The prophet of God was disturbed in his spirit. He had felt the revival fires that had visited Judah during King Josiah’s day fade from a roaring blaze to mere flickering embers. He had watched the Temple slowly become empty and the hearts of the people become full of themselves. Pride, lust, greed, violence, and injustice had moved into the city square and began rotting the foundation of the Holy City.
The prophet had preached until he was hoarse. He had warned the people until he was worn out. Now the prophet felt that he could no longer communicate with the people, and he turned to God with the heaviness of his heart.
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. (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV)
“How long must this go on without You intervening God?” How many times have you or I uttered those words? When was the last time you found yourself the victim of violence, injustice, or greed and were powerless to do anything about it? When did you last feel yourself going under, swept overboard by the pain and sorrow spilling over the border of your heart? When was the last time the Lord broke your heart with the sin, the turning away, of our nation from God? When was the last time you felt the piercing blow of someone else’s sin creeping into your own life and taking you hostage? Have you ever watched a friend, or a family member, being sold down the river by injustice and wanted to intervene, but felt powerless to fight the system? You cried out to God in prayer, but their pain only grew more intense. All of these situations and more were weighing heavy on Habakkuk’s heart as he watched his leaders and neighbors abusing and misusing one another. Habakkuk had seen the stirring of people’s hearts during the days of Josiah, he had hoped that a genuine revival had come to the nation, but now he could not find evidence anywhere that hearts had truly been transformed. Habakkuk’s pleas, his prodding, his preaching – nothing seemed to sink in and cause the people to turn back to God. Habakkuk cried out to God, but in crying out for an answer Habakkuk could not believe the answer he received.
What was the answer that God gave to Habakkuk? Well, you’ll have to stick around for the next couple of weeks to learn God’s answer because today I want to share with you the setting of this powerful little prophecy. Where was Habakkuk? What was taking place in the land that caused Habakkuk to suffer such intense frustration and inner turmoil? When did Habakkuk live? What was the political and spiritual climate of the nation that led to Habakkuk’s cry to God? All of these questions and more come to the forefront of our mind as we read this little three-chapter book.
This morning, as we begin our new study of Habakkuk, I want to take you back in time to the period of 700-600 B.C. Habakkuk arrives on the scene in the second half of these one hundred years and he watches the nation of Judah rediscover the Law during King Josiah’s day and forget the Word and will of God once Josiah is gone. Some of the same characteristics that we find as we study ancient Judah are still with us today. That is both good news and bad news. The good news is this: just as God worked in the past He is still working today. The bad news is that we are just as vulnerable today to the predicaments and perils of the people of Habakkuk’s day.
Let me set the scene for you as we begin our study. First, let me say that it is of great importance for you and me to understand Habakkuk’s times and God’s dealing with the people. These stories contained in God’s Word have not been placed before us simply for our entertainment. The stories of God’s dealings with people have been placed there for you and me to learn from, to heed the warnings, and to stir our hearts so that we might seek God with passion and relentless devotion. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said,
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NIV)
God has given us the stories of history to teach us, to draw us away from the things that sought to destroy God’s people in the past, and we must heed these warnings. Paul also wrote to the Romans and taught them this same truth in Romans 15:4. Take a look with me.
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 NIV)
Let’s sit down with God’s Word, a pencil and paper, and learn some valuable lessons. During the time of King David Israel was united and strong. When David’s son, Solomon, took over the throne after David’s death, things began to deteriorate to the point that after Solomon died the nation of Israel divided into two nations or two kingdoms: Judah was the southern kingdom and Israel was the northern kingdom. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians overtook the northern kingdom of Israel. The Israelites were taken into captivity and carried away from their homeland.
The southern kingdom of Judah is where Habakkuk lived and prophesied. He prophesied at the same time as the prophet Jeremiah. The northern kingdom had already been taken away into captivity by the time Habakkuk began his ministry. The capital city, the Holy City of Jerusalem was the heart of the southern kingdom. The fact that the Holy City was the nation’s capital didn’t stop the downward spiritual spiral of the people of God, nor did it cause God to turn His face and ignore all of the perversion and injustice that was taking place. God kept calling His people back, but they kept marching to the beat of their own drum.
The fall of the southern kingdom didn’t come all at once. It began in 605 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem and took a handful of people to Babylon. A few years later, in 597 B.C. a greater number of folks were taken captive. Then, ten years later, in 587 B.C., the walls toppled in on the Holy City and her inhabitants when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple.
What was it that led to the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem? What was it that led to the destruction of the Temple of God? Those are great questions and I want to show you what happened. We can trace the beginning of the end back to a king named Manasseh.
Manasseh took over the throne after his father, Hezekiah, died. Manasseh ruled for 55 years, longer than any of Judah’s kings, as he reigned from 696-642 B.C. Manasseh’s father was a godly man who brought about reform in the nation, but as soon as his father’s funeral was over Manasseh turned his back on God. 2 Kings 21 gives us some great insight into Manasseh’s reign of destruction on the nation of Judah.
10The LORD said through his servants the prophets: 11″Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. (2 Kings 21:10-13 NIV)
When Manasseh’s life ended, his son, Amon, took over the throne. The son picked up where his father had left off as 2 Chronicles 33 tells us,
21 Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem two years. 22 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, as his father Manasseh had done. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made. (2 Chronicles 33:21-22 NIV)
After Amon was killed by his own people, Amon’s son, Josiah, who was only eight years old at the time took over the throne. The story of Josiah’s life is one of the bright shining lights in Judah’s history. He became king when he was just eight years old, but the Lord stirred Josiah’s heart when he was sixteen years old and Josiah began to seek the Lord. When Josiah was 20 years old he began to purge the nation of all of its idolatry. 2 Chronicles 34 tells us,
3 In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David. In his twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images. (2 Chronicles 34:3 NIV)
Another important turn of events took place in Josiah’s heart when he was 26 years old. 2 Chronicles 34:8 tells us,
8 In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, to purify the land and the temple, he sent Shaphan son of Azaliah and Maaseiah the ruler of the city, with Joah son of Joahaz, the recorder, to repair the temple of the LORD his God. (2 Chronicles 34:8 NIV)
Josiah set out to restore the Temple of God, to bring the people back to the House of God while he was continuing to dismantle all of the despicable idols that his father and grandfather had set in place. While the men were restoring the Temple a strange thing happened – they discovered the Law. Isn’t that strange? The Word of God had been lost in the House of God.
I would venture to say that this isn’t strange at all. The Word of God is still lost in the House of God today in many ways. Today we have “church” without the Word. We do what we want to do, when we want to do it, without ever consulting the Word of God to lead us and guide us. We are guided by our whims, desires, anger, passions, and conscience, but not by the Word of God. We need to rediscover the Word of God my friends. Before our nation can ever rediscover the Word of God, we, as individuals, must rediscover God’s Word and seek, with all of our hearts, to live by it.
Josiah knew what happens to a nation when it turns its back on the Word of God. When the news came to Josiah about the discovery of the Law, he tore his robes. 2 Chronicles 34:19-21 tells us,
19 When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. 20 He gave these orders to Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 21 “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’S anger that is poured out on us because our fathers have not kept the word of the LORD; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.” (2 Chronicles 34:19-21 NIV)
God’s anger was aroused because the nation had not acted in accordance with God’s Word. The principle remains true to our day. Josiah got busy and called the people to observe the Passover, he called the people to worship. He called them away from the idolatrous worship of the Asherah poles and Baal and he called them to come before the King of glory. The Word of God tells us that never had the Passover been celebrated in such a way since the time of the prophet Samuel. That is more than 300 years!
You would think that with the discovery of the Word of God, the rebuilding of the Temple, and such a powerful time of worship at Passover that the people’s hearts would be turned back to God. Not the case. The people were going through the routine of religion and not being transformed by submitting themselves to the King of Glory. You can’t stumble into church half asleep and expect a double blessing! You can dress up and try to impress everyone around you, but God sees beyond your clothes to your rag-tag-dime-store-soul! You can’t go to church for your wife, husband, mom, dad, or buddy and expect the Lord to touch your life, to transform your heart, to draw you to Himself. You must seek Him yourself. The people followed Josiah to church, but they didn’t want to be there. They didn’t see the point. They were happy doing what they thought was best, but they kept following him to church.
As soon as Pharaoh Neco of Egypt killed Josiah, after he had reigned as King for 31 years, the people turned away from God once again under the leadership of Jehoahaz, Josiah’s son. Jehoahaz reigned for three months as king before Pharaoh Neco put Jehoahaz in chains and carried him away. When Neco drug Jehoahaz through the city in chains, the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people and said,
11For this is what the LORD says about Shallum son of Josiah, who succeeded his father as king of Judah but has gone from this place: “He will never return. 12He will die in the place where they have led him captive; he will not see this land again.” 13 “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. 14 He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. 15 “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. 16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. 17 “But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.” (Jeremiah 22:11-17 NIV)
As the people watched Jehoahaz, called Shallum before he became king, drug away in chains after serving for only 3 months you would think that they would have their eyes opened. You would think that they would recognize that they needed to return to the path that was shown them by the godly king Josiah. They didn’t. Pharaoh Neco made another of Josiah’s sons, Jehoiakim, king. Jehoiakim reigned for 11 years. Jehoiakim didn’t follow in the steps of his father, Josiah. God’s Word tells us that he did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
There were those around King Jehoiakim who sought to turn the king’s heart back to God, but he wouldn’t listen. The king was enjoying the prosperity of the royal palace and the people of the land were enjoying the good life so nobody listened. When the Lord continued to call His prophets to speak truth to King Jehoiakim he became increasingly irritated until finally he took action. Take a look at Jeremiah 26:20-23 and read along with me.
20 (Now Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath Jearim was another man who prophesied in the name of the LORD; he prophesied the same things against this city and this land as Jeremiah did. 21 When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and officials heard his words, the king sought to put him to death. But Uriah heard of it and fled in fear to Egypt. 22 King Jehoiakim, however, sent Elnathan son of Acbor to Egypt, along with some other men. 23 They brought Uriah out of Egypt and took him to King Jehoiakim, who had him struck down with a sword and his body thrown into the burial place of the common people.) (Jeremiah 26:20-23 NIV)
Many Bible scholars believe that it was during Jehoiakim’s reign that the prophet Habakkuk wrote the prophecy that we have in our Bible. If that is the case then Habakkuk was a younger prophet alongside the wise, weeping prophet Jeremiah.
Habakkuk had watched the reforms of Josiah’s day and he had seen how it had all been forgotten. His heart was breaking, as was the heart of Jeremiah, but the people would not listen. Habakkuk saw what was taking place in his own country. He saw how the people had turned their backs on God and were oblivious to the slippery slope that had already taken root at their feet.
Habakkuk was not only distressed because he saw the threat of the enemy within, but he saw the rising power of the Chaldeans, better known as the Babylonians. The Babylonians were the most godless people on the face of the planet in the eyes of those in Judah and they were certain that God would punish the Chaldeans for their detestable ways.
Those in Judah were God’s people – His chosen people. God would never wipe them out. He would never bring His own nation to its knees, or so they thought. Kay Arthur writes about this mindset.
People rarely think something like that will happen to the country in which they live. The Israelites didn’t think it could happen in Jerusalem. After all, they were God’s elect nation. Jerusalem was the home of Solomon’s magnificent temple. Besides…who could be closer to the sovereign God of all the earth than Israel? (Kay Arthur, “Lord, Where Are You When Bad Things Happen? pg. 15)
I would venture to say that the same mindset is present in the minds of many Americans today. As talk of war continues to build in our own nation, most Americans are certain of victory for no other reason than the fact that Saddam Hussein is a wicked, vile man who has killed his own people as well as those in neighboring countries. If America were going to war against a nation of integrity and decency then we might wonder if God would be on our side, but against Saddam? You’ve got to be kidding! How could God, how could anyone ever think that victory would be granted to such a ruthless despot? Well, these were the same kind of thoughts that were rambling around the minds of those in Habakkuk’s day.
The book of Habakkuk is unlike any other Old Testament book written by a prophet. Prophets, by nature of their call, speak to the people for God, but Habakkuk had questions on his mind that he could not understand and the entire book is a dialogue between the prophet and God. Habakkuk could not understand how his own people could witness the gracious hand of God at work in the nation and yet refuse to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Habakkuk could not understand how the people of his nation could witness the rise and fall of other nations, especially their relatives to the north, and believe that somehow God would not visit them in judgment if they refused to turn back to Him. Habakkuk was so disturbed that God could see the injustice going on among His people and not act. Why would God not act? Habakkuk would find out that God was indeed going to act, but not in a way that Habakkuk could ever imagine.
Before we ever start digging into the little book of Habakkuk I wanted us to understand Habakkuk’s times. We need to get a grip on the history behind the conversation between Habakkuk and God before we can ever fully understand the power and relevance of this little book for our own day.
Before we leave here today I want to draw one lesson from our time of study that we can carry with us as we leave our time of worship. God still acts in history my friends. The events that take place around you and me every day, in our own personal lives in the life of our nation are designed to draw us back to God. To seek Him with all of our hearts – this should be our passion. Our passion to seek the Lord with all of our hearts should lead us straight to God’s Word. Just as the nation of Judah lost the Word of God and were led into all kinds of despicable sin, so you and I can so easily “lose” the Word of God by neglecting it in our own lives.
It is not enough to come to church. It is not enough to “have” a Bible. It is not enough to visit modern-day “temples” or houses of God. God’s Word must transform you and me as we submit to it each and every moment of each day. We must heed it’s warnings, submit to its instruction, and repent when God’s Word shines a light upon the error of our ways.
Our first step to God is to confess that we are sinners and that apart from His grace we are destined to destruction and eternal separation from God. We must recognize that God has provided for our sin by giving His Son, Jesus, as payment for our sin so that we might be forgiven. I want to invite you this morning to confess your sin to God and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. Won’t you invite Him in?