Waiting on God (2)
Habakkuk • Sermon • Submitted
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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. “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!”
Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-11
Sermon Title: Waiting on God
This morning we begin a series over the next three weeks on one of those books that I am guessing most of us do not read very often, let alone hear a sermon preached on it. Some of you may have even wondered where exactly it is nestled among the other Minor Prophets. Haba(h)kkuk or Haba(c)kkuk, depending on how you pronounce the name of the prophet writing this book, was tasked with communicating an oracle he received from God for Judah probably about twenty years or so before they were taken into full captivity by the Babylonians. In comparison with other prophets, biblical writers, and people, there is nothing to really know about Habakkuk; he is simply a man God called to carry a weighty message. As far as a quick overview of what we find in this book, we begin this week opening up to Habakkuk’s initial complaint or question of God for not dealing with the problems in Judah and God’s promise to take care of things. Next week we will encounter Habakkuk wondering if that is really the way God wants to do things and God promises he knows what he is doing. Our final week together will bring us to the third chapter in which Habakkuk praises God for all who he is.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our text this morning is one of those heavier passages. Just thinking about its beginning hits you in the gut because when you think about what Habakkuk is doing, it resonates as true, but it makes us a bit uncomfortable. Habakkuk comes to God tired of not seeing him act. It is not just one time that he wants God to do something, but this is the culmination of many prayers and petitions; he has reached a breaking point. Habakkuk complains, even accuses God when he says, “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?”
When we read through the Old Testament, we find out what Judah’s wickedness included—putting up idols and worshipping them, building altars in the temple of God, practicing sorcery, sacrificing children, consulting mediums, shedding innocent blood, and many other things which get summed up in the testimony that they and their kings “did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” they “did not listen or carry out the Lord’s commands.” Habakkuk sees all that is going on in the daily life of God’s people in the kingdom of Judah, and his outlook is dominated by their wickedness, injustice, and oppression. Our text gives us the sense that he has been petitioning God probably day after day for aid and yet help seems to never come.
I said this resonates as true, and what I meant is this was a reality in Judah and the seeming inaction of God then and there, but I also mean it in our own day. We can express similar complaints, similar struggles, can’t we? We pray weekly and I would guess many of us are praying daily about the broken situations we see and hear about. How long, O Lord, must we call upon you for peace—for an end to the shooting of rockets back and forth between Israel and Hamas, an end to the daily offenses of terrorists, insurgents, and dictators in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world taking lives, especially those of innocent civilians? How long must we cry out to you “Violence!” when the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is decapitating, crucifying, and executing Christians of all ages who will not convert? Why must we have to watch Ebola take the lives of so many in West Africa? Those are just the stories that make the headlines of broadcasts and newspapers! Why does God tolerate the ongoing slaved trade of children and women, why does he tolerate physical, emotional, and sexual abuse going on behind closed doors, why must there be physical and mental illnesses that take the lives of children and infants, mothers or fathers, elders and grandparents?
Things today are not so far off from how they were in Habakkuk’s day, different examples and circumstances but still evidencing great sin and its effects. On the one hand, all of the brokenness can lead us to feelings of such great pain and distress. This prophet is driven to prayer by those feelings—wrongs must be overcome, divine help is needed. Habakkuk is a man who lives his life as all of us should, he looks for the good and the welfare of others. The problems in his community and his country were so heavy, even overwhelming, but he perseveres. When things are not as they should be, it matters to him and he petitions for them.
Today, we add the network not just of communities and countries, but the increasing global connectedness and instant access to breaking news 24 hours a day. It is all too easy for the weight of the world’s problems to suffocate us even as believers. It becomes more and more tempting for pain and distress to lead to apathy, that point where we begin to lack interest and concern. We become passive to the point where we lose compassion. It is not just that sin and brokenness are in the world, but they have come in to where we worship, we work, we live—evil and wickedness seem to have taken over. That which is right is called wrong and false, and that which is wrong is labeled as right.
Habakkuk cry captures just how normal evil had become, but it also captures a bit of what apathy can sound like, “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed,” that which should mean so much cannot do anything. “And justice,” seeking the proper ends for those who do right and for those who offend, “never prevails,” he says; it never actually happens. “The wicked hem in the righteous,” the innocent, those who do good and want to do good for others, those who want to worship God and follow his commands cannot do anything, they are fenced in, “so that justice is perverted.” How things are supposed to be is twisted.
It makes us a bit uncomfortable though, doesn’t it? Complaining and accusing God of being inactive, of not helping, not listening. We too cry out to God, “Save us! Bring peace! Heal! Make things right!” yet I do not know that our petitions often turn into complaints. But we live in a world that seems so often that he does not save, he does not preserve justice, he does not bring his kingdom to earth. We believe God is able to effect and could instantly change things, but it troubles us when he does not. In times of violence and sickness, we do not always see God answering our prayers for help in a clear way. It is not always easy to communicate in the way that Habakkuk does. So we wait and wait and wait on him, sometimes feeling like there is no end to our waiting for God to act.
The worrisome point, brothers and sisters, is when distress or apathy leads us to the point of accepting all of the troubles and widespread evil as simply just how things are. When we lose any and all hope that there might be change, when prayers and petitions for God to do something stop, when we no longer call, no longer cry out, no longer wait for God to come—we begin to lose sight of God’s greater plan. Notice that Habakkuk does not lose faith that God exists; he very much believes in him and trusts that he is in control. All of the trouble and injustice does not lead him to deny God, but his wondering is why God is not taking care of things? Why in this world he created and rules over, among a people he has chosen as his own, why does wrong persist? Those are valid questions, and questions I think common to many of God’s people.
The beauty or the grace lies in what happens next: God answers. At the core of what Habakkuk desired and what I think those of us who go through trials and times of intense distress and pain for hurt is the knowledge that God is listening. Whether we are praying for someone close to us who is going through something and can use encouragement, whether we are praying for circumstances in the communities near to us, or whether we are praying for something terrible happening on the other side of the world, our prayers are faithful actions by which we seek to know the Lord and know that he listens and answers. He tells Habakkuk, “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.” He is telling him and all of Judah that would hear this message that Habakkuk was to bring, “Hold on to your hats, keep your eyes open, I am going to act, and in a way that is not expected, it would be unbelievable if you heard it from anyone other than me!” What follows is God describing the discipline coming their way, their punishment on the horizon. He tells them, “You may not believe this until it is too late.”
God’s way of answering all of the wrongdoings of his people in Judah was by sending the Babylonians. All of the things they did, the ways they lived perverting justice and ignoring the law, were destructive and violent towards God and one another. God had seen them himself, but he also listened to the righteous, and now he would send a corrective by way of one of their enemies. Reading through his description might startle us; God describes the Babylonians as who everyone knew them to be—ruthless, reckless, thieves, feared, dreaded, selfish, swift, fierce, devouring, completely violent, imprisoning people, humiliating kings and rulers and strong cities; they are never satisfied in their victories. Is this really who God wants to send in to punish his people? Judah is evil, but Babylon is in a league of her own when it comes to how horrible they are. That is the question and the thought we will be looking at next week as Habakkuk wonders the same thing. A holy God and perfect God, great in mercy, does he really want to do that—God has an answer for him and for us on that point—but that will wait.
Our focus for the rest of our time this morning is God’s promise back in verse 5, “I am going to do something in your days.” We recognize God has heard his people and cares about what goes on in this world he has created; by speaking, he has established there is hope for those that wait on him. It reminds us of another person of the ancient world, that is David. When David reflected on his life, upon the many evil enemies who sought to attack and devour him, to make him fearful and war against him, to bring trouble to the Lord’s anointed one, he rested on this assurance. Psalm 27:13 -14, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
“I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” David was convinced and Habakkuk is assured by God that he does not leave prayers unanswered, he is not indifferent to what is taking place in his world. I mentioned before we can fall into the trap of apathy, of being unconcerned with the troubles and the wrongdoings in our world because the magnitude and quantity of issues can be overwhelming. We must be on guard against that! But it is also easy or convenient to let the mindset of God’s kingdom being both now and not to swing so far over to the not yet. We can fix our minds on Christ’s second coming, bringing full reconciliation and renewal to what he has created, those things are true and we need to bear that in mind, but it should not devalue the present. These two men, David, a king and Habakkuk a prophet, were so convinced that God looks out for his people in this life, in the now. Things were not and are not entirely hopeless, entirely too violent or devoid of God that we should believe he has left peoples and civilizations to fend for themselves, figure things out or kill themselves and one another in the process. God cares about what is happening right now, and desires for us to as well.
A crucial thing to remember is that the promise of goodness to see in this life is the goodness of the Lord. To wait on the Lord for the goodness that he alone can offer may at times mean that we are going to receive what we ask for—specific healing, a settlement of lasting peace, encouragement, or material blessings. But we also recognize as one theologian points out, “God is sovereign. He responds to prayer at the time and in the manner he deems best. Believers must cease to think of prayer as the tool by which they can force the Lord to follow their agenda and schedule.”
Waiting for the Lord to show his goodness in our lifetime may manifest itself in him providing us with the peace and comfort that he is in control of all things, all peoples, and all nations. It may mean that he reveals something to us personally, in nature, or in another part of life that causes us to glorify him more and more. It might mean his goodness comes in a way that disciplines sin in the world, God’s goodness may be punishment. Waiting on God may lead us to the point where we lament or complain to God as we see Habakkuk doing, but it should not lead us to a point of such despair that we give up all hope that he is able to work wonders for his glory and our good.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not lose faith that our God saves us for eternal life with him in the new heavens and new earth, and he saves us to experience his grace and redemption even now. As his people we have the responsibility to join God in recognizing the turmoil, the injustice, and the oppression in the world we live in right now, and seek his restoration but also to use the gifts and opportunities he gives us to seek restoration. When punishment is needed, we trust the mercy and justice of our sovereign God, that he will work in ways that we might understand but we also might not. Let us seek to show his love to others, and more and more learn to wait on him that we might greater know and love him each day. Amen.