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Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

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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