The time has come that we must again journey through the Bible. And tonight, the Book of Habakkuk. And so let's turn to it, and Pastor Skip is coming now to teach us from the Book of Habakkuk.
The Book of Habakkuk. What a great book it is. You could give it a title, I suppose, The Problems of a Puzzled Prophet. That's what I would entitle this book. If Jonah was a prodigal prophet and a pouting prophet, then Habakkuk was a puzzled prophet. There were certain things that he just couldn't figure out, because he walked by sight rather than by faith.
Now that's all going to change within these three chapters. It's a beautiful journey. It is a prophecy, and there are prophetic elements in it, but it's not so much a prophecy as it is a journey of this man's faith, a conversion to the position of faith.
Now it was written over 2,500 years ago, but it's amazingly contemporary, because he wrestles with a very contemporary issue, a contemporary question. Everybody comes into this life asking basic questions about life. Why am I here? Where am I going? What's the purpose and the meaning of my existence?
But one of the big issues is the problem of evil. Why does evil exist, and why does evil exist if there is such a good God? Habakkuk struggles with that question as well. And I suppose Habakkuk's the real question isn't, why do bad things happen to good people, as much as, why do bad things happen to God's people, as he surveys what is happening there in his own country, and the answer then that God gives him.
This book was written sometime between the fall of Nineveh, which we looked at last week, and the fall of Jerusalem. Now the fall of Nineveh was in 612 BC, and the fall of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was in 586 BC. So in between that 26-year period, somewhere in there, this prophet Habakkuk writes these words.
By the time he writes, Josiah's revival is past history. It's gone. It's over. And the kings that succeeded Josiah, he was that, you remember, bright spot in the midst of a dark history of that people. Many spiritual reforms through Josiah. But after he was gone-- he died in a battle in Meggido-- the kings that followed him went quickly downhill, and the country of Judah and the city of Jerusalem was in dire need.
Now the book opens in gloom, but it ends in glory. You might say that this prophet has a big question mark for a brain, and he ends with an exclamation point. God is in the business of turning question marks into exclamation points.
And it's an incredible story. It's two conversations that the prophet has with God, followed by a song. Chapter 3 is a psalm of praise. It's his summation of all that he's learned. But Chapters 1 and 2 are conversations that the prophet has with God.
You could outline this book a number of ways. You could outline it philosophically. Chapter 1 is the prophet wondering and worrying. Chapter 2, the prophet waiting. And Chapter 3, the prophet worshipping and witnessing.
You could also outline the book geographically. Chapter 1, he begins in the valley. Chapter 2, he climbs up into the watchtower to wait on the Lord. And Chapter 3, at least through his language, he ascends up into the mountains.
You could also outline the book spiritually. He begins in turmoil in Chapter 1, or trial. He moves into trust in Chapter 2 and triumph in Chapter 3. So from gloom to glory, the book swiftly moves in that direction.
Habakkuk has been called the father-- no, excuse me-- the grandfather of the Reformation. Because it was this text that Martin Luther meditated on, and it changed his whole outlook and his dealing with God. "The just shall live by their faith."
There's also an interesting story about this book in Benjamin Franklin. It seems that Benjamin Franklin visited Paris and was speaking to a group of erudite philosophers, a literary club, and they were comparing different fine literature.
There was also a group that denied the existence of God and denied the inspiration of the Bible. So Benjamin Franklin read to them that last section, which we'll read tonight in Chapter 3. And it so stunned his audience, it won their admiration.
And they said, where did you get that wonderful piece of literature? Who wrote that? Where does it come from? How can we get copies? And he was delighted to tell them, it comes from the pages of scripture, the prophet Habakkuk, as given by the Lord.
So Habakkuk, Chapter 1, Verse 1. The burden-- or you might translate it the oracle or the judgment-- which the prophet Habakkuk saw. "Oh Lord, how long shall I cry and you will not hear? Even cry out to you violence, and you will not save."
Lord, I've been praying a long time, and you have been silent. You're not answering my prayers. How long do I have to keep this up? Verse 3, "Why do you show me iniquity" and cause me to see trouble, for plundering and "violence are before me," and there is "strife and contention" arises.
Remember back in history when King Josiah took the throne. He was an 8-year-old kid. By the time Josiah turned 16, already his heart was moved toward the things of the Spirit, toward the things of God.
And at age 16, he initiated some pretty wonderful spiritual reforms in Jerusalem. He purged the land of idolatry. He broke down the high places and the altars to Baal and Astaroth. He rebuilt the temple and reinaugurated worship services within the temple. The Book of the Law was found and it was read, and a wonderful bright spot in a dark history developed under Josiah.
But King Josiah died, as we mentioned, in a battle at the valley of Meggido. And after Josiah, a series of kings sat upon the throne, some of them in rapid succession. Jehoahaz, his son, was on the throne for only three months. He barely got it warm, and then he was deposed by the pharaoh in Egypt.
After him, Jehoiakim sat upon the throne, and he occupied it for about 11 years, an 11-year reign. And during that reign, oppression, injustice, violence, and bloodshed was the game of the day under his reign. After him, Jehoiachin sat upon the throne. He was there for three months and 10 days. He was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. And finally, Zedekiah for a short period of time was placed upon the throne.
But here's the setting. Here's the prophet in the midst of Judah and in the midst of Jerusalem. These are God's covenant people. But he looks around and he sees violence, injustice, oppression. He scratches his head and he cries out to God, Lord, why don't you do something? How long are you going to let this go on? How long will you let the unjust rule and the righteous suffer, while it seems the ungodly people are prospering in their ungodliness?
We are challenged by that question. Everybody who's ever hit planet Earth and is a thinking person has wrestled with the issue of evil that exists, and is that compatible with a good and loving God? I remember the questions my son had for me when he was quite young. And he saw any bit of injustice at all, he would say, Daddy, that's not fairer. That's what he called fair. That's not fairer, Daddy. Do something. Like, give it an insta fix.
And he had such a high sense of justice, and he wanted injustice immediately dealt with and eradicated. And he'd ponder this whole issue. We all ponder it. Every Christian, every philosopher has pondered it.
And what bothers Habakkuk is not only does he see these conditions around him, but he has made it a subject of prayer for a long time. And God's silence bothers him. How long, Lord? I've cried out. And so he continues in Verse 4, therefore, he says, the law is powerless, and justice "never goes forth, for the wicked" surround "the righteous. Therefore," perverse "judgment proceeds."
It was a time of deterioration. It was a time of national corruption, where here is a people of God, under a covenant that God gave them, the Mosaic Covenant, the law. And the law seems powerless. The law of God that was supposed to govern their affairs seems powerless.
Why would God permit that? It's not fair. God, do something. Have you ever gotten a ticket by a police officer that you didn't deserve? Now somebody said all the time.
I've gotten one, and I knew I didn't deserve it. It made me mad. It was not fair. And I tried to tell the officer, it's not fair. He didn't seem to care. And I cried out to God as I took that ticket. God, why? Listen, I get mad even when it is fair and I get a ticket.
Habakkuk is angry at what he sees. Basically, he's saying, Lord, I'm living in a midst of a people who are getting away with murder. You should give them a ticket, Lord. You've given them a new car instead. Where's the justice?
Now here's the answer God. It's not what he expected. Habakkuk assumes that God is inactive. Habakkuk up to this point is living by sight and not by faith. That's going to change. The Lord speaks, look among the nations and watch. Be utterly astounded, "for I will work a work in your days which you would not believe though it were told you."
For indeed, I am raising up "the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation, which marches through the breadth of the Earth to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful. Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves."
Here's God's answer. Lord, you're not doing anything. I see injustice, inequity, oppression in my own homeland. What are you going to do about it? Well, here's what I'm going to do about it. I will raise up a nation more wicked than your nation and use them as the rod of correction. That's how God answers his question.
It's not what he expected. I am confident that when Habakkuk prayed to the Lord about the situation that he was expecting that God would answer him by sending maybe a revival like what happened under King Josiah, a renewal. That's what he knew the nation needed. Send that kind of renewal, that kind of revival, that there would be a national repentance that we would turn back to you. That's not what he expected God to say.
Habakkuk knew that the people of Judah deserved a ticket. They were unjust. They had sinned. But Lord, compared to the Babylonians, we're saints. I know we're bad, but compared to them, we're good. They're so worse, so much worse than we are.
Now let me just give you a thumbnail sketch of how Babylon became a world power, because when God said this, remember, Assyria had fallen. And it was that fall in 612 BC that launched the great Babylonian Empire. Two events made them rulers of the world, you might say.
Number one, when Babylon under Nabopolassar, the king, conquered Assyria. Number two, when there was a battle at Carchemish against the Egyptians, and the Babylonians at that very threshold of a battle defeated the Egyptians. Now they were catapulted into world power. So the whole idea and thought of the Chaldeans struck terror in the heart of any people.
He says, "They are terrible," Verse 7, "and dreadful. Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves." And we know what's going to happen, don't we?
We know that the Babylonians under three successive attacks will surround Jerusalem beginning in 605 BC, later on in 597 and then 586 BC when the city falls. And God will use a wicked, godless nation to punish those in Judah, to take captive those Jewish sinners, you might say, that Habakkuk was so worried about, and used the Babylonians as his rod of correction.
Verse 8. "Their horses are swifter than leopards and more fierce than evening wolves. Their chargers charge ahead. Their cavalry comes from afar. They fly as the eagle that hastens to eat." The Babylonians, here called the Chaldeans-- same difference, really-- were swift in their military conquest and very violent. Listen, you think your people are violent, Habakkuk. Wait till you see the people I'm going to use to punish you guys. The Chaldeans were known, had become renown for their oppression and their violence, similar to the Ninevites that we discussed last week.
Now you notice something in Verse 8. The description of the Chaldeans, "they fly as the eagle that hastens to eat." That's a very interesting description, and anyone hearing it in Habakkuk's day, it would have rung a bell, because this is exactly what God predicted would happen when he spoke to Moses and then through Moses to the children of Israel back in Deuteronomy, Chapter 28. You may recall that God planned for this.
When you turn away from me, the Lord said, and you are taken captive in a foreign land, and you cry out to me or you turn away from me, I'll send you into another land as captives. And listen to God's description, Deuteronomy 28:49. "The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar from the end of the Earth as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand."
So I'm sure when Habakkuk hears this from the Lord he goes, oh, yes. Deuteronomy 28. It's exactly what you said would happen, Lord. You're fulfilling your promise to us.
Verse 9. "They come for violence. Their faces are set like the east wind. They gather captives like sand. They scoff at kings, and princes are scorned by them. They deride every stronghold, for they heap" up earthen mounds and seize it.
Then his mind changes. Literally, then he will lose all reason. Then his mind changes. He will lose all reason, and he transgresses. He commits offense, ascribing this power to his God.
Now I believe that's a prediction of what would happen to the King of the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar. And it's recorded in the Book of Daniel. One afternoon, he's walking through his palace, and he looks over the grounds of Babylon. And he says, "Is not this the great Babylon, which I have built for my might and for my majesty?"
But then something happened to him, didn't it? And it's interesting, this phrase. His mind changes or he will lose his reason. He lost his mind. His reason became unseated, and he was given to the beasts of the field and he ate grass like an animal. And seven seasons passed over him in that mentally deranged condition as his mind was altered.
Well, that's God's answer to the anxiety of the prophet, which moves the prophet now into a deeper level from anxiety now to perplexity. It goes from bad to worse. If that's God's answer, then, hmm. He's got some more problems.
For Verse 12, the prophet now speaks to God, "Are you not from everlasting, oh Lord, my God, my Holy One? We shall not die, oh Lord. You have appointed them for judgment," oh rock. You have marked "them for correction." But look, God. Remember? We're your covenant people. You're supposed to get them, not get us. You've marked them for destruction, not us. So he's talking now back to the Lord. He has this conversation with Him.
You see, he's got a problem. He lived through a time of national revival under Josiah followed by a time of national decline. He's prayed, he's cried out to God, and God gives him an answer he did not expect.
So from anxiety or from perplexity now to anxiety, wait a minute. This isn't what I know about you. He's trying to now square and reconcile the action that God says he's going to do with the attributes that he knows about God to be true. He's trying to mix those two together, trying to reconcile those truths.
Let's have an equivalent. Let's talk about our own country. What if you prayed to God one day, and then the next day, and then the next month, and then the next year, complaining about the condition of the church in the United States of America. And your prayer was something like, Lord, you know the problems of the church in America. We're driven to carnality and superficiality and idolatry and materialism. Lord, how long are you going to let this go on?
And what if God said, you're right. I'm now going to move, and I'm going to use the al-Qaeda organization to teach you a lesson. Oh, now, wait a minute, God. This moves it to a whole new level of a problem. And this guy wrestles with it.
Verse 13. "You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do you look on those who deal treacherously? And hold your tongue when the wicked devourers a person more righteous then he.
Why do you make men like fish of the sea, like creeping things that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with a hook. They catch them in their net and gather them in their dragnet. Therefore, they rejoice, and are glad."
Like callous fisherman, these Babylonians would ply their trade against God's people. That's the language he is using. "Therefore, they sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their dragnet. Because by them, their share is sumptuous, their food plentiful. Shall they, therefore, empty their net and continue to slay nations" without pity?
Lord, are you going to allow those wicked Babylonians-- I know you said you're going to use them to correct us. Are you going to allow these Babylonians who have a reputation for oppression and violence to move on like this without any interruption? You're not going to do something about their threats against us and their invasion of us? Why don't you stop them?
And that's where Chapter 1 ends. It sort of ends on this note. We're left hanging. And the answer of God to this will come in Chapter 2. It's the best answer of all. Again, we're moving from gloom to glory. Here's a prophet wrestling with perplexity, moving to anxiety. But the book ends in ecstasy as he worships the Lord.
But it brings up an important issue. How do people deal with the problem of evil? Well, it depends who you talk to. Different people deal with that fact a number of different ways.
Some deal with it with a lame philosophy known as atheism. Here's their reasoning. There can't be a God, because if there was a God-- and as you Christians say, a good God-- His existence is incompatible with the existence of evil. So you can't have evil-- we know that's around-- and a good God at the same time. They're incompatible. Thus, their conclusion, there is no God.
Now actually, in saying that, the atheist has solved his own problem. Because as soon as you push God out of the picture, you take away the standard of what is right and wrong. There is no morality. You don't even have to ask the question, is something right or wrong? Because if all is relative, there is no moral absolute by pushing God out of the way. The question itself doesn't make sense.
A second way people deal with it is agnosticism. Well, I don't know if God exists, but if He does-- and He might-- I just haven't come to grips with the surety of that knowledge that He exists. Agnosticism. And there is evil, and I don't quite get it. And so they walk around with a big question mark their whole lives.
Now quite honestly, I admire an honest agnostic. I don't meet many of them. I meet people who say they're agnostics, and I find them to be very dishonest. Because an honest agnostic will search to find answers to those questions. They'll look for evidences, and they abound as to the existence of God and the goodness of God.
Other people solve the problem of evil by an idea known as deism. That is, there is a God, but God is reduced to simply a cause. That is, God wound up the universe like a clock, and He steps back, and He's going to now watch what happens.
Years ago, a famous author, a famous rabbi-- now he's famous because of the book he wrote, Rabbi Harold Kushner-- wrote a book entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. And in it, he flatly states, there's a lot of things that God would like to give to the righteous, but He's unable to do so. God can't do certain things.
And so he tells his readers to please forgive God. Because God is simply a cause who started everything, but now He's watching to see how the universe unfolds. He's not in control. He would like to give righteous people what is righteous, but God's unable to, so please forgive God.
Another philosophy that people use to deal with this issue is what we might call spiritual idealism. Yes, there is evil. Yes, there is sin. Yes, there is sickness. But if you're a Christian, you don't have to experience it. If you're a child of God, you don't have to get sick. If you're a child of God, you can drive a Ferrari instead of a Volkswagen. All you have to do is claim it in the name of Jesus and walk in prosperity and perfect health. And yes, there's evil, but it'll be on them and not on you.
None of those are satisfactory answers. In Chapter 2, God gives the answer, and God's answer is a perfect answer. Chapter 2, Verse 1. The prophet says, "I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me and what I will answer when I am corrected."
Good move, Habakkuk. And that would be a good move for any of us whenever we are perplexed with issues we don't understand, to set in motion a certain kind of a process. And he does that here. Number one, stop and think about it.
You know, this prophet is very honest. He's wrestling these issues before God. Some people, they don't even know how to deal with it. They just either pout or they quit or they just divorce themselves from even thinking about it. I don't want to think about evil. I know it's all around, but I won't talk about it. Stop and think about it.
Number two, hold on to those things that you do know and understand about God. Pastor Chuck so often has said, when you're faced with things that you don't know, hold on to those things that you do know.
OK, here's something you don't understand. Well, don't worry about that right now. Look at what you do understand about God. And this is what the prophet does. He goes through a list of the attributes of God. I know that God is powerful. I know that God is holy. I know that he is my God. He's our God. He's got a plan for His people, and He's going to deal with evil somehow.
And then third what the prophet does is what you don't understand, you commit that in faith and in prayer to God. You reach a point at which your reasoning, your mind is limited. You can wrestle only so much. You can figure it out only up to a certain point. Then you have to just say, OK. I stop now. I now commit this to God. I don't know why, but I do know God. And I know God is good, and I know God has a plan, and I leave it with Him. And this prophet does that.
So "I stand my watch. I set myself on the rampart and watch to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected." Then the Lord answered me and said, "Write the vision and make it plain on tablets that he may run who reads it."
In the marketplaces, there were clay tablets upon which a public notice was written. It was inscribed in wet clay and then it dried. So "Write the vision," write what I'm going to tell you in large, legible letters, because the one who reads it is the one who's going to run and proclaim it. So make sure it's in a large-print edition. This proves that Habakkuk wasn't a doctor, because he writing the prescription and it's legible. Everybody who sees it can read it and understand it.
"For the vision is yet for an appointed time. But at the end, it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it, because it will surely come to pass. It will not tarry."
Now in Chapter 2, God gives His answer to the prophet. Three basic things God says. I'm going to judge the Babylonians. Don't worry about it. I know you're hot and bothered, Habakkuk. You see inequity. You notice injustice. I've got a plan. I'm going to use the Babylonians as a correcting rod to get my people back on track. But because the nation itself, the Babylonians are a godless nation, I'm going to punish them and eventually wipe them out.
Number two, Habakkuk, you need to look beyond the present into the future. And you'll see that in Verse 14, that "The knowledge of God will fill the Earth as the waters cover the sea." Learn to look beyond the temporary into the future, the eternal.
And number three-- and we're getting to this really at the beginning parts of this chapter-- in the meantime, learn to have faith. Trust. "The just live by trust, or faith. Behold the proud," Verse 4. "His soul is not upright in him, but the just shall live by his faith."
Now go back, and notice in Verse 3 that God talks about an appointed time. You know that God is never late. Ever. But sometimes we think he is. Lord, I prayed about this, and I've given you a lot of time to answer. And I don't know why it's taken you so long.
God isn't late. You may be early, but God is never late. Charles Spurgeon used to say, "There are no loose ends in the treads of Providence. The great clock of the universe," he said, "keeps perfect time."
How often do we read about the hour that Jesus spoke about? My hour has not yet come. It is not yet my time. When the fullness of time had come, God sent His own son, born of a woman, born under the law. God keeps perfect time.
Habakkuk. Eventually, at my time, I will deal with this injustice. I will judge. But Verse 4 is the hinge verse. "Behold the proud. His soul is not upright in him, but the just shall live by his faith."
See, up to this point, Habakkuk was living not by faith, but by sight. He looked around. He saw what was going on in his nation. And then God said, well, look at the Babylonians. They're coming. And again, he's looking by sight, thinking, oh, this doesn't seem right. It doesn't look right.
And what God is telling him is, it doesn't matter, Habakkuk, what you see or what feels right or wrong. The just shall live by his faith." Or you might say, the just will trust.
One of the most strategic verses in all of the Bible is this verse. It obviously impressed Paul the Apostle. He mentions it in Galatians and in Romans. And the writer of Hebrews, which some believe to be Paul, also takes this verse and inserts it there. So the three great doctrinal books of the New Testament include Chapter 2, Verse 4 of Habakkuk. "The just shall live by faith."
There was a third-century rabbi by the name of Rabbi Semli who said this about Verse 4. He said, you know, Moses gave 613 commandments in the law, 365 negative, 248 positive. But then from those 613, David in Psalm 15 reduced them to 11. In Isaiah 33, Isaiah reduced the commandments to six. He said, in Micah Chapter 6, Verse 8 he reduced them to three. "Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."
But then he said, Habakkuk surpasses them all and puts all of those 613 commandments in one in this verse. The just shall live by his faith." He was so close to making that step to receive Jesus Christ by that statement. He just didn't take it far enough. Paul did, and he refers it to faith in Christ.
Now Martin Luther, we mentioned, was greatly moved by this verse. Martin Luther had as a background medieval Romanism, medieval Catholicism. And he was so burdened by his sin. He read the Bible and it convicted him, and he felt the burden of his own sin.
So in seeking release from that burden, he eventually joined a monastery, an Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany and began studying the Bible, and came across this text. He didn't quite understand it, he said, at first. He logged it in his mind. It was something he mulled over quite frequently.
Then one time when Luther was in Rome and was visiting a famous Catholic church in Rome called St. John Laturan where there are steps that go up in a staircase purported to have been transported miraculously from Jerusalem to Rome, purported to be the steps of Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus Christ. And at the midsection of those steps there are blood stains purported to be the stains of the blood of Jesus Christ that fell, and there's glass over them, and people would crawl up even to this day and make pilgrimage to Rome, bloody their knees and kiss those steps.
And as Martin Luther was there on those steps, making his way up them and praying prayer after prayer to release the burden of sin, this verse like an arrow from Heaven struck his heart. "The just shall live by their faith."
It was a clarifying moment for Martin Luther. He immediately got up and he went back to Germany, this time to Wittenberg. And he crafted 95 Theses, inspired by what he read of Habakkuk, as told by Paul in Galatians. The just don't need to live by crawling up steps and incessant prayers and trying to relieve the burden of their own sin by themselves. But "the just shall live by faith." And the great Reformation started as a result.
And Verse 5. Indeed, "because he transgresses by wine, he is a proud man." Now let's just stop there for a moment, because the rest of the chapter is still the answer of God to this prophet. And you'll notice even in Verse 4 that there is a contrast. "The just shall live by faith." But look at what it says before that. "Behold the proud." It's a reference to the Babylonians. "His soul is not upright in him, but the just shall live by his faith."
In other words, God sets forth in this verse and now the rest of the chapter two paths. One is the path of faith. One is the path of unbelief, unfaith. That's the path of the Babylonian invader. They're a godless society that God is going to use as a rod of correction against those in Judah.
But "the just shall live by faith." The just shall live. The unrighteous will die. God's going to judge them, eradicate them. But "the just shall live." And so the rest of the chapter continues the answer, as there is now a contrast between the life of faith and the life of unbelief.
So indeed, "because he transgresses by wine, he is a proud man. He does not stay at home. Because he enlarges his desire as Hell, and he is like death and cannot be satisfied, he gathers to himself all nations and heaps up for himself all peoples."
There's a reference to wine in that verse. "He transgresses by wine." The ancient historians bear eloquent testimony to the fact that the Babylonians in general as a culture were given to wine. And one of the clearest examples of that is in Daniel Chapter 5 when Belshazzar has a drunken feast with all of his nobles, and they bring out the furnishings that they took from the temple in Jerusalem, and they make merry. And in that drunken stupor, the Lord speaks clearly through the handwriting on the wall.
Now beginning in Verse 6, there's a list through the rest of the chapter of five woes that are given. And it's a chant. It's a song, speaking of the reason that God is going to judge the Babylonians. Verse 6, "Will not all these take up a proverb against him in a taunting riddle against him and say, woe to him who increases what is not his. How long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges." The first woe is against the greed of the Babylonians.
The city of Babylon was quite impressive. Wealthy, one of the seven wonders of the world. The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that you could see the Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar from outside the city, the way that they were postured. It was magnificent.
The palace of King Nebuchadnezzar was called the dwelling place of majesty on Earth. But how did it get to be that way? By greed, by plunder. They violently oppressed other people and came in and stole spoils from other cities and used slaves to build up their city.
So woe because of that greed. Will not your creditors rise up suddenly? Will they not awaken who oppresses you? And you will become their booty. So eventually, they would fall. The Babylonians would fall to the Medes and the Persians. That's that reference. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the people shall plunder you because of men's blood and the violence of the land and the city and all who dwell in it.
Now this is characteristic of anyone who doesn't live a life of faith. When you don't have a God to trust in for your daily sustenance and for your future, the result is often to turn to greed. I've got to get my hands on that and be secure for my future. And so the Babylonians characterize the life of unbelief rather than the life of faith.
My wife was raised in an atheistic home. Her father, before his conversion-- and it was a glorious conversion-- was an atheist. And he wrote a book. And thinking of these verses, I thought of him this week. He wrote a book, How to Make Your Dreams Come True. How to get whatever you want and live at the top echelon of society.
And when he would tuck her into bed at night, he didn't tell her stories about God or the Bible, or trust in the Lord, or let's say our prayers before bed. Rather, he talked about how the fact, he thought, there is no God. And if you're going to make it in life, you make it on your own. You pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and you carve the way yourself.
So she was raised with that ideology, until one day her father decided to read the New Testament to see if Jesus Christ was a positive person and had a positive mental outlook. And so he said, I'm going to read all those red words--
--to see how positive those red words are. And so he started reading the Gospel of John, and he read through that whole gospel in one evening. And when he closed it, he said, not only is Jesus a positive person, he's God, and I need to give my life to Him.
And so he prayed. Called his brother-in-law. Told him the prayer that he needed to pray. He said, I've been going the wrong direction. It's all been about me and about greed, and what I can get and how I can make my dreams come true. I want to change.
And then as soon as he prayed, he says, I've got to get baptized. I need to do that now. And his brother-in-law called up Pastor Chuck. And Chuck said, meet me down at the ocean in an hour. And he met him down there, and Chuck baptized him right there in the Pacific Ocean.
Then he called up my wife, who wasn't my wife at the time. Called Lenya up. She was going to college in Michigan. And said, honey, you need to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And Lenya thought, my dad snapped.
I know he's a bright man. He was a doctor and he went to law school on top of that. He just must have studied so much that the fuse popped. But then she thought about him more. She said, no. He's a wise man. He thinks through these things. And I need to investigate.
And she did. And she moved from that position of how to make your dreams come true to how to follow Jesus Christ in faith. But here is the person who has no faith, and all they can resort to is plunder and greed making your own dreams come true.
Verse 9 is the second woe. "Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of disaster. You give shameful counsel to your house, cutting off many peoples in sin against your soul."
The second woe is against injustice. Here's the ungodly trying to accumulate wealth as much as they can through normal means. And when those means are exhausted, then you turn to injustice. Because you're not satisfied. You have no life of faith, no God that you can trust in. And so like a hook, it draws you in. For the stone will cry out from the wall and the beam from the timbers will answer it."
The third woe, Verse 12, "Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, who establishes a city by iniquity. Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the peoples labor to feed the fire and nations weary themselves in vain?"
Third woe is against violence. Very descriptive of ancient Babylon. Remember, when King Zedekiah was finally pursued and chased and caught there in the plains of Jericho, he was taken before King Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah and his eyes were put out after he saw his own sons killed before his eyes. A violent, violent ruler.
And it was characteristic of ancient Babylon as a whole, and characteristic in many ways of modern Iraq. It seems that even though troops are trying to quell the violence, we always read about another upsurge of a violent terrorist attack and a suicide bombing, and it's been going on for a long time.
Verse 14 is part of God's answer to the prophet. Just as he said, eventually I'm going to wipe out the Babylonians, the second part of the answer is what God's going to do in the future. "For the Earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." A very similar verse to a passage in Isaiah Chapter 11.
And if you remember back, Isaiah Chapter 11 is in part a description of the kingdom age, the millennial reign of Christ on the Earth. And in that chapter, it reads, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the Earth shall be filled of the knowledge of the Lord as waters cover the sea."
So that's part of God's answer to the prophet. Habakkuk, one day I will eradicate not only evil from Babylonia, and not just from Judah, but over the whole Earth I will deal with it. So Habakkuk, I'm going to deal with it eventually. In the meantime, lift up your eyes to the horizon and look to the future. And from now until then, live by faith, not by unbelief.
"Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk that you may look on his nakedness. You are filled with shame instead of glory. You also drink and be exposed as uncircumcised. The cup of the Lord's right hand will be turned against you, and utter shame will be on your glory."
So this is the fourth woe against a seductive spirit that is enticing the other nations with the greed and the spoils of war that they were enjoying. Enticing them to sin. "For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you, and the plunder of beasts which made them afraid because of men's blood and the violence of the land and the city and all who dwell in it."
"What profit is in the image that its maker should carve it? The molded image, a teacher of lies, that the maker of its mold should trust in it to make mute idols. Woe to him who says to wood, oh, wake to silence stone, arise. And it shall teach. Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, yet there's no breath at all. But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the Earth keep silence before him."
This fifth woe against Babylon is the most severe of all, because it's the idolatry that they were so famous for. They made so many icons and statues, overlaid them with gold, and they were very impressive. Only one problem. They were lifeless. They were powerless. And so compare the living God to the lifeless idol. "The just shall live by faith" in the living God.
But woe to these people who follow after lifeless idols. They're dead. They're lifeless. And so they will become like them. So one is the path of lifelessness. One is the path of life. And the righteous, the just, shall live by faith in the living God. Thus, the righteous shall live.
So what a contrast. What a difference between two paths, two ways that God sets out. Path of faith and the path of unbelief. That is why the Bible says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Or literally, the fool has said in his heart, no God. Not really denying the existence of God as much as saying, I don't want anything to do with that God. I don't want Him.
If you went into a restaurant, and you had a very astute waitress who came by every few moments and filled up your coffee cup to the brim, after about the 15th or 16th time, you would probably put your hand over the cup and say, no more coffee. Or no coffee. You're not denying the existence or the reality of coffee. You're simply saying, I don't want any for myself. I'm done.
That's the idea of "the fool that's said in his heart, 'no God.'" The Babylonians said, no Yahweh. No God of the Hebrews. They were following their gods, the God of power, the God of greed, the God of injustice, and all of these idols, while Habakkuk was encouraged to follow that life of faith.
So the answer to the problem of evil is not in atheism. It's not in agnosticism. It's not in deism. It's not in a false kind of theology. The answer is in-- let's call it biblical realism, and here it is. Yes, evil exists. And yes, a good God exists. And one day in His own perfect time, that good God will eradicate all evil from off the Earth and judge fairly, and rule and reign in righteousness.
Until that time, live by faith in that God who will one day fill the Earth with the knowledge of the Lord as waters cover the sea. So "the just shall live by trust or faith."
Now Habakkuk Chapter 3, this little book concludes with a psalm, and it's very reminiscent of one of the Psalms of David, because you're going to notice three times in it the little word selah. And you recognize that from the Psalms. Selah was probably a musical break.
So perhaps and only perhaps-- we don't know for sure. We don't know a lot about Habakkuk himself. But perhaps he was a Levite. Perhaps he was part of the Levitical choir. Because the way this is written-- and there's a musical notation-- we'll get to it-- called [INAUDIBLE] written here in Verse 1-- which is a song set to very lively music for public worship in the temple.
Perhaps he was a Levite. And this revelation of the just living by faith turn now into a psalm of praise and waiting upon God was used for public worship. So a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet on [INAUDIBLE], that song set to music with a lively melody.
Let me just issue sort of a challenge or a hope. Those of you who are musicians and love to look through the psalms and find great expressions of worship and praise, go through this chapter and let the Lord speak to you in it. And wouldn't it be great to see emerging from this chapter as you musicians meditate on the word of God some fresh expression using this portion of the word of God in praise and worship?
It sure meant a lot to Habakkuk as God told him how to deal with his problem of evil. He says in Verse 2, "Oh Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid. Oh Lord, revive your work in the midst of years. In the midst of the years, make it known. In wrath, remember mercy."
"Revive your work," or literally, renew your work. Let it live. Lord, when I heard what you were doing, I thought, I don't get it. And Lord, I still don't quite get it. But whatever you're doing, do it.
If the Babylonians coming means that it's going to correct our nation, then do it. But Lord, when you do it, inject enough mercy in your wrath. "Remember mercy. In your wrath, remember mercy."
God, Verse 3, came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah or musical rest. "His glory covered the Heavens, and the Earth was full of His praise." His brightness was like the light. He had rays flashing from his hand, and there his power was hidden.
Now some people when looking at this chapter see it as purely prophetic, it having to do with the great tribulation period, the judgment that will come upon the Earth and what God will do in those latter days. And it is very descriptive of that. Other people regard this chapter as purely historic, fulfilled. I think it's both.
And so often in the word of God, that which is historic becomes prophetic. Remember the analogy of the glasses. You can look up in one section. That's when you get to be my age. And you look down at the bottom, and that's for reading close. And then you lift your eyes toward the top of those glasses, you see afar. And so many of the prophets include both in their writings, a near and a far fulfillment.
"Before him went pestilence and fever followed at his feet." The prophet goes back to the Exodus. When the Lord came from Paran and Teman those places, those mountainous places that bordered the southern part of Israel, the Sinai Mountains-- there's a picture of God coming from the mountains to meet with Moses, and through plagues and pestilence, teaching the Egyptians a thing or two, delivering the children of Israel.
"He stood and he measured the Earth. He looked and he startled the nations. And the everlasting mountains were scattered. The perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction. The curtains of the land of Midian trembled." Now tents and curtains speak of the Bedouins, the nomads that wander around from place to place in their tent. They don't have any single dwelling place.
But here's the idea. All of the nations that heard and saw the children of Israel marching across the Sinai desert, once they were delivered out of Egypt, all of them were in dread. They shook. It got their attention.
Now here's the interesting thing. The 10 out of the 12 spies that spied out the land when Moses sent them over into the promised land, [INAUDIBLE], 10 of them came back, and they said something very revealing. They said, we saw the inhabitants of the land. They're huge. And we are like grasshoppers in their sight and in our sight. Those 10 spies saw a big enemy and a little God.
But two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, saw a great big God and little midget giants in comparison to God. But those 10 spies believed that the people of the lands looked at the children of Israel as grasshoppers. Little, minuscule, insignificant.
40 years later under Joshua when they finally end up in Jericho and the two spies are protected by Rahab, she tells them the truth. She said, you know, every one of us have been in dread and in fright because of the things we heard about your God and delivering you from Egypt.
Now the 10 spies believed the exact opposite of the reality. God had gone before them and shook those peoples. But it was unbelief that caused them to see themselves as small in their own eyes.
"Oh, Lord, you were displeased with the rivers. Was your anger against the rivers? Was your wrath against the sea that you rode on your horses, your chariots of salvation?" A poetic description of God parting the Red Sea and eventually the Jordan River.
"Your bow was made quite ready. Oaths were sworn over your arrows. You divided the Earth with rivers. The mountains saw you and trembled. The overflowing of the water passed by. The deep uttered its voice and lifted its hands on high. The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation. At the light of your arrows, they went. The shining of your glittering spear."
This refers to that long day of Joshua. In Joshua Chapter 10, remember when they were before Gibeon and Joshua cried out and said to the sun and the moon, stand still over the valley of Aijalon, and that day was lengthened.
And it's interesting that virtually every nation in that part of the world from Egypt all the way to India with the ancient Hindus talk about the long day in their history. And it's interesting that even Professor Pickering of Harvard University says that there is one day in the astronomical charts that is unaccounted for that he traces back to the long day of Joshua.
And here's the idea. The history of the people of Israel is being traced here. Look, God. You delivered us in the past. Here's my hymn of praise. You were so powerful in Egypt. You're going to be powerful when the Babylonians take us captive, and you're going to be powerful throughout our history. You're a mighty God. You're in charge. You're in control. You did it once, you'll do it again.
"You marched through the land in indignation. You trampled the nations in anger. You went forth for the salvation of your people, for the salvation with your anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked by laying bare from foundation to neck.
You thrust through with His own arrows the head of His villages. They came out like a whirlwind to scatter me. Their rejoicing was like feasting on the poor in secret. You walked through the sea with your horses, through the heap of great waters.
When I heard, my body trembled. My lips quivered at the voice. Rottenness entered my bones, and I trembled in myself that I might rest in the day of trouble when he comes up to the people. He will invade them with His troops."
As the prophet gets the entire gist of what God is going to do to them, he's shaken up by it. It bothers him. It's hard to stand by and see that great stroke of God's judgment as the Babylonians would override and overrun God's people.
But the last part of the book is the culmination from gloom to glory. He has moved from anxiety to perplexity, but now to ecstasy. It's the best part. Actually, this is the other great part. If [INAUDIBLE] is that great doctrinal statement, then here's a great statement of rejoicing in any condition.
"Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, though the labor of the olive may fail and the field yield no food, though the flock may be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice," or exult in Hebrew. Jump for joy. Spin around. A hallelujah jig.
"I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength. He will make my feet like deer's feet. He will make me walk on my high hills to the chief musician with my stringed instruments."
He looks ahead. He sees the Babylonians coming. He doesn't understand the means that God is going to use to judge His own people, the Jews. But he does trust in the motives of God, and that's important. Sometimes we question the means that God uses to do His work. Why would God do that? I don't get it. But never question God's motive.
Here the prophet ends in faith. He begins with a furrowed brow. He ends with his hands raised. I'm going to rejoice in the Lord. Though I know the Babylonians are coming and they're going to strip the vines and the fig trees and the olive groves, and they're going to wipe us out with our animals in the stalls, I, he says, will rejoice not in my situation, not in the sorrowful condition and the temporary punishment. I'll rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation.
When we face trouble and our first instinct is, oh, Lord, how can I get out of this? Stop and think. Hold on to those things you know to be true about God. God's holy. He's my God. I'm under his new covenant, the blood of the cross. He has a plan for me. He has a plan to deal with the evil.
In the meantime, I'm going to trust. The just shall trust. That will bring a level of joy as you commit it to the Lord. Your eyes are off of what you see, and by faith, you see him. And the joy comes from him.
So instead of, how can I get out of this? Lord, what can I get out of this? What are you trying to teach me? So from perplexity to anxiety, and now to ecstasy, how? The same journey as the prophet. The life of faith.
Now you know, we do suffer. In this world, you will have tribulation. That's a promise for you from the word of God. It's not a promise you like to hear, but it is a promise. In this world, you will have tribulation.
However, do you know that suffering in the hands of a loving God can result in some of the most marvelous work of God in your life? God can take and use the most horrible situations and bring about great good.
And if you think about it, God proved that on himself. God played by His own rules God show that the very worst thing that could ever happen in human history could actually become the best thing. I'm talking about the cross. When God died, that could be regarded as the greatest historic tragedy. Deicide. God was killed on a cross.
But God showed that what could be regarded as the greatest tragedy was actually the greatest blessing, because it opened wide the doors of salvation to anyone who would believe in the finished work on that cross. God showed that He can take the worst situation and work the best.
If God can do that at Calvary, then God over and over again in our lives can bring great good out of what we think is horrible. God, I don't get it. I don't understand. Shh. The just shall trust. Live by faith. Your joy will go sky high when you learn to commit what you don't understand to God. And just hold on to those things you do, understand.
Let's pray together. Heavenly Father, what a marvelous journey that this prophet took, and how thankful we are that the spirit of God has recorded these things for our understanding, our learning.
Lord, we confess that so often we live by sight rather than faith. We look around. We're distressed. We look within. We get depressed. So Lord, cause us to look to Jesus that we might be at rest. In His name we pray. Amen.
Shall we stand? Faith, the answer. The key to victory. The key to a peaceful life. As long as you are struggling with the issues and the circumstances, there will be that inner turmoil.
It's not until you come to that place of commitment, just trusting the Lord to take care of it, recognizing your own inability, but recognizing His ability then you'll have peace. You'll have rest. Up until then, you'll be constantly striving with the issues of life that we can't understand.
God wants you to have His peace. Jesus said "Peace, I give to you, I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled." Faith. May the Lord increase our faith.
Maybe you are going through trouble. Maybe there is unrest. God wants to work in that situation if you'll just have faith and trust him to do it. The pastors are down here to pray for you, to minister to you tonight, that you might experience the help of God, the strength of God, and the work of God in your life, that you might go from here at peace, knowing that it is in His hands, and that He does all things well.
So as soon as we're dismissed, again, we would encourage you, come on down. Spend some time in prayer. Let these men minister to you with those circumstances that have you troubled and worried that God might just take them and relieve you from the pressures and the worries, the anxieties that come to us in dealing with our issues in life. May the Lord be with you, watch over and keep you, entering into this season of the year when the malls are just a mess.
Shopping is just a chore. People are so frantic. May you experience the peace of God and the wisdom and the help and the strength that He wants to give to you.
(SINGING) Our God is an awesome God. He reins from Heaven above with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God. Our God is an awesome God. He reins from Heaven above with wisdom power, and love. Our God is an awesome God. Our God is an