Bethel Baptist Church
Service in the building
2 January 2021
These are my notes from the message that I gave on the first Sunday of 2022 – Graham Steel
Dylys (my wife) and I study God’s word together at home early each morning. We like to use a commentary for a particular book of the Bible, which usually divides the book into portions suitable for daily study – the portion sizes can be erratic, as many commentaries are not primarily designed for daily devotional use. We start our time each day with a brief prayer. We each read the scripture passage quietly and write notes of our observations on the passage. We then read our notes to each other; and after that we read what the commentary has to say about the passage. We close our time of devotion with each of us saying a short prayer.
We are currently working through Habakkuk, with the aid of a commentary by James Westendorf, which covers Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Today’s service draws on that resource. As a bit of background to the passage, we do not know a lot about Habakkuk, but he was a prophet at the time when the Kingdom of Judah was in a state of moral and spiritual decline. He was deeply burdened about the state of affairs, and clearly he felt that it was the Lord’s responsibility to rebuke the people.
Please read Habakkuk 1:1-2:1.
You will note that Habakkuk speaks in verses 1-4. The Lord replies in verses 5-11. Habakkuk responds in verses 12 through to 2:1.
The value of scripture
I love the scriptures. I love the honesty that we see in dealing with the complex situations of a fallen world. They teach us to take a God-focused view of the world, and to pray about the situations that we see. Some of the Psalms are amazingly forthright – in which the Psalmist complains to God about the apparent injustice. The book of Habakkuk is also on these lines.
For example, Psalm 10 reminds me very much of Habakkuk:
Why are you so far away, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself when we are in trouble?Psalm 10:1 (GNB)
Psalm 13 is very much a complaint:
How much longer will you forget me, Lord? For ever? How much longer will you hide yourself from me? How long must I endure trouble? How long will sorrow fill my heart day and night? How long will my enemies triumph over me? Look at me, O Lord my God, and answer me. Restore my strength; don’t let me die.Psalm 13:1-3 (GNB)
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? I have cried desperately for help, but still it does not come. During the day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer; I call at night, but get no rest.Psalm 22:1-2 (GNB)
Such examples show that we can cry out to God when we do not understand what He is doing, or when He appears to be doing nothing, and when life feels very unfair.
Perhaps you can remember times in your childhood when you felt deeply grieved about something, and complained bitterly to your parents, whether or not it was their fault. Did they listen and counsel you gently? A good family relationship is one in which we can be completely honest and pour out our hearts to one another, and so it is with a good relationship with the Lord. It is more important that our prayers be honest than politically correct – our Father understands. Personally I believe that we should be honest and yet reverent in addressing our God – there is a balance to be struck, but we must not let our reverence hide our deep feelings.
The nature of Habakkuk’s complaint
Habakkuk lived at a time when the state of Judah was spiritually and morally low. They were supposedly God’s chosen people, but God appeared to be doing nothing about it – He was just letting them sink lower and lower. Maybe Habakkuk was trying to preach to the people, but either received a hostile response, or no response – we do not know. But he was fed up – it is not easy being a prophet of the Lord in a godless age. Clearly, he had been praying about this for a long time, but there was no answer, as we see here:
O Lord, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence?
Why do you make me see such trouble? How can you endure to look on such wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are all round me, and there is fighting and quarrelling everywhere.
The law is weak and useless, and justice is never done. Evil people get the better of the righteous, and so justice is perverted.Habakkuk 1:2–4 (GNB)
We can well identify with Habakkuk’s burden – we live in a nation that used to be called a Christian nation, but I certainly would not call it that today, nor has it been for the majority of my life at least. We have a great Christian heritage. We have many good churches. But our nation as a whole has wandered far from God and implemented laws and standards which are directly contrary to God’s law. Even more sadly, some so-called churches have also embraced these wayward standards. The challenge for us is, do we feel as distressed as Habakkuk about it? And do I bring my burden to the Lord, or do I simply complain to myself and others around me as though there is nothing that can be done about it?
For Habakkuk, suddenly, there was an answer, in Habakkuk 1:5-9. God was going to chastise His wayward people. He was going to do it with the Babylonians, or Chaldeans. They were a nation on the rise. For a long time, Assyria had been the dominant force in the world. Assyria had taken the southern Kingdom of Israel into captivity. The Assyrians wanted to subdue Babylon, but Babylon was on the rise and was going to subdue the Assyrians and take their place on the world stage. Then, God Himself tells us how determined and fierce the Babylonians were.
I am bringing the Babylonians to power, those fierce, restless people. They are marching out across the world to conquer other lands.
They spread fear and terror, and in their pride they are a law to themselves.
“Their horses are faster than leopards, fiercer than hungry wolves. Their horsemen come riding from distant lands; their horses paw the ground. They come swooping down like eagles attacking their prey.
“Their armies advance in violent conquest, and everyone is terrified as they approach. Their captives are as numerous as grains of sand.
They treat kings with contempt and laugh at high officials. No fortress can stop them—they pile up earth against it and capture it.
Then they sweep on like the wind and are gone, these men whose power is their god.”Habakkuk 1:6–11 (GNB)
But Habakkuk had a problem with this answer. The Babylonians were far worse, far more evil, than his own people. How could God use very bad people to judge the less bad people? Habakkuk could see the result and he told God directly: give Babylon victory over Judah, and those Babylonians will offer idolatrous sacrifices to their gods. “O Lord, there is no glory for You in all this!” (my words).
Actually, God has already answered this problem in Habakkuk 1:11 – it is a bit clearer in my NASB than it is in the GNB:
“Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god.”Habakkuk 1:11 (NASB95)
Yes He was going to give the victory to the Babylonians, but He was holding them guilty and would judge them in due course. This is an important point: we trust in and worship a sovereign God. His ways are higher than our ways. It should not surprise us that sometimes we do not understand Him – what He does, or what He allows to happen, does not seem right to us; but He is working His purposes out. He can use wicked individuals, or corrupt Governments, or exploitative businesses, or bad organisations, to further His purposes. For a while, it seems like wicked people and organisations are rejoicing in their success. But God will judge them at the right time, and until then He can use them to judge others.
A lesson in humility
Our reading today ended with chapter 2 verse 1. Habakkuk has made his complaint to God, and now he is waiting and listening. Something comes across in my NASB, which is not so obvious in the GNB or the NIV. In my Bible, the verse reads as follows:
I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.Habakkuk 2:1 (NASB95)
Do you see? Having made a complaint against God, he is waiting for God’s response, and he is expecting to be reproved. He is ready for this: he genuinely wants to know how God can justify His declared course of action. If God can justify His actions, then he, Habakkuk, stands to be corrected.
The point that I want to make is this: it is not wrong to complain to God if you are simply sharing your honest thoughts and pouring out your heart to Him. He is our Father, He wants us to tell Him how we really feel. But we must be ready to listen. We must be ready to concede that our complaint does not stand up, when we see how He is working His purposes out. A complaint would be wrong if it is made in the spirit of, “God I have had enough, and I am giving up on You”. Similarly, it is better to bring your sincere complaint to the Lord than to go silent, in the spirit of “God’s not listening to me, so there is no point in praying any more”. Making a complaint can be commendable if we genuinely want, and are ready to listen to, God’s answer.
Let us declare that He is good, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-wise, and working His purposes out. At the start of a new year, do you want to understand God’s purposes better, and to be a faithful servant to Him? Until the Lord comes again, there will always be trouble and injustices in this world, but nothing takes Him by surprise and thwarts His purposes.
Lord, we give You praise and worship as the mighty God, our creator God, who provides everything for us. We live in a troubled, fallen world. Some of the trouble is our fault – we are all fallen creatures. Thank You for Your grace and mercy. Thank You for Your patience with us, when we fail you again.
Lord we commit this year of 2022 to You. You are working Your purposes out. We want to be part of that work. Please show each of us what You would have us do, how we might serve You, in the coming days. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.