I couldn’t have been more than 13 years old at the time. I lived down the street from Will Rogers Elementary School in Duncan, OK. Will Rogers was the hub of our neighborhood. Kids came from all directions to go to school at Will Rogers, the elementary school that I had attended before going to Duncan Junior High.
There were always pick-up games on the huge playground at Will Rogers back in those days. The pick-up games ran concurrently with the season being played by the big boys. If it was baseball season then you could hear the crack of the bat coming from the little diamond filled with teenage boys. We had two basketball courts on our playground and the courts were always full of wannabe NBA players. Football season brought boys from all over Duncan to play tackle football games in the Sunday Super BowlÉand with no pads.
Ricky Brown lived down the street from me, just one block from Will Rogers. Ricky was a little, wiry, tough-as-nails wrestler as a little kid. Ricky also had two older brothers who were the big men on the yard in our neighborhood. Mikey and Bubba Brown were big, tough, fight-you-at-the-drop-of-a-hat kind of kids who were always on the winning team at our Sunday afternoon football games. I didn’t know Mikey too well since he was about to graduate by the time I was just going into Junior High, but because I was good friends with Ricky, and over at the Brown house a lot, I was in good with Bubba who was about four years older than Ricky and me. I learned at a young age that it really is “who” you know that opens doors for you. Most of the guys who played football at Will Rogers were older, freshmen and up in high school, but Ricky and I got to play with the big boys because we were with Bubba.
Looking back, I have no idea why any 13-year-old kid would have ever wanted to play in the Sunday Super Bowl. The older guys beat us to a pulp, we hardly ever had the ball thrown to us, and we were easy pickings for any bully would wanted to take out his aggression. I can still remember the day when one of those older bullies raised his ugly head. The bullies name was Tim. He was about three years older than me and quite a bit bigger than me at the time. Tim was a pretty big guy, but he wasn’t a very good athlete. Tim couldn’t get over on the guys his own age, but one Sunday afternoon he chose to make life miserable for me. I have no idea why, but Tim shadowed me the whole afternoon. He would go out of his way to run over me, talk smack about me every chance he got, and I put up with it as long as I could. Finally, I had all I could take and lashed out at Tim. It was the opportunity he had been looking for all afternoon. He pounced on me and the fight was onÉI didn’t back down, but I didn’t get the better end of the deal either.
When I got home that afternoon I was a mess. I was dragging my chin on the ground, there was blood on my shirt, and my dad could tell that something wasn’t right. When I told him what had happened he was really upset. My dad said, “Come on and get in the car.” I said, “Where are we going?” Dad said, “We’re going to Tim’s house – I’m going to have a talk with his parents.” That was all I needed to hear. I felt better in an instant. My dad was going to Tim’s house. I had visions of him kicking in the front door like Arnold Schwarzeneggar, finding Tim hunkered down in a corner pleading, whimpering, like a scared child, and dragging Tim out in the front yard before everyone in public humiliation.
We went to Tim’s house and got out of the car. Dad and I walked to the front door and he rang the doorbell. My chest was sticking out and I was readyÉI was with my dad. Tim never came to the door. Dad said, “Looks like Tim’s not at home.” But I wanted him to ring it just one more timeÉgive the coward a chance to come out and face me like a man. Never happened.
Sometimes when you are down the tide turns, the winds of change can blow in and you can find yourself up when just a short while ago you were down. Sometimes that person at school who is brutal, constantly picking on you, runs into someone who knows how to push his buttons in the way same that he has pushed yours. Sometimes that lady who gossips about everyone in the office gets caught red-handed in trying to stir things up by lying and she is exposed for what she really is. Sometimes the ugly duckling, the brunt of everyone’s jokes, matures into a beautiful swan whose radiant beauty exceeds all of those who made fun back in the day. Sometimes, oh it’s not all the time, but sometimes Pharaoh gets his as the Hebrew slaves shake off their shackles, run to the border and turn around to face Pharaoh’s henchmenÉand in perfect unison they sing, “Na, na, na, na, na, na!”
We all love stories like these. Stories of the underdog’s resurrection from the ashes, stories of the bully, the oppressor, getting his comeuppance, and this is where our Scripture will take us today. Those who think they can live life apart from God, make up their own rules, and try and run roughshod over people are only fooling themselvesÉruin is on the way. Read along with me from Habakkuk 2:4-20 and let’s get into it.
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.” (Habakkuk 2:4-20 NIV)
As we get started today there are two very important lessons that we need to remember. First of all, this prophetic book of Habakkuk is the story of God’s working in the life of His people in Judah. God’s discipline was coming to Judah because of their sin, at the hands of ruthless bullies, brutal marauders who had a thirst for blood and no hunger for God. This was incomprehensible to Habakkuk.
The second lesson that we need to remember is the lesson that we learned last week. God told Habakkuk to call the people to a life of faith even though neither Habakkuk, nor the people of Judah, would understand how God could use the Chaldeans, or Babylonians, to do His work. Those who do not live by faith will face their sin one day and this would be true for the Chaldeans in just a few short years.
The section we are looking at today is categorized in Scripture as a “taunt” song. Taunt songs can be found in other places in Scripture and they are common among those who were formerly oppressed as they “taunt” their former oppressors. Take a look at Isaiah 14:1-6 and I will show you another taunt song.
1 The LORD will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob. 2 Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And the house of Israel will possess the nations as menservants and maidservants in the LORD’S land. They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors. 3 On the day the LORD gives you relief from suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended! 5 The LORD has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, 6 which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression. (Isaiah 14:1-6 NIV)
When the Lord brings relief those who have been freed extol the faithfulness of God, the blessing of God, in overcoming their oppressors. Not only is God faithful, but those who think they can get away with oppression, those who think they can get away with brutalizing those they have captured, those who think they can live life as they want and have God turn a blind eye to their sin – they are only fooling themselves.
Most often “taunt” songs begin with the word, “woe” or “alas.” In verses 6-20 there are five sections of Scripture that point out the end result, the misery and destruction, that will come upon those who think they can live their life apart from God. We are only going to take a look at three of the “woes” today, but we will come back after Thanksgiving and wrap up our study of this powerful section of Scripture. Let’s take a look at our first section. The first “woe” is found in Habakkuk 2:6-8. Read along with me.
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. (Habakkuk 2:8 NIV)
God calls His people to be generous, not greedy. The first “woe” has to do with being greedy; the thirst for more and more will destroy your life and mine if we refuse to live by God’s call to be content and generous. If we trust God for all of life then we don’t need to be greedy, we don’t need to gather more and more for a rainy day – we can trust that if God clothes the grass of the field and supplies the birds with seed that He will also provide for us what we need. He will supply us with our daily bread if we will simply trust Him and live by faith. Jesus made this very clear in Matthew’s Gospel when He said,
26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26 NIV)
After Jesus told His hearers not to worry about what they would eat or drink or wear, He said,
33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33 NIV)
The Scripture from Habakkuk is just the opposite of Jesus’ words – building one’s own Kingdom. The Scripture speaks about those who acquire their possessions by extortion. The late, Dr. James Montgomery Boice, wrote in his commentary on this passage,
In the beginning, the person who is trying to build security with things probably intends to be quite honest in doing it. But, somehow, what is acquired is never enough, and he therefore finds himself resorting to questionable and eventually to dishonest practices in the quest for more. (Dr. James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, pg. 413)
How much is enough when you refuse to trust God? Why, just a little more that’s all. A little more never gives the security that we long for so we become more and more willing to bend the rules to get even more.
In verse 7, we read about how those who refuse to trust God and pursue more and more will eventually have their debtors rise up against them. Read along with me.
7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim.
Debt is something we American’s are experts at aren’t we? We have more Ph.D’s in the field of “overextension of personal resources” than any other country in the world. We said in the beginning of our study that the “taunt” song was directed towards those who refused to trust God. I want to make that clear because there are millions of professing Christians every year who declare bankruptcy, there are scores of folks who visit the church house on Sunday and the poor house on Monday because they allowed their “wants” to veto their faith – a faith that trusts in God for what we need. Just because a person is a Christian doesn’t mean that they use their financial resources in a Christian way.
I want to clarify something before we move along. I know that there is a certain strain of Christianity that teaches us that if we are God’s people that all the resources in the world are at our disposal. Their line of heresy goes like this: “Don’t you want the best for your kids? Why of course you do! If you want the best for your kids then don’t you think that God wants the best for you? Sure He does!” This “health, wealth, and prosperity gospel” is a sham, a fraud, and it has deceived millions.
I have many friends who are very poor and they love the Lord with all of their hearts. They don’t have much of anything in regards to this world’s treasures, but they have faith that the Lord will provide. They work hard, they budget what little they have, and they don’t allow their wants to overshadow their faith that God will meet their needs. Not having much money does not mean that you are not trusting God. Doing what you want with the money that you have and going into debt for things you don’t need is a refusal to trust God for what you need.
I have a friend who came to Oklahoma City to get his life right with the Lord. When he arrived here he was one of those Ph.D’s I was talking about earlier. He didn’t have much when he got here, but he did have a thirst for more. His thirst for more of this world’s goods overcame his thirst for God and it got him in big trouble. He ended up doing time in a state penitentiary. We must trust God with our finances or ruin will come our way.
Let’s move on to the second “woe.” The second “woe” is found in Habakkuk 2:9-11. Let’s read this Scripture together.
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. (Habakkuk 2:9-11 NIV)
This “woe” is rooted in injustice. When we live our lives apart from God and are controlled by our flesh, our wants, our greatest desires, then we will see a spiraling effect take place in our life. This second “woe” is really a continuation, another step if you will, down from the sin of greed. When we have a thirst for material gain in order to gain some kind of security in this life and to bring satisfaction to our life then we will do whatever we have to do to gain more. Our honest, hardworking attitude easily morphs into short cuts, shady deals, and oftentimes it can even lead to injustice – taking advantage of others.
When we live this kind of life in total defiance of God we think we will get away with it when we take a look around and see the opulent lifestyle that we’ve created for ourselves. We look at the realm of our kingdom, how we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, and we feel secure in our “nest set on high.”
There was a movie called, “Blow” that came out a couple of years ago. It was the true story of a man name, George Jung, who came from a regular family and became the man who was responsible for the proliferation of cocaine in America. George was the son of a struggling small business owner. He watched his family struggle to make ends meet and finally fail, but George vowed to himself that he would never struggle in the same way. George moved to California and starting his own business selling marijuana. He was eventually arrested and went to prison.
In prison, George met a man who introduced him to a brand new market, cocaine. Upon release, George worked with a feverish effort to establish himself as the main distributor of cocaine in America. George ended up with more money, homes, and cars than he could ever enjoy. It is reported that George handled about 85% of the American market for cocaine in the 1970′s and early 80′s.
A success story? Hardly. Everyone who attended George’s parties at his house knew how he got his beautiful homes and fast cars. Everyone knew that George was dirty to the “nth degree.” God spoke of the ruin of people who live like George by saying that the beams of their house will testify against them. God spoke to Habakkuk and said, 11 “The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.” (Habakkuk 2:11 NIV) Every time someone walked into George’s homes or rode in his cars they knew how George had landed in the lap of luxury and his lavish lifestyle testified against him.
The next step down in the spiral of ruin is violence. Let’s take a look at the third “woe” found in Habakkuk 2:12-14. Read along with me.
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. (Habakkuk 2:12-14 NIV)
The downward spiral from greed to injustice to violence continuesÉand it hasn’t seen it’s worst day yet. Unsatisfied, unfulfilled, yet determined to acquire whatever it is going to take to bring satisfaction and security, the independent person continues their life of destruction living apart from God.
This particular section of Scripture has to do with building. The Babylonians were obsessed with building more and bigger for the sake of exalting their name, their dominance over other countries. This same principle that was directed at the Babylonians and pointed out their eventual ruin can also be applied to us today. There is nothing wrong with building if the desires and motivation is right. You can build a company to the glory of God, bless your employees, and honor God all along the way. You can also build a business so that you can skim off the top, pay your employees a pittance of a salary while you make off like a bandit. You can build a home to suit your desires while you shortchange your creditors and leave everyone in town looking for you. You can build a church so that others come to know Jesus as Lord of their life or you can build a church to the glory of man. Dr. Boice says,
It is possible to build a large church by secular means. That is, you can prosper externally by using good marketing, advertising, and other secular techniques. Find out what the people want, then give it to them – that is the secret. If they want bowling alleys and gymnasiums, give them bowling alleys and gymnasiums. If they want classes on how to fulfill themselves as individual people and get ahead in business, give them the classes. If they want soothing, reassuring sermons, give them such sermons. Give them anything they want. Above all, do not confront them with the harsh statements or demanding standards of the Bible. A church built along these lines will grow, as I have said. But it will not endure! When hard times come or tastes (including tastes in religion) change, it will fade away. On the other hand, a church that seeks to do things God’s way will endure, even though its way may be harder and the growth quite slow. (Dr. James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, pg. 414)
Living by faith, refusing to take short cuts, may seem like the hard way at times, but when you get a glimpse of the big picture – is it really? Look at the life of George Jung. George may have lived it up for a while, but today, as you sit in a comfortable church pew and have the freedom to leave when the service is over and do what you wish – George sits in a cell in the Danbury Prison in Connecticut.
Each time George obtained more it was never enough. Each time he schemed a new way to make money there was a new scheme waiting around the corner. When George started out he was buying marijuana on the West Coast for $60 a kilo and selling it on the East Coast for $300 a kilo. That is quite a profit, but it wasn’t enough. After he was arrested and in prison, he learned from his cellmate, Carlos Lehder, that he could buy cocaine in Columbia for $4,000-$5,000 a kilo and sell it in the United States for $60,000.00 George first smuggled the cocaine in two suitcases, but that wasn’t enough. He bought a motor home, but that wasn’t enough. He hired a pilot and began to fly loads of cocaine to the United States. George had $100,000,000.00 that had come into his hands, but he says that all that mattered to him at the time was his daughter, Kristina. He promised Kristina that he would stop selling drugs, but the day came when the DEA came to get George and Kristina watched as they led her daddy away in handcuffs.
Today, George Jung hallucinates, dreams, and hopes that Kristina will come to see him, but she has never been to visit her daddy one time. Now, you tell me, which is the hard way? Living by faith, trusting in God? Or living by the rules we write, being led by the desires that possess us, and doing whatever it takes to get what we want?
You may not have sunk to the depths of George Jung. As a matter of fact, you may be living high on the hog right now. You may think you are getting over. You may think you are doing quite well by living life as you see fit. Don’t kid yourself. Before you begin to see the visible signs of the downward spiral won’t you surrender your life to Jesus Christ? Confess your sin, renounce your independence, declare your dependence upon the Lord, trust in God, live by faith, and cling to the hope that only Christ can give.