Faithful Living

Faithful Living

Last week[1] we spoke about how important it was to the Reformers to emphasize the importance of seeing the Old and New Testament as the highest authority in our lives since these Scriptures have been breathed-out to us by none other than God himself. This week we have an opportunity to see how it was, during the time of the Old Testament, that God used his chosen prophets to be the means by which he brought forth that breath, that authoritative Word for his people. Specifically, this morning’s prophet of choice is a man named Habakkuk.

Now though we know that our Lord called Habakkuk to bring forth his Word, we don’t actually know all that much about Habakkuk himself. He was a contemporary of another prophet, Jeremiah,[2] and he lived around the early 7th century BC.[3] As was true of Jeremiah, Habakkuk was a man of deep faith yet despite that faith, both men struggled to understand the ways of God—which in and of itself should be of some comfort to us today who similarly may struggle at times to understand our LORD and his ways!

Right from the outset we’re told in verse 1 that this is “[t]he prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.” This alerts us to the fact that what is about to follow isn’t an opinion or speculation or the result of research but that the source of what is to be presented is God himself—or, again, to use Paul’s words, is “God-breathed.” And what we find recorded in the few chapters contained here is a kind of call and response between Habakkuk and the LORD in which Habakkuk states his concern before the LORD who then responds to him. Throughout this book the reason for Habakkuk calling out to God is essentially to ask him why he is silent in light of the of the evil that was taking place in the southern kingdom[4] of Judah—by this time the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen.[5]

Verse 2 marks the beginning of his entreaty as he asks, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” During this period in Judah’s history there was much corruption and apostasy and, yes, even violence.[6] And I think that under these kinds of circumstances perseverance, being persistent in turning to and trusting in God, can be one of the most difficult parts of our faith especially when he appears to be silent. When we turn to God in petition or prayer, we often assume that we should receive an immediate response from him; that whatever the cause for our turning to him is, it should be answered as soon as possible. We expect him to answer our requests—and in the way we would like them to be answered—and sooner rather than later, please!

Have you ever shared Habakkuk’s assumption that despite our crying for help, God isn’t listening? “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” This lament has been a common one both in the lives of believers mentioned in Scripture[7] and of those living ever since. God can appear to be silent especially when, as was the case with Habakkuk, we’re being faced with some form of suffering or violence that we desperately want to escape and thereby turn to him for help in escaping it. We feel this desire for immediate resolution to our pain even knowing that God states in his Word, “8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “9 As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[8] Even knowing this, in the face of suffering we seek to bring God down to our level, to our way of thinking. We seek for him to do our will in our way.

Despite being a prophet of the LORD, Habakkuk was no different from us in this regard for his lament continues in verse 3 as he begins to describe the nature of the “Violence” mentioned in the previous verse. He goes on to ask the LORD, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” Why, indeed? If God is a God of justice as he has disclosed himself to be,[9] then why in the world would he put up with injustice and wrongdoing? Specifically, “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” These are all things that go against God’s nature and will for he is not a God of destruction but the LORD of all creation. And even when that very good[10] world he created went awry as a result of the Fall, God didn’t give up on it but told of One who would one day rise to crush the head of the serpent that had wreaked havoc on his creation.[11] What is more the LORD has disclosed himself to be a God of peace,[12] not strife. And he desires his image-bearers to live as one family, equally children of their heavenly Father who, again, has disclosed himself as such to them.[13] These many self-disclosures of himself are the basis for Habakkuk’s complaints for if God is a God of creation—and of peace—and is our Father in heaven, then how can he be silent in the face of destruction—and violence—and strife among his children?

In verse 4 Habakkuk goes on to state the obvious, namely that given all of this violence, injustice, wrongdoing, strife, and conflict, “…the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” In the battle between good and evil Habakkuk is witnessing, evil appears to have the upper hand for though God had given his people his law that they might know how to love him and each other, the people were now neglecting that law. And as is always the case, evil and chaos will be present whenever God’s law, justice, and mercy are absent. These were dire circumstances indeed.

In what follows in the remainder of this chapter, the LORD does respond to Habakkuk, his prophet and servant. He promises him that his justice will indeed prevail for he is bringing judgment to these evil ones in Judah by means of their enemies, the Babylonians.[14] In other words, the LORD in essence has let Habakkuk know that even before his complaint, he was addressing his prophet’s concerns over the injustice and wrongdoing taking place in Judah. This is important to take note of for at times we think or speak as those who think that we’re more just than God. This, of course, is impossible for he holds the standard of justice within himself. Even so, initially this response from the LORD doesn’t satisfy Habakkuk who then launches into a second string of laments in the remainder of the chapter. To take just a snippet, verse 13 provides an apt summary as Habakkuk reprises his complaint saying to God, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” [15] In other words, this isn’t the answer Habakkuk was looking for. For bad though many in Judah were, the Babylonians were even worse. Therefore how could God see fit to use such a people to punish his own?

We pick up with the end of this second complaint in the first verse of chapter 2 as Habakkuk proclaims, “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 was now bracing himself for the LORD’s response. And we begin to see that response starting in verse 2: “Then the Lord replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.” God tells Habakkuk to write down what he is about to reveal—to make known—to disclose—to “breathe out,” if you will, so that a herald, and by extension others, may run with it. God’s Word is always intended to be shared with and spread to others.

Yet the fulfillment of such a disclosure from God requires patience, verse 3, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” Here again we have a reminder that God’s ways and timing are not our own. The evil Habakkuk was complaining about would indeed be punished—but it would be punished on God’s timeline, not Habakkuk’s. And we also see here that whatever God has disclosed, whatever he has breathed out, will come to pass. In this instance, his judgment upon Judah began to come to pass when Judah was first invaded by Babylon in 605 BC.[16] God’s servants, like Habakkuk, must rest and trust in God’s Word as we wait upon him to work out his will in his own way.

Verse four goes on to provide a contrast between God’s enemies and those who belong to him: “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—….”—which can also be translated with the more familiar “by faith.” This verse is both quoted and alluded to numerous times in the New Testament for it is the bedrock for how we are to live our lives as believers. To be an enemy of God is to go against him and his ways; but to be on the side of God, is to seek to be righteous, to do right even as he ever does. As the apostle Paul, looking back on this verse states in Romans, “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”[17] The righteous will live by faith. And those who are on God’s side must trust and believe in him, and thereby live according to his revealed will as it’s been disclosed and recorded in his written Word. For one day, as Habakkuk states quoting the prophet Isaiah in verse 14 of chapter 2,[18] “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This is a promise not only to Isaiah and Habakkuk but to believers in God throughout the ages. And so we must persevere and wait upon him for, as stated in verse 20, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”

If we believe this; if we believe that one day God’s glory, his presence, will be known by all; if we believe that the LORD, the righteous judge, even now, even this morning, is ruling in his holy temple, then silence will be our response for as we turn and look to and dwell upon him, we should be filled with awe at his goodness and greatness and kindness and justice and mercy and compassion. If we believe these things, then we should exclaim with the apostle Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”[19] This declaration by Paul is one that Habakkuk comes to embrace in the end as he confesses at the close of chapter 3: “17 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, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”[20]

Habakkuk has come to embrace the importance of rejoicing in God, even in times of scarcity; he has come to embrace the importance of being joyful in God our Savior, even in times of violence and injustice; he has come to embrace that God is the refuge and rock of all who know and love him and that only in him do we find our strength. For at the end of the day the LORD teaches Habakkuk, his prophet—and us by extension—about faithful living:

Faithful living is realistic about life. Unlike George Orwell’s evil up–is­–down world described in his dystopian novel, 1984, faithful living doesn’t declare war to be peace—or freedom to be slavery—or ignorance to be strength. Instead faithful living understands life to be a mixture of joy and sorrow, rejoicing and disappointment, pleasure and pain;

But when faced with pain or even violence, faithful living is wise in knowing that our Maker and LORD wants us to lay open our hearts to him for the God who made us wants to hear from us for he is a loving and responsive God;

And when confronted with injustice or suffering that lingers, faithful living trusts in God’s justice knowing that he will make things right one day as he punishes and does away with all evil doers once and for all;

Faithful living further understands the importance of persevering, of living faithfully each day, loving God and others, despite difficulties set before us;

Faithful living is silent and in awe before our great and gracious God who ever rules in his holy temple—a holy temple of which we are now a part;

Faithful living ever remembers that God is a kind and compassionate and merciful Father who loves us;

And how much more is this the case for those of us living this side of the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy as we bear witness to the fact that to us a child has been born, to us a son has been given, and the government is on his shoulders. And he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, of whose peace there will be no end;[21]

Faithful living continues to look forward to God’s recreating us in the image of his Son and creating a new heaven and earth where his shalom, his peace, will reign and things will once again be as he created and intended them to be; faithful living looks forward to a time in which the knowledge of his glory will once again fill the earth;

Dear brothers and sisters, all who know and love and believe in Christ Jesus are those who are righteous not of our own selves but because of him; we are those who are righteous because of him and through him are able to faithfully live. For dear and precious Jesus is our peace. He is peace for the Jew and he is peace for the Gentile. For his purpose, as the apostle Paul teaches, was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to those who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we all have access to the Father by one Spirit.[22]

This lesson of God in Christ coming to earth to make his peace—and his light—and his love known to a world filled with strife—and darkness—and hatred is what we celebrate this communion Sunday. For our gracious and great Father, Son, and Holy Spirit knew how desperate our situation is. He knew that apart from him and his law, we would destroy one another. And so he gave us his law that we might know what love for him and each other looks like in practice. But knowing that in our fallen state we are uninterested and unable to follow his law, he sent us his Son who came into this world to take upon himself the punishment which we deserved. For Christ Jesus took our sin and placed it upon himself and in doing so he has taken our sin away and in exchange has given us his righteousness. In exchange for our death, he has given us his eternal life by his Holy Spirit whom he sends to seal and indwell all who believe in Jesus.

So let us by the power and authority of God’s breathed-out Word be those who live by faith in God’s Son, by the power of his Holy Spirit, with the help and encouragement of each other, to the glory of our gracious and kind heavenly Father!

Let us pray.

[1] Our Need for God’s Word preached on October 27, 2019 on 2 Timothy 3:14–4:5

[2] 626 BC–c. 586 BC

[3] Given the warning of the impending invasion from Babylon in 1:6 (“I am raising up the Babylonians,[Or Chaldeans—another name for Babylonians] that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own”) probably near the end of King Josiah’s reign (640–609 BC) or the beginning of King Jehoiakim’s reign (609–598 BC). Nineveh was destroyed by Babylon in 612 BC. Jerusalem was invaded by Babylon in 605, 597, and 586 BC.

[4] Comprised of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

[5] In 722 BC.

[6] This would be the case whether Habakkuk was prophesying during the time of King Josiah’s [640–609 BC] reform as in  2 Kings 23 or later as per the Zondervan NIV Bible Study note for 1:2: “At this time Judah was probably under King Jehoiakim [609–598 BC], who was ambitious, cruel and corrupt. Habakkuk describes the social corruption and spiritual apostasy of Judah in the late seventh century B.C.”

[7] See, for example, Psalm 13:1–2: 1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?; Psalm 6:2–3: 2 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. 3 My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?; Jeremiah 47:6: “‘Alas, sword of the Lord, how long till you rest? Return to your sheath; cease and be still.’

[8] Isaiah 55:8–9.

[9] E.g., Deuteronomy 32:4: Isaiah 30:18: Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!; Isaiah 61:8: “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.;Psalm 140:12: I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

[10] Genesis 1:31a: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

[11] The protoevangelium or first promise of the Gospel is found in the curse pronounced on the serpent in Genesis 3:14–15: 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

[12] Psalm 85:8: I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly.; Numbers 25:12: Therefore tell him I [the LORD] am making my covenant of peace with him [Phinehas].

[13] Deuteronomy 32:6: Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?; Isaiah 63:16: But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

[14] Also known as Chaldeans though according to the Crossway ESV Study Bible on this verse, “they were an ethnically diverse Aramean tribe in southern Babylon that began to take control as the Assyrians weakened.” See Habakkuk 1:6: I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.

[15] Habakkuk 1:13.

[16] As stated in a footnote to Habakkuk 1:6 in the Crossway ESV Study Bible: “The Babylonians gained independence from Assyria in 626 B.D. and, continuing to increase in power, defeated Assyria in 605. Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonians in this victory and consolidated the Babylonian Empier. After his father’s death in 605 B.C., he became king over the vast empire, which flourished until the Persians defeated it in 539.

[17] Romans 1:17:; Galatians 3:11: Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”; Ephesians 2:8–10:For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

[18] Isaiah 11:9b:… for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

[19] Romans 11:33.

[20] Habakkuk 3:17–18.

[21] Isaiah 9:6–7.

[22] I’ve paraphrased Ephesians 2:15b–18.