Habakkuk was at his wits end. He was disturbed in his spirit. He had witnessed a revival in the days of King Josiah, but now the blazing revival had died. Since the death of the godly King Josiah, the people had turned away from God and gone back to their idolatry and ungodly lifestyles. God had used Josiah in such a powerful way to turn the nation back to God. He has torn down the pagan worship centers, rid the land of the gods of the surrounding nations, and cleaned out the house of the Lord. Habakkuk watched all of that change when Josiah was killed. The Temple wasn’t a place of reverence and worship any longer. The people were not concerned with God or one another. The hearts of the people had become full of arrogance, pride, and callousness. Pride, idolatry, 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. Habakkuk knew that he was getting nowhere with the people. He turned to God with the heaviness of his heart and cried out, “Lord, why won’t you do something?” Turn with me to Habakkuk 1:2-4 and let’s read together.

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. 4Therefore 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?” Habakkuk saw what was taking place on the streets of Jerusalem. He saw the violence, he heard the stories of abuse, injustice, conflict, and bloodshed, but he didn’t see anybody doing anything about it. The authorities were some of the most corrupt people in the city. Those who should have been protecting the weak and vulnerable were the ones who were taking advantage of them. All of this was weighing heavily on Habakkuk’s heart as he watched his leaders and neighbors abusing and misusing one another.

If that would have been all that Josiah had ever known, it still would not have been acceptable, but Josiah remembered better days. He remembered the changes that took place while Josiah was king. How quickly things had gone back to the way they were before Josiah’s reform. Habakkuk pleaded, he prodded the people to get right with God, and he preached his heart out, but his words fell on deaf ears and calloused hearts. Habakkuk cried out to God, God answered, but Habakkuk could not believe the answer he received. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first I want you to understand the dire situation of the nation of Judah and the people of God.

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. If our study brings about this kind of change in each of us then we can avoid the painful lessons learned by those who have gone before us. 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. (1 Corinthians 10:1 NIV)

God has given us the stories of history to teach us, to draw us away from the things that led to the destruction of God’s people in the past, and it is critical that we heed these warnings. Paul also wrote to the Romans and taught them the value of learning from the past.

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 see what we can learn so that hopefully we will be able to avoid the mistakes of God’s people in times past. The nation of Judah had been on a downward spiral since the death of Hezekiah. Manasseh took over the throne and he reigned for 55 years. We are told in 2 Chronicles 33:2 that, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” His son, Amon, was twenty-two years old when he took over the throne for his father, but he was as evil and idolatrous as his father had been. Some of Amon’s servants plotted against him and assassinated him. (2 Kings 21:19-22) For almost 60 years, since the time of the death of the righteous King Hezekiah, God had been patient with the people of Judah. Instead of the people recognizing God’s patience they only grew more and more idolatrous and hardened to the Lord.

At the death of Amon his son, Josiah, took over the throne when he was just eight years old. We are told in 2 Kings 22:13 that something happened in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign. Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law and Josiah was made aware of it. When he heard was written in the Book of the Law Josiah tore his royal robes and told Hilkiah,

13 “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13 NIV)

Hilkiah and the men who were with him went and found Huldah, the prophetess in Jerusalem. Huldah had a word for King Josiah.

15 She said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘This is what the LORD says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the LORD. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’ “So they took her answer back to the king. (2 Kings 22:15-20 NIV)

What followed was amazing. Josiah implemented what could be considered the greatest spiritual reform that Judah had ever witnessed. All the good that God had done in the nation through the godly King Josiah came to a halt when he was killed at Megiddo in 609 B.C. by Pharoah Neco II of Egypt. Josiah’s sons, who took over the throne, were more like their grandfather than their dad and idols and ungodliness filled the land once again.

While all of this was going on in Judah there was a changing of the guard going on around Judah. The mighty Assyrian Empire weakened, Nineveh fell to the Babylonians in 612 B.C., and the Babylonians became the feared power in the region. It was a crazy, turbulent time needless to say.

There was a man in Jerusalem who was troubled by all that he witnessed and he took his complaint to God. In Habakkuk 1:2-4 we can read Habakkuk’s complaint.

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. 4Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV)

Habakkuk felt the way that we should feel when we watch injustice and ungodliness begin to creep in and gain control of our city and nation. We live in a democratic society. We are told, “You have a vote. Use your vote to bring about change in society if you don’t like what is going on.” Really? Make no mistake about it, we should vote, but I believe that there is something more powerful than a vote and that is a passionate prayer to the omnipotent God who alone can change hearts as well as society. God answered Habakkuk’s question in Habakkuk 1:5-11.

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)

Habakkuk could have never imagined the answer that he received from the Lord. God said, “I’m already on it Habakkuk. What I’m doing will blow your mind! I am bringing the Babylonians in to clean house.” God’s answer did just that—it blew Habakkuk’s mind. Imagine if you prayed Habakkuk’s prayer for our own nation and God answered you by saying, “I’m on it. Get ready because I’m bringing Al Qaeda and the Taliban in to clean house in America.” Can you imagine how God’s answer would interrupt your train of thought? You might go from thinking about how bad things have gotten in our nation to wondering how in the world God could use a group as evil and ruthless as those guys to change us?

Habakkuk cried out to God a second time. This time he doesn’t complain about the injustice, ungodliness, and violence of his people, but he wonders out loud how God could align Himself with the wicked Babylonians. Read along with me in Habakkuk 1:12-17.

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? (Habakkuk 1:12-17 NIV)

Habakkuk knew that God was right to judge the people of Judah. He knew all too well how his countrymen had turned away from the Lord, but he could not believe that God would align Himself with those who were even more wicked than the people of Judah. Habakkuk affirms his beliefs: God is “everlasting,” He is Holy, He is Habakkuk’s Rock, He is too pure to look on evil, He can’t tolerate “wrong.” Habakkuk’s knows those things about God and that is why he is so troubled at the news. He knows that God is too pure to align Himself with the wicked and that is why he can’t understand God’s answer. Rather than dismiss or discount God’s answer, rather than simply blurting out, “Well, the God I believe in would never do such a thing,” he says,

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. (Habakkuk 2:1 NIV)

How many times in life have you been perplexed by what was taking place? Maybe you’ve been perplexed by a personal trial you’ve gone through. I spoke with a man last weekend in Tulsa that was the CFO at a Tulsa bank. He was offered a similar position in a new bank. He took a lesser salary because he was excited about a new challenge. One year later, the new bank has grown, he has done a good job, but he is now out of a job. He didn’t lose his job because of poor job performance, but because of politics and envy. He felt “called” to take the job and now he is out of a job. “What gives God?” There are so many experiences in life that leave us wondering, “What gives God?” Right? What do we do during those times? Draw our own conclusions? Conclude that God doesn’t care? Or conclude that we need to stop being so prayerful about things and simply take matters into our own hands? Don’t do it. We need to follow in Habakkuk’s steps and wait on the Lord. Habakkuk waits on God and so should we whenever we are confronted with perplexing, puzzling situations in life.

God answered Habakkuk’s question about how He might use the wicked Babylonians to chasten His own people. God revealed to Habakkuk that He didn’t condone the ways of the Babylonians at all; they weren’t justified in His sight. As a matter of fact, God would judge the Babylonians, but before He did He would use them to purify His own people.

God’s explanation to Habakkuk begins in Habakkuk 2:2 and runs all the way through the end of the chapter at Habakkuk 2:20. The key verse is found in Habakkuk 2:4 where God says,

4 “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous will live by his faith– (Habakkuk 2:4 NIV)

This important verse holds out for us the difference between the arrogant Babylonians as well as all of those who trust in themselves and those who not only have faith in God, but continue in that faith through whatever may come. In this verse the “puffed up,” or the proud refers to the Babylonians, but it is also descriptive of all of those who in their self-centeredness refuse God’s instructions, show no regard for God’s holiness or majesty, and set above all else their drive to gratify their own desires. God contrasts them with “the righteous,” those who are rightly related to God. They don’t live to gratify their own desires, they live by faith, faith in God alone. The Hebrew word which is translated, “live,” in verse 4 is the Hebrew word, “”????? (chayah) and it means, “to live, have life, remain alive, sustain life, live prosperously.” God was urging Habakkuk, and He urges you and me today, to live by faith, absolute faith and trust in Him. What is interesting is that the word doesn’t point towards a one-time decision to believe in God. This Hebrew verb is in the “imperfect” tense which means that it is not a completed action, but an ongoing action. We are to live continuously trusting, believing, relying upon, and standing on the truth of God. James Montgomery Boice wrote,

The word does not say that the righteous shall begin by faith and then proceed on some other principle. It does not say that the righteous shall draw on faith from time to time as faith is needed. It says, ‘the righteous will live (continuously) by his faith.’ That is, the righteous will operate on this principle twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year—so long as life lasts. (James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets. pg. 411.)

To live “by faith” doesn’t mean that we pray when times are tough, it means that we pray at all times. To live “by faith” doesn’t mean that we go to church when we are scared of what the future holds, it means that we gather with God’s people to worship the King of all kings at all times. To live “by faith” doesn’t mean that we read our Bible when we need God; it means that we read God’s Word continuously because we long to know Him more and more.

We’ve talked in weeks past about the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In a few weeks we will begin a study of the prophet Amos and the message God gave him for the people of Israel. In the fifth chapter of Amos, the prophet urges the Israelites to listen to a “funeral song” that he is about to sing. In the midst of that funeral song, the Lord has a message for His people. Read along with me from Amos 5:4-6.

4 This is what the LORD says to the house of Israel: “Seek me and live; 5 do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” 6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph like a fire; it will devour, and Bethel will have no one to quench it. (Amos 5:4-6 NIV)

I didn’t read to you the opening of the funeral song, but in verse 2 Amos sings, “The virgin Israel has fallen, never to rise again!” I can’t tell you how many funerals I’ve been to in my life, but it is a bunch. I’ve never, not at one funeral, witnessed a dead person get up out of the casket and join the congregation in singing, “Amazing Grace!” Yet, in this funeral song, after the pronouncement of the death of Israel, God says, “Seek me and live! Don’t seek Me because death is inevitable, but seek Me because I am the only source of life you will ever know!” Once we begin seeking Him we never stop seeking Him.

We need to close our study this morning so let me take you to the final chapter of Habakkuk where he writes a prayer which is really a song to be sung. Habakkuk isn’t jumping up and down with the confirmation that God is truly going to use the Babylonians to invade Judah, but he chooses to cling to God even while the Babylonians are methodically making their way to Jerusalem. Listen to the opening of Habakkuk’s prayer in Habakkuk 3:2.

2 I have heard all about you, LORD. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2 NLT)

Habakkuk stands in awe of God. My friend, I would urge you to consider history—the rise and fall of nations, the tragedies and triumphs of our nation, and the peculiarities, pitfalls, and wondrous times of your own life. When you consider all of these things don’t you also stand in awe of His “deeds?” I sure do. We cannot even begin to understand His ways, the inner-workings of what He is doing in our world even at this very moment, but we can trust Him and stand in awe of His omnipotence and Sovereignty.

Habakkuk is not only standing in awe of God’s deeds, but he is trembling as he considers what is coming to Jerusalem. This is why Habakkuk writes, “And in your anger, remember your mercy.” Habakkuk’s hand is still trembling when he writes Habakkuk 3:16-19.

16 I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. 17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:16-19 NIV)

In chapter 1, Habakkuk listed some of the attributes of God. He knew God’s holiness, he was familiar with God’s purity, and he recited the eternality of Almighty God, but here in Habakkuk 3 he pleads for God to remember His mercy and he confesses his trust regardless of what happens. I want you to notice something that just has to jump out at you and me in verse 17. Three times in this verse we read, “Though…” Each time what follows “though” is a situation that Habakkuk and the people of Judah would not desire to happen. “Though the fig tree does not bud, though there are no grapes on the vine, and though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls…” The lack of these material blessings from God would spell disaster for the people of Jerusalem and Judah. In the face of certain disaster Habakkuk says, “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength.”

Is this your confession this morning? Regardless, I will rejoice in the LORD! Though disaster comes I will be joyful in God my Savior. Though I have no strength of my own, the Sovereign LORD is my strength. If that is not where you are this morning why won’t you cry out in faith this very morning? He’s given His Son so that you might be forgiven of your sins and begin to seek Him in faith at this very moment. Won’t you ask Him in even now?

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
September 26, 2010

Clinging to God in the Face of Confusion
Habakkuk