Habakkuk: When God Seems Unfair – Part 2
This morning, we continue in our study of the book of Habakkuk. I would encourage you to grab your Bible or your electronic device and make your way to Habakkuk chapter 2.
Last week, I told you that Habakkuk was one of the Old Testament prophets, but that he was different from the other prophets. All of the other prophets carried God’s message to the people. But, in the book of Habakkuk, Habakkuk carries his message to God. It was actually more of a complaint that he brought to God. Because Habakkuk looked around and he wanted to know why God wasn’t doing anything about all the sins that Judah was committing. He saw all sorts of immorality and injustice and violence. Why didn’t God punish the Jews? Why didn’t he do something about it? It just seemed like God didn’t care.
And I mentioned last week that we all have times in our lives when we feel the same way and we say, “God, I don’t understand. Here’s this situation in my life that I need you to do something about. I’m having problems at work. I’ve got this medical issue. I want a spouse. I want children. And, God, you could do something about this problem if you really wanted to. If I were God, I would do something about it, but you’re not doing anything. It just feels like you don’t even care.”
And we saw last week that God said to Habakkuk, “Don’t worry, I know what’s going on and I’m going to take care of things. In fact, I’ve already made plans to bring the Babylonians in to punish the Jews.” Which only confused and upset Habakkuk even more. Because, the Babylonians were known for being a cruel, violent, godless people.
And Habakkuk couldn’t understand how God could punish one nation of wicked people by using another nation of even more wicked people. It just didn’t seem right. It didn’t make any sense.
And so, Habakkuk was struggling with his faith. He saw the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. And he asked God two questions that we often ask: “Why?” and “How long?” Why are you letting these things happen? And how long before you do something about it?”
As we came to the close of the message last week, Habakkuk said to God, in essence, “You’ve got some explaining to do. And I’m going to sit right here and wait until you give me an explanation that I’m satisfied with.”
And now, as we come to chapter 2, here’s the question: When you find yourself struggling with your faith, when you don’t understand why God is doing the things that’s he’s doing or it just seems like he’s not doing anything at all, when everything around you just seems to be so unfair, how do we deal with that? And I think the first three verses in this chapter give us the answer.
WHEN GOD SEEMS UNFAIR…
Habakkuk said, “I will stand like a guard to watch and place myself at the tower. I will wait to see what he will say to me; I will wait to learn how God will answer my complaint.” (Habakkuk 2:1, NCV).
Whenever we are struggling in our faith, the first thing we need to do is to stop and listen. In fact, if you look at what Habakkuk did, basically, he was complaining to God, “God, I don’t like what you’re doing.” And the beautiful thing is, God didn’t get upset at Habakkuk for what he said. It’s as if God was saying, “I’m OK with this. You’re allowed to wrestle with me. You’re allowed to raise questions.”
And then, after Habakkuk filed his complaint with God, he said, “Now, God, it’s your turn. I need some answers. What do you have to say for yourself?” And then he waited and listened to see what God would say.
Far too often, what we do is we just whine about what’s going on and then we go on with our lives. We don’t really want an answer, we just want to complain. And so, a lot of times, we never stop to listen. We never consider asking God, “What do you have to say?” But our God is a relational God who loves to speak to his children. Our God is a God who speaks, and if you take the time to listen, God will often speak to you.
And I’m not saying that you can expect God to speak to you from a cloud in a booming voice, although if he did, apparently it would sound a lot like Morgan Freeman. But God can speak in different ways. He can speak through his word, as we read and study the Bible. God can speak to you through circumstances. God can speak to you through other people.
God will often speak to you, but here’s the thing – if he does speak to you, you may not like what he has to say. Habakkuk didn’t like it. He said, “That’s not the answer I was looking for.” But if you take the time to listen, God will often speak to you.
So, if you’re wrestling with trying to make sense of what’s going on in your life or in the world around you, first of all, you need to listen.
The second thing you need to do is…
2. Write It Down (Remember)
In verse 2, God said to Habakkuk, “Write down the vision; write it clearly on clay tablets so whoever reads it can run to tell others.” (Habakkuk 2:2, NCV)
So, when Habakkuk says, “God, where are You? What’s going on?”, God says, “You want to know what’s going on? I’ll tell you. But first, pick up a notepad and get ready to take some notes. Write it down.”
So, why is that important? I think there are a couple of reasons. One is that, years later, God wants there to be a written record of what he said he would do, so that people would know that our God is a God who keeps his word.
But I think there’s a second reason. We write things down because we want to remember them. I don’t know if you men have ever had anything like this happen to you. Your wife sends you to the store to pick up three items and she says, “Do you need to write this down?” and you say, “No, it’s only three items, I can remember that much.” And then 20 minutes later, you’re back at the house with a bag full of groceries, but you’re missing one of those three items you went for.
Now, I’m not saying that has ever happened to me. But I will say that whenever I go to the store, Angela wants me to write it down. And I think the same thing is true for us spiritually. It doesn’t do any good for me to listen to what God has to say if I turn around the next day and forget it.
Much of what Paul and the other apostles wrote in their letters was designed to help Christians remember what they had learned before. And you find them saying over and over, “Don’t forget what God has said.”
So, when you’re wrestling with all of these questions, first of all, listen to God. Secondly, write it down, don’t forget what he has said.
And then, thirdly,
3. Be Patient and Wait
In verse 3, God said, “It is not yet time for the message to come true, but that time is coming soon; the message will come true. It may seem like a long time, but be patient and wait for it, because it will surely come; it will not be delayed.” (Habakkuk 2:3, NCV).
Those are not words that we like to hear – “be patient and wait for it.” We certainly never liked hearing those words as a child. We wanted Christmas to get here soon. We wanted school to be out soon. We wanted to go on vacation soon. And we never liked hearing our parents say, “Be patient and wait for it.”
And now that we’re adults, we still don’t like hearing those words. Patience is a virtue, but it’s not a virtue that many of us really want to have. We live in an impatient world and we are an impatient people. We want what we want, and we want it right now. No matter how fast our fast food gets to us, it’s not fast enough. The line in the grocery store never moves fast enough. The traffic is always keeping us from being where we need to be when we want to be there. And now, in the midst of COVID-19 crisis, many of us cringe to hear some expert tell us we just have to “be patient and wait for things to level out.”
I recall one of my grandmother’s favorite sayings was, “Patience and perseverance overcomes all.” And I’m not sure if that was for her benefit, or for mine most of the times she said that to me. I’m quite certain that at times I tried her patience.
Impatience is always frustrating to us, but it is particularly frustrating when it comes to God because God never seems to operate on our timetable. God, I want you to get rid of this ache or pain and I’d like for you to do it within the next 5 minutes. God, I’m having some issues at work with my boss, and I’d like for you to take care of it by the end of the week, please. God, we’re building a church building and we’d like to be in it by the end of the month. God, this coronavirus pandemic is really cramping my style and hampering my freedom, I want you to bring an end to it this week.
When you get in a rush for God to answer your prayers or to take care of a problem that you’ve shared with him, you would do well to remember the children of Israel in the land of Egypt. In Exodus 3:9, God said to Moses, “Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them” (NLT).
God heard their cries and God answered their prayers, and we say, “Isn’t that wonderful?” But, keep in mind, the Israelites had been in bondage for about 400 years. Anybody here willing to wait 400 years for an answer to your prayers? “Be patient and wait.” It’s important for us to remember that God may seem slow, but he always takes care of everything at just the right time.
And so, God says to Habakkuk, “I understand your concern, and I’ll take care of things. Not today. Not tomorrow. But the answer is on its way. Be patient and wait for it.” He even says, “It will surely come.” You can mark it down. The Babylonians will be judged, and in the end, they will be destroyed. Someday, God will make all things right. But he doesn’t operate on our timetable. You need to remember that the next time you feel like giving up when you pray.
Sometimes God takes years and years to accomplish his plans. But his plans will be accomplished. Sometimes, we just have to wait. Now, a lot of people think, “Okay. I’m waiting, so I guess I’ve just got to sit here doing nothing.” Their idea of waiting is just sitting still. But think about a waiter in a restaurant. We call him a waiter, but what does a waiter do? A waiter serves, doesn’t he? And that’s what we need to do while we’re waiting. As we wait, we continue to serve God.
“It may seem like a long time, but be patient and wait for it, because it will surely come.” (Habakkuk 2:3, NCV).
So, what do we do when we’re struggling with why God does what he does, or why he doesn’t seem to be doing anything at all? We listen, we remember what God has promised, and we patiently wait.
We come now to verse 4 which is a key verse in Habakkuk and, in fact, it’s a key verse in the New Testament. This verse is quoted in Romans 1, Galatians 3, and Hebrews 10.
“The evil nation is very proud of itself; it is not living as it should. But those who are right with God will live by trusting in him.” (Habakkuk 2:4, NCV).
The New King James Version is perhaps a bit more familiar to us here — “The just shall live by faith.” The righteous will live by faith. Those who are right with God will live by trusting in him. Those who are wicked will eventually be destroyed, but the righteous man or woman who has faith in God will live.
Throughout the rest of this chapter, God pronounces judgment on the wicked Babylonians. Because they are greedy and arrogant and bloodthirsty and ruthless, because they kill without remorse, and because they give themselves over to every sort of evil, God promises that one day he will destroy them.
But that day was still a long way off. Babylon wouldn’t be destroyed for almost 70 years. Over that time, they continued to do a lot of evil things. So, what do you do while you watch the bad guys continue to steal and kill and thumb their nose at justice? You keep in mind — the righteous will live by faith.
What do you do when your prayers seem to go unanswered? You keep in mind — the righteous will live by faith.
When all you see is trouble on every hand, the Christian remembers that God is still on his throne, and when dark clouds fill the sky, he says to himself, “The righteous will live by faith.”
THINGS FAITH WILL DO FOR US…
Here are some things that faith will do for us.
1. Faith will trust that God knows what he is doing.
As I said last week, it’s often difficult for us to see God’s plan. We see just a little bit of what’s going on around us right now, but God sees it all. Have you ever been up on a mountain top and looked down on a town below? You can see the whole town – the people leaving their homes over here, the train moving through town over here, the traffic jam over here. Everyone in that town only sees what is happening right around them, but you have the big picture. You can see it all. That’s how God is, and faith trusts that God sees more than we do.
We’ve all experienced this. After we’ve been through some trial, we’ll often say, “I see how God used that to accomplish something good in my life. It didn’t make any sense while I was going through it, but now I understand.” But then, we go through another trial, and we question God all over again. We have to trust that God knows what he is doing.
2. Faith will trust that God has our best interests at heart.
We’re familiar with Paul’s words in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (NKJV).
This verse is significant, not only for what it says, but for what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that everything that happens to us is good. And it doesn’t say that everything will turn out in a way that will make everyone happy. What it does say is this: God is at work in the world, especially in the lives of his children. His purpose is to make us like his Son, Jesus Christ. And, to that end, God can and does use all things – the good and the bad – to achieve that goal.
Faith will trust that God has our best interests at heart
3. Faith will trust that God always does things in the best time.
When we try to impose our timetable on God, we always get into trouble. You’ve probably heard the story of the man who found a cocoon in his backyard. He saw a tiny butterfly inside the cocoon and watched it struggling, trying its best to break out of captivity.
The man hated to see the butterfly struggle like that, so he decided to use a razor blade to make a tiny slit in the side of the cocoon, in order to free the struggling butterfly. Soon after that, the butterfly was free, but it couldn’t fly, and it died a short time later.
You see, that struggle was necessary for the butterfly to gain its strength. There are times in our lives when we want to short-circuit the maturing process. God is trying to strengthen us and prepare us for something that lies ahead, but we want to get rid of the struggle, we want to get rid of the pain, we want to get rid of the hardship as quickly as possible.
Faith will trust that God always does things in the best time.
4. Faith will trust that God is in control.
When you get right down to it, that’s what Habakkuk was really struggling with. It seemed like the Jews were doing whatever they wanted to do, so they were in control. And if the Babylonians came through and wiped out the Jews, then that meant the Babylonians were doing what they wanted to do, and they were in control. And it just didn’t seem like God was in control at all. But he was. And he is.
No matter how many people in this country advocate all kinds of immorality and sinful behavior, our God is still in control. No matter what horrible acts terrorist groups may do or how much ground they may gain, or how widespread the COVID-19 virus gets, our God is still in control.
“The righteous will live by faith.”
And God goes on to issue a series of woes against Babylon. And his point is one that Johnny Cash made in a song that he sang near the end of his career called, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. That song begins with these words:
You can run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.
Sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.
Go tell that long tongue liar,
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.
And that’s basically God’s message to Habakkuk in chapter 2. One day, God is going to cut Babylon down. That mighty empire will be brought down and utterly destroyed. In the process, God mentions five specific sins of Babylon for which they will be judged.
In verses 6-8, they were guilty of theft. In verse 9, they were guilty of arrogance. In verse 12, they were guilty of bloodshed. In verses 15 and 16, they were guilty of immorality. And finally, in verses 18 and 19, they were guilty of idolatry.
And then chapter 2 comes to a close with a verse that we’re familiar with — “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20, NIV)
We often use this verse, and we sing this verse to indicate that we should be reverent in God’s presence. Which is certainly true, but I don’t think that’s the point here.
Rather, what God is doing here is comparing how heathens deal with their gods and how God’s people deal with him. The heathens have to keep yelling at their gods, “Wake up! Do something!” But we don’t need to wake God up. And we don’t need to yell at him to do something. We can be silent before him because we trust that he’s going to do what’s right and everything will be fine in the end.
“The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20, NKJV). And ultimately, this is where the answer lies for Habakkuk. Jehovah is in control of this universe. He can be trusted even when this world seems to be going downhill, spinning out of control. No matter what happens around us, we can be certain that the Lord is in his holy temple.
In 605 BC, Babylon looked invincible. But, less than a century later, the Babylonian empire had disappeared. Waiting is difficult. It’s easy to give up. It’s easy to doubt what God is doing. And so, God wants to know, “Do you trust me enough to be willing to wait for me?”
There’s one more verse in this chapter that I skipped over. Right in the middle of God’s words of judgment, there’s a glimpse of a happier, better day. It’s in verse 14, “Then, just as water covers the sea, people everywhere will know the Lord’s glory.” (Habakkuk 2:14, NCV).
God encouraged Habakkuk to look forward to a time when the world would be filled not with bloodshed, not with immorality, not with injustice, not with greed, but the day is coming when this world will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.
And that’s the one thing that keeps us going in the midst of a world of violence and immorality. We look forward to something better. We know that God’s judgment is coming, and the time is coming when there will be no more injustice. There will be no more terrorism. There will be no more abuse. There will be no more ungodliness. But, “just as water covers the sea, people everywhere will know the Lord’s glory.”
But, until that day comes, Habakkuk chapter 2 asks us to make a commitment to trust God as we patiently wait for that day.
James wrote to a group of Christians who were struggling just like Habakkuk was. They were undergoing persecution and all sorts of difficulties. As he came to the close of his letter, James said, “Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient.” (James 5:7-8)
Let me close with these words from the third verse of the hymn, “This is My Father’s World”:
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.
If you’re struggling with your questions of “why?” and “how long?”, take the time to stop and listen to God. Remember what God has promised. And most importantly, be patient and wait. In time, God will make all things right. And when he does, the righteous will live by faith.
Pastor David Hall
First Church of Christ
April 26, 2020