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Posts Tagged ‘loving enemies’

Our topic today is Christian love – how we are to love our neighbors, our fellow church members, our spouses, our kids, our parents, our co-workers – and whatever other relationships you want to add in here, including any enemies you have. I want to talk about what Christian love is, what it looks like, some of the core components of it and how it’s different than what the world calls love.

Let me set the stage for all this by making the point up front – 

Love is the most important thing of all

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 13. Here he says that:

  • You can exercise spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, but if you don’t have love for others, you’re just a “clanging cymbal” – v. 1.
  • You can be prophetic and have all knowledge, but if you don’t have love for others, Paul says, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can work amazing miracles, but if you don’t have love for others, you are “nothing” – v. 2.
  • You can even sacrifice greatly giving away wealth or dying for a cause, but if you don’t have love for others in this, you “gain nothing” – v. 3.

We can add any number of other examples: what you accomplish with your career, your life achievements, your reputation, your wealth, your relationships with your family and friends, your volunteer work, the roles you have filled in church. The point is the same: without love, you are nothing.

Paul is saying in this passage that these other things are partial and will pass away in the age to come. But “love never ends” – v. 8. It goes on into eternity.

So, for instance, if I come to God on the final day saying, “look at all the knowledge I have!” God could say to me, “the least in the eternal kingdom knows a thousand times more than you.” It’s like I’m boastfully bringing a brick of gold to a kingdom that has so much gold that it uses it to pave its streets.  

Love is what’s all important in God’s kingdom. Love for God for sure, and our topic here – love for others. So here’s some questions to consider: Have you loved others in this life? Have you made loving others the focus of your life? Have you shaped everything you do in life toward the end of loving others?

Now, since love is the most important thing of all, it’s extremely important to ask and then answer the question –

What is Christian love?

1. Love is about actions. Love begins within; in our hearts. But it must come to fruition in deeds of love. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Good thoughts or even good words aren’t enough. When there’s a need and you can help, to love “in truth,” as John says, is to act.

The example from this context is helping someone who lacks basic material needs. 1 John 3:16 says, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his sister or brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” It’s not enough to say good things, “Oh, you don’t have food and clothing?” “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (James 2:16). Love requires action.

Now if we ask, what kind of actions, the answer is – 2. Love acts for the well-being of others. We are to “do good” to all, even if they harm us, as Jesus teaches in Luke 6:27 and Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Let’s look at some specifics:

  • God loves us in that he feeds us, giving rain and sunshine to all so that our crops grow – Matthew 5:45
  • God loves us in that he gave his only Son to die for our salvation – John 3:16; Romans 5:8
  • Jesus teaches us to pray for, bless others, even if they mistreat us – Luke 6:28
  • Jesus healed the ear of the one who arrested him – Luke 22:50; and he prayed for those who crucified him – Luke 23:34

These are all good actions, aimed at doing what is best for another.

Now, if love truly means doing what is best for another then we can’t just go around being nice. We can’t reduce love to niceness. Being nice and keeping up good social etiquette is often more about staying out of people’s problems and needs. For example quickly giving money to a homeless person, hoping they go away. Or not saying anything to a fellow believer who is involved in sin, lest you make waves.

We keep up social etiquette so that we can feel good about ourselves, but we get ourselves off the hook of actually having to love them. Love, however, means doing what is best for the person. And so sometimes love has to be tough and deal with issues, precisely because this is what is in the best interests of the person.

Also, if love means doing what’s best for another, if they harm us,  we can’t just harm them back. Even if you have the legal right to have the person punished, love calls us to a higher standard. Yes, make sure that you and others are safe, but also consider what’s best for your enemy. 

Love acts for the well-being of others.

3. Love is an enduring commitment to act for the well-being of others. This is where our culture is so wrong. Love is not based on feelings. It may involve certain feelings, but these can waver or even go away for a time.

This might be one reason there is so much divorce today, and you see this especially in celebrity culture, the feeling leaves and so the relationship ends. But Christian love is based on a deep commitment to the other person and their good. It’s a choice that we make. That’s why God can command us to love others. You can’t command a feeling, but you can a choice.

This kind of love is a defining characteristic of God. As God says about himself in Exodus 34:6, the LORD is a God “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . . keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation.” The word here “steadfast love” has to do with unchanging love. It’s God’s sustained covenant loyalty to his people. It’s based on his commitment to our well-being.

Think of God’s love for his people throughout the centuries, calling us, teaching us, walking with us, bearing with us – his love isn’t based on warm feelings. It’s based on this firm commitment to us and for what is best for us. And so as well, Christian love is based on an enduring commitment to act for the good of another.

4. Love involves sacrifice, laying down our lives for others. As Jesus said about himself in Mark 10:45, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 1 John 3:16 speaks of Jesus’ love in this way, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for” others.

Often the world portrays love as focused on finding personal fulfillment, you know, for yourself. It’s about what you get out of the relationship. But Christian love is about what you give to the one you love, or what you give up for them – serving and sacrificing.

In the world if you’re not feeling fulfilled in the relationship you leave. But Christian love teaches us that true fulfillment only comes when we move past self-centered love and learn to serve and sacrifice for the one we love.

5. Christian loves includes all people. It is always easier to limit our love to a certain subset of people, but Jesus teaches us that all are included.

  • It’s easy to love those who like us, but we are to love those who don’t love us; those who harm us. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” – Matthew 5:46.
  • It’s easy to love those who are similar to us, but we are to love those who are different than us – different race, nationality, economic or social status. Jesus said, “And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” – Matthew 5:47.

Jesus teaches that our love is to be perfect or “complete,” like the Father’s love is perfect or complete. The word here in Matthew 5:48 can be translated either way. This is a love which is complete because it includes both the “evil and the good” and the “just and the unjust” – Matthew 5:45.

Let me end by saying –

This kind of love only comes from God

It doesn’t come from our flesh, our self-centered existence apart from God. In the flesh we want what’s best and easiest for us. Christian love!? What!?

  • Good words and thoughts aren’t enough, I have to something?
  • I can’t just be nice or payback wrong, I have to act for their well-being?
  • It’s not based on feelings? I have to hang in through thick and thin? When I don’t feel like it?
  • It’s not about me? I have to focus on giving, even sacrificing?
  • I can’t limit it to people who like me, or who are like me?

The flesh doesn’t want anything to do with Christian love.

No, this kind of love only comes from God, who is love. As 1 John 4:7 says, “God is love.” And only God can produce this kind of love in our hearts. Christian love is “the fruit of the Spirit” who is at work within us (Galatians 5:22) empowering us and enabling us to love in all these ways.

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The literary structure of Psalm 139

We’re back again in Psalm 139. Last week we covered the first 18 verses highlighting the theme that God knows all about us. The first thing I want us to do today is step back and take a big picture look at the Psalm as a whole – all 24 verses. And I want us to think about why it was written, or what the point of the Psalm is.

You have a handout that shows how it’s put together. I won’t go into this, but I do invite you to keep this at hand as we look at

The purpose of Psalm 139

Let me give you the situation that I think is going on here right up front. David has been accused of not being loyal to God. Why? I don’t know. Maybe someone thought he was too sympathetic to someone they saw as a wicked person. Just a speculation.  In any case, there’s an accusation and it’s one that David considers false. And from reading this Psalm, this accusation  must have been a painful thing for him to deal with.

What does he do? He takes it up in prayer with God:

  • 1 – “Lord, you have searched and known me.”
  • 2-3 – God knows all that he does and thinks, his thoughts and ways.
  • 4 – God knows all his words.
  • 5 – God is all around, with his hand on him.  God knows all that goes on in his life.
  • And then in v. 6 – he pauses to ponder such knowledge that is beyond him.
  • In vs. 7-12 – he points out that even if he wanted to “flee” and hide somewhere and secretly sin, he can’t. God would see and know him everywhere, for God is everywhere.
  • In vs. 13-16 – he points out that God formed him and his days from beginning to end. Nothing is hidden from God.
  • In vs. 17-18 – he again pauses to ponder the amazing sum of God’s thoughts

– So in all this, in vs. 1-18, David offers up an appeal to God, God you know whether I am loyal or not.  You know all about me, right? You know my commitment to you.

– And then starting in vs. 19-22 David offers up several expressions of his loyalty to God. This section is key to understanding this Psalm because it’s here we see that his loyalty has been challenged.

First in v. 19 – he prays, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!” And he says, “O men of blood, depart from me!” Then we have the words of the wicked in v. 20, which obviously disgust David – “They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!” And then we have some clear statements of David’s loyalty to God in vs. 21-22 – “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

We’ll talk in a moment about his language, but the point here in context is that – “Hey God, I’m on your side.” I hate evil and I love the good. From his point of view there is no question about his loyalty to God.

– And then finally, in vs. 23-24 he gives an open ended invitation for God to keep searching and knowing him. He wants to make sure that he’s right before God in his heart and actions; that he’s not guilty of the accusation made against him; that he’s not missing something.

So the purpose of the Psalm is David’s prayerful working through of an accusation made against him. And as we see at the end, even though he’s open to God’s searching, he believes that his loyalty is clear. And let me just say that this is a good practice for us to emulate – processing things in prayer with God: accusations, difficulties and hardships – whatever we are facing. We see this all the time happening in the Psalms as the writers struggle with God and find faith and peace.

This brings us to what I’m calling –

The problem of Psalm 139: David’s prayer of hatred

It’s David’s expressions of loyalty to God, and specifically his prayer in v. 19, so central to the Psalm, that cause Christians discomfort. And, I believe, rightly so.

The prayer is straight forward, v. 19 – “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!” Kill them, God. And this prayer springs forth from his heart-felt and self-confessed hatred of God’s enemies, found in vs. 21-22 – “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”

Now, this is certainly not the only place in Scripture or in the Psalms where there are expressions of hatred for enemies and calls for God to judge enemies. Let me give one other brief example from Psalm 109:8-9. David prays this concerning his enemy, “May his days be few . . .. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!” He prays for his enemy’s death. Then he prays that the man’s children, now orphans, would be beggars and that no one would help them. And he goes on to pray that all his resources would be seized by creditors, and that the man’s parents would be judged by God. I could give you more examples, but this will do.

The problem for Christians in all this should be clear:

  • We are called not to curse, but to bless – Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9
  • We are called not to condemn, but to give mercy – Luke 6:36-37; Romans 2:1-5
  • We are called not to hate, but to love enemies – Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:20
  • We are called not to return harm for harm, but to return good for harm – Romans 12:17, 21; 1 Peter 3:9

We are agents of God’s grace, not judgment.

So this raises several very specific, and practical questions for us: What should we think of Psalm 139:19-22? Can we pray the prayer of v. 19 as it stands? And how should we pray regarding enemies?

Let me share several reflections with you:

It’s right to oppose evildoers and injustice. As we saw, in context, what David says is an expression of loyalty to God, “I’m on your side, God. I want what’s right.” This sentiment is correct. In this case David is speaking of people who are murderers, “men of blood” (v. 19). They despise God, possibly even using God’s name to accomplish their evil by swearing oaths to deceive people or to bear false witness against the innocent in court (v. 20).

It’s also true that in the end Evildoers must be judged, if God’s peace and justice is to be established. Those who refuse God’s grace cannot be allowed to continue to do evil indefinitely. There has to be a time of reckoning. The innocent must be rescued. Justice must be established.

But there are some differences between how David prays and how we should pray:

Difference #1 – Christian prayers must be governed by love. David’s prayer was rooted in “complete hatred” of enemies, as he himself says. Our prayers must be rooted in love for enemies. And this is really a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is Jesus – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” This is the Old Testament. “But I say to you, love your enemies” – Matthew 5:43-44. This is the new. In the Old Testament, God commanded love for neighbors, fellow people of the covenant. But not God’s enemies. In the New Testament, God tells us to have perfect or complete love – that is, love that includes everyone; the good and the evil, the just and the unjust, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:45. Our prayers must reflect this love and mercy for all people.

And since this is true, this leads us to Difference #2 – Christian prayers shouldn’t ask for non-redemptive judgment. What’s this? The clearest example of non-redemptive judgment is when God takes someone’s life. Because when this happens there is no more grace, no more chance to be redeemed. This is what David prayed for. I do not believe that Christians can pray for this. This would be an expression of harm for harm, hatred, cursing and condemnation – not love.

Indeed, Jesus rebuked his disciples for this when they sought to call down fire on the Samaritan town that rejected Jesus in Luke 9:54-55. As Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Why then should we seek their destruction in prayer? And also, how could we ask for this since we are only able to stand before God by his grace? Can we ask God to act one way with others and another with us? Destructive judgment for others, mercy for us? Certainly not.

If we can’t pray for non-redemptive judgment, I do believe that we can pray for redemptive judgment. This is God’s judgment, but it still allows the person a chance to change. It’s judgment, but it’s also an act of grace, to wake them up to repentance, if they are willing. So yes, I can and have prayed that God would judge and stop an evildoer in this way. Maybe God would take away their political power, or use the legal system, or put difficult circumstances in their lives that cause them to stop. I believe that this is in accord with both God’s mercy and God’s justice.

But beyond this we have to leave things in God’s hands. Only God can decide when the time of grace is up and it’s time for non-redemptive judgment – in an individual’s life and for the world as a whole.

Let’s end with a responsive reading from –

Romans 12:14-21

– that demonstrates how we are to live our lives as followers of Jesus.

L: 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

P: 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

L: 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

P: 17Repay no one harm for harm, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

L: 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

P: 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

All: 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

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I have been sharing with you off and on, some stories of real Christians who lived after Bible times who exemplify faithfulness to Jesus, to encourage us and to challenge us to be faithful in our own life situations. Today I am sharing with you about a married couple who faithfully served the Lord – it’s the story of Michael and Margaretha Sattler.

Their story takes place in Europe in the early 1500’s. During their lives the Protestant reformation began and many Christians were seeking to follow Jesus in ways that went beyond what they had been taught.

Let’s begin with –

Michael and Margaretha’s background

Not much is known of Michael’s early life. He was born in Staufen, Germany, just south of Freiburg.

Sattler map

At some point Michael entered St. Peter’s Benedictine monastery.

st peter's'

St. Peter’s

He attained the status of Prior in the monastery, which made him second-in-charge. He was thus considered a part of the upper class of his day; a “lord.” He had status and respect.

From what we know, he was a serious and devout monk who took part in a spiritual renewal at his monastery (the inter-Benedictine Bursfeld reformation). He might have even been in charge of this.

Even less is known about Margaretha. She is said to have been a Beguine, a semi-monastic group of women who worked with the poor. She was described by one person as “a refined and comely (pretty) little woman.” (p. 80)

Some key transitions

In mid-1525 Michael left the monastery. It had been captured by Protestant-ish  peasant revolutionaries, some of whom were Anabaptists, that is, people who rejected infant baptism. They were demanding economic justice from their lords for over-taxation and oppression and were doing so on the basis of a call to live by what the Scriptures teach. It’s possible that Sattler, as Prior, was the one these revolutionaries presented their claims to. He must have become a sympathizer to their cause, because after leaving the monastery, he shows up again in the Waldshut area, where many of these revolutionaries came from.

Sometime between May 1525 and May 1526 he and Margaretha were married. We don’t know how they met, but she may have already been a part of an Anabaptist group.He learned the trade of weaving to support them in their new life together.

In November of 1525 he attended the famous infant baptism disputation in Zurich (November 6-8). He most likely went simply to hear the arguments on this topic. He was eventually arrested by the Protestant Zurich authorities who opposed Anabaptists. They perhaps knew that he was sympathetic to them. He was released on November 18th after he swore to leave the region.

By June 1526 he was baptized as a believer, instead of simply being infant baptized.

Michael’s ministry

 Sattler ministry map

Not long after his baptism he began a ministry of evangelizing in the area north of Zurich.

Then in late 1526 he spent time in Strasbourg. He met with various Anabaptist groups and also with the local Protestant reformers there (Capito and Bucer). Protestants at this time despised Anabaptists because of their views, and because most were uneducated and unsophisticated. Michael, however was on their social level and they came to respect him. He called on them to release the Anabaptists they had imprisoned.

Next he went to Lahr, north of Freiburg, to evangelize (January-February 1527).

Then he went to Schleitheim for an important meeting, and then he went to Horb to be the pastor of the Anabaptist congregation there.

Horb

Horb

The Schleitheim meeting – February 24, 1527

Because of disagreements among the Swiss brethren Anabaptists and because so many of the early leaders were dead, (the average lifespan of a leader was two years because of fierce persecution) they met together secretly in the village of Schleitheim.

Schleitheim

Schleitheim

Sattler book

Book containing an early copy of the Schleitheim confession

Michael gave leadership to this important meeting. He wrote the Confession of faith that summarized what these Anabaptists had come to an agreement on relating to baptism, church discipline, the Lord’s Supper, separation from the world, calling pastors, loving enemies, and swearing oaths.

This document, the Schleitheim confession, has had enormous influence on Anabaptists and Mennonite even to this day, as well as other Baptist groups.

After the meeting Sattler was active in the town of Horb giving leadership to an Anabaptist congregation there.

Arrest, trial and death

In March 1527 Michael and Margaretha were arrested in Horb just a short time after the Schleitheim meeting, along with some others. They were moved to Binsdorf to the prison tower. Here Michael wrote a letter to his congregation that was  shaken and afraid of persecution – reminding them to be faithful and not give up.

The trial took place in Rottenburg on May 17-18. They were charged with holding various Anabaptist ideas: For instance that only believers who choose faith for themselves should be baptized; the Lord’s supper is a symbolic meal shared among believers; and not resisting evildoer or swearing oaths as Jesus taught in Matthew 5.

Michael spoke for all the prisoners. He appealed to the Scriptures. He invited teachers to come and said, “If they show us with Holy Scripture that we are in error and wrong, we will gladly retract and recant . . .. But if we cannot be proved in error, I hope to God that you will repent and let yourselves be taught.” (p. 73) The prosecutor responded – “the hangman will dispute with you.” (p. 73)

Rottenburg square

Town square of Rottenburg

When some in the crowed jeered him and asked why he didn’t remain a lord in the monastery, he said, “According to the flesh I would be a lord, but it is better as it is.” (p. 74)

The sentence was given – “Michael Sattler should be given into the hands of the hangman, who shall lead him to the square and then cut off his tongue; then chain him to a wagon, there tear his body twice with red hot tongs; and again when he is brought before the gate, five more times.” (p. 75) After this torture, he was burned alive at the stake on May 20th.

Others among the group recanted. But Margaretha remained steadfast and was drowned in the Neckar river two days later, refusing to recant or even to receive a pardon from a powerful woman.

Neckar river

The Neckar river

Sattler memorial

This a memorial stone in memory of their lives just outside Rottenburg. It says, “they died for their faith.”

They had only been married for, at most, two years, maybe just one. He was a leader and pastor for less than a year.

Now let’s look at –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

– from their lives.

1. They lived their lives by the simple words and example of Jesus.

In Matthew 28:20 Jesus said to the apostles “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” They sought to be true to this word of Jesus to observe all that he had commanded them.

  • they had a ministry of preaching the gospel and evangelizing, as Jesus commanded. Even though this could get you killed in their day.
  • they helped build and lead a church made up of believers, as Jesus commanded. And they did this even though this could get you killed in their day.
  • and they loved their enemies as Jesus commanded, even though they were trying to kill them, and eventually did.

They didn’t listen to fancy explanations about how Jesus didn’t really mean what he said; explanations that were given to make people’s lives easier in this world. They were focused on the world to come.

At their trial they asked to be shown from the Scriptures where they were wrong in all this.  The Scriptures guided their lives.

Do you live by the simple words and example of Jesus? Even when it makes you stand out or not fit in?

2. They took up their cross and followed Jesus.

In Mark 8:34 Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” They gave up everything to follow Jesus.

He gave up his status as a lord. They gave up their comfortable lives to serve Jesus; to be in constant danger, on the run and in hiding. They gave up their life together as a married couple. They could have gone off and hid and lived long lives. But they felt compelled to serve Jesus and teach his way.

What have you given up to follow Jesus? How have you denied yourself? How have you sacrificed and accepted suffering to follow him?

3. They faithfully bore witness before hostile authorities.

In Luke 21:12-13 Jesus said, “You will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.”

Much effort was put into getting them to recant, and many who were with them did. But they remained faithful. They saw their imprisonment as an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus with their words and with their blood.

How are you bearing witness for Jesus? Are you doing this in your much easier circumstances of life? If they can do this while suffering death, can we be more bold when the most that will happen to us is that people will make fun of us?

(I am indebted to The Life and Thought of Michael Sattler, by Arnold Snyder; Quotes come from The Legacy of Michael Sattler, by John H. Yoder)

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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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