Habakkuk Speaks Today 1
Why wasn’t God answering the prayers of his people? The darkness was spreading. Where was God? Habakkuk was perplexed
by David Carmichael
[At the annual Revival and Reformation Conference held in Swanwick November 18-20 2002 David S. Carmichael gave three stirring messages on the preaching of the prophet Habakkuk. He has been the minister for twenty years of the Abbeygreen Church of Scotland congregation in Lesmahagow over 20 miles south of Glasgow. firstname.lastname@example.org]
Habakkuk [Message 1]
The book is well worth our consideration. It communicates a message to the 21st century church. Habakkuk lived 600 years before Christ in Judah in one of its periods of declension, an evil king was on the throne reigning over a land of violence and wickedness They were dark and difficult days, spiritually very distressing. Evil seemed to have a free hand in Judah. Everything seemed out of control. There was much praying from this prophet but little response. Why wasn’t God answering the prayers of his people? The darkness was spreading. Where was God? Habakkuk was perplexed.
Habakkuk’s name means to wrestle or embrace, and that is what he does, embracing God and wrestling with him. He is coming to God and asking God why are our prayers going unanswered. There are two questions in particular: How can a God of love allow the advance of evil? How can he permit such evil to prosper? Those questions need an answer. We need to be revived, and we have cried to God for a religious awakening but to no avail. Habakkuk was asking the right questions on our behalf. We too embrace God in the context of faith and we wrestle with God for answers.
1. The Complaint from the Worried Prophet.
Habakkuk burned with zeal for the glory of God, and he had frequently given himself to prayer. His prayer was unproductive in his own understanding (vv.3&4) because sin prevailed everywhere. He saw the spreading of violence and the toleration of wrong. The law of the land was paralysed. The day could hardly have been darker. Habakkuk saw a nation in the throes of self-destruction. It was a nation very much like our own, one given over to the denial of spiritual certainties and the rejection of the reality of God. That is our day where the word of God is reviled. What the prophet saw filled him with anguish. The wicked men poured out their contempt on the church and Habakkuk was full of rage. He did not roll with the punches when people said that the truth was gone and preaching belonged to the past. Men showered God with contempt, but Habakkuk’s response was to pour out his heart before God that the land would be changed. That intercession is not what we see today in the professing churches, a lack of earnestness in prayer characterises the vast majority of congregations. The Prayer Meeting is the poorest meeting in the church.
The professing church must continue to exist in such impotent days until it is driven to God. Habakkuk calls to God for help. Why is the church growing weaker? We look around and evil is increasing, liberalism still spreads throughout the church and now ‘evangelical’ men are affected by it. Preachers are being touched by modernism. An emphasis on a congregation’s singing replaces what we give to God in response to his word. Christian doctrine has been given to lift up Christ and inspire us to worship him. Through the preaching of the truth Christians fall in love with him all the more. Alas we have too little passion and zeal. The cancer of apathy is touching everyone and we cry to God Why? He seems indifferent to our needs.
2. The Counsel Given to the Prophet. vv.5-11
God says that he wants us to know that his providence is mysterious. There are 4 elements.
i] There is mystery in the work God chooses us to do. See v.5 He assures us that he is at work in history and as the defender of his people he is operating for the good of the cause of his Son. Ultimate good will belong to Jesus.
ii] There is the precision of God’s work as he says (v.5) that he will work a work in his days. He is involved in this precise work and he knows exactly what he is doing. What he intends to produce at the end he knows and works to that end.
iii] There is a puzzle in his works (v.5) You would not believe it even if you could be told. You could not comprehend my work. God does not always take us into his confidence. In Isaiah 55 God says the same things – "My thoughts are higher than yours." There is a mystery in providence even if God spelled it out and told us. What we do know is that our God is powerful and it is a perfect work that will bring glory to his name. The providence of God is mysterious in the work God chooses to do. iv] There is mystery in the workers he chooses to use. He uses Babylon like a desert wind. The evil Babylon planned to do, God allowed, because he would put it to good purpose. Imagine if God had called someone into his confidence regarding this, that they needed to be invaded – for their good! God has used odd people to bring his purposes to pass. Liberalism and post-modernism and paganism are being used by God for purposes so deep we don’t understand. God – never forget – allows it to happen for a purpose. There was 9/11 and international terrorism, and the world is in turmoil and God is allowing it.
So God is working. There is mystery in the ways God chooses to act. He hoped for revival to happen. We cry out for it. Maybe when we cry the time is not yet. But more of us need to be crying to him for revival. We have to cry and cry, and we are waiting for the time for him to work. Habakkuk is screaming for revival, and God’s answer is to let the day get darker. God does the same thing in our own day. John Newton in a hymn asked for more from God, but instead God let him know opposition and the evils of his own heart, and so experiencing personal grace he learned more of God. The spirituality of the church has slumped to an all-time low. The ways of God are mysterious. Our duty is to cry to him, even though we cannot understand his ways.
Maisie Smith of the UFM told the story of a new Congo evangelist suddenly dying and plunging his church into perplexity. Why? Who would possibly replace him? A father of a large family volunteered, then another man, and another until 12 volunteers took his place.
God’s providence can be misunderstood. In v.11 we are told of their self-righteous confidence – ‘who can stand against us? We have conquered nations . . .’ But they were just instruments in the hands of God. This fact of God using his enemies’ cruelties to fulfil his own ends is misunderstood today. The godless say, ‘We will do this or that . . .’ Providence can be misunderstood. Our God reigns and none can stand against him. That is the great truth.
3. The Contemplations of the Worried Prophet.
Habakkuk can make neither rhyme or reason of what God was doing. What possible benefit could accrue from a Babylonian invasion? Habakkuk could have become disillusioned and gone into despair. Thankfully he knew a wiser way. When we fail to follow the example of this prophet then our day is darker. What Habakkuk did so wisely, in the emotional trials of his perplexity, was to exercise self-control. He determined to pursue a strategy of contemplation. In other words, his way of dealing with a Babylonian invasion and the destruction of the nation was to go back to first principles.
We too need to go back to the word of God. What are our aims and goals? Why are we here? We are not community centres for every kind of praise band and evening course under the sun. What do we do? Go back to first principles. If we don’t we will find our church buildings full of lost men who enjoying hours of singing as they march on to hell. Read the Bible for yourselves! If we are going to build the church we must build it God’s way. If we don’t we are lost men. Habakkuk in a struggling way did not look for novelty but for first principles. If we are going to be the best kind of Christian strategists then we ned to do exactly what the prophet does, consider the glorious perfections of God.
Habakkuk is struggling to make sense of the shape of history in his day. The people were doubting and questioning God and his ways, but here is Habakkuk contemplating the perfections of God
i] Our God is perfect because he is eternal – v.12. He is not a created idol. Even before there was thought God existed and was ruler over all that will ever be. His throne is high over everything. He is the alpha and the omega. He knows everything. He is all wise and all powerful. He is awesome. We are being taken back to first principles. Nothing can ever ever take him by surprise. The theologians says that the teaching of the ‘openness’ of God is what we all need. That is, that God is as surprised as anyone about the future. He is eternal. Nothing takes him by surprise. Nothing catches him on the hop. So we are able to ensure that we will never lose sight of the fact that all things work together for the purposes of God. Nothing takes him by surprise. So there is all this charging around in the professing church to find the secret of who or what will fill the church. What nonsense. God is eternal in all he does. We may be small in number but he is mighty and so we are strong in him.
ii] He is perfect because he is mighty (v.12): O Rock you have ordained them to punish. God is all powerful. That is the implication of calling him a Rock. He has no equal. He brings all things out of nothing by his voice. God had spoken in his mighty power and he is our God. Habakkuk is fortifying his faith and building up himself in God. The Babylonians were coming but God was mightier. He is greater than all those forces and Habakkuk contemplates all that in order that he might be encouraged. The rule of God was not tasting defeat. God was in sovereign control. People of God be assured that God is with you.
iv] Our God is perfect because he is trustworthy, in covenant relationship with his people. He is their protector and he guarantees their safety. Ex. 6:7 "I will be your God." He never breaks his word. He is ever intimate with his people. It was covenant-shaped faith that allowed him to cry, ‘My God, My Holy One.’ Contemplated covenant truth allowed Habakkuk to understand and be sure that the chosen people would not die. "I had a girl in our congregation who had cystic fibrosis whom I met when I preached in her school. She asked me as a girl of nine how she might become a Christian. At 20 she went to hospital. She had read James and asked for oil to be anointed. The four elders all agreed that they would pray but for her spiritual restoration. "That’s good," she said. So it happened even when the hospital could do nothing for her. She was restored to joy in God. As an old man dying in Congo said, "I am just like an old suitcase battered, but on the inside the goods are in fine condition."
v] God is perfect because he is absolutely holy. What has light to do with darkness and Habakkuk is saying that when we wisely contemplate these truths that such a God can never do anything wrong. When he uses the Babylonians he is never doing anything wrong.
Habakkuk says he can’t understand what is going on but as he contemplates the perfections of God nn 12-17 he sees the plight of the people before the dragnet of the evil ones, but he is excited in God. He is still upset at the Babylonians – v.13 – why should God tolerate their treacherousness? There is still something about the plight of our day which troubles us
4 The Peace of Faith of the Trusting Prophet.
Habakkuk had a peace that belongs to faith rooted in the perfection of God. All Habakkuk has received is silence. It is God’s wise way to teach us to leave the problems with God. When we get home to glory he will explain all things to us. Habakkuk is beginning to tap into the peace that is rooted in God. He was knowing the reality of being still and knowing that the Lord is God, contemplating his majesty and glory. Our God is great, almighty, trustworthy, eternal and holy. In China the missionaries went out, and the bamboo curtain went up, but when that curtain came down God had built a church there. Come away from your perplexities about God and rather contemplate his perfections.
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