There have been so many times that I have run into problems, not understood what was going on in my life, or have been confused about what was happening to my friends or family members and have thought to myself – “Lord, if You would just explain all of this to me.” “If You could help me understand.” “If You would just make Your will known, then everything would be alright.” I don’t think that I am alone in having thought things like this or actually having said these things to God. I have heard many people say, “If only I could ask God,” or “I bet it was easier to have faith in Jesus’ day because He was there?you could actually see Him and what He was doing.” If you are among those of us who have believed that a skywriter carving God’s will in the sky would help in some way – Habakkuk would like to have a word with you. Today’s lesson will hopefully convince you that “faith” will always be “faith,” and not “hard, lab-tested proofs.” Let’s take a look at Habakkuk 1:12-2:1.
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? 1I 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 1:12-2:1 NIV)
If you will remember our study last week you will recall that God spoke to Habakkuk, after Habakkuk cried out, “Lord, why aren’t You doing something?” God let Habakkuk know that He was doing something – He was raising up the Babylonians as a judgment against Judah. Habakkuk wanted to hear from God. He heard from God. Habakkuk just didn’t like, or he didn’t understand, what he heard. As we come to our Scripture for today, Habakkuk still has questions.
What do you do when you have questions that are unanswered? What do you do when nothing makes sense? What do you do when you search the Scriptures, when you pour out your heart in prayer, when you cry out to God, but your understanding of what God is doing becomes no more clear than when your struggle first began? Those are great questions!
I’m certain that each and every one of us who are present this morning have been in situations that make absolutely no sense. We study God’s Word and we learn that the Lord uses our troubles to draw us closer to Himself. He wants to mold us into the image of His Son, teach us to be dependent upon Him alone, and He wants to use our troubles to bring glory to His name through our victory. We’ve memorized verses, we’ve bought bumper stickers, and we’ve read, “Tough Times Don’t Last, But Tough People Do.” We have the cerebral solutions, the cognitive knowledge, the theology, theorems, and theses, but when tragedy strikes and hearts break?it just doesn’t make sense. We know God’s Word, but don’t understand His ways.
Don’t feel alone, Habakkuk is right in there with us. The Apostle Paul also had to have wondered “what” and “why” when he suffered greatly from his “thorn in the flesh.” What was that thorn? Nobody knows and I believe that is a good thing. Paul’s thorn was his problem. It irritated him, bothered him, and he wanted to be rid of it. Take a look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 with me. Paul writes,
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV)
You can see that Paul was writing “past tense” about his thorn in 2 Corinthians. He says, “there was given me a thorn?” He says, “I pleaded with the Lord?” As Paul pleaded with the Lord for his thorn to be removed the Lord said, “No.” Why would God say “No” to the pain in Paul’s life? Great question. Look at verse 9 and you can find the answer.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Paul states for us a biblical truth that has been true throughout history, but he learned this lesson as he went through his painful experience. We need to pray that the Lord will teach us this powerful lesson as we go through our painful times as well.
For today, we need to focus on Habakkuk’s confusion and frustration with what he knows about God and what he has just learned about what God is doing. I have to ask the question again – “What do we do when our experiences in life just don’t make sense?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests four steps that we can take in helping us to gain a better understanding in his classic study of Habakkuk. I want to share these four steps with you this morning.
First, stop and think. I came across Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ outstanding encouragement for us as I was reading Dr. James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on Habakkuk last week. Dr. Boice writes,
When we speak first, we often muddle ourselves by fanning the flames of our own unbelief or muddying the water of our ignorance. When we shut up and think, we begin to sort things out and allow the light of God to shine into our situation. (Dr. James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: Micah-Malachi, pg. 401)
This is great advice for us. Advice that is found in the pages of God’s Word as James writes,
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak? (James 1:19 NIV)
The second step that we should take, according to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is, restate basic principles. Lloyd-Jones says,
When you start to think you must not begin with your immediate problem. Begin further back. Apply the strategy of the indirect approach?Such an approach is sometimes of vital importance in the spiritual life.
This is exactly what Habakkuk did when the word he received from the Lord only served to further confuse him. Habakkuk went back to the things he knew about God to try and find answers about what he didn’t understand about God’s activities. Take a look with me at Habakkuk 1:12-13.
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. (Habakkuk 1:12-13a NIV)
When we read these verses we read about the most basic attributes of God. I cannot stress to you how important it is for you and me to become well schooled in the attributes of God. When our thinking is weak and our experiences bear down upon our soul we must run to the sure foundation of God’s character. We must reacquaint ourselves with who God is in the midst of our storm.
The first of God’s attributes that Habakkuk restates is God’s everlasting presence. The troubles that Judah has encountered, are encountering, and will encounter in the future will pass one day, but God is the everlasting God. The “god” of the Babylonians, their own strength, will one day fade, but God is from everlasting to everlasting and His strength will never fade. We can bank on that my friend.
The second attribute of God that Habakkuk speaks of in verse 12 is God’s holiness. The holiness of God speaks of God being different than the rest of creation; it points to God’s sacred nature. The Hebrew word for “holy” means “sacred, holy, Holy One, saint, or set apart.” The word is used 116 times in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament equivalent for “holy” is used 229 times. Let me share with you just a couple of places where the word appears. In 1 Samuel 2:2, after Hannah had her prayers answered by the Lord she spoke these words.
2 “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. (1 Samuel 2:2 NIV)
In Isaiah we read again of God’s holy nature when God speaks these words.
17 This is what the LORD says- your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. (Isaiah 48:17 NIV)
In the book of Revelation, after John walked through the doors of heaven in a vision, he saw the most awesome of all sights. John detailed what he saw by writing.
8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8 NIV)
God is holy. His nature and character are altogether different than our nature and character – praise God! Dr. Boice writes,
We do not find the Bible speaking often of God’s ‘sovereign name,’ ‘loving name,’ or ‘wise name,’ but again and again God reminds us of his ‘holy name.’ (James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: Micah-Malachi, pg. 402.)
The third attribute of God that Habakkuk mentions in verse 12 is God’s sovereignty. Habakkuk writes, “O LORD, you have appointed them to execute judgment;” and “O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.” Habakkuk knows that what is happening to Judah is not the product of the alignment of the planets or mere coincidence. Habakkuk knows that God governs the affairs of nations and all people. He knows that God has raised up the Babylonians to serve His purpose, to fulfill His plan for His people in Judah. Habakkuk doesn’t understand God’s action, but he knows that God is sovereign.
The fourth attribute of God that Habakkuk clings to is God’s faithfulness. Habakkuk calls God his “Rock.” You and I may think that we live in uncertain times where it seems like we are living on shifting sand, but those that have gone before us lived on the same shifting soil. Just as we need security and a solid foundation, so did Moses when he was threatened by Pharaoh, and David when he was threatened by Saul, and Esther when she feared for her life before the king, and the testimonies continue.
For all people of all times throughout history, placing our faith and trust in God is the only sure footing we will ever find. Moses spoke to the children of Israel and said,
3 I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! 4 He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NIV)
When David was running for his life from Saul, he trusted in the Lord. When the Lord delivered him from Saul, David sat down and wrote a song to the Lord. Here is how it goes. Sing along with me if you would like.
1 David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 2 He said: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; 3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior-from violent men you save me. 4 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. 5 “The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. 6 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 7 In my distress I called to the LORD; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears. (2 Samuel 22:3 NIV)
Make no mistake about it – God is a Rock. He is your Rock and my Rock when the ground is crumbling underneath us. He is sure footing when we feel the soil beneath our feet shifting and giving way. When we are sinking down, He lifts us up and places our feet on solid ground.
These attributes of God can serve as a shelter in the storms of life if we will allow them to sink deep into our hearts. We need to view the experiences of everyday life through the lens of God’s attributes so that we can constantly be reminded of who God is in the midst of our troubles and trials.
The third principle that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers for us is apply the principles to the problem. No matter what area of discipline you are talking about or what profession you work at – there are procedures that you apply to any problem that arises. This four-step process that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers to us can be so helpful for all Christians when we encounter situations in life that we don’t understand. If we will take the basics of our faith – the attributes of God, and apply them to our situation, then we will not be overwhelmed by despair when troubles come.
On the other hand, when troubles come, and know they will, if we focus on our troubles and our ability to try and figure a way out of them, then we will find ourselves at our wits end. Life does not make sense. God has no desire for life to make sense – His desire is that our experiences in life build our faith in Him.
When Asaph wrote Psalm 73 he didn’t understand what was going on in his life. He asked, “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous seem to keep falling further and further behind?” Asaph couldn’t figure it out. Read along with me in Psalm 73 and see if you can find the answer to the question: “When did Asaph begin to understand?” Read with me.
1 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. 3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. 7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. 8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. 9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. 10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. 11 They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?” 12 This is what the wicked are like-always carefree, they increase in wealth. 13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning. 15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children. 16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (Psalm 73:1-17 NIV)
Did you see it? It was when he entered the sanctuary of God that he remembered that the end of the wicked will be far different than what he was observing at the time.
Habakkuk focused on the basics. Habakkuk extolled the attributes of God. He followed Dr. Lloyd-Jones steps to the letter, but it only led him to more questions. Take a look with me at Habakkuk 1:13.
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?
Habakkuk’s mind is still reeling from the news that the Babylonians are coming as he recounts the wondrous character of God. It is as he is confessing these wonderful aspects of God’s character that Habakkuk’s heart can stand no more. Listen once again. Habakkuk says, 13 “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” As Habakkuk confesses God’s purity he interrupts his thought with, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” “Why God, why? This is not like You! Why do You tolerate this? Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? Why?” Habakkuk just can’t understand. It doesn’t compute and this leads us to Dr. Lloyd-Jones fourth step.
Fourth, if still in doubt, commit the problem to God in faith. Habakkuk has done what he was supposed to do and yet he still could not understand. Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in the middle of a very disturbing situation and instead of turning to some method to numb yourself you turned to God in prayer and a frantic search of His Word only to find that you still couldn’t find peace? I sure have and it is not a pleasant place to be. What do we do when we find ourselves in that place? I would encourage you to follow Habakkuk to the guard house and keep watching and waiting. Read along with me at Habakkuk 2:1.
1I 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)
Habakkuk refuses to draw his own conclusions. He knows the character of God and he doesn’t understand how God can use such a wicked nation to do His work so Habakkuk chooses to wait upon the Lord. Habakkuk says that he will “look” to see what God will say to him. The Hebrew word for “look” in this verse is means, “to look out or about, spy, keep watch, observe.” In the 37 places of the Hebrew Bible where you find the word, 20 times it is translated, “watchman.”
Over and over again in the New Testament Jesus says, “keep watch.” Watch what is happening, watch what is taking place, recognize the signs of the times so that you will be ready. You and I need to stand watch instead of drawing our own conclusions about what is taking place in our lives. Jesus has told us that we would have troubles in this life. In John 16:33, Jesus said,
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
We know the truths of God’s Word – we know that God is faithful, we know that God is sovereign, we know that He is our Rock. When life doesn’t make sense we must cling to the truths that we do know and stand our watch.
I have to say that without Jesus reigning and ruling in our hearts there will be no way for us to see clearly through the fog of tear stained eyes. If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life won’t you allow Him to come in and give you eyes to see, the patience to wait for an answer from the watch tower, and the faith to trust in uncertain times? Invite Him in this morning.