the prophet Habakkuk 1:13. God Rules, O.K.?
Let us read Habakkuk 2:20 out loud, together: “But the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth be silent before Him.”
Suppose – you survived a world-wide nuclear war?*
- You lost your husband/wife and children?*
- While you were serving in Sudan your back home home was lost?*
- Your health deteriorated and you couldn’t work?*
- Your enemies won the war. You lost!*
Now read each statement again and read Habakkuk 2:20 after each one.
I suspect you would have many questions to ask God were any of this to happen! Our Bible book of Habakkuk records conversations between the prophet and God, after evil seemingly triumphs over good. Habakkuk asks God ‘Why’? This is an unusual prophecy because it is not so much God speaking through His prophet to mankind, it is more God teaching His prophet a lesson which would unlock the answers to his questions. We are eavesdroppers on a conversation 2,600 years ago, that God thought so significant He preserved it in our Bibles.
Instead of the public speeches of this prophet what we have is the inner conflict behind them. ‘How can I say “God is in sovereign control”, when atrocities, injustices, corruption and evil seem to win all the time? Goodness and love are trampled in the ground!’
Habakkuk, a man of God, was attacked from within himself. Many prophets faced persecution and danger from enemies opposed to their message. Habakkuk was attacked by his own heart and mind rebelling against the Lordship of God. ‘If God really is Who He says He is, Whom I believe Him to be, He couldn’t possibly allow this to happen’.
What are the keys to understanding Habakkuk?
1. Note Habakkuk’s questions to God. 1:2 “How long, O lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?” 1:3 “Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrong?” 1:13 “Why do You tolerate the treacherous? Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”
Illustration: This is like saying: ‘Lord, we have prayed and prayed for the visa process to be easier in, around and out of Sudan, yet it’s worse now than before!’ It is like praying: “God … why do You not intervene when innocent Eritreans are arrested and imprisoned without charge?”
It is like praying: “God, why does another religion dominate? One that rejects Your given Saviour God-incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ? Why do they triumph over simple Christians?” Why am I so disappointed with fellow missionaries? My calling? 'This is not what I want'.
Habakkuk’s questions – like ours – may reveal that something is lacking in our understanding of living as Christians honouring God. We all know we start the Christian life by faith. Turning from sin and self we embrace the Saviour, Jesus. But then we seem to forget faith (except perhaps when it comes to trusting God for money!). Habakkuk (and many of us) must learn that Christian living is a walk of faith. A continuing walk of faith.
Illustration: Fitness freaks: bulging muscles etc. Squash players’ arm and shoulder strength. Rugby players’ thigh and back strength. How do muscles grow and strengthen? They need to be resisted. So a weighted bar is lifted to strengthen muscles. The easier it is to do, the more weights are added, to strengthen the athlete’s body.
And so God puts more weights on the bar of our lives to strengthen our faith. The harder our situation the more benefit it is to our faith!
Illustration: Here is a colleague tough to get on with. Here is a rejection and misunderstanding by a national church. Here is amoebic dysentery. Here is unemployment. Live out your Christian life carefully and Christianly.
2. Note Habakkuk’s personal trust in God. 1:2 “How long, O Lord?” 1:12 “O Lord … my God, my Holy One.” “O Lord … O Rock.” As Habakkuk asks the question ‘Why?’ so his focus gradually moves over more into ‘Who’ is this God Who allows? I wouldn’t allow evil. He does. I am not God. He is. What can I learn? What must I learn about my God? God ordains all circumstances. Through them God disciplines me (like an athlete in training). Through them Satan tries to make me sin. (Not better but bitter). Who do I listen to?
Application: There are many times in the Christian walk when we may not fully understand what is going on, or why it is happening, but we can always know Who is giving it permission to happen.
God has a timetable. He will not be rushed. Neither will He be indifferent. For the Christian, living by faith often means walking in the dark. Secure only because life is in His hands.
3. Note God’s requirement is our faithfulness to Him. 1:5, 6 “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.” Notice the six challenging words. Today that may be the equivalent of saying: “I (God) am raising up those who you see as extremists and fundamentalists and I am going to use the terror they create to accomplish my will. They will serve My purpose although they do not honour Me. See how great I am? How small your view of Me is!”
“Babylon and Iraq is the sump of the middle east, the low point to which other problems drain.” Habakkuk’s question 1:13 “Why are you (God) silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:12-17) is not given a direct answer. Psalm 76:10 gives a glimpse – skipped over too often. “Surely your wrath against men brings you praise.” I don’t understand the why or the how, but I do understand the Who. God is God and He will always be right. Only He knows everything. He is working out an overarching plan. I must be faithful to Him whatever the evidence to my other senses is. Habakkuk 2:4 God’s answer “The righteous will live by his faithfulness.” Application: Christian, do you walk by sight or by faith? If you don’t walk by faith, you are not faithful to God. Only faithful people find God to be faithful – in spite of what other evidence says.
4. God will exercise His wrath and His rule. Chapter 2 verses 1, 9, 12, 15, 19 “Woe to him.” God points out injustice and sin – and says, verse 16 “It’s your turn … the cup from the Lord’s right hand (wrath) is coming around.” God is no idle idol! Verse 18, 19. “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.” 2:20.
Application: Though God may use Babylon to judge His own people, God will also in time judge Babylon for its own evil. Though God may use terrorism to judge the west for disregarding/marginalising/taming Himself, God will ultimately judge terrorism and terrorists. “The Lord is in His holy temple.” And in case you think this is an Old Testament message only, remember New Testament messages like Romans 8:28. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” All things – world events, personality clashes, resources lacked, health gone etc.
5. Note Habakkuk’s final prayer, chapter 3:2. “Lord, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” The God of the past is just as active as God in the present! God is Who matters today, and don’t let what you see deceive you otherwise. “God the Holy One in glory, splendour, power – stood and looked. His ways are eternal. In wrath (He) strode through the earth.”
Habakkuk realised God was using the Babylonians. His eyes, his attention shifted. One moment his focus was on the Babylonians – why? Now his focus was on God – Who?
Application: A Ramadan thought. Since God uses world powers – does that change your view of Islam today? (The Islamic world? September 11th?) Does it change how you pray? Circumstances are morally neutral. The chief focus of prayer should be on our reaction to circumstances. Turn to God for good, or to Satan for harm?
3:16 “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound … my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” Deal with the problem, or the problem will deal with you. Circumstances may or may not hinder our ministries: but a sinful attitude (e.g. 'I hate those authorities') certainly will.
Challenged by what he sees – and what he does not like, the prophet Nahum faithfully places his trust in his God.
Verse 17 there are no real signs of hope “no fig buds, no grapes on the vine, no food, no livestock”. Vs18 “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.”
This too, is a New Testament message. James 1:2, 3 consider it pure joy walking in refining trials of your faith. 1 Peter 1:7 trials prove genuine faith and God is glorified in them.
Illustration: When the disciples woke Jesus in the storm on the lake. Luke 8:22-25, “We’re going to drown.” They pleaded for help. Jesus rebuked nature’s anger – and pointedly asked His disciples “Where is your faithfulness?” “Didn’t I say we were going over to the other side?” Don’t let a rough ride take your eyes from Jesus.
Application: Whatever you face, whatever questions you have – will you fear the storm? Or will you let the storm be used by God to stretch and strengthen your faith?
3:19 The Sovereign Lord (title brought in at end) is my strength.”
God Rules, O.K.?
Khartoum International Church 3rd November 2002.