the Egyptian armies.

And then we have a number of statements that elaborate further on God’s victory over Yamm. “You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from tail to neck.” Some translations say here, the Hebrew is uncertain. But this is talking about a sea monster, who has a tail. (Similarly, Psalm 74:13-14 says, “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragons of the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.”)  Yamm is the leader of the Egyptian armies, the house of the wicked. He is pictured here as being knocked senseless and exposed.

  “14With his own spear you pierced his head – when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding.” Here it is clear that the Egyptian armies are the warriors of Yamm. In them Yamm came to “devour” the Israelites. But God used the deep waters – “his own spear” – to destroy its own army. He made the waters cover over and destroy the Egyptians. “15You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.” Again, God is on a chariot with horses trampling Yamm. This is also a possible reference to the walls of water coming down to destroy the Egyptian armies.

So all of this poetically describes what happened in Exodus 14. Israel came through the Red Sea on dry ground at night. But in the morning, when Egypt entered the Red Sea to pursue and destroy Israel, a great storm arose. Exodus 14:24 says, “the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army . . ..” And three things happened.

1) God “threw them into a panic” – vs. 24, 25. The lightening, thunder and wind caused the Egyptians to fear as they were in the midst of the sea.

2) God “clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty” – v. 25. The great storm caused the chariot wheels to become bogged down in the mud so that they were unable to maneuver. (Also Psalm 77:16-20). Even though they were agraid they couldn’t get out.

3) God brought the waters down upon them, destroying them – vs. 26-28.

Habakkuk’s response

– to this vision is fear; fear at God’s mighty power. “16I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.”

Then he says, “Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” After being reassured through this vision of God’s power to judge a superpower, Egypt, he knows that the judgment God has spoken of in chapter 2 will indeed come and Judah will be saved.

Praying for God to act

This is what the prayer in v. 2 is all about. “2Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known, in wrath remember mercy.”

God, you did great and awesome things when you saved your people from Egypt. So he prays regarding such deeds, “repeat them in our day, in our time make them known.” Act now, just like you did then.

Even though you are judging Judah for their sins, “in wrath remember mercy.” Don’t let us perish under the Babylonians. Save us. This is his prayer and he waits calmly for it to come to pass.

I have always liked this passage. For a number of years I had it hanging in my office. I believe it speaks to our own situation. The people of God were unfaithful then, and the church is now. The people of God were overcome by their enemies then, and we are so often defeated by the evil one.

The church in America is weak, divided and ineffective. We are biblically illiterate and often don’t even know what Jesus teaches us, much less do we put it into practice. We have read how God worked by the power of his Spirit in the New Testament church, and how they did God’s will with courage and boldness. How lives were transformed and God’s kingdom was manifested.

We have heard of God’s fame in this, and we should be in awe of what he did. And so we should pray. Repeat this in our day. In our time make your deeds known. Act today like you did in the days of the apostles. Even though we have been unfaithful, “in wrath remember mercy.”

I invite you to make this your prayer as we end today – “2Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make your deeds known, in wrath remember mercy.”

William Higgins

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Heading: 1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.

Hearing and awe: 2 Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day in our time make them known, in wrath remember mercy.

God’s march to war:

A. God comes from the East: 3 God came from Teman,  the Holy One from Mount Paran.

B. As a sunrise: His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. 4 His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.

B1. As a brooding storm: 5 Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. 6 He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled  and the age-old hills collapsed –  but he marches on forever.

A1. The effect on those he passes by: 7 I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

God’s victory in battle: 

C. Why did God attack?/God’s victory: 8 Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?

D. God’s weapons: 9 You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. You split the earth with rivers;

E. The mountains: 10 the mountains saw you and writhed.

F. Defeat of the waters/Egypt: Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high.

E1. The Sun and moon: 11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens

D1. God’s weapons: at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear.

C1. Why God attacked/God’s victory: 12 In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. 13 You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from tail to neck. 14 With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour  the wretched who were in hiding. 15 You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.

Hearing and trembling: 16 I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.

________________

NIV text; v. 13 italics – an alternate translation.

God’s march to war is in 3rd person, or 1st person; God’s victory in battle is in 2nd person.

C and C1 have the same elements – God’s wrath, the waters, your horses, salvation.

Underlined = 9 “you” statements – things that God did.

“heard” – v.2 and “heard” – v. 16 form an inclusion.

 

William Higgins

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We are continuing on in the book of Habakkuk today and for the whole month of June.

Remember with me last time how Habakkuk complained that God wasn’t doing anything about Judah’s sin; about the powerful who were preying upon the weak; about injustice and oppression. Then God answered him that he is raising up the Babylonians to be his instrument of punishment on Judah.

Today we will cover the second interaction between the prophet and God – another complaint and God’s answer.

There are a number of verses to look at today so I will just briefly comment on them as we read through it. There are also some translation issues in this passage that I will not get into, but you can refer to the handout regarding the text I am using.

Habakkuk’s second complaint

“12Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.” Babylon is God’s instrument to judge and teach Judah regarding its covenant unfaithfulness.

“13You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at the treacherous and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” He is saying, since you are a holy God with pure eyes – why do you look without acting, and why do you remain silent when Babylon, who is more sinful than Judah, judges and destroys Judah?

Then we have a poetic picture of the situation, of all the nations that Babylon is overtaking.

People as prey: “14You make people like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler.” There is an allusion here to the Genesis account of creation. It is as if humanity has been displaced from having dominion to the place of being like the fish and animals that are hunted, here by the Babylonians.

Net/dragnet: “15He 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.” Babylon is the fisherman.

Net/dragnet: “16Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich.”

People as prey: “17Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” Will Babylon keep on destroying? God, will you not judge them??

Habakkuk waits

“2:1I 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 he will answer concerning my complaint.”

God’s answer: Judgment is coming

“2And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3For 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.’”

He is to write the vision down and then to wait for it to come to fulfillment, which it surely will.

Then we have the beginning of the vision.

The arrogant: “4Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him.” Talking about Babylon.

The righteous: “but the righteous shall live by his faith” or faithfulness. In contrast to the arrogant, God’s people are to trust in God’s promises and remain faithful to God – as they wait for the vision to come to pass; as they wait for God to act to save them.

The arrogant: “5Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.” Babylon conquers and wants more and more, but never has enough. Like an alcoholic wanting more drink, or Sheol always taking in more and more of the dead.

And then our passage ends with five woes on Babylon. This is the vision that will surely come to pass. A woe came from a funeral setting, for grieving the dead. It was used in oracles of judgment, perhaps because there will be grieving by those who are judged. In each of these their evil is described and there is a reversal that will take place. It begins – “6Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say:”

1. They are judged for taking the goods of others. “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own – for how long? – and loads himself with pledges! 7Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?” It is as if they borrowed all the items they stole and now owe them back with interest.

“Then you will be spoil for them. 8Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.” With killing and violence against the earth and destruction of cities they have plundered. So, they will be plundered.

2. They will be judged for killing others to make themselves secure. “9Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! 10You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. 11For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.” Even the material they unjustly took to build their empire will cry out against them. Those who have killed, will be killed.

3. They will be judged for building an empire through killing. “12Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! 13Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?” All their work to be great and honored, will be burned, it will come to nothing. (Jeremiah 51:58).

“14For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” In the end, only God’s glory will be left over all the earth. (Isaiah 11:9).

4. They will be judged for violence that shamed people. “15Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink – you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! 16You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! 17The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.”

They have violently judged others and put them to shame by this. Specifically they destroyed the ancient forests of Lebanon and its animals. For this they will be violently destroyed and shamed.

5. They will be judged for idolatry. “18What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! 19Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. 20But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

An idol is not real. So it is silent; it cannot speak or teach. You can only speak to it. The opposite is true of Yahweh. He is real. And he speaks. And everyone must be silent before him. In this case, all people must be silent before him and learn from him as this judgment unfolds.

A summary of God’s answer. Yes, it is true. Babylon is a worse sinner than Judah. But God will judge Babylon as well for all the evil they do. The righteous must faithfully wait, trusting in God’s promise of this.

And this is what happened. The empire of Babylon was overcome and destroyed some 60 years after God’s promise given here to Habakkuk.

We will look at the theme of the righteous living by faith in the weeks to come, but for now let’s end with some –

Lessons

 – on the theme of God’s judgment. 1. True justice does not always take place on this earth. The wicked often prosper, even at the expense of the righteous – as in this case with Babylon and Judah in our verses. When you look at the world and think that things are not as they should be you are right.

But for everyone, there comes a time for justice; a time of reckoning. Galatians 6:7 says, “we will reap what we sow.” Matthew 16:27 says, the Son of Man is coming and “he will repay each person according to what he or she has done.”

God will see to it that justice reaches every single person who has ever lived. As I said, it reached the people of Babylonia 60 years later – at least in part. And true justice will come in its fullness on the final day.

This is a comfort to the righteous, who suffer injustice – knowing that all things will be made right some day. And it should cause fear to those who do evil.

Getting even more specific, 2. God will judge superpowers for their sins. Babylon was the superpower of its day. And in our verses, it is condemned for a number of things:

  • for being arrogant (2:4-5)
  • for being greedy for more and more wealth and power (2:5)
  • for the pursuit of glory at the expense of shaming others (2:15-17)
  • for trust in and glorification of military might  (1:16)
  • for taking the goods of other smaller nation and then living in luxury (2:6, 8, 9; 1:16)
  • for building its empire by “cutting off many lives” (2:9-10)
  • for killing others for its own sense of security (2:9-10)
  • for violence against the earth, for instance, cutting down the ancient forests of Lebanon and killing its animals (2:17).

We live in the superpower of our day. Now the US is not the same as Babylon was – but there are some parallels. What does this mean for us as God’s people; God’s nation, the church – living as exiles in the midst of this country?

3. God really does punish evildoers. Today many are not comfortable talking about God as “punishing” evildoers. We don’t want God to seem mean or vindictive.

But what we need to understand is that if there is to be justice in the world, then there must be a time of reckoning for all.

And this does not conflict with our call to love our enemies. In fact, it enables us to love our enemies. We can set aside our desire to punish our enemies; to make them pay, and rather act in mercy and love toward them – precisely because we know that God will take care of issues of justice in his own time. As Romans 12:19 indicates, we do not need to seek vengeance because, “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

William Higgins

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Habakkuk’s complaint

12 Are you not from everlasting,[i] O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die.[ii] O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. 13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at the treacherous[iii] and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?

A. People as prey: 14 You make people like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler.

B. Net/dragnet: 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.

B1. Net/dragnet: 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.

A1. People as prey: 17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?

Habakkuk waits

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 he[iv] will answer concerning my complaint.

The Lord’s answer: Judgment is coming

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.

A. The arrogant: 4 Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him

B. The righteous: but the righteous shall live by his faith.

A1. The arrogant: 5 Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

Five woes

6 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say:

1. For taking the goods of others: Woe[v] to him who heaps up what is not his own – for how long? – and loads himself with pledges!” 7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise,[vi] and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. 8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for[vii] the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

2. For killing others to make themselves secure: 9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! 10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

3. For building an empire through killing: 12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? 14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

4. For violence that shamed people:

A. Wrath: 15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink –  you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness!

B. Shame/glory:16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.

C. You drink: Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you,

B1. Shame/glory: and utter shame will come upon your glory!

A1. Violence: 17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

5. For idolatry:

A. Idol teach? They are silent: 18 “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!

B. Those who speak to idols: 19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise!

A1. Idol teach? Be silent before God: Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. 20 But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”


[i] “Everlasting” and “shall not die” (green) form an inclusion with “killing nations” and “forever” in v. 17.

[ii] According to ancient Hebrew tradition the original text had “you,” but this was changed to “we” out of respect for God.

[iii] As opposed to the ESV’s “traitors.”

[iv] This makes the most sense of the flow of the text and the apparent synonymous parallelism between “what he will say” and “what he will answer.” (See the Peshitta). If “what I will answer” is retained then the meaning must be what he will answer to the people after hearing what God says to him.

[v] Each section has the word “woe,” although in the fifth section it is displaced to the middle.

[vi] “arise” and “awake” (purple) forms and inclusion with “awake” and “arise in v. 19.

[vii] Each woe section ends with a “for” statement, except the last ends with a “but” statement.

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We are in the book of Habakkuk this morning. I would like for June to be “Habakkuk month.” It’s a short little book, but it has much to teach us. And I invite you to read it and think and pray about it, as we work our way through it.

Introduction

Habakkuk comes just before judgment came on Judah for its unfaithfulness to God. It most likely covers the years from the rise of the Babylonian empire in 604 BC, to just before they destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. About 18 years or so; the final decades of Judah’s political life.

Concerning Habakkuk himself we really don’t know anything except what we find in this book – that he was a prophet.

Our text today is a dialogue between the prophet and God –

Habakkuk 1:1-11

This section begins with the heading, “1The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” So this is an oracle or message that he received from a visionary experience.

Habakkuk’s complaint. “2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

This prayer was most likely given during the reign of King Jehoiakim, one of the last kings of Judah. His was a time when the powerful and wealthy took advantage of the weak and poor, to increase their wealth and power.

Specifically Scripture tells us that he oppressed his own people to build a luxurious palace for himself (Jeremiah 22:13-14). Also, he did not take care of the poor and needy (Jeremiah 22:16). And Jeremiah 22:17 says to him, “you have eyes and heart only for dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood and for practicing oppression and violence.” (Also 2 Kings 24:4, Jeremiah 26).

This sounds very much like what Habakkuk is talking about. Here are the words he uses in these verses: “violence” (2x), “iniquity,” “wrong,” “destruction,” “strife” and “contention.”

And those with power, who are in charge of dispensing justice according to the Law of Moses are corrupt. So the law is not being put into practice. It is “paralyzed” – v. 4. Justice doesn’t take place.

Rather “the wicked surround the righteous”; they have them hemmed in with no way to protect themselves. The courts are rigged so that the powerful get what they want. Or as Habakkuk says, “justice goes forth perverted.”

It is in this context that Habakkuk boldly prays, “O Lord, how long . . .?” – v. 2. This has been going on for a long time and he has been crying out for help for a long time. And as far as he can see, God hasn’t done anything yet. From his point of view God is “idly looking at wrong” – v. 3.

Now this kind of boldness may seem too much for us. But there is a long tradition of this kind of bold questioning and complaint in Scripture. For instance Psalm 13:1-2. It says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” How long will the suffering go on???

One other example comes from Isaiah 63:15. The prophet is in a difficult situation down on earth and so he prays, “Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me.” Why aren’t you helping me???

In all this Habakkuk’s prayer is simple – God take note and act! Do something about all this evil!

Next we have the Lord’s answer. This comes in vs. 5-11. And here we learn that God has not been idly watching. He has a plan and it is moving forward.

He says, “5Look 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. 6For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans . . ..” So the answer is that God is sending the Chaldeans or Babylonians to judge Judah for their sin.

Next follows a poetic description of the Babylonians:

A. Their character: 6that bitter and hasty nation

B. Their quick expansion: who march through the breadth of the earth,

C. They capture dwellings/do what they want: to seize dwellings not their own. 7They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.

D. Their cavalry: 8Their 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. 9They all come for violence, all their faces forward.

C1. They capture people/do what they want: They gather captives like sand. 10At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it.

B1. Their quick expansion: 11Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,

A1. Their character: guilty men, whose own might is their god!”

This tells us that they will take over the known world. They will do what they want capturing nations and taking captives. And all this is due to their military might – their cavalry and their skills in siege warfare, or taking walled cities are specifically mentioned.

So God is sending judgment by means of the then rising Babylonian empire. And as history confirms, they had no trouble conquering lowly Judah.

Here are some –

Lessons for us from this passage

We can be honest with God. Paul says in Romans 9:20, “who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God . . .?” He seems to be talking about someone disrespectfully questioning God and God’s character. But this isn’t what Habakkuk is doing – or the Psalmist or Isaiah.

His questioning comes from a knowledge of who God is. God is just and righteous. And because of this he is calling on God to act according to his character; to fulfill his purposes and to maintain his reputation. This doesn’t come from unbelief in God, but from belief in God.

So we learn from Habakkuk and others that we can be real with God. We don’t have to pretend we are OK, when things are really bad. And when we are confused or angry or impatient or feel abandoned – we can express this to God. God can handle it! God is patient to hear us. And we can trust that like in this situation, God will indeed act according to his character and God will uphold his good name.

God is very concerned about injustice and unrighteousness in his community. We see Habakkuk’s passion for social justice; for righteousness among God’s people. And we should emulate him. But God is more passionate, even if he waits hoping for repentance.

God did see what was going on and he acted decisively to judge the ‘powers that be’ in Judea for their evil. There are consequences to sin, even if it seems like God doesn’t see us or that we are getting away with it. We will be judged. We will reap what we sow.

This should lead us to ask, ‘What wrongdoing is present among the people of God today?’ (This is the analogy, Israel as God’s people to the people of God, the church today. We can certainly speak up in God’s name to address injustice among the nations of the world. But the focus here is, and in Scripture almost always is, on injustice in God’s community.) What wrongdoing is there among the people of God?

Do those with power take advantage of those who are weak? Think of the priest sex scandal; of pastors who abuse their power and trust; of celebrity ministers who get rich off the poor through manipulation of their trust.

Is there favoritism among God’s people? There has been much racism in the church. There has been much favoritism of the wealthy over the poor. Instead of accepting that we are all brother and sisters in Christ, we allow markers of the flesh to divide us – the color of our skin, the amount of money we make, where we come from.

Is there lawlessness? Yes, the church today is overrun by sexual immorality. And this is overlooked or even approved. You don’t have to look at the world to find this.

As Habakkuk said in v. 4, we can say today, the teaching of Jesus “paralyzed” among us. It is often not carried out.

Do we just go off in a corner with a few others who are like us, or do we care about the world-wide church? Are we concerned? Are we passionate about this? Are we asking how long, O Lord, until you act?

God is able to control the course of history. Acts 17:26 says this, “From one, God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live . . ..” (NRSV)

God oversees the rising and falling of various nations and empires, and he uses them for his own purposes. As he says in v. 6 about Babylon, “I am raising up the Chaldeans . . ..” Jeremiah 25:9 says of Babylon, “behold, I will send for . . . Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants . . ..” He is God’s “servant.”

God uses nations and kings, even though this is not their purpose or their plan. But God can do this. And then, when God’s instruments of judgment overstep their bounds, they are judged. Isaiah 45 says that Cyrus is God’s “anointed” raised up to destroy Babylon. And this is God’s doing.

What we learn from this is that God can providentially control what happens in our world. Not everything that happens is his will for there is much evil and sin, but he is in control of the outcome of history. So in the midst of the chaos and confusion of this world, we can trust God to guide history to his determined conclusion. And we can trust that God will bring about his will for us his people as well.

William Higgins

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