Habakkuk: When God Seems Unfair – Part 3
This morning, we conclude our study of the book of Habakkuk. In just a little bit, we’ll be in chapter 3.
But first, let me just briefly review where we’ve been for the past couple of weeks. Habakkuk was one of God’s prophets, but in chapter 1, he brought a complaint to God. He said, “When I look around, I see a lot of sin, and I really feel like you need to be doing something about it. But you’re not, and it just seems like you don’t care.”
And God’s response to Habakkuk was, “Don’t worry, I do care, and I am going to take care of it. Before long, the Babylonians will come in and destroy Judah because of their sin.” Which only confused and upset Habakkuk even more. He said to God, “I don’t get that. I mean, I know that Judah is bad, but you’re going to use the Babylonians? They’re the meanest, most violent, most corrupt people on the face of this earth. You’re going to use people like that to destroy us? That doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem fair.”
And if you’ve ever had a time in your life when you thought to yourself, “That doesn’t seem very fair” (and I think that’s pretty much all of us), then you understand how Habakkuk felt. Or maybe, like Habakkuk, there’s been a time in your life when you prayed and prayed for God to do something, to help you out with a problem, but years went by without an answer and you just gave up, thinking, “God doesn’t seem to care about anything that I’m going through.”
And when we’re surrounded by injustice and immorality and violence, as we are in this country, it’s only natural that we pray for God to do something about it. We want to see some changes – we’d like to see justice and godliness. But if things don’t change, then we pray for God’s judgment. We pray for God to do something to make things right.
And as we saw last week in chapter 2, whenever there is sin, we can be assured that a time of judgment is coming. We have a lot of phrases for this – one day the chickens will come home to roost, what goes around comes around, if you dance you’ve got to pay the piper, you reap what you sow.
However you want to put it, sooner or later, we all face the consequences of the choices we have made. That’s true for nations and it’s also true for individuals. You cannot mock God forever, you cannot ignore him or pretend he isn’t there, you cannot do as you please and rebel against God without inviting his judgment.
And that was the message in chapter 2. God told Habakkuk clearly: “In regard to the Babylonians, judgment is coming!” And once Habakkuk heard that message and he understood it, the whole tone of the book changes. The beginning of this book and the ending are very, very different.
In chapter 1, Habakkuk is saying, “God, I don’t understand.” In chapter 2, God said, “Be patient and wait.” And so, Habakkuk did wait. And even though things around him didn’t seem to be getting any better, Habakkuk is at peace in chapter 3.
And I want you to notice this, because this is important — Nothing changed on the outside, but Habakkuk changed on the inside. In chapter 1, Habakkuk is upset and confused. In chapter 3, Habakkuk is at peace. The beginning of this book is filled with mystery (“God, I don’t understand”), the end is filled with certainty. The beginning is filled with questions, the end with affirmation. The beginning is filled with complaint, the end with confidence.
So how did Habakkuk get from a place of confusion and worry and fear to a place of faith and confidence and joy? How was he able to make that transition when nothing around him changed? The people were still mocking God, violence still filled the streets, and the Babylonians were still coming to attack Jerusalem. Outwardly, everything was still as messed up as it was at the very beginning. But something changed inside of Habakkuk. How did that happen?
Well, this morning, I want to look at three things that Habakkuk did that we need to do to make the transition in our lives from confusion and worry and fear to faith and confidence and joy.
1. We need to remember what God has done.
Look at chapter 3, verse 1: “This is the prayer of Habakkuk the prophet…. Lord, I have heard the news about you; I am amazed at what you have done. Lord, do great things once again in our time; make those things happen again in our own days.’” (Habakkuk 3:1-2, NCV)
Habakkuk starts out by saying, “God, I know all the stories of all the amazing things you’ve done in the past. I’ve heard about your miracles. I’ve heard about your power. I’ve heard about your glory. And I remember all of those things. But God, it just doesn’t seem like you’re doing any of that stuff right now. Do great things again.”
If I’m being honest with you, I’d have to admit that there are times in my life when God’s presence has seemed more real than at other times. There are times in my life when God’s power seemed to be more evident. I could see that God was doing this and God was doing that, but then there are times when I get to the point where I say, “God, I remember when you used to do all this stuff. Can you please do it again?”
But it starts with remembering. We need to look back and remember the faithfulness, the character, and the goodness of God. We need to remember what God has done. And that’s what Habakkuk does as he goes down memory lane thinking about the goodness and of the power of God.
Someone put it this way, “The more [Habakkuk] knows about the Planner, the more he can trust the plans.” And I think that’s the key here. It’s not that Habakkuk suddenly understands everything that God is doing. That’s not it at all. In fact, at the end of this book, Habakkuk really doesn’t understand any more than he does at the beginning. But he comes to the realization that it doesn’t really matter as long as he knows that God is in control, and that God will work out everything in his own time.
In these verses, there is a focus on God’s activity in the past. Habakkuk especially focuses on the Exodus, the time in the wilderness, and the crossing of the Jordan River. That was a time when God repeatedly performed spectacular miracles. And the implication is that if God did it before, then he can do it again.
In verse 3, he says, “I see God moving across the deserts from Edom, the Holy One coming from Mount Paran. His brilliant splendor fills the heavens, and the earth is filled with his praise.” (Habakkuk 3:3, NLT)
Habakkuk goes back in his mind to what God did when he delivered the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. God took his people to Mount Sinai. And then, he led his people across the desert to get to the land of Canaan.
In verses 7 through 15, Habakkuk goes through a very detailed explanation of remembering times when God displayed his glory and power. He says, “God, I remember when you guided your people by fire and by a cloud, and I remember when you fed us with bread from heaven. And I remember when the waters parted and we walked through, and I remember when you shook the earth and the walls came tumbling down, and I remember when you used torrential rains to defeat the enemy, and I remember when you used pestilence and plagues. God, I remember what you’re capable of. Do those things again today.”
Whenever I’m confused because of what’s going on in my life or in the world around me, I need to remember. I need to go back to who I know God to be. Sometimes we read about everything God did in the Bible and we think that’s the God that used to be. But we need to remember that the God who did all those things is the God we serve now.
And when I don’t see God at work right here right now, I need to remember what he’s done in the past. “God, I remember your glory and your deeds and your power. I know you’ve done it before, and I believe you can do it again.”
The first thing we need to do is to remember what God has done, both in the Bible and in our own lives in the past. The second thing we need to do is…
2. Accept what God is doing.
Now that doesn’t mean that you give up expecting God to do anything. But it does mean that sometimes the answer doesn’t come as quickly as we would like for it to come, and so, we accept what God is doing right now even if we don’t like it very much.
We see this in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul has some sort of a problem in his life that he referred to as a “thorn in the flesh”. And he pleaded with the Lord three times about this problem and he asked God to take it away from him. But God refused to remove this thorn in the flesh and he said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).
When God didn’t answer his prayer the way he wanted him to, Paul could have gone into a state of depression, or he could have gotten angry with God. But, instead, Paul accepted what the Lord said. He wrote, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10 ESV).
And you see the same response in Habakkuk. When he questioned God, he didn’t get the answer he expected. God said, “I am going to use the Babylonians to destroy your nation,” and here’s Habakkuk’s response. He said, “I hear these things, and my body trembles; my lips tremble when I hear the sound. My bones feel weak, and my legs shake. But I will wait patiently for the day of disaster that will come to the people who attack us.” (Habakkuk 3:16)
This is Habakkuk’s way of saying, “It makes me sick to my stomach to think about what’s going to happen. When Babylon attacks, this is not going to be a pleasant experience. A lot of people are going to die. Probably me, probably those that I love. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed, and I don’t like it. And even though I don’t fully understand, I trust that God knows what he’s doing. God has spoken, and so I’ll accept what he’s doing, as difficult as it may be. I will quietly wait for his plan to be carried out.
Sometimes, things happen in our lives that we don’t like – like this COVID-19 pandemic. And there are times when we just have to accept it. We don’t have to like it, but we trust that God knows what he’s doing, so we accept it.
So, first, remember what God has done in the past, then accept what God is doing right now. But, then . . .
3. Trust what God is going to do (in the future).
Habakkuk says, “I don’t understand what’s going on and I don’t like it, and the Babylonians should be punished.” But he says, “I will wait patiently for the day of disaster that will come to the people who attack us.” (Habakkuk 3:16). “I’m going to wait because I believe eventually Babylon will get theirs, because God said so.”
After Habakkuk accepts his present situation, there is an absolute trust that God will take care of things in the future. And he closes with what may be the most beautiful expression of faith in all the Bible:
“Fig trees may not grow figs, and there may be no grapes on the vines. There may be no olives growing and no food growing in the fields. There may be no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the barns. But I will still be glad in the Lord; I will rejoice in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18, NCV)
What a beautiful statement that is. Habakkuk says, “No matter what may go wrong in my life, even if I lose everything I own, God, I will still trust you and I will still serve you because I believe that in the end you will make everything work out all right.”
Keep in mind that ancient Israel was an agricultural society. If you ran out of figs, olives, grapes, grain, sheep, and cattle, you were in big trouble. You would have lost everything.
And, so this raises the question for us – What would you do if you lost everything? What do you do if you get wiped out? What if your investments disappear? Eleven weeks ago, the stock market was at an all-time record high. But now, due to this coronavirus crisis, the stock market is on the verge of imploding. What if it totally tanks and goes from 29,551 all the way down to zero? What would you do then? Investments gone. Pension destroyed. 401(k) wiped out. What then? What would you do?
- Or what if you lose your job?
- What it you can’t pay your bills?
- What if the doctor says, “It’s VOVID-19” or “It’s terminal”?
- What if your spouse has a heart attack and you’re left alone?
- What if your house burns down with everything in it?
- What then?
Are we able to say, like Habakkuk, “Even though I don’t like it, and even though I don’t understand it, and even though I know God could do something about it if he wanted to, but he doesn’t, even then, my trust is in the Lord my God.”
There are some Christians who have a God of the good times. They serve God and love him and praise him when everything’s going great. But some people’s idea of faith is, “Lord, you take care of me and I’ll follow you. You make sure I’ve got enough money, and you keep me from being sick and you fill my life with lots of blessings, and in return I’ll believe in you and I’ll serve you.”
But what do you do when the hard times come? Because if all you have is a God of the good times, you don’t have the God of the Bible. Because…
- Sometimes the fig tree doesn’t bud.
- Sometimes there are not grapes on the vine.
- Sometimes the olive crop fails.
- Sometimes the fields produce no food.
- Sometimes there are no sheep in the pen.
- Sometimes there are no cattle in the stalls.
What do you do then? You can get angry with God. Or you can give up on God altogether. Or you can choose to trust God anyway. Faith chooses to believe when it would be easier to stop believing. Habakkuk said, “I will wait patiently” and “I will rejoice.”
I pray that every single one of you would grow to have what I call a Habakkuk chapter 3 type of faith. But here’s the deal. You can’t have a chapter 3 type of faith until you’ve had a chapter 1 kind of question, and a chapter 2 kind of waiting, because God can do more with us spiritually when we are going through those tough times than he does on the mountaintop. And those of you who are closest to God, you know this because you’ve been through it.
One of the things about having served Christ for the past 60 years or is this — I’ve walked with God for enough yesterdays that I can trust him with all my tomorrows. And I pray that if you have not yet experienced the same thing, that eventually the day will come when you will have known God’s goodness and faithfulness in enough yesterdays that you will be able to trust him with all your tomorrows.
The last verse of Habakkuk says this — “The Lord God is my strength. He makes me like a deer that does not stumble so I can walk on the steep mountains.” (Habakkuk 3:19)
If you travel to Palestine, you can see deer scampering on the barren hills near the west side of the Dead Sea. It’s an area that’s difficult to walk on, but those deer are sure-footed where the rest of us would slip and slide and eventually fall.
Habakkuk’s point is this — If your trust is in God, he will give you stability in those slippery moments of life. He will give you the ability to stand when everyone else is falling apart.
But the only way we can have this assurance is by saying with Habakkuk, “the Lord God is my strength.” Because if your savings account is your strength, you will not survive the tough times. If your family is your strength, you will not survive the tough times. If your health is your strength, you will not survive the tough times.
If you cannot say, “the Lord is my strength”, you will find the journey of life to be a very slippery path. But, “The Lord God is my strength. He makes me like a deer that does not stumble so I can walk on the steep mountains.”
Let me repeat once more the single most important observation from Habakkuk. As this book comes to a close, nothing has changed on the outside. The people of Judah have still forgotten God. Violence still reigns in Jerusalem. The wicked still oppress the righteous. And the Babylonians are still God’s appointed instrument for judgment. Hard times are coming and there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Nothing has changed! Except for this — Habakkuk changed on the inside. He finally came to the realization that God is in control of the universe. He learned that he could trust God completely even though he could only see a small part of God’s plan. As Isaiah pointed out, God’s ways are not man’s ways (Isa. 55:9). Sometimes what God is doing doesn’t seem to make any sense to us. And God doesn’t promise that he’ll explain everything to us, but he does assure us that we can put our trust in him.
As someone has put it, we don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds our future. Or, as Corrie Ten Boom put it, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
So, what do we learn from Habakkuk’s journey? Because we’re all tempted to raise the same questions that Habakkuk did. We want to know why the wicked prosper. We want to know why the righteous suffer. And there are a lot of times that we don’t understand why God allows certain things to happen. At times, we wonder if God’s even around at all.
Habakkuk was reminded that God will make all things right in due time. Those who are wicked will most certainly be punished, and those who are righteous will most certainly be rewarded. And as long as we can remember that our God is in control, then we can relax and stop worrying.
But, as I pointed out last week, the hardest part is waiting on God, because we want him to fix everything right away. God’s timetable is very seldom the same as we would like for it to be, and so there is often a need for us to be patient with God and wait.
“Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14 NKJV)
What do you do when, like Habakkuk, you find yourself waiting on God?
Maybe you’re not sure what the future holds for you. Maybe you’ve lost your job or you’ve been offered a new job. Do you go? Do you stay? You pray for wisdom, but the answer doesn’t come quickly. What do you do when you find yourself waiting for God?
There are some who are waiting for God to bring healing. In some physical way, they are suffering. And they are waiting for God to heal, or at least to alleviate the pain.
For others, it’s a matter of dealing with depression — life seems to have no purpose, no meaning, no joy. And that person is waiting for God to restore all of that.
What do you do when you find yourself waiting for God?
There are people who are waiting for God to restore relationships. Have you ever been in a situation where you want the forgiveness of someone you’ve hurt – you do everything you can to say I am sorry and to make things right and that person simply will not forgive – And you are left waiting for God to soften that person’s heart.
Or maybe you’re on the other end. Someone has done you wrong and you’re carrying a terrible grudge. And living in anger is like living with a cancer – the anger just eats away at your soul. But you just can’t seem to get over it. You can’t seem to bring yourself to forgive and you’re waiting on God to equip you with the serenity and the strength to say those simple words “I forgive you” – and to really mean it.
Or maybe, like Habakkuk, you’re waiting for God to provide justice, which is so needed, even in the midst of a land of liberty.
And then there are those who are waiting for peace. What do you do when you find yourself waiting for God to bring peace to this troubled world?
Then there are those people who wait more desperately than any of us. People in our own country who are homeless and hungry. People around the globe in desperate struggles to feed their children.
And of course, we’re all waiting for an end to this virus pandemic and a return to some sense of normalcy.
What do you do when you’re waiting for God?
We sometimes sing the song, “I Know Whom I Have Believed” which is based on 2 Timothy 1:12. Listen to the words of the third verse of that song:
I know not what of good or ill may be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days, before his face I see.
But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded
that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.
Ultimately, that’s the message of Habakkuk — “I don’t know what lies ahead for me. It may be good things; it may be bad. But, either way, my trust is in God and in the end, everything will work out fine.” Because I remember what God has done in the past, I accept what he is doing right now, and I trust what he will do in the future.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
(Habakkuk 3:17–18 NLT)