August 6, 2023
Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 Sermon
From the Series: Habakkuk: A Prophet for Today?
Mountain View Evangelical Missionary Church
Is It Proper to Question God?
Good morning, it is so good to be back with you for another Lord’s Day Service. Thank you for having Marilyn and I back once again.
This morning, I’d like to continue our study of the Book of Habakkuk. We covered the first half of the first chapter last month and just to help you remember, I’ll do a quick recap.
We saw last time that Habakkuk was given a prophecy or an oracle from God. Interestingly, the word in the original Hebrew is massa which we translate here as “oracle”, but it can also be translated as “burden.” We will see as we progress through the book, that this prophecy certainly was a burden for Habakkuk as well as the entire people of Judah.
Something I neglected to mention in the first message was that the events listed in this prophecy were given ahead of time and it took approximately 66 years for all the events to unfold.
We saw that the primary reason for Habakkuk calling out to God was due to the corruption that was happening within Judah and from its rulers. The prophet called out against the violence, destruction, and injustice that the people were experiencing at the hands of their rulers. He felt that Yahweh was not aware of what was going on and that God was ignoring the cries for help from His people.
In the second verse, Habakkuk complains, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” Some commentators claim that this was done in an aggressive and confrontational tone, but I don’t see that here. I think that Habakkuk was using a persistent yet respectful tone when he was addressing the LORD.
Then we see that Yahweh answers, but it was not at all what Habakkuk was expecting. In essence, the LORD tells the prophet, “Look around and truly see and you will be astounded. I am at work already. I have been holding back this little group of miscreants called the Chaldeans, or you may know them as the Babylonians, (think King Nebuchadnezzar) and if you think it is bad now, wait until you get a taste of this bunch. They are a law and a justice unto themselves, they are proud and haughty, and brutal, and they think their own strength is their God. This group worships themselves and their accomplishments as their God.
And we see here, as so often is the case, that God does not act or do things in the way that we think they should be done. So, Habakkuk continues the conversation, but with a bit more respect and conciliation in his tone, and raises a second question.
So, I thought I might start by asking a question of you.
Have you ever had an occasion where things were getting to you, and you started to have some doubts and you cry out to God with a question? Maybe the situation was the unexpected death of a loved one, or maybe you received a devastating diagnosis from your doctor.
A natural response in our fallen state is to cry out, “Why me Lord? Why is this happening to me?” We are not alone in questioning God. We can find many instances in scripture where people have cried out to God in anguish looking for answers or reasons for the situations that they were facing. On Father’s Day, we saw how Job cried out to God after suffering his loss.
David cried out to God numerous times, and they are recorded in the Psalms he wrote. Many of the prophets also cried out to God, sometimes in anguish over what they saw in their people's behavior. Other times, they cried out from the vision that they had received. When Isaiah received his vision of the LORD God sitting on His throne in all His Glory, Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Once Isaiah had been exposed to the wonder and majesty of God, he fully recognized just how sinful he truly was. Isaiah knew that even his mouth was unfit to proclaim God’s truth to God’s people, so in the vision, one of the seraphim flies to him and touches his mouth with a lump of burning coal and proclaims, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” This is a wonderful foreshadowing of the work of Jesus to come.
So, we see from Scripture numerous examples of people crying out to God and asking questions of Him. When we do this in our own lives, we are in good company.
It is possible that these difficult situations could even lead one to begin to question their faith in God. This is exactly the situation that we will see in today’s passage from the Book of Habakkuk. Please turn with me in your bibles to Habakkuk, chapter one and we will pick up the account of Habakkuk in verse 12. Habakkuk 1, verse 12.
READ HABAKKUK 1:12-2:1
We see in this passage that the Lord’s answer that Habakkuk had received caused a faith struggle in the prophet. The answer was not what he had expected. God had told Habakkuk that He was going to raise up the Chaldeans, and God was going to use this “bitter and hasty nation” to bring judgment to God’s own people.
Habakkuk believed that the Lord could not tolerate wickedness, yet he noted that evil prospered. A thought that we can share with the prophet from our circumstances today.
We will see that Habakkuk sought an explanation he could pass on to his audience, but none was forthcoming.
Lord willing, in the future, we will see by the time we get to the end of this book and the end of the conversation between Habakkuk and God, we will see that the prophet realized that the near future would lack visible reasons to believe, leaving only faith in God’s promise. Without immediate, material evidence of God’s love, he would have to say, “Although the fields produce no food … yet I will rejoice in the Lord”.
Let’s look a little closer at the first couple of verses of today’s passage.
READ HABAKKUK 1:12-13a
I think that we should look at this entire passage, the passage that some of your Bibles will mark with the heading “Habakkuk’s Second Complaint”, not simply as a complaint issued against God, but rather as a prayer offered up to God. A lament if you will. A lament is a type of prayer that one offers up to God while suffering. We see from this passage that the prophet fully expects to receive a response.
With that thought in mind that this is indeed a prayer, let’s see how the prophet begins his prayer. It is offered up with reverence and respect. It almost seems like Habakkuk is backpedaling a little after receiving the answer from God that he did.
Habakkuk starts with the recognition of some of God’s attributes, “Are you not from everlasting…” This is an attribute that the Bible speaks of often throughout the Old and New Testaments in various forms. Yahweh is the everlasting God (Isaiah 40:28), the everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6). He is described as an everlasting King (Jeremiah 10:10), and Redeemer (Isaiah 63:16).
The Lord is a God of everlasting kindness (Isaiah 54:8), everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), and everlasting mercy (Psalm 100:5; 103:17) who has established an everlasting covenant with His people (Hebrews 13:20). His kingdom is everlasting (2 Peter 1:11), as is His salvation (Psalm 45:17).
Everlasting does not just refer to the God that will exist into the future, but it also refers to the God that has existed from all eternity. The God that was before time and creation began. That’s the mighty God that Habakkuk was addressing and that is the same mighty God that we serve today. God does not change, and if we are entirely honest, God’s created people do not change either.
Of course, societies and civilizations come and go. Empires rise and fall, but people in our core, have not really changed. Technology and tools have made our work easier and made us more productive, but our combative and disobedient will remains.
The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis had an expression he called “chronological snobbery”. He defined it as this, “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited”. In other words, whatever we do today, and whatever belief we accept today, is the correct one, and whatever was believed in the past must be incorrect because it has been replaced by our superior belief system. The “snobbery” comes from the fact that we believe that ours is the correct belief. It is correct simply because we believe it.
Societies decline because morals change, and what we call sin, becomes more readily accepted by culture. In our sophistication, we turn our backs on the very foundational teachings that allowed society to flourish in the first place.
But Scripture tells us that God doesn’t change, only the people’s attitudes towards Him change. We see examples in the Old Testament of Israel and her people turning their backs on God and His Laws time and time again, and God must bring judgment on them in an attempt to bring His beloved people back to Him.
And before you fall prey to chronological snobbery, take a good look around at our present-day circumstances and try to explain to me how we, here in Canada, are any different from the Israelites in the day of Habakkuk.
Now back to verse 12, we see the prophet mention another attribute of God. “My Holy One”. So, not only is God everlasting, but He is also Holy. The word Holy when used as an attribute of God is defined as “the moral and ethical wholeness or perfection; freedom from moral evil.” So that is the definition of the word Holy when used as an adjective to describe God.
Holiness is the verb form of the word Holy. Holiness is the action word and holiness is not just reserved for God. Holiness is one of the essential elements of God’s nature that is required of His people. We are required to pursue holiness in our lives, as followers of Jesus Christ.
Holiness may also be described as “sanctification” or “godliness.” The Hebrew word for “holy” denotes that which is “sanctified” or “set apart” for divine service. The Bible is clear that God’s people are called to be holy and to pursue holiness.
Exodus 19:5-6 states, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” These were direct instructions from God to Moses, for God’s people.
After being freed from slavery in Egypt, God continues with His instruction to His people to show them that they were now “sanctified” or, set apart by God, for God… and they were no longer to act like the people from the surrounding cultures. In Leviticus 20:23 God instructs His people, “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.”
Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “Yeah but, Paul, that is the Old Testament, and we now live in a time of Grace. C’mon man get with the times, we don’t have to do those things now. Stop being so picky!”
Fair enough. That is the Old Testament. We do live in a time of Grace. We have a new covenant found in the New Testament. Do you understand what that covenant is?
Jesus, who is God from time everlasting, came to earth. Born of a virgin, Jesus took on human form in addition to His deity. Jesus did not just come into existence 2,000 years ago. Jesus took on human form. He was fully human and fully God. In time past, before Jesus was on earth, he agreed with the Father, to voluntarily lay aside some of His divine abilities to become the perfect and sinless human substitution for God’s wrath.
Jesus taught the Apostles, and through them and through His Word, the Bible, Jesus teaches us today how we may attain this Salvation. Jesus and the Father produced a way to repair the broken relationship between mankind and God. A relationship that was broken between the Creator and His creation, when original man disobeyed God while they were still in the Garden as recorded in Genesis chapter 3.
According to John 10:11 in the words of Jesus, He said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus laid down His life as a penal substitution for us and satisfied the wrath of God that was due to us. He laid down His life through His death on a Roman cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb, and then three days later, Jesus picked up His life again and was resurrected. The resurrected Christ is the one that wants a personal relationship with you. You are the reason that He went to the Cross. I am the reason that He went to the Cross. It was my sin and your sin that required the sacrifice of Jesus to lay down His life for us.
Now do you understand what He has done for you? Now that you understand, let me ask you a question, “Do you love Jesus?” I would like you to understand what Jesus has accomplished for you so that you may find His joy and His peace in your relationship with Him.
That is the new covenant that is proclaimed in the New Testament. Now, a covenant is a legal agreement between two parties, like a contract but even more binding. God is the one party in the agreement and we, His people are the second party.
God is the primary mover and shaker in this agreement, He is the initiator, and the bulk of the responsibility falls on His shoulders. Since He is the initiator and the Creator, He gets to set the terms of this agreement. Jesus carries the load, as the Hymn says, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”.
What do we “owe” Jesus? We owe Him our obedience. Again, let me ask you, “Do you love Jesus?” Jesus challenges us directly with this question found in John’s Gospel. In John 14:15 Jesus asks his disciples, and by extension, He asks each one of us that calls ourselves a follower of Jesus, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
We are called by Jesus to be holy, to pursue holiness, not from a sense of trying to earn something, …for Christ has already given us the gift of Grace through His sacrifice, …but we obey because we love Him.
Holiness was not just an Old Testament quest. The Apostle Peter in his epistle 1 Peter 1:14-16 implores the followers of Jesus to be, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
The Apostle Paul also calls us to obedience through love, through the love of others. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12 and 13 Paul writes, “…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
Through love for one another, we pursue holiness, we grow in our sanctification, to become more like Jesus. Obedience is holiness.
That was the definition of a Holy God, and the requirements that a Holy God asks of His people, the pursuit of holiness in their lives. That was the God that Habakkuk was addressing. He was making known to God that he was aware of exactly who God was.
But in verse 12 Habakkuk reminds God of a promise that Yahweh made to His people, specifically to the father of the Nation of Israel, Abraham. Just to make sure that you all are still awake out there, turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 17:5-8.
READ GENESIS 17:5-8
This is the promise that Habakkuk is reminding God that He made to His people starting with the patriarch Abraham. That God had established an everlasting covenant. There is that word “everlasting” again. Habakkuk is not claiming divine protection from death for each individual in Judah. How can he, we all die! The promise that Habakkuk is clinging to is that God will not let His people be wiped from the face of the earth. That Yahweh will protect a remnant of His people and be in an everlasting covenant with them.
Let’s pick up the account back in Habakkuk Chapter 1.
Look with me at the second half of verse 12. Habakkuk continues in his prayer to the LORD, “ O Lord, you have ordained them”, them being the Chaldeans that He is going to let loose on Judah. “…you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.”
A couple of things here: The word “Rock” is often used figuratively to refer to God as Creator, a refuge, the sustainer, and as a symbol of God’s strength. Second, we see Habakkuk recognizing that the Chaldeans will be a legitimate judgment on Judah and well within God’s right to do so. Reproof is another word for reprimand or correction, and scripture is clear in several places that God has a right to rebuke us when we sin, and we are also to rebuke fellow Christians when we see them caught in sin.
Leviticus 19:17 instructs us, “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.” Scripture makes it seem that not correcting your brother’s or sister’s sinful behavior would be the equivalent of hating them. I know this thought really upsets our modern-day sensibilities. We are told to just mind our own business, but that is not what God’s Word instructs us to do. Corrections must be made with gentleness and respect, and Mathew chapter 18 lays out the whole proper procedure to do the correction.
Some of us even reject the correction when it comes from God! We find ways to justify our guilty behavior by saying things like, “That law doesn't apply today .” or, “We are under Grace now, so I don’t have to worry about that”. These lies that we tell ourselves and tell others really are detrimental to our walk with Christ. As I said earlier, holiness is obedience, and we are called to be holy.
Look at verse 13 with me. READ Habakkuk 1:13
We see the prophet challenging God’s behavior trying to use God’s own attributes against Him. Of course, the statement that god “cannot look at wrong” is a misapplication of the concept of God’s eyes. First off, this is what is known as anthropomorphism, which is the application of human physical traits to a spirit being such as God. God is spirit, so He has no literal eyes. Second, this statement fails to recognize two other important attributes of God, namely that He is all-knowing and omnipresent. God cannot help but look at the evil of this world, because of his omniscience and omnipresence. Where could God possibly go to escape the presence of evil?
But this is a ruse, a false premise being established by the prophet so that Habakkuk can repeat his question from verse three, “Why Lord?” Habakkuk’s second set of questions rephrases, intensifies, and expands the original question in light of the new information given in Yahweh’s response. The key question of the chapter (and the book) is asked in both sets: “Why do you tolerate wrong?” (1:3b), and “You cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” (1:13b).
Others have asked the same or similar questions of God in the Bible. People from Job to the psalmist as well as the prophets Jeremiah and Malachi. So, if you have asked God similar questions, you are in good company.
In verse 14 and following, Habakkuk goes on to use the sea and a fishing metaphor for the impending chaos that the Chaldeans are going to bring upon Judah.
READ HABAKKUK 1:14-15
The hook, the net, and the dragnet are all used in fishing for various purposes. The hook is used to catch a single fish, and the net or gill net, which is probably what is meant here, is used to catch specific species of fish based on the size of the openings in the net. Smaller fish slip through the net, while larger fish simply bounce off and swim away. A dragnet is an indiscriminate method of fishing, and it ensnares everything large and small that falls within its reach.
Interestingly enough, all three of these techniques and tools have been shown to be used in ancient warfare. Cave paintings have shown hooks and nets being used against one’s enemies in times of war. The dragnet would have been a terrifying image for the hearers of this prophecy, the thought that everything in the path of the Chaldeans would be swept up and carried off by them into captivity. And of course, we know from history that this is exactly what happened, and it is referred to as the Babylonian exile.
Look at verse 16 with me.
READ Habakkuk 1:16
“He sacrifices to his net”. The prophet is of course referring to the Chaldeans and their army. What he is saying here is that the Chaldeans were worshipping their own strength. We make sacrifices to, or for, the things that we make into idols in our lives. It may be an object, like a car or a house, or it may be a sport like hockey, football, or golf. Maybe it's your job or your business or farm? Not that these things are bad by themselves, but when they take the place of priority over God in our lives, we have turned them into an idol.
When we think of the word “Idol” what comes to mind is the image of a wooden, stone, or metal statue that we bow down to. That’s one definition. Another definition is the things to which we make sacrifices.
Billy Graham is credited with saying, “Give me five minutes with a man’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is”. Today, I would say, “Show me your bank statement and your Google calendar and I can tell you where your priorities lie.” We may not make blood sacrifices to the idols in our lives, but we do sacrifice our time and money to the things that are important to us.
Another form of idolatry is fashioning the God of the Bible into a god of our own making. When we pick and choose which teachings we will obey, or when we ignore certain attributes of God, we are not worshipping the One True God, but rather we are worshipping an idol of our making. A god that bows to us instead of the other way around.
When we teach that God is only love and ignore His Holy and Just aspects of His being, then we are worshipping an idol. When we live our lives ignoring the coming judgment, we are worshipping an idol. When we ignore the clear teachings found in the Bible and contort God’s Word to fit cultural ideas rather than having culture bend the knee to God’s teachings, we are worshipping an idol, a god of our own making, a false and pagan god, just like the Chaldeans.
Habakkuk is confirming what the LORD said back in verse 11 when He was describing the Chaldeans. “…guilty men, whose own might is their god!”.
But look at the second half of verse 16, who can blame them for worshipping their tools of war and their own strength, for the bible says, “for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich.” For many that is all that matters in this world, right? Results. What will it get me?
Look with me at the final verse of chapter one.
READ HABAKKUK 1:17
Habakkuk asks one final question of God. It is a version of every lament, “How long, O LORD, how long?” Habakkuk is trying to confirm with God that there will be an end to the carnage.
This is a legitimate question. The thing that we forget, and while we are in the middle of the suffering it is easy to forget, that “this too shall pass”. Empires come and go. Conquering armies are in turn defeated or simply return home. While suffering will always be with us, individual trials will come and go.
Now there is an unfortunate chapter break here because the first verse of chapter 2 actually belongs with chapter one because it is the ending of the lamenting prayer from Habakkuk.
READ HABAKKUK 2:1
Habakkuk finishes his prayer to Yahweh with a statement of submission to God’s authority.
“I will station myself on the tower and look out to see what He will say to me”. That is the proper way to submit questions to the LORD. Acknowledging that we will wait on Him for the answers.
At the beginning of this passage today we saw that Habakkuk was processing the shock of the news. We heard it also in his statement of incredulity, “We will not die!”. Immediately, however, he said that he believes Yahweh concerning the Babylonians: “You have appointed … you have ordained” (1:12b). In one verse Habakkuk progressed from incredulity to acknowledgment of the facts through his trust and knowledge of Yahweh. Even though Jerusalem will be captured, and God’s people exiled, they will survive as a people, for God is a Rock of refuge. “We will not die” becomes a cry of hope for the future.
Habakkuk raised objections that we also echo today. Both he and we realize that we don’t like the world we see or the world as God describes it. Our implied question to God is twofold: (1) “Why don’t you destroy the wicked?” or at least don’t sanction their success; (2) “Why do the wicked exist at all?” Be careful with the second question. We tend to think of evil as being on a sliding scale, but to God, all sin is wicked and detestable. We are there on that scale somewhere.
Questions and lament are part of a believer’s burden, and honest dialogue with God is a necessary form of relationship with him. Lamentation and questioning are God’s gifts to the believer. They provide a pathway of honest faith and faithful conversation with him in horrible times. One-third of the Psalms are prayers/songs of lament.
Jesus himself lamented faithfully to the Father from the cross, using the words of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Like Habakkuk, Jesus models for us the possibility of being honest with God about our situations through lament without guilt.
Habakkuk’s protest is faithful and inspired because it is done out of the conviction that God is good all the time, even in death and dying.
Habakkuk implies that he knows God has made the world and people “like fish in the sea.” The real problem is that he doesn’t like it, not that he doesn’t understand it. Let me repeat that, the real problem is that he doesn’t like it, not that he doesn’t understand it. God’s world gives the wicked and the violent too much freedom. Isn’t that truly the reason why we reject some of God’s teachings? It’s not that we don’t understand it, it’s that we don’t like it or like the fact that we must submit to it. When we pick and choose like that, we are placing ourselves in a position of judging God. We can question Him; we have no authority to judge Him.
Who here hasn't struggled with questions regarding God or the circumstances that we find ourselves in? In these times of struggle, we must ask ourselves, "Why do we worship The Father?” Just because he gives us good things, or because of who He is and the salvation He has given us?
Times of trouble may test our faith and our relationship with God.
I want to leave you with a couple of definitions of faith from a couple of famous Christians. I mentioned C.S. Lewis earlier and here is how he defined faith, “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”
And finally, the early church Father Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
I implore you to place your faith in who God is and His unchanging nature and not in the circumstances that you may find yourself in.