When God Seems Unfair - Part 2

Watching and Waiting (Habakkuk 2:1-20)

 

Last week we began our series in Habakkuk with Part One “Questioning God.” And we saw the prophet looking at the condition of his nation and his people. He’s frustrated because people are doing what they shouldn’t be doing, and like Isaiah he cries out, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isaiah 5:20-21). He’s discouraged because they’re not doing what they should be doing. As James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus said, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins” (James 4:17). So Habakkuk looks around and he sees his nation and the people who claim to be the people of God doing what they shouldn’t be doing and not doing what they should be doing. And he grows weary of the injustice and the mockery of his God so he prays, he asks the difficult questions, and he wrestles with God.

 

He asks God, “Why do you allow this to continue? What is your plan?” And God responds to Habakkuk, he answers his questions and says, “I am going to do something that will amaze you. You see, there’s this group of people called the Babylonians, these cruel and ruthless warriors who’ve been wanting to destroy you guys for a long time, and so now I’m going to let them. That’s my plan.” Now of course, Habakkuk didn’t like that answer, he doesn’t like God’s plan, that wasn’t the plan he was hoping for, and so he’s like, “Wait a second. I’ve got some more questions.” So last week at the end of chapter 1 we found Habakkuk in verses 12 through 17 asking God a series of questions and that’s where we pick up today.

 

Habakkuk says in chapter 2, at verse 1, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

 

2 Then the Lord replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. 3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.

 

4 "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright — but the righteous will live by his faith— 5 indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples.

 

6 "Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, "'Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion!

How long must this go on?' 7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim. 8 Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

 

9 "Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! 10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. 11 The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

 

12 "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! 13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people's labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? 14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

 

15 "Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. 16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed!  The cup from the Lord's right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. 17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

 

18 "Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. 19 Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up!' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. 20 But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." NIV

 

Habakkuk was in a tough place, he’s struggling between what he sees, and what he knows of the character of God. You see, because he knows that God could do something, but what he sees… it’s as if God wasn’t doing anything… as if God didn’t care… It was unfair and life just wasn’t making any sense.

I wonder if any of you have been in that place. You know, when you look around your community, you listen to what’s happening in your nation, and you just wonder, “Where is God?” And you know nobody else cares, nobody else wants to talk about God, to consider God, you know… anything but God! What do you do when you’re in that place?

 

Well, today as we look at the second chapter of Habakkuk we’re going to find several things we can do in that place and three promises to encourage us during those difficult times. And first, we must be willing to wait it out. Habakkuk said, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me...”

 

1. Be Willing To Wait It Out

 

Habakkuk was saying that he was going to put himself in the best possible position to hear God’s voice. He was going to a high place, a watchtower or guard post, a secluded place to pray. He was going to that quiet place away from the noise of confusion and doubt… away from the voices of those who don’t know what they’re talking about… away from those who can only criticize and complain… and away from those who cannot offer any spiritual insight.

 

When Habakkuk said, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts…” He was saying, “I am willing to wait, but in the meantime I’ll be looking on the horizon to see what’s coming in the distance.” In other words, “I’m going to climb up on the wall, and I am going to look to see what God is doing. And I will wait to see what God will say to me.”

 

You see, too often what we do is we just whine about what’s going on and then we go on about our lives as if we don’t care or it doesn’t matter. Many of us never stop to listen, never stop to ask, and yet the beautiful thing about our God is that he’s a relational God who loves to speak to his children. Our God is a God who speaks and if you’ll stop to listen, if you’re willing to wait, God will speak to you. Habakkuk was positioning himself so that when God spoke he would be listening.

 

He was willing to wait it out. Yet for most of us, to wait for 20 seconds feels like a millennia, we are used to instant gratification, and we don’t like to wait. But look at what God says in verse three, “The revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” You see, when God promises something, you may have to wait a while, but you can take his promise to the bank.

 

This morning, some of you right now, you’re in that place, you’re in the waiting zone. You believe God has shown you something, you’ve prayed about it, you heard something, you saw something, and now you’re waiting and honestly you’re afraid that it will not come to pass. But let me encourage you that God’s delays are not God’s denials. When God has promised something it will come to pass. As you look through the Scriptures you can see example after example where God would promise something and then they would wait.

 

The Lord raised up Moses to deliver his people and rebuild the nation, but Moses goes on a forty-year hike in the wilderness. Now when you are a slave in Egypt that’s like an eternity, but God waits and waits and then brings it to pass (Exodus 2-20).

 

God called Joseph to be a great leader who would save his people. He gave Joseph a dream but his brothers mock him, beat him up, and throw him into a pit. They sell him into slavery, he’s thrown in prison, and it’s many years before God fulfills the promise and elevates him to second in command over all of Egypt (Genesis 37-50).

 

As Saul of Tarsus neared Damascus a light from heaven flashed around him and he encountered the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9:3-6). He’s transformed, he’s baptized in the Holy Spirit, and he’s sent out to preach (Galatians 1:11-23). Thirteen years later he goes out to preach his first message (Galatians 2:1-2). Years later he says I’m compelled to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16). Years later he says this one thing I do (Acts 24:21).

 

You see, sometimes you’ve just gotta wait. “The revelation awaits an appointed time” (Habakkuk 2:3). There’s nothing you can do to speed it up, because its God’s timing. It’s coming, but it’s kind of like a woman who is nine months pregnant. When it’s time, it’s time. And so, even if you don’t see God’s promise fulfilled, it will be fulfilled, because His word is absolutely true.

 

2. His Desires Are Not Upright

 

So what God says to Habakkuk is, “You just wait, because I’m your God who is just and righteous; and they will get theirs at the appointed time.” Look at what He says in verse four, “See, he is puffed up: his desires are not upright…” What He’s saying is that the Babylonians are puffed up. They’re proud, they’re looking to please themselves, and they don’t think they need to follow God’s rules. They think it’s all about themselves, they’ve got it all together, they’ve got it figured out, and all this God stuff doesn’t apply to them. But God says of them, “his desires are not upright” and in verses 5 through 19, He introduces different ways that pride is revealed in their lives.

 

First he says, “Indeed, wine betrays him. He is arrogant and never at rest because he is as greedy as the grave and, like death, is never satisfied. He gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples.” In other words, God says that proud people are perennially dissatisfied; there always unhappy. But it’s not just the Babylonians, it’s us too.

 

You know, we thought with a certain amount of education that we would be satisfied. Most of you thought that when you attain that certain income level you’d be satisfied. When you bought the car that you drive, when you moved into that house, when you entered into that relationship, you thought that when you attained that whatever… that you would be satisfied. And the very next day the place where you live isn’t what you wanted, the relationship that you’re in isn’t good enough, the money that you make isn’t enough... and it goes on and on and on. Just like the Babylonians, we’re greedy like the grave. We can never get enough power, enough experience, enough entertainment, or enough fame. Whatever it is, that is our thing, it’s never enough. We want better, we want more, and we want it now.

 

You see, you may have a little and if you love God, you’ll actually be a satisfied person.

You can have all the stuff you want and if you don’t know God, it’ll never be enough. It’s true… that’s what the Lord says in Ecclesiastes, “All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied” (Ecclesiastes 6:7). “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). And so were born into the rat race, you know, welcome to America, as we run around the cul-de-sac as fast as we can spending a little more money here or there, always looking for satisfaction and wondering if we’ll ever find the way out.

 

And yet, God talks about the fact that there is a consequence for our lust, our idolatry, and our prideful choices. And so now he declares a series of five woes and when God does that, you know it’s going to be bad. When God looks at you and says “Woe” that’s the catalyst for a bad day. And so we find these five woes in verses 6 through 19, and I’m just going to give you the high points as God proclaims these five woes to Babylon.

 

First in verse six, God speaks to the Babylonians who are thieves, they’ve been stealing, and He says, “Woe to him who piles up stolen goods... You are going to pay for what you have done.” 

 

In verse nine, He’s talking to the swindlers, the con artists, and He says, “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain. You are going to get what’s coming to you.” 

 

In verse twelve, He’s talking to the violent ones, and He says, “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed...” 

 

In verse fifteen, He’s talking to the partyers and He says, “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors…”

 

And then in verse nineteen, He talks to the idolaters, those who believe that their meaning is going to come from the things of this world, and He says, “Woe to him who says to wood, or objects, ‘Come to life!  You’re going to fulfill me!  You’re going satisfy me!’

 

God says to Habakkuk, “They will get what is coming to them. Wait for it. “The revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3). Habakkuk knew that God had heard his complaint and God gave him three promises to encourage him and strengthen him during those difficult times. And the first was recorded in the second half of verse four, “The righteous will live by his faith.”

 

3. The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

 

This is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible and is actually quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). The context here is a comparison between those who are puffed up and unrighteous, because they trust in themselves, such as the Babylonians; and those who are saved and humble because they trust in the Lord. Like the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector where Jesus said, these two men went up to the temple to pray…. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:

 

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” Jesus said, "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

 

The Babylonians were the ones who are puffed up by their strength and their victories, not realizing that it was God who enabled them to conquer. So God says, “The righteous, those who are mine, are going to live not by what they see, not by was going on around them, but instead no matter what’s happening, they will live by faith.” They will have faith in whatever God has said. They have listened, they have believed what God has spoken, they have faith in what has been written, and they will have faith to wait on God to fulfill his promises even when it doesn’t make sense. And this is where morality falls down. You can tell people to be good, but they don’t have the means of becoming good. God says, “I’m the only one who can really do anything about this. You need me.” Because the righteous will not live by what they see, they will live by faith. They will not walk by sight, but instead they will walk by faith.

 

The second great promise is found in verse 14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Now the earth in Habakkuk’s day was certainly not filled with much glory. The five woes in this chapter identify sins that God hates, sins that were very much polluting the nations, sins that God hates just as much today as he did back in Habakkuk’s day. But the promise remains that, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord…” For the Lord Jesus Christ will return, he will destroy sin and death, and establish his Kingdom.

 

And finally the third promise God gave to Habakkuk begins with three words. When you’re living by faith and you don’t see what you are trusting God for, remember these three words. You’ll find them in verse 20. “But the Lord…” “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." When you like Habakkuk understand, even though you don’t like it, even though you don’t really want to believe that this is going to happen; he says, “But the Lord is in his holy temple.” The Lord is still in charge. The Lord is good, he is righteous, and he is true.

 

And so just like when Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego were told to bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s statue of gold or he’d throw them into the fiery furnace. Even though he said they were going to die. They believed God would deliver them and said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). We will still believe, because we believe the Lord is in his temple, he’s still in control, he is still on the throne, and we will live by faith.

 

Today you need to know that the Lord is still there. Even though the world may say to the contrary, even though we don’t see the evidence, and even though our lives may be falling apart around us. “The Lord is in his holy temple,” and he says, “Let all the earth be silent before him.” And sometimes that’s just what we need…. just a little quietness. The Bible says that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). And sometimes we just need to be quiet. Most of us don’t need more information. We just need the faith to believe what we already know.

 

What Habakkuk is being called to is a period of silence… of re-orientation… and God says, “Habakkuk, I’ve answered all your questions. I’ve come to be with you. I love you. I have a plan for you. Just trust me.” So Habakkuk was looking to God and what God is answering is, “Look. Just get close to me.” God redirects him and invites him into a relationship. He says, “Just be silent, come near to me, trust me, and things will work themselves out. I’ve got this!”

 

As we close, sometimes you just need to be silent. You see, in silence you can confess your sins, and God will forgive you and love you. In silence you can meditate and ponder on who God is and what he’s done for you through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. In silence, you can learn to trust God and grow in faith. It’s a time for reorientation of our hearts. That’s what God has called us to… to be silent before him… to take time for meditation, confession, and reorientation. Now as we do that we remember his Son Jesus Christ, his body and blood shed for our sin, because he’s our only hope. Only Jesus changes people’s hearts and that change begins from the inside out. And so we want to invite God to finish the work that he began as we close in prayer. Amen.

 

Pastor John Talcott

Christ's Community Church

303 West Lincoln Avenue

Emmitsburg, MD 21727

July 05, 2015

 

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