In A.D. 988 Prince Vladimir made Christianity the state religion of Russia. Throughout the last 1000 years the Russian church has had a rich history of great men and women of faith, wonderfully ornate and reverential cathedrals, and influence that spread beyond the borders of RussiaÉfor a time. The time came when the church lost its influence, lost its courage, and succumbed to the pressure of governmental persecution and control. The time came when the church found it more prudent to avoid the confrontations, conflict, and contentious spirit of the leadership of the nation. That was the day the church began to die in Russia. The church leaders may have raised the white flag, but God’s plan was not affected.
The greatest threat to the Russian people and to the church of Russia was the ideology of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. When the Bolshevik Revolution took place in October of 1917 the plan put in motion to eliminate the influence of the church upon society in every way. In the decades that followed, the communist leadership would use the church for the their benefit, but they systematically sought to rid the nation of God in every way.
Karl Marx, the political philosopher whose ideas were nominally followed by the Bolsheviks, called religion “the opiate of the people.” Although many of Russia’s revolutionary factions did not take Marx literally, the Bolshevik faction, led by Vladimir I. Lenin, was deeply suspicious of the church as an institution and as a source of spiritual values. Because of Marx and Lenin’s hatred of religion, atheism became mandatory for members of the ruling Russian Communist Party, the Bolsheviks. To eliminate as soon as possible what was deemed, “the perverse influence of religion in society,” the communists launched a propaganda campaign against all forms of religion.
Marx and Lenin had a different vision for the country than what was being offered by the church leaders. Dr. D. James Kennedy writes in his book, Character and Destiny,
Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin promised to give the world a ‘new man.’ The Communist super-man was supposed to be a new creation on the face of the earth. He was to be noble and selfless, concerned for others, and towering above the rest of humanity. The Communists were, in fact, out to create a whole race of supermen.
Under the brutal dictator, Joseph Stalin, the Soviet government took the theological dimension of the Communist heresy to an even greater extreme as it tried to control every area of life and thought. Government bureaucracies controlled the affairs of workers, citizens, writers, artists, athletes, and merchants. The state controlled the economy but also encouraged the rise of a ‘cult of praise’ that took on many aspects of religion. It was a sort of deification of their evil leader. Policies handed down by Stalin were treated with all the solemnity and authority of papal edicts. The ruler was their god, and the people were to be the glorious creations of the state. These were communism’s ‘new man.’ (Dr. D. James Kennedy, Character and Destiny, pg. 130.)
While Marx and Lenin marshaled all of the forces of communism to remove Christianity from the minds of the Russian people — God was still at work. When the communists took control they believed that they could turn the people’s hearts from God and erase any memory of God’s influence upon the nation — God was still at work. When communists slaughtered countless men and women of faith in their efforts to rid the country of Christian influence – God was still at work. There was a young boy who was watching while the revolution took place and although he was raised in a communist state and had no faith of his own as a young man – God was still at work. Dr. Kennedy writes once again in his book, Character and Destiny,
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that when he was just a young boy while the Communist revolution was still going on, millions of Russian people were being slaughtered. The streets ran red with blood, and fear stalked the land. One time he overheard two peasants arguing about why all this was happening. He said he would never forget what one of the peasants said: ‘It is because we have forgotten God! That is why all of this is happening to us. We have forgotten God!’ The great author said that in spite of all of the education and all of the experience he has gained, including the eight long years he spent as a political prisoner in the gulag, he never forgot the wisdom of that simple peasant: ‘It is because we have forgotten God. That is why all this is happening to us.’ (Dr. D. James Kennedy, Character and Destiny, pg. 142.)
“We have forgotten God. All of this has happened to us because we have forgotten God.” Those are powerful words. Do you realize that before those words were ever on the lips of any Russian citizen the same words were spoken in our own land. Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States when civil war broken out within our borders. The President addressed the nation with these words.
It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, and to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in Holy Scripture, and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisement in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown, but we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. (Abraham Lincoln, March 30, 1863.)
Those words would be dismissed if a preacher spoke them in our time, but to come from the lips of a President – you’ve got to be kidding. Can you imagine a President or any political leader speaking such words today? “All of this has come upon our nation because we have forgotten God.” Nations may forget about God, but God does not forget about nations. He is always at work seeking to draw the nations back to Himself. The lessons of the Soviet Union and our own nation are powerful examples, relatively recent examples, of how God works in history. When a nation, any nation, forgets about God and goes about living life as they see fit – God will act to try and draw the nation back to Himself. How God works is most often far different than we would imagine God working, but rest assured – God is working.
We see this in our lesson for today as God responds to the prophet Habakkuk’s complaint that God isn’t doing anything in Judah. Habakkuk asks, “Why don’t you do something Lord?” Today, we will take a look at God’s response. Turn with me to Habakkuk 1:5-11 and let’s read together.
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.” (Habakkuk 1:5-11 NIV)
Last week we took a look at Habakkuk 1:1-4 and we heard Habakkuk’s complaint to God. Habakkuk said that God didn’t listen to him when he cried out for help. Habakkuk said that God wouldn’t save him from all that was going on. He complained that God was apathetic and inactive even as injustice and violence was ruining Judah.
In our Scripture for today we read about God’s response to Habakkuk. Take a look at verse 5 and see if you can determine whether or not God was at work. God says to Habakkuk,
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. (Habakkuk 1:5 NIV)
The very first word we read from God is, “Look.” “Look more closely Habakkuk. You may think that I am not at work. You may think that I have sat back and watched as all of this has come about. You may think that I don’t hear, but I am getting ready to do something that you will not believe!”
The Hebrew word for “look” means, “to see, look at intensely, inspect, perceive, or consider.” The word is used over 1300 times in the Hebrew Bible. In Isaiah, the Lord spoke to the prophet and told him,
9 He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ (Isaiah 6:9 NIV)
You and I can have 20/20 vision and totally miss the hand of God at work in our lives. The people of Isaiah’s day had eyes to see, but they had no perception of the things of God. The people of Isaiah’s day, Jeremiah’s day, and Habakkuk’s day saw what they wanted to see and turn away from the work of God. We must prayerfully ask for eyes to see so that we don’t miss the work of God going on in our midst.
In Jeremiah we find the same word used again, but this time it is in reference to the Word of the Lord. Jeremiah writes,
31 “You of this generation, consider the word of the LORD: “Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness? Why do my people say, ‘We are free to roam; we will come to you no more’? (Jeremiah 2:31 NIV)
The people were encouraged to “consider” the Word of the Lord. We would think that the word, “hear,” would be better used than “consider” in this context, but ears and eyes are really not the point. The people are told to “consider,” to investigate, to understand.
All of us know about experiences we have had that were shared by other people. When the stories began to be told by everyone about what they “saw” or “heard,” the stories were different. Once again, having eyes and ears doesn’t guarantee us that we will be able to rightly discern what has taken place or what the Lord is doing. We need to understand God’s activities in history.
Habakkuk was being called by God to look more closely at what was taking place and what was about to take place so that he could understand what God was doing. As Habakkuk watched the people of his day becoming increasingly blind to things of God there was another prophet who had to deal with the same problem. In Ezekiel 12, the Lord speaks to the prophet and says,
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2″Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. (Ezekiel 12:1-2
What the Lord tells Ezekiel is still taking place today. So many have eyes to see, but there is no desire to understand what God is doing. This is not just true of the man or woman on the street – it is also true of the preacher in the pulpit. The Bible teaches that God is the God of history. He is sovereign over the affairs of kingdoms and the affairs of each of our lives, but we live our lives as if God has nothing to do with the events that unfold each and every day. Oh, we must cry out to God to give us eyes to see and ears to hear!
In Habakkuk 1:5, the Lord continues after He tells Habakkuk to pay attention. God says, 5 “Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed.” The Lord says, in effect, “Habakkuk, when you understand what I am doing it is going to blow your mind! You are not going to believe how involved I am really am when you see what I am doing.” That really is the jest of the phrase, “be utterly amazed.” The Hebrew word for “amazed,” means, “to be astounded, be stunned, be amazed, or be dumbfounded.” The same word is used in Isaiah 29, when Isaiah speaks to the people for God. Take a look at Isaiah 29:9 with me.
9 Be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beerÉ 13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” 15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”? (Isaiah 29:9; 13-16 NIV)
What the Lord was saying to Habakkuk is the same message that was delivered to the people of Isaiah’s day – “How can you tell Me what is appropriate to do with My people?” God deals with His people in a just way at all times. He doesn’t pat us on the head and dismiss our sin. God desires to discipline us so that we will return to Him and find life.
God tells Habakkuk that he is going to be amazed when he learns about God’s plan for Judah. What is God going to do? Great question. God tells Habakkuk,
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.”
Nothing could have been more shocking to Habakkuk than the news he had just received! Habakkuk couldn’t believe his ears! Babylon! That ruthless, pagan, impetuous, ungodly nation was coming for his own people? Never!
Why did the people of Judah have such strong feelings toward the Babylonians? Why were the Babylonians such a despised people? Oh, there was ample reason for the people of Judah to hate Babylon. In 605 B.C., prince Nebuchadnezzar gave the Egyptians a good whipping in the battle of Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:2-12). Nebuchadnezzar made his way into Judah and took some of the young, promising leaders back to Babylon with him. One of the young leaders who was carried away from his home was Daniel. You can read about it in the book of Daniel.
Just to give you an idea of how the Babylonians operated we need to take a look at Daniel’s life. When Daniel was taken back to Babylon his name was changed to “Belteshazzar.” The name “Daniel” in Hebrew means, “God is my judge.” The new name given to Daniel in Babylon, “Belteshazzar,” means, “The treasure of Bel.” Bel was the name of one of the Babylonians gods. In a land full of gods, Daniel passionately sought the Lord. As a result of his unyielding commitment to the Lord, Daniel suffered persecution, scorn, and ridicule. Daniel interpreted dreams for the King that foretold of Babylon’s demise. He wouldn’t compromise God’s message to try and get on Nebuchadnezzar’s good side – he told him the truth. Daniel’s Hebrew friends were thrown into a fiery furnace because of their faith. Later, when Daniel was an old man, he was thrown into a lion’s den to be mauled by hungry lions because he would not bow his knee to any god but YHWH, God of Israel.
Everywhere the Babylonians went they carried their idolatry and false religions with them. When Habakkuk heard news that God was going to raise up such an ungodly nation to discipline His own people Habakkuk was stunned. Not only was Habakkuk stunned because Babylon was a nation filled with idols and false gods, but he was also shocked because Babylon was a bully. During Jehoiakim’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar was King of Babylon and he invaded Judah and made Jehoiakim a vassal of his throne. After Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion, the Arameans, Moabites and Ammonites came against Jehoiakim and the people of Judah. Babylon was a bully, a violent bully who didn’t care about anything but gaining more power. Habakkuk couldn’t understand how God could use such a violent nation to carry out His will.
When you study the characteristics of Judah that are listed by Habakkuk in verses 1-4 you read things like, “violence, injustice, destruction, conflict, and strife.” Now, remind me, what kind of people were the Babylonians? Violent, impetuous, hot-heated, they were their own gods, they made up their own rules. Sounds to me like God was going to send somebody to discipline Judah who were mirror images of what His people had become.
The Babylonians were a law unto themselves. Their own strength was their god. Nebuchadnezzar marveled at what he had accomplished and yet he couldn’t get enoughÉhe always wanted more. In his mind he would get more by his own hand. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t recognize that God had blessed him and that God would give him the victory over Judah, not because of his goodness or might, but because God had decreed it.
That God would use a heathen nation like Babylon was too much for Habakkuk to believe. There is a great lesson in this for us today. Does God’s hand still continue to raise up and bring down nations? Make no mistake about it – God’s hand has not grown weak or apathetic my friend. We must ask, “How is God’s hand moving in America today? How is God’s hand moving in the world today?” With all of the strife, conflict, and violence taking place in our own country and around the world we need to cry out to the Lord to give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and an understanding heart so that we can discern the work of God in our own day.
Let me ask you something that has been pressing on my heart recently. In such a tumultuous world filled with uncertainty, where can we turn for security and hope? Can we trust in the power of our great nation? Nebuchadnezzar certainly did, but do you know that within 50 years of the conquest of Judah mighty Babylon fell. Do we put our hope in building alliances with powerful friends who can protect us? God did not look favorably upon Judah for forging alliances with surrounding nations – He wanted them to trust in Him. Where can we turn? Whom can we trust? That is a great question. We can trust in the Lord God Almighty and Him alone. We can’t trust in Him only when we are in a bind and needing to get out. We can’t give Him lip service, but withhold our hearts. We can’t hear the Word of God, but choose to do our own thing and expect Him to be our Rock of Safety and our Strong Tower. Judah tried to serve God with half a heart, but they suffered the full consequences for their choices. If we want to go our own way
22 “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? 23 If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. 24 But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, 25 since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, 26 I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you- 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. 28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me. 29 Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, 30 since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” (Proverbs 1:22-33 NIV)
Let me take you back to our Scripture as we close this morning. If you will remember the very first verse we looked at today then you will remember that the Lord said to Habakkuk,
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. (Habakkuk 1:5 NIV)
There is another place where this verse appears that I believe is very relevant for us today. In the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul spoke to the people of his day and said,
38 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’” (Acts 13:38-41 NIV)
The most astounding thing God has ever done is to freely give His Son Jesus as an offering for your sins and mine! Trust in Him, rest in Him, and seek Him with all of your heart.