(357) December 23: Habakkuk 1-3 & Revelation 14

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider how Habakkuk’s words should encourage.

To ponder:
We’re told less about Habakkuk than we are Nahum (1v1). But the message of the book is clear. It expresses the natural questions God’s people ask when the wicked seem to prosper at the expense of those more righteous. So Habakkuk begins asking how long he must ask for salvation from those who do violence, without God listening or acting. Putting it another way, he asks why God makes him look at so much injustice and conflict by which the wicked hem in the righteous, without doing anything about it. Why, in other words, God tolerates what is wrong – or “allows evil”? (1v2-4) The note that the injustice means the law is paralysed, suggests the wicked here are a group within Israel who keep the law from having the ordering effect it should have on Israelite society. Immediately we see that these sort of question have always been asked, and can be respectfully asked of the LORD. Indeed, Habakkuk’s words resonate with those of the Psalmist, Job or the author of Ecclesiastes. Although the Proverbs predominantly portray life as it should be work out when wisdom is displayed, it does not always work that way, leaving these questions.
            In response God tells Habakkuk to watch the nations and be amazed, as he is going to do something the prophet would not believe. He will raise up the Babylonians. The wickedness of these people is stressed: They are ruthless and will seize other peoples’ lands. They are feared, doing as they determine. They are proud, as fierce as wolves, and are coming swiftly to devour in violence, gathering prisoners. They will scoff at rulers and laugh at fortresses, sweeping through with victory over these symbols of power. And God is absolutely clear, they are “guilty,” trusting in their own strength rather than him as god (1v5-11).
            We might ask how this answers Habakkuk’s questions. But he certainly sees how. He recognizes God has appointed the Babylonians as his agent to punish the wicked in Israel. So the injustice Habakkuk is witnessing will not go on for long. However, this immediately leads to another question. Habakkuk affirms God is from everlasting and holy, probably stressing these things because God’s power and purity give him confidence that the righteous in Israel will not die, as God will do what is right. And so he asks how God can tolerate the wicked Babylonians swallowing up those throughout the world who are more righteous than themselves. Here he reflects on mankind like a fish without a ruler, meaning that the wicked can catch them and rejoice, and then worship the power (net) by which they do this, because it provides them with luxuries. The point is that humanity need God to act for them as their ruler. And so, again, Habakkuk asks, is the wicked man to keep emptying his net and repeatedly destroying nations in this way (1v12-17). These are questions we ask as we see tyrants doing evil in our day too.   
            Habakkuk stations himself on the ramparts in awaiting God’s answer, probably because he doesn’t just wait to hear from God, but see what he will actually do, and how he himself will answer (2v1). There may even be a sense of him standing between God and the people protectively, just as Christ intercedes for us. God’s response is that Habakkuk is to write down what he says so it may be spread speedily. It is about “the end,” and the prophet is told to wait for it, because although it will linger it will certainly come to pass (2v2-3). 2v4-5 contrasts the Babylonian attacker and the righteous Israelite. In the light of the coming judgement on Judah, God promises that the latter will nevertheless live by faith in the sense that if they patiently trust God through the coming time of difficulty they will be saved in the end (as 2v3). Paul makes this point to the Christian (Rom 1v16-17). The gospel promises that God will exercise his righteousness in counting as righteous and so saving people on account of their faith, from first (when they initially believe) to last (until their salvation is completed). So even though life is hard because our world is under wrath (Rom 1v18-32), we must continue to trust him.
            By contrast the Babylonian king is not righteous as he does not desire what is upright. Indeed, his metaphorical intoxication with taking captive the nations and their spoils betrays him as arrogant and insatiably greedy. God’s word about him is that although he will be used to judge Judah, he will be destroyed. So the righteous will one day mock him with various woes (2v6-20): Because he plunders nations, like debtors those left will plunder him. Because he ruins peoples to build his realm, the materials of his own house will cry out against him, and he will die. Although he oppresses people to build his city by forced labour, they exhaust themselves for nothing as their efforts will be only fuel for fire. Here we read that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, compacting the destruction of Babylon with the establishment of God’s worldwide kingdom in the church. The point is that all human empire building is futile, as its rulers will be judged, and only God’s kingdom will prevail. The woes continue: Because Babylon’s king pours the wine of his wrath on other nations until they stumble and he can gaze on their humiliated state, the same will happen to him under God’s wrath. And whereas he trusts idols that are man made and so cannot speak, come to life or guide, God is in his holy temple, and so is the one who should be turned to in faith. The earth is therefore commanded to be silent in order to reverently heed what God says rather than its idols. It’s a word for all those who trust in the gods of other religions, or those of science and materialism. God certainly uses all people in his purposes, but that doesn’t justify their idolatry or actions.
            Chapter 3 is a psalm of response. Awed by God’s fame and deeds in Israel’s past, Habakkuk prays they would be made known in his day by God remembering mercy in the midst of his wrath towards Judah. God’s past deeds are then recounted: Habakkuk pictures God coming from the Sinai area (3v3) to deliver his people from Egypt through the plagues (3v3-7). God is therefore described with images of lightening and earthquake which actually marked his presence when Israel reached Sinai. This means his glory or splendour probably refers to the fire with which he descended to the mountain (see Ex 19v16-19). The point is that he acts in awesome power, and this caused the nations looking on to tremble in fear. Of course, because this is a poem, the language is metaphorical. But it still portrays real events. And so God is now pictured as a warrior with chariots and weaponry, who split the earth with rivers in creation, and put the mountain and seas in place (3v8-10). Whereas he didn’t do that in wrath (3v8), he did act in wrath when he caused the sun and moon to stand still as he threshed the nations to establish his people in their land, having delivered his anointed one (Israel) from Pharoah and his warriors by bringing the Red Sea down on them (3v11-15, see Jos 10v12). In hearing of these things (as 3v2) Habakkuk trembles as we all should. Yet in the light of it, he can wait patiently for God to bring similar calamity on the Babylonians. And so, although the land may lack harvest and livestock – perhaps because of being plundered by Babylon, he can still rejoice in God as his Saviour, as he enables him to stand securely like a deer (3v16-19). We can not only reflect on the Exodus, but the return from exile and the resurrection of Christ. And so, no matter how hard life gets, we can rejoice that God will use this same power to save us in the end and destroy all that is evil.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his sovereignty in even using evil for his good and just purposes. Pray that you would rejoice confidently in the fact that he will exercise his awesome power to save you.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Habakkuk, click here.

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