As part of my training, I’m doing a 2nd sermon series based on the book of Habakkuk. Here is my sermon written out from my notes. It is a 3 week series so there are two more to follow from this one. I hope that it will challenge you as you read it and be encouraged and bless by reading it. I suggest you have you bible while reading through because I refer to it a lot.
Theme: Be utterly amazed
Aim: To a church congregation: That God is in complete control even in the most unlikely situations
1. The perseverance of evil v1-4
2. God is in control v5-11
3. We need to hang on and accept God’s decision v12-17
On my day off over a few weeks ago, I went to the barbers to have a haircut. I walked down to the shop, had a quick read of the free material in the waiting area until a vacant seat. I was called over to the chair and told the barber what I wanted and then guy next to me began to quite vocal saying. “What’s the point of living?” As the hairdryer was being used, I couldn’t hear anything else, but the guy cutting his hair was trying to answer him. He then started to complain about his Job, his holidays, his pay. Now while this was going on playing in the background on the radio was “I can’t wait for the weekend to begin”. I sat there and thought that everything that happened in that small 20 minutes was a circle of complaints. The song complains about weekdays, and the guy was complaining about his life.
Do we complain about things in our lives? Do we get really annoyed about someone or something? How do you respond when life gets tough and you feel like everything is going against you? Before we begin our series in Habakkuk, can I see how many people have ever read Habakkuk? Well we are going to look at this book over the next two weeks and today we are going to be looking at the first chapter.
To set the scene Habakkuk was believed to be one of the official temple prophets in Jerusalem because of the music reference in 3:1+19. He was living around the time of King Jehoiakim. Those of you who know your bible history know that king Jehoiakim was the successor of Josiah who was the king who brought the nation back under the Law of God. Jehoiakim did the complete opposite of Josiah and the nation began to drift away from God. This is when Habakkuk steps up and begins a dialogue with the Lord.
1. The perseverance of evil v1-4
Habakkuk receives an oracle from the Lord v1 and the translation of oracle in the Hebrew means “a burden”. This is a burden that is to be carried and upheld. This is a burden to address the people of Judah of God’s coming judgement. This is a burden that Habakkuk is living out and experiencing with his own eyes as well as with his ears. As part of the burden, the prophet will be in dialogue with the living God. At the start of Habakkuk’s lament he cries out to God v2. Is this the cry that we say from our hearts when we look around at the world today? Habakkuk was praying, calling out to God because the times were terrible. This wasn’t the first time he called out for help. He is someone living in the midst of evil and he is completely over-whelmed by the society around him. It feels like God isn’t listening to him. He probably had doubts that God was there, or he could do anything about it. When we pray, we might feel that our prayers are not heard or even answered. We feel that God is not listening because we don’t see things happening around us.
Habakkuk feels that God has exposed him to all this evil and sin, and he is allowing it to happen v3. Do we feel like that when we see porn mags on the top shelves, Anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, fighting in the street, divorce etc? We see sin all around us today, and we see injustice on our streets, courts, and around the world. We don’t just hear about it, but we see it. It starts to become part of our normal part of life. Habakkuk can’t believe that God would tolerate all this evil. What is the cause? Violence and destruction v2b+3b! There has been an increase in violence and strife and violation of moral law. It was a lawless society growing out of control. The growth of sin was ever-present, theft, debauchery, adultery, anger, coveting etc. The greatest question he asks is “v3 why do you tolerate wrong?” If God is an almighty and powerful God, then why does evil persevere in our time? Why can’t you get rid of all this evil? Why do you allow it to happen?
Due to all this growth in he then concludes v4 it is hopeless. The law is paralyzed. It is redundant; people are not listening to it. They are not abiding to it, and Justice never prevails. There is no good says Habakkuk. He can’t see a way for them to come back.
What’s the reason for it getting out of control? The Law (Torah) was mediated by the priests and the king to the people, so it means that the king and priests have become slack in the law. They are all corrupted, even those who are meant to be righteous. Those like Habakkuk who want to stand up for the Law can’t because they are surrounded by the wicked. This is like us today, we want to live out the good news of Christ but we are faced with injustice. What can be done?
2. God is in control v5-11
The Lord answered Habakkuk and said to him v5. The Lord is working and is in control. The Lord tells Habakkuk and us today to widen our gaze and look at what the Lord is doing in other nations, and we will be utterly amazed. For us today, we look around at our local community and we complain about the levels of unemployment, debt, rubbish etc; while in other countries around the world there are people being changed and coming to know Christ. The church in China has grown; the church in India has grown. The Lord is working on a bigger scale than we can imagine. We worry about our little community while God is preparing big plans. The problem wasn’t God, but us and our perspectives. We need to change our perspectives as we look at our circumstances around us, even if we can’t see God at work around us. God is a lot bigger than we imagine, and God answered Habakkuk’s prayer, but not in the way that Habakkuk was expecting, or will ever expect. The Lord was going to do something beyond all understanding.
What will that be? v6. He was going to send the Babylonians as a judgement to Judah for their betrayal of his Laws. What are they like? Well The Lord describes them for us v6-11. Would you like to meet the Babylonians? They are a people bent on violence v9. Violence was the cry of Habakkuk in v2-3, and he laments about the growth of wickedness. So God responds using the words of Habakkuk as an answer to his prayer. God is in complete control in what is going on in Judah; and as a response he is going to bring judgement on the people just as he said using a nation of people who are just as evil and corrupt as Judah was. Isn’t that utterly amazing?
The Lord is going to use a nation that others are afraid of v7, they are a law to themselves v8, fierce than wolves, they come bent on violence v9, they gather prisoners like sand, they deride and conquer kings, scoff and mock rulers v10. They destroy and laugh at fortified cities and they go by their own god of strength v11. This is a parallel to Judah’s wickedness. They are people full of idolatry and sin and only the gracious Lord could control a group of people like that. Imagine the Lord using the soldiers of North Korea to come and judge the west? The Lord makes it clear and plain that the very pride and self-confidence of the Babylonians will be their own downfall v11 but to Habakkuk; unless he sees that the Lord is in control, then he will be even more confused. The Lord has control of what nations grow and fall, he restores and destroys. This is the God of the OT, NT at his very best. He is in control!
3. We need to hang on and accept God’s decision v12-17
Habakkuk may be very confused at this point. He was expecting the Lord to say that he will sort it all out but instead he was even more confused than before. Habakkuk acknowledges and believes that God is in control and he has confidence in the Lord because his life and identity are intertwined with the identity and life of the Lord v12. Even in times of trouble, doubt and confusion, Habakkuk still has faith that the Lord has control and they will not perish.
God is still committed to his chosen people, the people of Judah. They are his holy nation; surely they are protected from death and destruction? The Babylonians could come in and destroy them, but Habakkuk sees that they are coming as the judgement of Judah. The Lord has ordained them before the earth began that they would come and fulfill his purpose. He cares for them and loves them, and Habakkuk needs to accept that inner truth. Like us today, Ephesians 5:25“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” We are God’s chosen people today for God loves us, Christ loves us so much that he gave his life up for us as the church, so we will never perish by sin and death but have eternal life. God is eternal and sovereign. He is everlasting. He engages in times during history because he is outside of time but he is also the Rock, the one who remains stable in an uncertain world, and we must hold on to him because he is changeless. He remains the same forever.
Habakkuk is still perplexed at the questions that he asked earlier. v13. How can you tolerate evil? The Babylonians are a people of evil and wickedness, and a pure and perfect God is using them. Why? Well to understand this question, you must understand that God has a purpose and plan and he is in complete control. God can use evil for his own purpose. He is sovereign over those who are righteous, and those who are wicked. That is the nature of the sovereign Lord. Habakkuk still can’t see the injustice being solved and he complains about how inconsistent God is.
Looking at Habakkuk after the resurrected Christ, we need to remember that everyone is a sinner under the curse of sin. We are all born into sin and we all deserve death and destruction. As Paul wrote to the Romans 3:10-12. “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.” For all sin is the same before God. We might say that some people are more wicked and unrighteous than others, but we are all the same in God’s eyes. We should never think that we are immune to unrighteousness because we all are. Paul declares that “there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:22-23. But today we are justified by faith in Christ. Those who have faith in Christ are those who accept God’s decisions and realize that they are made righteous through him who died on the cross. As Paul says at the end of Rom 6 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”
At the end of his complaint Habakkuk describes the wicked in the light of the Babylonians v14-17. He feels like God has made humans like as helpless as fish. They are weak and unintelligent beings who are trapped by those who worship their tools and live in luxury and eat salmon and caviar. Are they going to continue to abuse and dictate and destroy nations? Habakkuk can’t understand how all of this violence and devastation will possibly fulfill God’s purposes of righteousness? How can an evil nation full of idolaters bring divine Judgement? How is God going to use this in order to fulfill his promise of blessings? Is he going to allow these people to mistreat us forever?
Well to finish on this cliff hanger, will God allow the Babylonians to continue forever? Will there always be injustice and the perseverance of evil? What we need to take away from the passage this morning is that 1. Evil to us seems to prosper in times, and we do feel like Habakkuk. We do complain about things in life; and we do feel that God is not there. But God is there and he is working. The problem is us. We need to open our eyes wider than we do to see the work of God. 2. God is in control, he uses evil for his purpose and he will use the most unlikely people to fulfill his purposes. 3. We need to accept God’s decision. He is in control but we need to remain faithful to God because we are all sinners saved by grace. We all fall short of the glory of God but he loves us. Isn’t that utterly amazing?