This morning we begin a new series in the book of Habakkuk. It’s just a small book in the Old Testament, one of the Minor Prophets, sandwiched between Nahum and Zephaniah, and as we get into Habakkuk, we find that Habakkuk is facing some of the same problems that we have today. You know, times may have changed, technology may have changed, but the problem remains the same. It’s the same problem we’ve had since Genesis chapter 3; that is sin, and the effects of sin. You see, sin raises its ugly head as rebellion, suffering, injustice, and death. It causes depression, discouragement, and despair. Like a plague it infects people and cultures from generation to generation.
And so here we find Habakkuk worrying, because what he sees is causing so much pain, suffering, and injustice for the people of God. He’s worrying and wondering why God allows his chosen people to suffer. And yet even today we’re well aware that pain and suffering is an undeniable fact of our existence. Therefore like Habakkuk, we speculate, we blog, and we medicate. We have philosophy and therapy. We have all these different places and forums to wonder, “How come there is such suffering? How come there’s this injustice? And like Habakkuk we find ourselves worrying and wondering why things are the way they are. You may have many questions that are difficult to answer and like Habakkuk you may have questioned “When God seems unfair.”
This morning, we’re going to look at Habakkuk, a man who loved God, who had a very rich faith, but like so many people, he saw things around him that didn’t line up with what he believed and it became very difficult for him. Now as a prophet he was a man who would speak for God, and he lived about 600 BC, in a time when God’s people were becoming very corrupt, there was violence, all sorts of fights, and a lot of ungodliness. Really it was a lot like the world we live in today. There were bad people doing bad things to good people and even good people who weren’t really that good, so God speaks to the prophet and says, “These people that I love are becoming increasingly rebellious; so I am going to discipline them in the hope that they would repent and return to me.” And so Habakkuk’s response, like ours probably would be, is “God, that’s not fair!”
Let’s read together at chapter 1, verse 1…
“The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. 2 How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
5 "Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. 6 I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. 7 They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; 9 they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. 10 They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. 11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on — guilty men, whose own strength is their god."
12 O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. 13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? 14 You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. 15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. 16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. 17 Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?” NIV
The first thing we see here is that the prophet received something from God. It says, the oracle, meaning an utterance and a burden. So God had given Habakkuk a burden, a message that he is going to wrestle under the weight of. You know he’s going to say, “God, I don’t want to tell them this. I don’t like this and they’re not going to like this. I can’t see anything good coming out of this.” So he’s going to resist and he argues with God. You know as I read this it really reminds me of the account of Job. You remember how Job wrestled with God, he wrestled with his friends, and then God spoke and put them all in their place. But here’s the first thing I want you to see from this passage.
Now I would imagine that everyone here today would agree that they would like to hear from God in some area of their life. Some of you want to know whom you will marry, others if you should take a job, or what should be your major, your ministry, your calling, or your vocation. Some of you need to hear from God, because you’re looking to make some big decisions. Others of you need to hear from God because you just need to know “Why?” You know, why is this happening in my life? Is there something I need to change? Is there something that I missed, a step I need to take, how do I pick up the pieces, and start moving forward to rebuild my life?
In some way or another each of us need to hear the voice of God. We need to be able to move forward in a way that reflects the wisdom of God and invites his blessing into our lives. Habakkuk was a man who knew how to hear God’s voice and God used him in a powerful way to speak to his generation. Today, if we want to be like Habakkuk, if we want to hear God speaking, we can’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions.
Habakkuk asked, “How long O’ Lord must I call… How long must I cry out… Why do you let me see this… Why do you tolerate wrong?” You see, Habakkuk wasn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions. And basically what Habakkuk is telling God is, “If I were in your shoes I would do things totally different.” Now to me that seems a little bold, a little daring, but I think that what God is revealing to us here is that there are times when questioning God is a significant part of our faith journey.
Just read the Psalms sometime and you’ll discover the people of God crying out, “Why? What? When? And how? Read the book of Job or Lamentations. These are godly people crying out for mercy, crying out for understanding, just seeking direction. I mean even look at Jesus on the cross, he was completely obedient to his father in every way. He becomes sin, God the Father pours out his wrath upon Jesus, and God turns his back and Jesus is going, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And so I think a very important part of our faith journey is not being afraid to ask the difficult questions.
And that begins with wrestling through those questions. Like when Nehemiah, heard that the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed, he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed. He struggled with it until he got clarity about what God wanted him to do. And like Jesus, who hours before he was crucified struggled and even asked, “If it’s possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39).
This morning, if you need to hear from God, let it begin with a struggle, let it begin with a question. Don’t be afraid to ask and to express your doubts, your concerns, or your fears. If you want to hear the voice of God be transparent with him… wrestle with your questions. Habakkuk tells God, “This is a terrible place, I’m fed up with the culture, I’m sick of the politics, and I’m done with these people.” And honestly his questions are my questions; and maybe yours too? Habakkuk’s not perfect, but he’s a guy who loves God, he sees was going on around him, and he’s just sick of it. So he asks God, “What are you doing? I don’t understand…” And God responded, but what God said was not what Habakkuk wanted to hear.
Look at verse five, "Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Basically what God says is this; “I’m sick of it too… I’m at the end of my rope… my patience and grace are gone… Habakkuk, you think you’re frustrated, you should realize that every offense that sickens you is really against me.” So God says in verse 6, “I’m sending the Babylonians after you.” These are bad guys, they are feared and dreaded. They are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. And I’m going to use them as a corrective measure, to discipline, and to destroy.” So now Habakkuk’s backpedaling, he’s got second thoughts, and he’s wrestling with this word, this Oracle from God. He’s trying to align the word of God with his faith, he’s not sure what to believe, he’s not sure what he got himself into, and he’s wondering how could this be?
But here’s the deal. You can be a deeply committed believer like Habakkuk with a lot of questions. You can ask those difficult questions. You can believe God, struggle with God, and like Habakkuk still be a little unsure of what you believe. There was a time when he really did believe, but now he wonders, he sees all this hurting, he’s been praying a long time, he’s been believing, but right now it’s just not easy. So God tells Habakkuk, “I’ll get you there. I’m going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. It’s going to be so amazing that you’ll never doubt in that way again, but let me assure you, that you wouldn’t have got there unless I took you through this struggle and this crisis.”
So Habakkuk is wrestling with God, and in verse 12 he makes a powerful statement of faith. “O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die.” He says, you know, “You may wipe us out, but we are your people. We’ll be back.” He’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator and he makes this statement of faith, “I’ll be back… we will not die.”
And then he asked a question, “O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”
Really what he’s saying is God I believe… but this is difficult. And maybe that’s where some of you are today? You're there right now, youre in chapter 1, life’s hard, you’ve got questions, you’re wondering, but let me assure you if you hang in there, if you’ll trust God, you’ll get to the point where no matter what you see around you, you’ll worship God. Not because of what you see with your eyes, but because of you who you know God to be and you’ll worship him because of his character and his nature to be merciful.
As we close here’s what I want you to do, especially if you’re one of those who feels like you’re in chapter 1, your wrestling with God and you’re struggling. You need to do the Habakkuk. Now that’s not a dance move, but you need to embrace God. No matter what’s going on around you, hold on, wrestle with God, cry out, “I don’t understand,” but embrace him, and never let go, because no matter what happens he will never let go of you. Like Habakkuk, here in chapter 1, all you can do is embrace him, and hold on for dear life.
You see this story is amazing, because God not only looks at our condition and gets sick of it but he actually comes into it. He did that 2000 years ago when he became the man Jesus. Of all the places that God would be least likely to go, he came into the mess that we’ve created, he enters humanity, where he’s tempted in every way as we are, yet was without sin. He’s mocked, beaten, scorned, and lied to. He’s betrayed by his friends. The courts that were supposed to bring justice run him through a series of false trials. A friend who sat by his side betrays him for 30 pieces of silver. The leader of the disciples, Peter denies him to a young girl. It’s mayhem, everybody’s crooked, wandering aimlessly, and Jesus is the only one who keeps to straight and narrow.
I love this passage from Luke’s Gospel, “As the time approach for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). So he goes to the cross and there on the cross 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who knew no sin to become sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus dies for all our sins past, present, and future. He rises to conquer the enemy of sin and death.
He gives me new life and I have this foretaste, this appetite for the things of God and not the things of Satan, for life and not for death, for holiness and not for rebellion. And God begins to create in me a hunger and thirst for righteousness so that like Habakkuk, I’m frustrated and I’m sick of it. And Jesus makes this promise, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
The apostle Paul tells us in Romans chapter 8 beginning in verse 18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Something so much greater is coming, our hope is in Christ, and it finds its fulfillment in heaven. As we close in prayer, we repent of our sins, we give them to Jesus and ask him to forgive us, to cleanse us, and to give us the grace to live the life he’s called us to. Amen.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
June 28, 2015