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How long, O Lord . . .?

 

Jim Davis

 

Habakkuk 1:1-4

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (NIV)

 

The name Habakkuk means to "embrace" or "wrestle." Habakkuk's name has everything to do with the message of the book.1 Habakkuk is a righteous man who has embraced God's law, but he is wrestling with God ways. He respects God and does what is right, but it is getting him nowhere. It is the age-old wrestling match with God. "If God is good, then why is there evil in the world?" If there has to be evil, then why does it prosper at the expense of the righteous? As Habakkuk wrestles with God's ways, he cries out: "How long, O Lord, must I cry for help, but you do not listen . . . you do not save  . . . you make me look at injustice . . . you tolerate wrong . . . your the law is impotent . . . the righteous suffer and justice is perverted." Habakkuk is in despair as he contemplates the evil around him.

 

How many of God's people are in despair today as they wrestle with the ways of a gracious God and the progression of evil in our society? Many may want to believe the longsuffering of God's grace tolerates and embraces wrong. What righteous person can behold the violence and injustice in our society without feeling a sense of outrage? This last decade of the century is certainly not one over which the faithful are rejoicing. There is sin, wickedness, destruction and there is no justice in the courts, and the wicked outnumber the righteous. And prosperity is at an all time high. God's law is ignored and his standard is no longer the rule. All the preaching that is being done is having little effect.

 

There is no way that a righteous person can witness such wickedness and not question God. The only natural question for a faithful person is "How long, O Lord, will you tolerate it?" Habakkuk is questioning God; he is wrestling with God's ways. Those who are trusting God aren't idly sitting by with a stoic kind of faith refusing to question God.

 

The Judgement of God Is Coming

 

Habakkuk 1:5-11

"Look at the nations and watch-- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on-- guilty men, whose own strength is their god." (NIV)

 

Obviously Habakkuk is prophesying during the days of Babylon. God tells the prophet, judgement is coming. It will come through the Babylonians. God is actually allowing the Babylonians to come into power to bring judgement upon Israel and possibly the surrounding world for their sin. The Babylonians are ruthless and they bring a fearful dread. They make their own laws to promote their own honor. They are guilty men whose own strength is their god. They are so powerful that no one can stop them. The judgement of God against Judah is for them to be punished by the wickedness of the wicked.

 

Habakkuk is probably hoping for a revival, but there is not going to be one. Judgement is coming; the time for revival is over. That is scary, what if the time for revival is over today? Most of us want a revival, but God may very well send judgement instead. Are you ready for the judgement of God?

 

The judgement of God is as much a part of the New Testament as it was in the Old Testament. The judgement of God is a part of the grace of God. God set in judgement on the seven churches of Asia. The church at Ephesus was told "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love . . . if you do not repent . . . " I will come in judgement. The church at Thyatira was judged because she allowed sexual immorality. The church at Sardis was judged for having a name for being alive but she was dead. Laodicea was judged for being lukewarm.

 

It is wonderful to be in the grip of God's grace, however, we must understand God's grip of grace also reveals his gracious grip of judgement for our sins. God's grip is gracious but it is also firm. God wishes to correct the sin in our lives. Grace in no way diminishes the need of God's gracious judgement to correct and discipline his church. Why should the judgement of God upon the church today surprise us? God's gracious judgement is designed to get us back on the strait and narrow that we might be saved from our own disgrace.

 

Many of us who are preaching for revival may need to be preparing for the judgement of God. You may say, "I don't like the tone of this subject." That is exactly how Habakkuk felt too.

 

Habakkuk 1:12-13

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. 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? (NIV)

 

It is hard to accept the judgement of God! As bad as God hates wickedness, it is hard to fathom how God can use wickedness of the wicked to punish his children. Habakkuk was recoiling at the idea of God using the wicked to punish his people. Habakkuk saw God's people as being more righteous than the Babylonians and it was hard for him to accept the judgement of God. Habakkuk is thinking, "After all we are God's people and they are heathen!" He is asking God "How can you tolerate the treacherous?" How can you be silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

 

The prophet is questioning and probing for a better answer to his complaint: "I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint." (Habakkuk 2:1 NIV)

 

Judgement is coming, but it will begin at the house of God.

 

1 Peter 4:17-19

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (NIV)

 

They Will Get Theirs Too! (2:2-20)

 

God answers the prophet's complaint by reassuring him that the Babylonians would get theirs too. How many times do we feel that judgement is too long in coming? But it will happen; as sure as God exists. The scary part is that the wickedness of the wicked can be used by God to discipline his children. Waiting for them to get theirs holds little consolation when we are the ones being judged by God.

 

In answering Habakkuk's complaint, God assures him of his punishment for the Babylonians. God will punish all wickedness, but before God comes in judgement upon his children he is going to allow the wickedness of the wicked to punish his children. God describes the wickedness of the Babylonians and pronounces judgement upon them.

 

Woe to Babylon's pride. God says, "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright--but the righteous will live by his faith--indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest." (Habakkuk 2:4-5a NIV)

 

Pride causes us to use and abuse others.2 The Babylonians were content to build their empire on the blood of anyone who got in the way. Their pride went before their destruction.

 

Woe to Babylon's greed. "Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples. "Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, "Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?' Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim. Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them." (Habakkuk 2:5b-8 NIV)

 

The Babylonians were never content with the size of their empire. They tried to conquer more and more. Greed is “the logical result of the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can while we can however we can and then hold on to it hard.”3 But those they conquer will eventually rise up to punish them.

 

Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.

 

Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost.

 

As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth. In a few minutes he was dead. Afterwards, his servants dug a grave. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide. The title of Tolstoy’s story was: How Much Land Does a Man Need?

 

Woe to Babylon's dishonesty. "Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it." (Habakkuk 2:9-11 NIV)

 

She owned a string of hotels. She owned the Empire State Building. She was a billionaire. Yet, in September 1989 Leona Mindy Rosenthal Helmsley was convicted of 33 counts of tax evasion, for which she faced the possibility of being sent to prison for 100 years. According to Time magazine, she emerged as a penny-pinching tyrant who tried to stiff just about everybody. No amount of money was too small to fight over. After the sudden death of her only son at age 40 in 1982, she sued and won $149,000 of her son's estate, leaving his four children with $432 each and his widow with $2,171.

 

Woe to Babylon's violence! "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people's labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." (Habakkuk 2:12-14 NIV)

 

Woe to Babylon's sensuality! "Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD's right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory." (Habakkuk 2:15-16 NIV)

 

God's judgement against Babylon is sure. "Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD's right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them." (Habakkuk 2:16-17 NIV)

 

Woe to the person who trusts in his own creation. "Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, 'Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, 'Wake up!' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." (Habakkuk 2:18-20 NIV)

 

Those practicing idolatry looked to everything but God to make life work, and so do we. We should have no problem relating to the condition of ancient Babylon, as it is a universal description of evil.4

 

The mark of our proud society is that we think we deserve better and we want more and more. We will do anything to get it.5

 

There is no doubt in Habakkuk's mind about the judgement of God against the wicked. He also comprehends how God can allow the wickedness of the wicked to punish his children.

 

How do you prepare for the judgement of God? What is a sound strategy for survival?

 

The Just Shall Live By Faith

 

In Habakkuk 2:4 God says the just shall live by faith. In chapter 3 the prophet offers a prayer of praise to God, which reveals his commitment to live by faith. In this prayer of praise he acknowledges who is in charge.

 

Habakkuk 3:3-6

God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal. (NIV)

 

Knowing God is in charge gives Habakkuk strength to carry on. Habakkuk made a commitment to suffer according to God's will and committed himself to his creator. He exemplifies Peter's admonition.

 

1 Peter 4:17-19

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (NIV)

 

Habakkuk had determined to live by faith in God's sovereignty. What do we do today when things go awry in the church, when things don't go the way we think they should? Do we hold out on God? Do we refuse to serve? Do we refuse to give? Do we look for another congregation? We have so many floating Christians that never seem to be able to stay anywhere very long? Do we refuse to be faithful to God when things don't go our way? Do we have the heart to pray for God's people asking the Lord to remember mercy and grace in his wrath? Habakkuk understood his need to be faithful right where he stood. Habakkuk was committed to working it out.

 

The prophet prays for mercy as he wrestles with God's ways. "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. 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." (Habakkuk 3:1-2 NIV)

 

Habakkuk is afraid: "I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled." (3:16a)

 

In his fear he commits himself to trust in the Lord: "Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us." (3:16b)

 

He commits himself to rejoice in the Lord: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior." (3:17-18)

 

He relies on the strength of God: "The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights." (3:19)

 

Conclusion:

 

What is coming is frightening, but Habakkuk commits himself to wait and trust in God. In the beginning of the lesson, I pointed out that Habakkuk's name meant to "embrace" or "wrestle." Throughout the book he has wrestled with God's way and now he makes a commitment to embrace God's ways as he trust in him.

 

Think of all those who decided to be faithful as the judgement of God came upon his people from Babylon. Think of those who suffered through God's judgement as Babylon over ran Jerusalem. Jeremiah and Daniel were there when judgement came, and they were not alone. They remained faithful. Standing alone when outnumbered is a lonely experience. Elijah felt as if he were the only faithful one left, but God told him that there were 7,000 who had not bowed their knee to Baal. It is comforting knowing God knew the name of each of the seven thousand.

 

In our day of religious confusion, the only thing we may have left is to make a personal commitment to remain faithful to God as he disciplines the church.


 


1 Hampton Keathley IV, Th.M., Habakkuk, http://www.bible.org/docs/ot/books/minorp/hab.htm

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

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