God's ways are not our ways: Habakkuk had a problem: how could יהוה allow evil to continue? [OHP] Then יהוה gave His answer: He would judge evil using the Babylonians. Habakkuk cried to יהוה, and יהוה answered. It is wonderful that God hears and answers, He responds to our cry. But when He speaks it takes us by surprise, it is hardly ever what we would expect or what we would have worked out (cf. v.5) – if it were, God would be like man – and He is not! יהוה answered Habakkuk and Habakkuk didn't like it, this was not the answer that Habakkuk expected. He had a problem: "How could יהוה allow evil to continue?" but to him the solution was worse than the problem! He took exception to this solution, so he went back to יהוה with his complaint [read 1:12-2:1]. So it is like a dialogue: Habakkuk speaks to יהוה and יהוה replies, then Habakkuk speaks to יהוה again. But why was this answer so unexpected? [OHP] What was so terrible about this answer? What was so shocking? יהוה has always judged evil in His people and used other nations to do it – so why did Habakkuk get so upset by this answer? A prophecy of judgement doesn't seem that unusual to us. What was Habakkuk's problem? He'd cried to יהוה out for judgement and justice, and יהוה agreed. Now that יהוה is going to do something about it, he complains! What was Habakkuk's problem? יהוה reveals to Habakkuk that he is rousing the Babylonians to wreak his judgement on Judah. It is an astonishing turn of events. The key is that it was the Babylonians. It was the fact that יהוה was using the Babylonians as His instrument of judgement that Habakkuk found so disturbing. Habakkuk was appalled, because he knew about the cruelty and wickedness of the Chaldeans. What concerned him was יהוה's character. How could a holy God use such an unholy nation whose actions would be so indiscriminate that men more righteous than they would be swallowed up? It all goes back to Habakkuk's righteous soul, his sense of justice – how could a just God allow someone worse to punish those better than themselves? This is not what Habakkuk expected from a holy and just God. You know... יהוה's answer is seldom what we would expect – Habakkuk didn't like יהוה's answer. We seldom do. יהוה's answer is not what we expect. Whenever God speaks it is utterly other – not what I would have worked out. יהוה can totally change your way of thinking with one question, cut through all your ideas with one statement. God doesn't do things the way we do. Habakkuk asks a second question. How can God possibly use the forces of evil to carry out his holy judgements? How can He watch people being treated like fish in a net? Especially when those who gleefully catch the fish not only live in luxury, but worship the net that gives them success. Convinced of the righteousness of his complaint, Habakkuk stationed himself and waited for יהוה’s reply. Habakkuk stations himself before God like a watchman (2:1), to await his word. He is rewarded with the assurance that God is working out his purpose.
יהוה is too pure to even look at evil – v.12 Habbakuk knew יהוה! Knew his God - יהוה was his personal God (note "my". He knew יהוה's character and nature – his prayer to Him is based on His unchanging character: His purity, His eternity, His sovereignty, His justice, His holiness, His righteousness. Habakkuk was in relationship with יהוה: he spoke to Him, was utterly open and honest about how he felt, and was fully assured that יהוה would respond and speak back to him. There is an intimacy with that is characteristic of the prophet and intercessor. v.13 - Habakkuk knew His Lord. From his personal relationship knew His nature and character. He knew יהוה was holy! Pure! יהוה could not tolerate sin, can’t even look upon wickedness - for even to behold it would sully His purity. Even to look upon wickedness defiles. יהוה IS HOLY! יהוה IS PURE! How, in our concept of Him in His grace and mercy, we have compromised His absolute purity, holiness, righteousness and utter separation from all that is evil. We don’t know יהוה at all! Not like Habakkuk did! Yet with this absolute righteousness, purity and justice there seemed to be an inconsistency with allowing the wicked to devour those more righteous than themselves. Habakkuk had a theological dilemma, a paradox - but the one thing he did not do was to abandon his concept of a holy righteous God. He could not reconcile it so he cried to the LORD about this dilemma but he did not abandon the God he knew and what he knew to be true of His nature. He did not compromise his concept of God to make it fit in with the world situation he saw - unlike many "Christians" today. יהוה is who He is! That is fixed, inviolable! If that brings you to an impasse, a logical, moral, spiritual inconsistency; then go to יהוה in prayer for the solution - don’t alter your concept of who He is, or alter your theology that is based on the Scriptures - to do so is to create a god after your own design (a la liberal, prosperity teachers etc.). How can a holy and just God allow the wicked to triumph over the righteous? Does this mean that God is not just? Does this mean יהוה is allowing wickedness to triumph? This is a real theological dilemma.
What about the wicked instruments of judgement? A just God judges His people, but what about those He uses to do the judging?
Past Let's look at the past, the context of Habakkuk's day: v.12 - Having received יהוה’s reply to his complaint against the evil in Judah, Habakkuk is even more outraged that some nation even more wicked than Judah can be allowed to punish them - that doesn’t seem like justice! How can the unrighteous be allowed to punish those more righteous than themselves? Habakkuk knew of the Babylonians, their reputation for brutality and glorying in violence had reached him. Habakkuk was given a picture of the coming judgement - it seemed to him that Judah would be exterminated! Yet this could not be, because the eternal God had promised. So Habakkuk knew from the Word of יהוה that "we will not die". יהוה is eternal! He knows the end from the beginning - how things will turn out. He had made an everlasting covenant with Abraham and Israel. True יהוה had appointed Babylon to judge them, to punish them, but there could not be total annihilation - יהוה was their Rock - a foundation that would not fail them despite the structure built on it being severely shaken in the day of judgement (cf. Heb 12:22-29). Although יהוה is Almighty, Eternal; Habakkuk knew Him personally, was in close relationship. This personal knowledge, that provided Habakkuk with assurance of salvation, faith in God’s promises and mercy to His own. Despite judgement, there would be mercy (cf. 3:2). "We will not die" – Habakkuk knew that יהוה 's purposes centred in His people, He had made an eternal covenant with Abraham, a promise that could not be annulled – therefore the Jews could not be wiped out altogether despite the judgement that He would execute through the Babylonians. You cannot wipe out the Jews – Haman tried, so did Hitler – but they did not succeed. יהוה is from everlasting, so the continued existence of His people is assured. He appointed the Babylonians to correct them and judge them, but יהוה would never abandon them. Habakkuk knew that יהוה could not allow this and he interceded with יהוה on this premise. But יהוה was silent! How could He stand back and do nothing?
v.14,15 - The ruthless savagery of the Chaldean is pictured. Like a fisherman with rod and net, the Babylonian sat beside a pond which God had abundantly stocked with human fish. Pulling up fish after fish, and eating to heart’s content, he dumped out the surplus on the bank to die. How long would this outrage of waste of human life go on and this brutality go unchecked by God’s righteous intervention? The earth swarms with people just as the sea does with fish. יהוה has made a sea of humanity - millions of individuals - weak and helpless in themselves - there for the picking for anyone who has organisation and leadership ability. Without a ruler to co-ordinate individuals’ weakness into combined strength of unity man is easy prey. Babylon (human authority and government, man-made empire, human co-operation and organisation into power) had co-ordinated its men into an invincible united fighting force - the individuals of the surrounding nations, with no effective ruler, were her’s for the taking. That is how it will be with anti-christ at the end – he will rule over and bring order to the mass of directionless humanity. V.15 - These helpless fish of the men of the nations are caught one by one by the Babylonians - he hooks them, catches them in his net and rejoices in his conquest, subjugating his fellow man. He feels no conscience or remorse but rather delights in war and military conquest simply for its own sake. This was no nation executing careful judgement on יהוה’s behalf - this was a wicked nation who gloried in violence, taking delight in the destruction of human life. Habakkuk was outraged!
- v.16 - Violence and military conquest is so enjoyed and delighted in by Babylon that it had become an end in itself - they ended up worshipping war, military might, their own invincibility - it became their god! They ended up worshipping their means of taking other humans’ lives [cf. Daniel 11:37,38He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the desire of women, nor will he show regard for any other god; for he will magnify himself above them all. But instead he will honour a god of fortresses, a god whom his fathers did not know; he will honour him with gold, silver, costly stones and treasures.]. Military might was their god - for this god provided their needs - kept them living in luxury by the booty of war that they had captured. Canaanites worshipped Baal for he ensured crops that were the means of their livelihood; similarly the Babylonians worshipped their god "war" because it was it that provided them with plenty – a god who looked after them and their self interests. Man worships what gives him what he wants, makes that his god. But we do not worship יהוה because He provides for us or because He gives us what we want but because He is who He is! I AM! Because He is God !!
v.17 Habakkuk cries out: "How long can this go on?" (cf. v.2) – it seemed to be going on forever. Although it hasn’t happened yet, in vision Habakkuk has seen what will take place - the relentless advance of the Babylonian army, the continuous slaughter, the endless conquest. Will this wicked nation keep on forever conquering, destroying, killing humans more righteous than themselves? Never relenting, never showing mercy? Will יהוה’s judgement go on forever? Will there be no mercy or pity for the lives being destroyed (cf. 3:2). Habakkuk’s question is placed before יהוה - he now awaits יהוה’s response.
2:1 Habakkuk was a watchman - he stationed himself on the walls to look to see what was coming to God’s people - be it calamity or good - he would announce it to the nation. He would give advance notice of what was coming because he was on the lookout spiritually, alert, watching, reading the signs of the time, listening to what יהוה was saying. How we need such men today. יהוה "spoke" but Habakkuk "looked" - יהוה seems to have communicated to him through visions (cf. 1:1). Habakkuk was at his "guard-post", on the defense walls. Men who are on the look-out spiritually are needed for the protection of the Church, the defense of the faith, men with spiritual insight - so that the people may be warned, on guard, prepared to withstand the attack that would otherwise catch them unawares. The prophet sees what is coming because he is alert, on the lookout constantly, because he hears what יהוה says. Habakkuk expected to be reproved for his complaint against יהוה’s justice because he'd been so audacious in questioning God, and have to give an answer for why he had made this complaint. But he was bold, not ashamed to be honest with God. We need bold watchmen who know their God, who intercede on the basis of His unchanging character.
Present It helps to see the enormity of the injustice that Habakkuk felt if we compare it with situations closer to our own day – who was worse: Hitler or the Jews/Britain?USA – yet Hitler brought significant suffering whilst he himself prospered. How can God let Hitler prevail and destroy His own people? You say, that Hitler was defeated – exactly, but at the time it didn't look that way. God used the evil to judge the more righteous. Then after the war, there was godly America, "in God we trust" – they are decadent, gone away from God – so who gave them strife? – the avidly atheistic communist block, surely they were worse, more guilty. The "Christian" west did not repent – so where does the pressure come from today? - corrupt, evil, anti-Semitic, idolatrous, violent Islam. Consistently God uses the wicked as His instruments to discipline those who are not as bad. But it seems unjust, our souls protest, as did Habakkuk. The godly are careful to be righteous and yet they struggle whilst the corrupt prosper – it is a testing thing to experience this.
Future And what of the future? I said last time that Babylon is the kingdom that rules at the end and is defeated by Jesus. Babylon is the humanistic satanic regime headed by anti-Christ that dominates the end times and is used by יהוה to judge His people. What happens when we see a son dobbing in his father? [Matthew 10:17-22 they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you, you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name. Matthew 24:9-12 they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.] Is that fair? Is that just? They are evil. God is allowing the wicked to prevail over the righteous. Have things gone wrong, are they out of control? No, it is God's express plan and purpose being carried out [Luke 21:28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”] How do I know things are going exactly according to God's plans? Because He has told us before hand. But when it happens, like Habakkuk, you will cry out to God! You will want to know what is going on! Evil seems to be prevailing!
Judgement begins with the household of God What is being played out is a Biblical principle "judgement starts with the house of God" God's people are judged first [cf. 1 Peter 4:17,18 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?] It begins with the household of God – but it doesn't end there. As we will see when we look at יהוה's reply to Habakkuk, the wicked whom God has used will also meet their judgement. The principle remains: sin will judged.
So Do the wicked prevail? Let's face it – you look around and you see those who are not particular about how they get ahead prevailing. The ruthless and ambitious dominate. The unscrupulous get away with it while God's hand of discipline comes down on his own. Those who try to live righteously are disadvantaged – it doesn't seem just. Our souls cry out against this – are the wicked going to prevail? What profit is there in righteousness? You are early for work, work conscientiously, go the extra mile – others turn up late, slack off – and they get the promotion! We've all experienced it: the wicked unfairly advantaged – what's the good in doing right? It doesn't seem just, you feel like giving up. You would not be the first to think like this: [cf. Psalm 73:1-28 Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart! But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death, and their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; the garment of violence covers them. Their eye bulges from fatness; the imaginations of their heart run riot. They mock and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth. They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form. When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.] How can a holy and just God allow the wicked to triumph over the righteous? Does this mean that God is not just? Does this mean יהוה is allowing wickedness to triumph? This is a real theological dilemma. But there is a solution to be found in God’s presence - there we see things from His perspective, from the perspective of eternity. He is from everlasting and to everlasting - the final page is not yet written. Only when we know God’s heart do we see the complete picture - the overall picture where justice ultimately triumphs and perfect justice is executed, yet at the same time, with (that seemingly irreconcilable) mercy and grace (cf. Psalm 85:10 Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.). The wicked will not prevail forever, when you see things from the heavenly perspective their end becomes apparent. Get a glimpse of God and everything falls into place – no longer taken up with material things and your rights but with Him. Instead of seeking justice seek יהוה.