Sunday, May 2, 2021 Brad Barrett
Habakkuk’s Lament and Joy
Two weeks ago my wife and I were at a retreat for pastors and their wives down in Des Moines at Living History Farms.
During the worship time, one of the women in the music team shared a brief but intense story.
Years ago during their church service, police came in and arrested her husband in front of the whole church for some illicit activity he had participated in. Now here she was standing telling us this terrible story, but with a joy in her heart.
Not joy over the horrific circumstances. But joy for how good the Lord had been to her over the years. She worshiped the Lord
Then later in our retreat, the other woman on the worship team shared a recent story of their 26-year old daughter who was rushed to the hospital with some mysterious heart problem that nearly killed her. But here is this mom rejoicing over God’s goodness, God who watched over their daughter and them during those intensely stressful days. She, too, worshiped the Lord.
Afterwards I was amazed. Not amazed that these two women suffered. Everyone endures suffering and hardship..
I was amazed at God, that he showed up in their lives in their times of crises in the months and years that followed. Both of them were able to worship God through it all.
I sat there and wondered, Where else but with Christ’s people can we find such perseverance, faith, and joy in the face of indescribable suffering.
This morning we are going to read a book from the OT called Habakkuk.
Habakkuk is a prophet of God who personally witnessed and experienced much suffering.
His book is not theoretical. It is not mere academics. His book is intensely honest and painful, yet we find this man contemplating who his God is, and in the end, his heart is filled with worship towards our God.
Habakkuk’s book is much different from the other prophets. In a way, it’s like some of the psalms, e.g., Psalm 13, a lament and a cry for justice in the world.
Look at verse 1:
1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
First, who is Habakkuk?
Like some of the other prophets, like Obadiah and Nahum, we know virtually nothing about him.
- Lived in 600’s B.C.
The precise time frame of his ministry is unknown. It was sometime in the 600’s B.C., but a more precise dating has been hotly debated.
- He ministered sometime before Judah was taken in to exile by the Babylonian empire. This exile was promised by God as judgment on Judah’s sin.
(Judah was part of the nation of Israel.)
- The Babylonians defeated the great Assyrian empire, including their capital city, Ninevah.
(Matt looked at this last week in Nahum.)
- Depending on when in the 600’s he ministered, he may have been a contemporary of Nahum, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah
Habakkuk’s First Complaint
That’s a brief background of the prophet and the book.
We will start with a complaint by Habakkuk to the Lord.
We may think all complaining is bad, but I would call this a “holy complaint” because he took his grief straight to God in prayer and by faith.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
Habakkuk here is looking at his own nation of Judah. The people have so disregarded God’s law that violence is now prevalent. Destruction, strife, contention, and injustice surrounds him.
To be surrounded by such evil and to see your own people enslaved to sin is a terribly grieving experience.
So Habakkuk is pouring out his heart to the Lord…like in some of the Psalms. Psalms of Lament.
Habakkuk is saying, “God, when will you do something? I keep praying and praying, and nothing is changing!”
It’s a bold prayer, but it’s honest. And he honors God by looking upward for answers instead of bottling it up and letting it crush him, or merely complaining to people.
The Lord’s Response
Now the Lord answers. But it’s not the answer Habakkuk wanted.
5 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
9 They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
The Lord answers Habakkuk’s prayer and says, “Look out to the nations. I am going to do something remarkable.
“I am going to raise up the Chaldeans to sweep through Judah in judgment.”
The Chaldeans were a people group that by this time in history are synonymous with the Babylonians. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was actually of Chaldean descent. The Chaldeans were themselves a proud, immoral, and violent people.
God is saying that because of all this evil that Habakkuk is seeing and grieving over, he is going to crush Judah in his wrath and send them into exile at the hands of another evil nation, these Chaldeans.
Habakkuk’s Second Complaint
Well, this is not at all the answer Habakkuk wanted.
So he offers another prayer of lament.
12 Are you not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?
14 You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
like crawling things that have no ruler.
15 He brings all of them up with a hook;
he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
and his food is rich.
17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net
and mercilessly killing nations forever?
Habakkuk says, “Lord, you are holy and pure. Why are you going to tolerate the Chaldeans? Why do you stand idly by, letting the wicked swallow up the righteous like a fisherman who throws out his net and captures a load of fish?”
Habakkuk ends his prayer with this conclusion:
2 I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
Like a soldier on guard duty on the watchpost, Habakkuk says I am going to stand here and wait for the Lord to answer my complaint. He has not flippantly complained. He has prayed, and he will wait for the Lord to answer him.
The Lord’s Response
So the Lord answered.
2 And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
5 “Moreover, wine is a traitor,
an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.”
On vs. 2-3:
What is this vision? It is not clear and there are several speculations on it.
- Habakkuk is to rewrite the Ten Commandments on tablets, like Moses did in Exodus. This Law, then, is to be proclaimed to the people that they may “run with it.”
- Or, vs. 4 may be the vision.
- Or perhaps the entire book.
On vs. 4
Verse 4 is a highlight verse in the book.
If you have read the NT, the second half of vs. 4 is quoted 3 times in the NT, all pointing to the subject of salvation. How are we saved? How are we forgiven? It is not by works. It is not by following the Law. It is by faith. Walking in a simple but heartfelt trust in God Almighty and his Son, Jesus Christ.
The Lord is contrasting two types of people, whether Chaldeans or Jews. A contrast of death and life. Anyone, whether from Babylon or Judah, whose “soul is puffed up”, who is arrogant and self-reliant will face judgment. But the righteous are those who live by faith. They are reliant on the Lord..
The Lord’s Five Woes
The Lord is not done responding to Habakkuk’s second complaint. Though it may seem cruel and unjust to bring the wicked Chaldeans to judge the wicked people of Judah, the Lord misses nothing. No evil escapes his eye. He will deal rightly and justly with all evil.
So the Lord issues five “woes” for the Chaldeans. A “woe” as used here in an announcement of judgment and doom.
So concerning these five “woes,” they confirm the truth of vs. 4, that the arrogant, those “puffed up,” will fall and the righteous will live by faithfulness to God.
In the form of Hebrew poetry, each woe is three verses. And in each woe, a general pattern appears:
- the sin is declared,
- God’s judgment is uttered
6 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him,
with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,
“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long?—
and loads himself with pledges!”
7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell in them.
Woe to those who are extorting money from others. Someday the tables will turn and they will be plundered.
9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
10 You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.
Woe to him who is greedy and sets himself above others, perching himself arrogantly above others and free from harm. He will be shamed because he has ruined many people.
12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity!
13 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Woe to those who build a city by violence and evil. All their work will be vanity and will will burn up. In the end, the Lord wins. The survivors all over the earth will know the glory of the Lord.
15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
in order to gaze at their nakedness!
16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.
Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!
The cup in the Lord’s right hand
will come around to you,
and utter shame will come upon your glory!
17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell in them.
Woe to those who have drunken orgies. They will be filled with utter shame, and their distance from the Lord will be revealed.
18 “What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it.
20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”
Woe to those who make and worship idols instead of the One True God. All such idols are dead and worthless. But the Lord is alive in glory in his holy temple, and let all be silent before him.
In these five intense woes of judgment, God assures Habakkuk that the Chaldeans and anyone else like them—even Israel and the Assyrian Empire (like Matt looked at last week)—- they all will be dealt with in holy justice. Be assured of that.
In the end, the Lord holds all nations accountable. Everyone will face judgment.
Isn’t this the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the NT? Like in Romans 3, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This is why people from every nation, starting with our own, need eternal life found only by those who believe in Jesus.
Jesus Christ came to take our “woes” on his own back, if only we will yield to him and believe. But if we ignore him, our “woes” will be brought on us. That is the gospel message.
Chapter 3: A Prayer
This third chapter is fascinating. It is a prayer of Habakkuk’s. But it is also a song. A psalm.
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
We don’t know what Shigionoth means, but it’s likely a musical term. So chapter 3 is Habakkuk’s prayer, and it was to be sung.
2 O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
This is his only request in the prayer. He has heard what God has done in the past. So he calls on the Lord to revive his people. In the Lord’s wrath, Habakkuk pleads for mercy.
3 God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
4 His brightness was like the light;
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
Here Habakkuk sings that God is mighty and glorious in his presence. The Lord is full of splendor and majesty, spreading across the heavens. He is brilliant in light.
Now we are about to read is a poetic and historical reflection on God’s righteous judgments on the nations throughout the centuries of Israel’s history. The poetic imagery is graphic.
5 Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed at his heels.
6 He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
the everlasting hills sank low.
His were the everlasting ways.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
8 Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Was your anger against the rivers,
or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
on your chariot of salvation?
9 You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows. Selah
You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
at the light of your arrows as they sped,
at the flash of your glittering spear.
From Joshua 10 in a battle against Ai.
12 You marched through the earth in fury;
you threshed the nations in anger.
13 You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
the surging of mighty waters.
Habakkuk recounts a history of God’s ferocious judgment against nations.
He is recalling to mind and declaring that for many, many centuries, God has faithfully shown his justice on the nations and his salvation on his people.
Such remembrance is a crucial part of re-building Habakkuk’s faith. Faith is not built on the theoretical or the wishful.
Faith is built on God’s nature as he has demonstrated in great works countless times in history. God has shown himself trustworthy over and over again.
For us today, the greatest act of God that we are to remember is the sending of his Son. The Apostle Paul told us,
Romans 8:32 ESV He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Paul says, “Remember what God has done by giving you his Son to save you. Since he has done that, surely you can trust him with all other things?”
Slide (Habakkuk 3:1-19 again)
What is Habakkuk’s reaction to this remembrance of God’s great works of holy judgment over the centuries?
16 I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
As he considered the holiness and glory of God in the fury of his wrath against his enemies over the centuries, Habakkuk loses it. His whole body trembles. His lips quiver. His bones feel like they’re rotting.
But remarkably, in spite of the emotional and physical response, he says, “Yet I will wait quietly.” By faith he is patient, waiting for the Day of Judgment to come on the Chaldeans who will first invade Judah and bring great violence and oppression upon them.
Now we are going to read the most beautiful and stunning part of Habakkuk’s writing.
In the midst of all his complaints to the Lord…Following all the Lord’s responses about judgment…Though Judah is still suffering…Because God has always been faithful to judge with perfect equity…Habakkuk offers up these most memorable words….some of the more memorable words in the Bible when we face our own suffering and injustice.
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
In the face of all that Habakkuk is enduring and witnessing…evil, oppression, violence, injustices…in the face of all that.. Habakkuk worships.
Even if there are no figs on the trees and cattle in the stalls…essentially economic disaster, leading to desperation and starvation…even then, he will rejoice the God of his salvation. Even in the worst of times, he will worship.
God has made Habakkuk like a deer or a mountain goat scaling the heights of the mountains with incredible sure-footedness. He has found strength in the Lord.
Though his outside world has not changed and actually will get worse, his inside world has changed.
As I studied Habakkuk the past two weeks, I have wondered why I have spent so little time over the years reading it and meditating on it. I have missed out on something great.
Two weeks ago when my wife and I were at that retreat in Des Moines, we sang one song where my heart was gripped by some simple lyrics.
We sang, “I will praise you in the valley.”
I was challenged by that. It’s what Habakkuk concluded. I will praise you even when I am in a deep valley. I will praise you even while I am suffering. I will praise you even when life is painful.
In the end, Habakkuk discovered that God was enough. God’s presence, his love, his power, and his mercy are enough.
Trouble is always going to find us, isn’t it? Will we, like Habakkuk, seek the Lord even with holy complaint and wait for him to answer until we, too, discover that the Lord is enough??
I want to make some applications for our lives today. Learning from Habakkuk and some of the psalmists as they worked through their complaints and griefs in the midst of suffering, here is what we can do.
- Learn to complain rightly.
There is a huge difference between “fleshly complaining” and “holy complaining.” One is grumbling and complaining in my heart. I whine to a friend. The other is taking those same complaints in prayer straight to God. So read the Psalms and learn to imitate them.
We start by praying honestly and sometimes with tears and anger, like Habakkuk:
- “How long, Lord? I can’t take it anymore.”
- “Why, Lord?” Why are you doing this and allowing this suffering to continue?
- “Don’t you care, Lord?” It feels like you simply don’t care about me and have forgotten me.
The Lord loves to hear our voices as our good Father. Call out to him, and he will bless you. And after you complain, wait for the Lord. Don’t give up. We may go through periods of drought in our souls, but the Lord will not forsake us.
At the end of his prayers and complaints, and after remembering the Lord’s deeds, Habakkuk said this:
“Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.”
May we be like Habakkuk who was committed to wait for the Lord until he answered and resolved the dilemma.
- Remember the Lord.
Like Habakkuk did in Chapter 3, he recounted the deeds of the Lord, what God had done over the centuries to watch over Israel.
Suffering makes us cry out Why? And How long? Yet the answers to those questions do not ultimately satisfy.
So in the end, we need more than that. After all our weeping and striving, we will find that we need the God of all comfort and power. So we must remember him. We must know him better.
How to do this?
One place we do this is through the Word of God guided by the Holy Spirit. We reflect on the truth and beauty and wisdom of God as revealed in the Word of God. And then God’s Spirit penetrates it into our soul and our spirit.
And one specific thing to focus on is what Jesus has done for us. How he has loved us, forgiven us, saved us, sanctified us, chosen us.
Read Romans 8 for starters. Vs. 31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God is for you. He is on your side. Nothing can thwart that. Remember him this morning as we break bread in a few minutes to remember Jesus.
Remember the Lord as we read, listen, study, meditate on, and memorize the Word of God.
Slide Habakkuk watched the suffering and evil in Judah for years, and more was to come.
- But he chose to worship. To rejoice even when all looked darkest.
Habakkuk worshiped. He found renewed hope from the Lord to trust in him. He was able to because he saw the beauty and majesty and justice of God. He saw a faithful God who had been good to Israel for centuries. And who would continue to bring good. God had saved Israel before, and he would save them again. So he worshiped.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines…
though there be no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will take joy in the God of my salvation
Let me conclude with this. In our pain and suffering, there is no Easy Button.
But God is calling us to know him. To seek him. To learn about his goodness and power. To know experientially his justice and faithfulness. To know him personally and intimately…more and more as the years go on.
This does not always come easily. But it will come.
As we know him…as we complain rightly…as we remember him…as we wait patiently…we will learn more each passing year that, even in our darkest days, he is worthy of praise.
We will find that….
“God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.”
Habakkuk 3:19 (ESV)