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God's Story in Scripture  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  57:35
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Violence, Violence everywhere, and no relief in sight!

We don’t have to look far to learn about violence in our nation. The response to George Floyd’s death sparked outrage among some, resulting in fires, looting, and destruction in several cities. Anger and hatred seem to run rampant in some cities, resulting in murder and mayhem.
Children are caught in the crossfire.
Innocent people end up injured or dead.
The police and other law enforcement personnel are seeking to bring order and peace, but violence seems to escalate.
In other places around the world, corrupt regimes rule, bringing terror on their citizens.
All this - while we are facing and experience the responses to the Coronavirus.
School is online, work is from home, some of our favorite places to go have been closed.
In considering all of this and more, it would be easy for us to cry aloud with the prophet Habakkuk:
Habakkuk 1:2 ESV
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Today, as we look at the book of Habakkuk, we’ll be considering the character of God and they mysterious ways that He works.
If you have a Bible with you, please open it to the book of Habakkuk.

A little background

As with many of the minor prophets, we know very little about Habakkuk. Based on some of the internal clues, it seems like he served in the final few decades of the southern Kingdom of Judah.
Some have assumed that because of the nature and subject of his writing, the Habakkuk may have been someone who worked in the temple in Jerusalem. But we really don’t know.
One of the interesting things about the book is that it’s sort of like a devotional meditation surrounding an encounter with God. The book doesn’t have a clear audience as both Judah and Babylon are mentioned. The guys at the Bible Project even suggest that the some of the words of warning are aimed toward everyone who exhibits those sinful and woeful attributes - sort of “future Babylons” (Bible Project video on Habakkuk).
Today, as we look at the message of Habakkuk - we’re going to spend a majority of our time looking at the book - how it’s put together, what God and Habakkuk communicate to each other, and the ramifications of the overall theological viewpoints.
Habakkuk can be broadly divided into two sections - Habakkuk’s conversation with God in chapters 1-2 and Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3.
This conversation with God begins with...

Habakkuk’s complaint - How long? (1:1-4)

In these opening verses, Habakkuk observes the spiritual and moral condition of his people and asks the Lord how long will he wait to act.
Habakkuk 1:1–4 ESV
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 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. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
Habakkuk could have written these words today. The 7th century BC Judah seemed to have been filled with violence and corruption. The good things that the righteous people were doing paled in comparison to the tension, strife and ungodly behavior.
It’s difficult to know how long Habakkuk and people like him had been praying. Any amount of time amidst injustice can feel like an eternity.
Beyond just seeming like a long time, it felt like God wasn’t listening - like he wasn’t paying attention.
I know for some of us, our prayer lives can feel that way. How long will God tarry in calling people to him? How long will he allow our society to decline morally? How long will he allow this virus to disrupt seemingly everything?
One of the beautiful lessons that we can learn from Habakkuk is...
Lesson 1: Keep praying, God is listening.
Which brings us to the next segment of the book...

God’s response - watch and be astounded (Hab. 1:5-11)

God, in His grace, gives Habakkuk a little insight into His grand plan - and yet it is not what Habakkuk would have expected.
Habakkuk 1:5–11 ESV
“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. 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. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. 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. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
God is raising up this violent and powerful nation, the Babylonians or Chaldeans, to bring justice to Judah. We saw last week how God used the told the prophet Nahum that Babylon would be coming for Nineveh - and they did in 612BC. Now we see that Babylon would be bringing God’s justice on Judah.
We learned in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Daniel and some of the other books that Babylon did come to judge Judah. They came in waves beginning around 605BC (7 years after Nineveh fell). Eventually Jerusalem was finally destroyed in 586BC by those very same Babylonians.
Does it seem strange to you that God would use this unrighteous nation? As we will see in a moment, it was difficult for Habakkuk to take in. But one of the things we have to remember is...
Lesson 2: God is sovereign
This means essentially that God rules and reigns over all things. All things that happen are ordained by God.
Ben Warburton describes the sovereignty of God in this way:

that He has absolute and undisputable authority over all creation, that nothing can lie outside of or be viewed as not being subject to the sovereignty of His will, that He is not only the Creator and Upholder but the Disposer of all events from the beginning of time to its close

(Moody, p. 480)
Now, at face value, that seems just fine - it sort of makes sense. God is great and big and powerful. He knows all things. Sure, it makes sense.
A.W. Pink in his book on the Sovereignty of God has said that either God rules over all things or he is ruled (p. 18).
But when we really begin to dive in to the depths of God’s sovereignty - it raises some scary questions:
Does God ordain evil?
How does God’s goodness and the evil that he allows or ordains co-exist together?
Is God really good?
If God is sovereign, do we have any responsibility for our actions?
I’m not going to address these right now, but I do want you to feel the tension of what Habakkuk might have been experiencing.
After hearing these words from God, we get to see...

Habakkuk’s second complaint - What?! (Hab. 1:12-2:1)

You see, Habakkuk had heard about these Babylonians - how cruel they were. In his mind, God’s answer seemed more unjust than the problems he observed in Judah.
Habakkuk 1:12–2:1 ESV
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. 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? You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. 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. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever? 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.
Habakkuk understands the purity and goodness of God. He acknowledges that God is ordaining a well-deserved judgment for Judah, but it doesn’t seem to make sense that He would use a wicked nation as the instrument of His justice. The brutality of Babylon seemed beyond the pale to Habakkuk.
This sort of begins to beg the questions -
what does it mean for God to be good?
Is He still good if He allows wickedness or evil as an element of His plan?
Is He good if He ordains evil to accomplish His good purposes?
When Jesus was confronted by one of the rulers who called Jesus “good teacher” - Jesus replied:
Luke 18:19 ESV
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
Now Jesus, being fully God, is a bit biased - but He said that God is good.
The Psalmist makes a similar remark in...
Psalm 73:1 ESV
Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
Of course, the psalmist was an Israelite. Certainly, we’ve seen how time and again, God, in His goodness toward Israel, brought punishment and discipline for Israel.
As I have been wrestling with this concept all week, I’ve been struck by its complexity. The goodness and sovereignty of God are not concepts that we can flippantly acknowledge.
The old song “God is so good” is a true song. But if the people of Judah were singing that song as the Babylonians were attacking - it would still be true - but it certainly wouldn’t feel that way.
I don’t feel like I’m truly doing this justice, but I do think there is another lesson we can glean from Habakkuk. That is...
Lesson 3: God is good - His sovereignty is mysterious
So Habakkuk presents his second complaint to God and then sets up like a watchman on the wall, waiting for God’s second response.
When God does respond, he seems to say - watch, wait, and woe.

God’s second response - watch , wait, and woe (Hab. 2:2-20)

God responds in what seems like two sections. In the first, he essentially tells Habakkuk to trust him, to watch and wait.

Watch and Wait

Habakkuk 2:2–5 ESV
And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 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. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. “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.”
God’s opening remarks in this part of His response are a bit challenging and confusing.
As you can see, He tells Habakkuk to write down the vision in order that the one who reads it may run. It’s unclear if this is the herald who will run and read it to the people of Judah or if this is someone in Judah may read it and flee.
In any case, this vision seems sure and there is an appointment time for this “vision” to be fulfilled or accomplished. It may take some time - but it will happen!
He then contrasts the arrogant or Babylon with the righteous. The arrogant, destructive power of Babylon is powerful and encompassing. It engulfs so many. It will be a devastating force on Judah.
But I do think there is something encouraging and hope-filled for us in the midst of this mysterious message. Because God is sovereign...
Lesson 4: The righteous who live by faith can trust Him.
Even in the midst of a world that seems to be going crazy, those who live uprightly by faith can trust that God is at work. It may not be an easy life or experience, but it is what God is allowing. There is a part of it that feels unjust or unfair, but only by our perspective.
Think about this in light of the life of Joseph. His story is familiar, but think about it in light of the sovereignty of God and the righteous life of those who live by faith.
Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob. Because of this, his brothers were very jealous. They wanted to kill him but ended up selling him into slavery.
As a slave, Joseph ended up in Egypt, serving one of the governing officials. While being faithful to do his work, he was wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, and thrown in prison.
He continued to live faithfully in prison and ended up being an assistant to the guard. While there, God allowed him to interpret the dreams of two inmates. When the dreams came true - the Joseph was forgotten. He sat in prison for another 2 years.
Eventually, when Pharoah had a dream and needed help, Joseph was finally remembered. He was freed from prison to interpret the dream and then elevated to one of the highest positions of authority in Egypt. God used that position to be a means of salvation for his family - as there was a famine - but Egypt had food. Through all of that, Joseph lived by faith.
Was it unfair for Joseph? Maybe - but I think that’s the wrong question.
Even later in life Joseph could see how his brothers meant their actions for evil, but God meant it for good. (Gen. 50:20). God meant their evil actions for good!
Joseph spent decades as a slave and a prisoner before he could see God’s purposes in the midst of his circumstances. Joseph continued to live righteously by faith in the sovereign God.
Let’s consider the next part of God’s response to Habakkuk. If in the first part, God told Habakkuk to watch and wait, in this next part God seems to be saying “woe” or “watch-out” to the unrighteous.

Watch-out (Hab. 2:6-20)

In verses 6-20, God communicates 5 different woes for Habakkuk to write down. Many of the people who edit Bibles label these as “woes to the Chaldeans” (ESVSB) or Babylonians. Notice, that in the text itself, it doesn’t say Babylon or the Chaldeans. The lack of a direct label in the text itself suggests that this might be for the Babylonians themselves, and/or all of the “Babylonians” or oppressive nations who are to come - all of the people who are living in these unrighteous ways (The Bible Project: Habakuk video).
These woes seem to be both a warning for the unrighteous and a source of encouragement for the righteous.
God’s word of warning or woe addresses those who:
Take what is not theirs (Hab. 2:6-8)
Use evil means for personal gain (Hab. 2:9-11)
Use violence to rule (Hab. 2:12-14) - Here God seems to be addressing the issue of forced slavery and oppressing people through violence. What is interesting, is that He seems to communicate that our work has worth and even honors God. Look briefly at verses 13-14. (read from Bible)
Lead people to drunkenness in order to shame them (Hab. 2:15-17)
Worship Idols (Hab. 2:18-20) - We’ve seen this issue of Idolatry come up time and again as the people of Israel would fall into idol worship at various times. God discusses the futility and foolishness of worshiping something that we make and assuming that something inanimate would be able to act or teach. (read from Bible)
So, after God and Habakkuk have this conversation, Habakkuk closes his book with...

A prayer of faith (Hab. 3:1-19)

Habakkuk demonstrates in this prayer or psalm that he trusts in God. Consider what is says in the New Living Translation:
Habakkuk 3:1–16 NLT
This prayer was sung by the prophet Habakkuk: I have heard all about you, Lord. I am filled with awe by your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as you did in years gone by. And in your anger, remember your mercy. I see God moving across the deserts from Edom, the Holy One coming from Mount Paran. His brilliant splendor fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise. His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise. Rays of light flash from his hands, where his awesome power is hidden. Pestilence marches before him; plague follows close behind. When he stops, the earth shakes. When he looks, the nations tremble. He shatters the everlasting mountains and levels the eternal hills. He is the Eternal One! I see the people of Cushan in distress, and the nation of Midian trembling in terror. Was it in anger, Lord, that you struck the rivers and parted the sea? Were you displeased with them? No, you were sending your chariots of salvation! You brandished your bow and your quiver of arrows. You split open the earth with flowing rivers. The mountains watched and trembled. Onward swept the raging waters. The mighty deep cried out, lifting its hands in submission. The sun and moon stood still in the sky as your brilliant arrows flew and your glittering spear flashed. You marched across the land in anger and trampled the nations in your fury. You went out to rescue your chosen people, to save your anointed ones. You crushed the heads of the wicked and stripped their bones from head to toe. With his own weapons, you destroyed the chief of those who rushed out like a whirlwind, thinking Israel would be easy prey. You trampled the sea with your horses, and the mighty waters piled high. I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear. My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror. I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us.
Habakkuk can see that God is in control. He resigns himself to trust in God’s mysterious plan - knowing that the nation that acts as God’s instrument of justice will themselves receive a day of justice from God.
He then concludes the prayer with what seems like a demonstration that he is one of the “righteous who lives by faith.” We even sang some of these words earlier.
Habakkuk 3:17–19 ESV
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, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
Even though everything seems horrible - no flowers or fruit or oil or livestock - he will trust in God.
As we close, I just want to take a few moments to consider together how we can...

Find solace in the sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God is a big issue. It’s not something that I’ll be able to sufficiently cover in one part of one sermon. I’m not sure that I could fully expound it if I had a lifetime of sermons.
I think that one of the reasons that God says that the righteous shall live by faith - is that it takes faith to believe there is something bigger happening. It takes faith to trust that the pain we are experiencing is more than just random “series of unfortunate events” - as Limony Snicket might call it.
It takes faith to see that...
Romans 8:28 ESV
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
It takes faith to trust that since God works beyond time, that by comparison, the things that we are experiencing now, pale in comparison to eternity. Consider what the Apostle Paul writes...
2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Because God exists beyond time, He can see all time at the same time. We can only look back and remember and learn. We can sort of look forward and predict and hope, but we don’t really know what tomorrow holds.
God does.
He knows that the joy and sorrow that we experience now is part of a grander plan - a plan that not only includes each of us, but also includes others.
He knows that pain here will be used as a means of God being glorified through us both now and in the future.
I wish I could fully understand why God allows some to experience such extreme pain. But as the righteous who live by faith - we don’t have to understand it now, to trust that God is working something beautiful and greater through it. Joseph didn’t have to understand it at the bottom of a cistern or in a prison cell - he simply had to trust God in the midst of the pain and the joy!
One of the most profound a beautiful ways that we can see the sovereignty of God on display is in the Cross of Jesus. Before the foundation of the world, before anything existed in the universe, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit agreed that the plan of redemption would include Jesus on the cross. At the cross of Jesus, all of God’s goodness and holiness was on display as Jesus - the sinless, perfect one, allowed his body to bear the shame and punishment that we deserve.
But in God’s sovereignty - the wickedness of all humanity was the reason Jesus needed to die. The deceitfulness of the religious leaders and the cruelty of the Romans - their evil - worked toward the good of God’s eternal redemptive plan - so that you and I might be in a relationship with Him. So that we might understand the depth of His love.
The mystery of God’s sovereignty is most beautifully displayed on the cross.
(if not a follower of Christ....repent, believe)
(if a follower of Christ - live righteous life, trust that God is sovereign, walk by faith in the plan that God is unfolding - he knows what he is doing)
Let’s pray.

Baker, David W. “Habakkuk.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 840–847. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Craigie, Peter C., The Old Testament: It’s Background, Growth, and Content (Abington, Nashville, 1987)
Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008.
Dever, Mark, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, (Crossway, Wheaton, 2006)
Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989.
Longman III, Tremper; Raymond B. Dillard; An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd Ed. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2006)
McConville, Gordon. Exploring the Old Testament: The Prophets. Vol. 4. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002.
Pink, Arthur W. The Sovereignty of God. Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot, 1949.
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