For those of you who start breaking out the Christmas decorations as soon as the turkey and the potatoes are put away, Merry Christmas. And for those of you who feel the need to suppress the celebration of the incarnation of Christ until the beginning of next month or later, thanks for being here too, ya Scrooges.
If I have not yet met you, my name is Zeke Wettstein. I’ve been a member here at Red Village for going on five years, and I work on campus at UW Madison with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. My wife, Cassie, over there, and I work to help train and equip college students for a life of sharing the gospel, studying Scripture, and pursuing God, both during their time in college and afterwards.
It’s a great joy for me to be up here today to open up God’s Word for all of us this morning. I’m going to be opening up a new book for us today, Habakkuk, which is one of the minor prophets found towards the back of the Old Testament. It’s about two-thirds the way into your Bible.
This book was written somewhere around 615 to 600 BC, after the fall of the Assyrian Empire and during the rise of the Babylonians, but before the beginning of the Babylonian exile of Judah. So Wes touched a bit on this timeline around a hundred years after what we’ll be talking about today, during the return of the exiles when he preached through Haggai, but I’ll give us a bit of a rundown on where we are at in the broad history of Israel.
So we just finished First Samuel as a church, which ends with the end of the reign of King Saul and the start of the reign of David. Fast forward, King David has a son, Solomon, who becomes king and builds a temple.
After a huge mess, the kingdom splits into two, which are generally referred to as Israel and Judah. Israel was really bad most of the time, and Judah was really bad some of the time and kind of bad the rest of the time. If you read Isaiah, you can see the prophesied and fulfilled judgment on Israel as the Assyrians destroyed the kingdom and took the people into exile.
Habakkuk is written in Judah around 150 years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel, and around the time of the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah, leading up to the time when the Babylonian Empire lays siege to Judah. This book takes on a very interesting form. I’ll be preaching four sermons on it over the next year or so, and there will be a quiz at the end of the fourth one, so make sure you guys take good notes. Just kidding.
The book starts out with a one-verse intro, followed by two complaints Habakkuk makes to God, and God answers both of those complaints. In God’s second answer, he goes into a section of five warnings to people and nations about how to live and what punishment will be for injustice. The book ends with a beautiful psalm that Habakkuk wrote, praising God and reiterating the lessons he has learned and the hope that he has found from his conversation with God.
This week we’re going to be looking at chapter 1, verses 1 through 11, so the first complaint of Habakkuk and God’s answer to that complaint.
Please open with me to Habakkuk 1, 1 through 11.
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
5 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
9 They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
(Habakkuk 1:1-11 ESV)
Let me pray. Dear God, we thank you for your word. I pray that you will help me to speak with clarity and with wisdom, that I might be used for us all to better understand your working in the world, both thousands of years ago and today. I pray you help us to listen to you well and trust in the plans that you have. I pray we will understand this text and that you would help us to carry these words with us as we go throughout our week. God, help us to give you all the glory in all things. In Jesus’s name, amen.
All right, so in verse 1 we see our main character introduced, Habakkuk, and we know he received an oracle, which is a prophecy. We meet him as a prophet, but we don’t know much about him. It’s never told to us any other prophecy he has received or what else he has done before or after this instance. But we do get a glimpse of the tone here. The word used for oracle is much closer to the word doom or burden, so we can expect a prophecy that is likewise and served as a burden for Habakkuk, the one who saw it. This is all written as a title to the book, likely inscribed after it was proven true as a testament to its trustworthiness, so that it would be added to the Hebrew Bible as truth.
Habakkuk’s words begin in verse 2, where we see the beginning of his first complaint, the one we will be focused on today.
This is a very emotional outpouring of the prophet and shows how often this has been his prayer.
Habakkuk probably found himself morning and evening crying out to God for him to hear him and help, but feeling like he wasn’t even heard.
Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? How long do I have to keep telling you about the violence and evil taking place before you will take notice of it and do something? Why aren’t you listening, God? Why don’t you save us?
From our perspective, it might be easy to think that Habakkuk is overreacting, but let me paint a picture of what this might have actually looked like for him.
The evil kings of Judah had made a practice of burning their son or daughter alive as a sacrifice to the false god Molech. It was also common throughout this time for the temple of the Lord to be filled with idols of pagan false gods.
The people would come and worship these idols instead of the one true God, and they did it in the very house of Yahweh.
Habakkuk might walk the streets and see old widows cast outside of their homes of their children instead of cared for and fed. He could go into the market and see the poor cheated out of what little silver they had for barely enough food to survive.
He might go to the courts and see a father bring a case against his employer who hadn’t paid him for his work.
The father has worked hard to gather enough money to feed his wife and young kids and worked hard for his employer who was never paid.
Habakkuk would then see the employer bribe the judge to have the man dragged away to jail, accusing him falsely as a liar and leaving his family to starve.
He might look down the street and see a landlord beating a man to get twice what was owed for rent simply because he can.
The law of Moses is completely forgotten. There isn’t even the faintest stain of blood on the doorposts to remember the Passover, and moreover, in 2nd Kings 23 we see that the land was being taxed dry to give silver and gold to Egypt, all because the cowardly kings of Judah preferred to strip their people of their wealth rather than stand up for them.
They had forgotten that God had rescued them from Egypt, and in their sin they had become slaves to Egypt again.
In verse 3, the prophet points out the immoral behavior he witnesses and asks God why he is made to sit and watch while nothing is done about it.
Habakkuk is sick of watching those with power steal from the people below them. He’s sick of seeing abusers go unpunished, sick of seeing people take whatever they feel like they deserve from anyone who has it and can’t protect it.
He feels like he has been made to watch with no power to stop it or change anything, and it’s clearly wrenching his heart so much that he cries out to God time and time again.
Habakkuk speaks of violence for a second time in verse 3 and the destruction that is always paired with it, and the conflict that is born from those things. It may not be hard to imagine a world filled with violence, anger, and hate, but it might be hard for us to empathize the way that Habakkuk did.
In verse 4, the prophet points out the corruption the wicked had subverted into the good justice system that God had set up. Not only is he witnessing all this violence, conflict, and destruction, but he is seeing also as the wicked have overridden the justice system that was created to punish them, so that the just punishment the wicked deserve is withheld. He says the wicked surround the righteous, and justice goes forth perverted. So not only are the wicked not punished for their evils, but the system is used as a weapon on the righteous. The very tools set up to defend the defenseless are further used to drive them into the ground for the benefit of those with power.
Ezekiel 34, 2 through 6 came to mind as I was working through this text. This is a section written around the same time about the same people, and it refers to the leaders of the people as shepherds, and the people as sheep. Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to them, this is what the Sovereign Lord says. Woe to you, shepherds of Israel, who only take care of yourselves. Should not shepherds take care of the flock?
You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool, and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You\’ve not strengthened the weak, or healed the sick, or bound up the injured. You\’ve not brought back the strays, or searched for the lost. You\’ve ruled them harshly and brutally. So, they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.
My sheep wandered over all the mountains and every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. Habakkuk is broken on the inside, as he sees the flock scattered, and the shepherds slaughtering them for food, while they let the flock starve. His heart longs to see God\’s justice ring out, and we know that as this is his prayer, for God to save the righteous and punish the wicked.
And now, we finally see the answer from God that has been long awaited by Habakkuk. In verse 5, God\’s response brings up a lot of the language the Prophet used in his questioning, to help provide some answers. Habakkuk had asked why God looks idly at wrong, so God invited invites him to see beyond where he is looking, at the work God is doing. Habakkuk also asks why God isn\’t listening, and God responds by telling him that Habakkuk wouldn\’t believe if he was told all that God was doing.
Habakkuk had asked why God wasn’t listening or watching, and God opened his response by lovingly showing him that he had been doing both the whole time. Not only was God working in the scheme of Judah, but in the much more wonderful grand scheme of all the nations, and his workings are to a degree so much higher and more astounding than Habakkuk can even understand. He tells Habakkuk to wonder and be astounded at the plans and workings he is doing.
The other thing we know is that this work is coming in the days of Habakkuk, so he will get to witness it in his lifetime. This is part of how we can place when the book was written. In the remaining six verses of this section, we finish out God’s response to the first complaint of Habakkuk as he explains one aspect of his work among the nations. This may be a confusing way for God to answer Habakkuk, but hang with me as we work through it. I’ll expand on these verses and then afterwards expound on how they answer the complaint of Habakkuk.
In verse 6, God says he is raising up the Chaldeans, which is another name for the Babylonians. They are a fierce and hasty nation who are on a mission to overrun all the earth and take for themselves whatever they can. In verse 7, we see that justice is being skewed by the Chaldeans, similar to how justice is being perverted in Judah. The Chaldeans are bringers of justice, but instead of it being a true justice from God, it is one based on their own skewed selfish desires.
They bring a justice that is unjust and benefits only themselves. But not only are they a nation with these evil desires that should be feared, their army is one that is dreaded as well.
They have war horses that press onward into battle with incredible speed and ferocity, tearing their enemies to shreds like vicious wolves. In verse 9, God tells Habakkuk that the soldiers come to war not to defend, but for the sake of violence, with their faces always pressed forward, ready for attack, never in retreat.
They gather captives like sand, dragging them away into exile to serve their nation. In verse 10, it says that they fear no ruler or kingdom or king, but laugh in the face of their enemies as they press onward into battle, confident in their victory and the expansion of their kingdom.
In verse 11, we see that they do all this as guilty men, seeking their own glory and building it up as an idol unto their own might. They are puffed-up, prideful, idolatrous people who are guilty of idolizing their own strength and victory.
It may be pretty hard to see how this answers or would satisfy the prophet in his complaint in any way, or even why God would answer in this way. Habakkuk asks the same thing. His primary question in his second complaint, which we won’t touch on today, is how can a good God allow a nation as evil as Babylon to come to power over Judah? How can it be considered justice for an even more unjust nation to take control?
We will process those questions a lot more next time. Today we’re going to focus on answering the question, how is God’s response a good answer to the first complaint of Habakkuk?
We’re going to look at three ways that this is a good answer to Habakkuk, and then we’ll talk through more of what this means for us.
So, first, why is this how God chose to bring justice to Israel? It might feel like the prophet poured out his soul on how he felt like God had abandoned his nation and was leaving it to fall to the wicked, and God’s answer, or so it may seem, is to tell him that he shouldn’t worry because a super evil wicked nation is going to come and destroy the nation of God’s chosen people.
The most straightforward way to understand God’s response is that it is fulfilling God’s promise that was made in Deuteronomy to all of Israel. God told all of Israel that if they were not careful to obey his commands and listen to his voice, they would fall to their enemies, and specifically in Deuteronomy 2849, the Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like an eagle.
This parallels the description of the armies of Babylon in verse 8, as flying like an eagle, swift to devour.
There are a lot of other parallels between Habakkuk and this warning given in all of Deuteronomy chapter 28 that we will explore more in later sermons, but this shows that it is an answer to Habakkuk, as this is what God promised would happen when Israel acts the way the prophet is describing them.
This is something we have seen played out many times throughout the Bible prior to this. This is what happened in Judges over and over. If you remember back to the start of 1st Samuel, we saw that the people’s wickedness led them to be under the control of the Philistines, which eventually led them to turn back to God. This is also what happened to the northern kingdom of Israel around 150 years prior. They were wiped out by the Assyrian Empire and scattered into exile.
Now, God is using the same means to bring justice to the disobedient people of Judah. A second way this is an answer to Habakkuk is that it does bring the deserved punishment to the wicked in Israel. Throughout all of the Bible, we see God answer wickedness in two ways, either with mercy or with justice.
We know that the wages of sin is death, and that the penalty for disobeying God is death. But we often see God’s gift of mercy play out instead, that the wage for our sin is taken away. We saw this in Jonah over the last two weeks, as God didn’t punish Jonah for his disobedience, but instead had mercy on him and spared his life to carry out his purposes in the world.
This is a mercy those of us who are Christians receive, to be forgiven of our sins and not receive the punishment that we deserve. This is one of the many things that makes God awesome, his great mercy.
But this mercy would not be so great if there were not also a great justice of God. God’s justice is that he does punish those who sin against him, and rightfully so. God’s justice flows out of his holiness, that he cannot be around sin as he is perfectly set apart from sin.
So it is good and right that all sin which is not covered by the grace and mercy of Jesus, his blood, be punished. This just punishment for sin sometimes happens now, in this age, in that we should rejoice when we see God’s just judgment in the world. But he also often waits until the age to come for the final judgment of God to be poured out on the wicked of the earth. We read a section of that in our reading through Revelation this morning.
So although the means of bringing judgment on the wicked people of Judah is confusing, it is good and a way of bringing God’s good justice to the wicked in Judah. Their wickedness is not going unnoticed or unpunished. And where can… these are kind of difficult truths to hold.
So even though we know that it is good for God to punish the wicked, and that this is a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel if they turn from him, which they did, how can Habakkuk find hope in this?
The primary way that the prophet should be finding hope in this hopeless situation is by looking to the other promises God has made. Being on the other side of this, we know that he used this drop through Babylon to eventually bring a faithful remnant out of exile to rebuild the destroyed temple and once again follow God\’s voice. We saw some of this played out when West led us through Haggai and Aaron led us through Ezra. But Habakkuk would also see this in the future as he is likely heard the words of Jeremiah and should know the prophecies of Isaiah. Both of them would point to God using this exile to refine the people to pull out the wicked and leave a faithful remnant to be God\’s chosen people. And it is through that remnant that God would fulfill his promise for Israel to be a blessing to all nations of the earth with the coming of the Messiah. It is in these promises that the prophet can find hope, knowing God\’s plan for Israel is too wonderful for him to understand and that there is a good plan to be brought from it, even if it\’s hard for him to see at the moment.
So what does this mean for us? In the passage, God tells Habakkuk to look among the nations and see, wonder, and be astounded at the work that he is doing. So I\’m going to give us four things to look for that will help us to see what God is doing among the nations so that we can be a part of it. The first thing I want us to look for is to look for injustice like Habakkuk did.
What I do mean is that we should be aware that God does this and know that sometimes our prayers for wickedness to be punished are answered in our days.
The other way we can see justice now is in the justice God has for the oppressed. In Isaiah 117 it says, learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
So the other side of God\’s justice is caring for those who can\’t care for themselves. This is something we can do only if we have the eyes to see the issues like Habakkuk did and if we are willing to look for ways to do right for those who are suffering.
The third thing I want us to look for is to look for God\’s grand plan in all things. There\’s a lot going on in the world and even though we may look we would not even believe all that God is doing if we were told. But we should look for and trust in God\’s plan for all time.
Just like Habakkuk needed to have hope that God\’s plan for the Chaldeans to attack Judah was a good plan and part of God\’s grand plan for Israel, we need to trust that even in the things we don\’t understand in our lives, in the lives of the people around us, that God has a plan that is so much bigger than we are and so much bigger than we can understand.
The fourth and final thing I want us to look for is to look for God\’s grand plan in Jesus over all time. This passage played a role in that plan.
God used the Chaldeans to bring all of Israel into exile, which over the years of the exile he used to bring out a faithful remnant to return to Israel, which set the scene for the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
As we wait for God’s full plan in Jesus to unfold, one of the things we are waiting for is the return and judgment of Christ. John 5 24 through 29 says, Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but is crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he is granted the Son also to have life in himself, and he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out. Those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.
This gives us two options as we wait for the return of Jesus. We can either put our faith in him and have life, or we can be condemned by his holy and righteous judgment.
I hope that we can all wonder and be astounded at how God’s plan brought Jesus down to the earth to live life with us. I hope we can all wonder and be astounded at how Jesus lived a perfect life on earth.
I hope we can all wonder and be astounded at the gruesome death Jesus subjected himself to, to be a just sacrifice for us, dying the death we deserved.
I hope we can all wonder and be astounded at how three days later Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death and sin.
I hope we can all wonder and be astounded that Jesus, in his great love for us, and live instead of being condemned like we deserve.
I hope we can all wonder and be astounded at how if we believe in Jesus and make him our Lord and Savior, we can be saved by grace through faith.
If you have not looked at Jesus with wonder and decided to make him your Lord and Savior, I want to invite you to consider doing that today.
I want to invite you to have hope in God’s grand plan for all of eternity by trusting in Jesus.
I also want to invite those of us who have already given our lives to Jesus to take a step back as we enter into this Christmas season and wonder and be astounded at God’s plan for the incarnation of Jesus, and how amazing it is to have a God who plans and does works so grand that we can’t understand them, and how amazing it is to have a holy God who brings his just judgment to the wicked, but is also abounding in love and mercy for those who trust in him.
Let me pray to close. Father, we thank you again so much for your word. Thank you for the plans that you have revealed through all time as you made the mystery of the gospel known to us.
Thank you that you are a good God, abounding in wisdom and love, and that even when we don’t understand your plans, we can have hope that you are working and active, and that you will be faithful in your promises.
I pray that you will help us to look for injustice in the world, that we might see the way you seek to have us pray for and work to bring justice now.
I pray that you will help us to see the ways you bring your justice now, and that it would be a reminder to us that you will bring a perfect and final justice in the end.
I pray that you would help us to trust in your plans, even when we don’t understand them.
I pray that you would help us to faithfully wait for the day of your return, trusting in your fulfillment of your plan in Jesus.
May we be faithful witnesses, telling others about the love that Jesus has, so that they may experience the mercy of Jesus with us.
In Jesus’s name, amen.