Habakkuk’s Great Question

Text: Habakkuk 1

Proposition: God is engaged in the world in a way that addresses present problems with events yet future which we can’t see.

Introduction:  Today we begin to look at a small book that asks some big questions.  It takes place about 150 years after the days of Jonah.  The Assyrians had been given an opportunity to change their ways and by extension the northern kingdom of Israel has also been invited to repent from their foolish ways. Both neglect this call and in 722BC Assyria rises up and attacks and the northern 10 tribes of Israel taking them out of their homeland. This leaves just the two tribe confederation called Judah in the south. During those 150 years from the days of Jonah, Judah had experienced a revival under a young king named Josiah. When the young king dies the people of Judah begin to experience  a spiritual and moral collapse. The book we are going to look at this morning is written by a prophet who lived in those days of Judah’s revival and subsequent decline. The questions that Habakkuk poses are questions that we also ask today. When evil seems to go unchecked, when injustice prevails and godlessness increases where is God? Why doesn’t He intercede, can’t God who knows of all this and is all powerful just stop the backsliding Jewish people? Why doesn’t God hear our prayer to bring revival or reform? Those are the questions that this book begins with and they sound eerily like the questions on the heart of many today. Have a look at this Minor Prophet called Habakkuk, he asks a great question in verses 1-4.

I. The Troubles of Habakkuk’s Day Had a Common Root, Unbelief.

Look at the words that this prophet uses to describe his times, ‘Violence, iniquity, plundering, strife, contention, the wicked surround the righteous, perverse judgment proceeds.’ Every one of those words could be connected to a newscast you’ve seen in the last month. It can be overwhelming, I don’t doubt that you know of people who’d say that they no longer watch the news because it is so disturbing, trouble is everywhere. That’s exactly how it was in Habakkuk’s time, the nation of Judah had gone from a time of spiritual revival to a time of spiritual ruin. The advances of revival under Josiah had brought prosperity, peace, a hunger for knowing God and a political stability built on order and submission to godly authority. Josiah died and in the span of a little more than a life time, Habakkuk’s lifetime, the nation spiralled downwards. So how could the idea of unbelief  be connected to the increase in violence, iniquity, plundering and strife? I think the answer is that people began to feel that sin was no longer sin. Each person could do what the society now said was permissible to do. The phrase, ‘every man did what was right in his own eyes’ applies here. It creates a relativism that says there is no absolute truth, all ways are equally right and true. Unbelief is the root cause, unbelief in the value of Scripture, the authority of it and ultimately the designer and author of it…God. Unbelief in God invites belief in something else, the autonomy of self which ultimately becomes a god of our own devising. John Piper once made the observation that, ‘Unbelief is the root of all sin.’ If you chase that thought down you’ll begin to see that this is our common root of trouble too.

II. God Answers Habakkuk’s Great Question But the Answer Is Difficult.

In verse 3 Habakkuk cries out this question, “Why do You show me iniquity and cause me to see trouble?”  He says that the legal system and the spiritual law behind it are powerless and that justice never prevails, the courts are paralyzed.  In essence he is saying to God, ‘If I can see this I know you can too. I pray against it but nothing seems to change.’ Now comes the disturbing answer that Habakkuk had not anticipated. God speaks in verses 5 to 11, the quotation marks cue us to that. So what does God say, what is His response to the moral decay of Judah? It’s not what we expect, that’s why God begins the way He does in verse 5, “Look among the nations and watch— Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.” This is where the sovereignty of God becomes too hot for many to handle. Have a look at verse 6, “For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs.” Two things to observe here,

1. The Assyrians were the major power at this time, the Babylonians  (or Chaldeans) were not the dominant power yet God declares in His omniscience that He will raise up the Babylonians to replace the Assyrians. In 612 BC Nineveh was destroyed by Babylon. 

2. God’s answer to the fixing of the corrupt state of Judah is to have it taken over by a Gentile power that God describes as terrible and dreadful.

So God not only knows and directs the future He also uses methods and means that we would not recognize as His to be a tool for correcting the unbelief of Israel.

God describes the Babylonians as fierce, violent and arrogant and then concludes His description with verse 11, “Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god.”

This is difficult to accept. When God told Habakkuk, 'What I’m about to do you wouldn’t believe even if it were told you', the initial thought was that it will be too good to be true. The reality is that we struggle with it because it is so terrible, so chaotic. It pushes our understanding of the sovereignty of God and then if we get past that it pushes our understanding of the character of God, His grace, holiness and love. And yet, and yet… it is God’s answer which is perfect, just, holy and corrective. The thing about the Minor Prophets is that they describe the people of Israel in a time when though they are the key means by which the Messiah, Jesus Christ will come, they are a rebellious people, locked up in unbelief. They are the people whom God has called and has been directing for over 2000 years, they are the means through which God will reveal Himself and His kingdom come. When the tip breaks off this ‘pencil’, God doesn’t give up on the story, He sharpens the pencil. For the pencil that’s a difficult experience, for the story it displays the unity and beauty of the writer. If that sounds trite to you, keep reading and you’ll see Habakkuk’s response.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   III. When Your Question is Great, The Answer Is Greater Than You Think.

The good news is that God hears and answers prayer. The more difficult news is that how God answers prayer is not always what we might have expected. Look at Habakkuk’s response in verses 12 to 17. He doesn’t quit God, he doesn’t conclude that there is no god because these things don’t add up to a loving God. He doesn’t reinvent God, spiritualizing away the literal, historical and grammatical truth of what he has just heard. He reflects on the truth of what he has just learned. In other words when the sovereignty of God and the holiness, love and grace of God didn’t add up to what he was seeing he didn’t react to it emotionally. He considers what God has just said is indeed true. Then he reflects on what he knows to be true about the character of God, He is Everlasting, He is the LORD my God. Literally that’s Jehovah (LORD), the singular name meaning the self existing One,  right next to Elohim (God), the plural name meaning  ‘Divine Judges’. Habakkuk retreats to what he knows to be true about Who God is, the self existent Triune God. Then he recalls that God is just, sovereign and pure in the highest sense of the word. Habakkuk realizes that what God has said He will do He will in fact do. He will raise up the Babylonians to invade and defeat the backslidden people of Judah. It was the answer to the first part of his prayer for the revival of Judah. So Habakkuk asks another great question. The first question was ‘Why doesn’t God correct the waywardness of His people.’ The second question is ‘Why does God use such an extreme measure to accomplish that correction?’  As Habakkuk asks this he compares the way that the godless treat life. They catch people in their tactics and military campaigns and like fish in a net they just dispose of them. Then if that were not enough they worship their tactics, their fishing net as it were, as their god, the one who has enabled all this success. In other words the outcome of the godless prospering is a stimulated idolatry. Why would God even consider such a strategy for Judah’s repentance? This implies that what God does is not for Judah’s destruction but for their restoration. But Habakkuk is not there yet. This chapter really has its ending in verse 1 of chapter 2.  “ I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart and watch to see what He will say to me and what I will answer when I am corrected.” When your question is great and the answer that comes is greater than you’d thought it would be, this is a great response. Position yourself as a guard, watch and wait because He will speak again. Get ready to be corrected and with humility be ready to answer God in that correction.    

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