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Injustice, Chaos, and Habakkuk

We are living in a time of social unrest. Our screens are filled regularly with scenes of injustice and cries of injustice. Wh

ere is God in all this? Is he asleep? Uninterested? Perhaps he doesn’t even exist at all.

In this episode, I invite you to listen to a sermon I preached this past summer. But it is as relevant this week as it was then. Last year was a tumultuous summer. Between the fears of quarantine and rationing to the well-publicized shootings and resulting protests and riots, it will be remembered in the history books. Our country’s politics are more divided and acrimonious than in recent memory. And Christians were and are divided about the proper causes and responses to these event.

Does God’s word apply to this moment? The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when there was profound injustice among God’s people. When he cries out to God for an explanation, he receives a surprising answer. And as a result he was surprisingly transformed.

In this podcast, I want to share with you a sermon I preached on the whole book of Habakkuk in our outdoor church gathering this summer. It is necessarily short because of the heat but I think you will walk away with a new trust in the Lord and a perspective on these events. And your reaction is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that your children are watching you and looking for your help interpreting the events of the day.

Listen below or on iTunes here.

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

Parenting with Confidence study

Topics Covered in This Week’s Podcast

00:15 Introduction

03:59 Habakkuk and his question

06:11 Habakkuk’s first complaint and God’s response

12:55 Habakkuk’s second complaint and God’s response

25:14 Woes and promises

30:26 Habakkuk’s response to God’s word

Episode Transcript

I’m Chap Bettis, and you’re listening to The Disciple-Making Parent, a podcast of The Apollos Project, where we seek to equip parents and churches to pass the gospel to their children. We’re living in a time of social unrest. Our screens are regularly filled with scenes of injustice and cries of injustice.

Where is God in all this? Is he asleep? Uninterested? Perhaps he doesn’t even exist at all. Hi, my name is Chad Bettis, and I’m the author of The Disciple-Making Parent. And if you regularly follow my podcast, you can see that I took a break. Actually, quite a break. Sharon and I moved to the middle of our lovely state of Rhode Island. But I hadn’t moved in 27 years. So I seriously underestimated the amount of time it would take to pack to move and to unpack. So we’re still unpacking.

But you know, it’s a new year and it’s time to start the podcast up. So thank you for your patience in this episode where we’re hitting restart. I invite you to listen to a sermon I preached this past summer, but it is as relevant this week as it was then. Last year was a tumultuous year between the fears of the quarantine, the rationing, the well-publicized shootings and the resulting protests and riots. It will be remembered in the history books for sure. And our country’s politics are more divided and acrimonious than in recent memory.

Christians were and are divided about the proper cause and responses to these events. So I want to ask, does God’s word apply to this moment? Well, the answer I would suggest is yes, in many ways. But in this podcast, we’re going to think about the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in a time when there was profound injustice among God’s people. And when he cried out to God for an explanation, he received a surprising answer. And as a result, he was transformed in an unexpected way.

So in this podcast, I want to share with you that sermon that I preached on the whole book of Habakkuk in our outdoor church gathering this summer. Now, it’s necessarily short because of the heat, but I think you’ll walk away with a new trust in the Lord and a perspective on these events. And your reaction to these events is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which your children are watching you and looking for your help in interpreting the events of the day.

But before we start, I want to remind you to check out our online video and workbook entitled Parenting with Confidence. And this is our Parenting 101 material. I’ve just released it, and in it I talk about things like how the world pushes us as parents and what the Bible has to say about our role as parents and, and the nature of our child. We’ll talk about authority, affection, routines, rewards, discipline, and even how to get started. So head on over to parentingwithconfidencestudy.com to check out the resource and order soon because during this introductory period, we’re giving away the videos for free with the order of a workbook. But for now, let’s think about Habakkuk’s questioning and his transformation.

Well, it’s a privilege to address you this morning. I think it’s been a while since I preached. And so I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak to you. Well, this morning we’re going to look at the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. And if you’d like to follow along, if you have a Bible, you can turn to the gospels, to Matthew and then go towards the Old Testament about four or five books, and you’ll find the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk.

I have a confession to make, and this is kind of hard as a pastor, but I have a love-hate relationship with  the Old Testament prophets. I’ve heard someone say it this way: reading the Old Testament prophets is like coming in in the middle of marriage counseling where there’s obviously problems. You don’t always know the history and what’s going on, and you’re just trying to figure it out. Can anybody relate, if you’ve read some of the Old Testament prophets? Well, what I love about Habakkuk is it’s short. It’s understandable, and I think you’re going to see it’s actually timeless.

One of the questions that Habakkuk asks is, Why, O Lord, do you look at injustice and oppression and do nothing? This year, perhaps accelerated by the virus, we’re very quick to ask the similar question. And thankfully God in his mercy provides a space for Habakkuk to ask that question. And then I think you’re going to see God provide some surprising answers that move Habakkuk from fear to faith, from turmoil to trust.

If you’re experiencing turmoil this morning, worry or anxiety, then I think you’re going to be helped by looking at this book, and what God and Habakkuk have to say to each other. And so rather than looking at a few verses, we’ll actually be looking over the whole book. And the outline of our sermon will really follow the outline of the book.

But if you’re looking for the main point, it’s this: You can and should trust the Lord in the midst of turmoil. You can and should trust the Lord in the midst of turmoil. Or, stating it another way, keep on walking by faith in the midst of turmoil. Let’s look here for the first part of this interaction between Habakkuk and the Lord. And so the first part is right there in chapter one, verses 2-4. And this first point is going to have Habakkuk speaking and then the Lord is going to speak, and the same thing’s going to happen in chapter 2- Habakkuk is going to speak and then the Lord is going to speak right there.

Verses 2-4 are Habakkuk’s first prayer or complaint. How long, Lord, must I call for help, and you don’t listen? Or cry out to you about violence and you don’t save? Why do you force me to look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing. And conflict escalates. This is why the law is ineffective. And justice never emerges, for the wicked restrict the righteous. Therefore justice comes out perverted. Habakkuk probably wrote this down about 625 B.C. or 600 B.C. as God’s nation of Judah is in decline. So the book is probably 2,600 years old, and yet as you go through, I think you’re going to see it could have been written this week.

Notice with me, Habakkuk has this godly sense of right and wrong, and he’s troubled because he doesn’t see God’s people, the people who claim to be following God, acting in line with that. And yet, notice what he does. Does he grow bitter? Does he grow cynical, or angry, or disenchanted, or turn his back on those people?

No, he prays. He prays. He brings his own turmoil to the Lord in prayer. Here is something tearing up Habakkuk’s soul, and rather than putting it out horizontally, he puts it up vertically to the Lord. I think the application is obvious. Look at verse 5, because then we hear God’s surprising response and it goes all the way down through 11.

I’m just going to read verse 5-7. And God’s response is, I will judge soon. Look at verse 5. Look at the nations and observe. Be utterly astounded, for I am doing something in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it. Look, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and pestilent nation that marches across the earth’s open spaces to seize territories not its own.

They’re fierce and terrifying. Their views of justice and sovereignty stem from themselves. God hears Habakkuk, and he says, How am I going to deal with this injustice that my nation is committing? It’s something you wouldn’t even believe. In other words, I do see, Habakkuk. I am acting, but not in the way you expect me to. I’m going to actually raise up another nation to punish my people. The Babylonians being ruthless warriors living in where modern-day Iraq is. I want you to notice with me in this passage, the mystery of God’s sovereignty. If you don’t know that word, it just means rule. The sovereign of England is the ruler of England. God’s ruling.

And so God says to Habakkuk, I see it. I’m about to act. I am raising up another nation. I’m active in these circumstances. And in this passage, we come to the mystery of God’s sovereignty and man’s actions, because the Bible teaches that God is complete control of every atom of the universe. Every person. R.C. Sproul said it this way: “If there’s one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” In other words, God is in control of everything. And he says there, I’m raising them up. And yet, man is responsible for his own godless acts.

Look in verse 7. Their views of justice and sovereignty come from themselves. And then I didn’t read it, but if you look down at verse 11, their strength is their God. What the Bible teaches is that God is the ultimate authority and that out of His love He gives His law for our good, for everyone’s good, those who believe in Him and those who don’t.

But if we reject this idea of God as the loving lawgiver, that we follow his laws, then what are we left with? And it’s right there. Our views of justice must come from ourselves. Without a creator to submit to, his law to anchor us, it really is all about raw power. And that’s what he says right there in verse 11. Their strength is their God

Here’s just a couple applications right in this first interaction between Habakkuk and the Lord. One  question is just, are we bothered enough by injustice to make it a matter of prayer as Habakkuk did? But also if you’re a believer, a follower of God, I wonder if we can grow deeper in this sense of abiding in God’s sovereignty. And know that what he is doing is, he is raising it up.

So there’s just two applications on that first point there. So Habakkuk says, Lord, how can you allow this? And God says, I’m doing something you can’t even imagine. I’m going to judge soon. Well, how would you react, honestly, if God says that? And that’s what happens in verses 12 and 13. Habakkuk really has a second complaint. This is our second point. And again, it’s sort of the A and the B, Habakkuk and then the Lord. Habakkuk says in verse 12 and 13, Are you not from eternity? Lord my God, my Holy One, you will not die. Lord, you appointed them to execute judgment? My rock, you destined them to punish us. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil. You cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do you tolerate those who are treacherous? Why are you silent while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself?

In essence, Habakkuk says, Hey, wait, we’re bad, but we’re not as bad as them. You’re going to use them to discipline and punish us? And then he waits before the Lord. Chapter two, verse one, I’ll stand at my guard post and I’ll station myself on the lookout tower. I’m going to watch to see what he will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint.

Again, notice that Habakkuk is interacting with the Lord in prayer through this turmoil. He has a personal relationship with God. You can see that. My God, my rock. You are my God. You are my rock. You are my holy one. He has a personal relationship and he also has a good understanding of the living and true God. You’re eternal. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil. How can this be? Why do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent? He’s wrestling here with the question of evil. And that’s way, way too big a subject to talk about this morning. But it is a subject that comes up often in our minds. If God is good and God is all powerful, then why is there evil? And some do the math and say, well, that must mean there is no God.

But it’s not just the Christian worldview that must answer the question of evil and suffering. It’s every worldview. And so, offline, I’ll be happy to tell you some of what I believe the Bible teaches about evil and suffering. But if you’re going to reject the Christian view, or you’re going to say evil and suffering means to me there is no God, then you need to tell me what what you’re gonna say about evil and suffering.

And if you say, “Well, I’m a materialist, there’s nothing after the grave. Evil just happens, it makes no sense. Or you say it’s just an illusion. Or it came about because karma.” I want you to use all those rationales and talk to the young couple whose four-year-old was just been diagnosed with cancer and say, “Well, there’s no purpose. It just happens. Or it’s just an illusion.” Now, every worldview has got to answer the problem of evil and suffering.

Well, what is God’s response? His first answer to the complaint was in chapter one. It was, I’m at work, even though you’re not going to like my answer. Here’s the second answer to this. Chapter two, verse two, The Lord answered me, write down this vision, clearly inscribe it on the tablets so one may easily read it, for the vision is yet for the appointed time. It testifies about the end and it will not lie though it delays. Wait for it since it will certainly come and not be be late. Ready? What is it? Look, his ego is inflated, he is without integrity, but the righteous one will live by his faith.

How does God respond to this turmoil that causes Habakkuk to pray to him? He inspires more scripture to teach Habakkuk and to teach us. He says, write down this vision for a future time because there’s going to be a time delay. But just because it delays doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. And what is the start of the message? It’s in verse 4. It’s a contrast between two types.

Look, his ego is inflated or puffed up, another version has He is without integrity, but the righteous one will live by his faith or keep on living by his faith. What the Lord does is differentiates between two types of people, puffed up ones or those who live by faith. If you know the Scriptures, you know that living by faith is the theme of Scripture, really, from Genesis 2 to Revelation. God’s people receive His Word, believe it, and live in accordance with it, even if they can’t see Him. We lost sight of God in Genesis 3.

Paul takes this verse as we read this morning, and it’s the theme verse of Romans, which is a whole treatise on salvation. The righteous will live by his faith. Let’s just take a moment here and talk about faith. Is faith the opposite of science? “Well, I’m glad you’re a person of faith, but I’m a person of science.” Well, that’s like saying, “Well, you’re a person of history. I’m a person of science.” Those are totally different realms. Faith is no more opposed to science than history is opposed to science. Faith actually interacts with something different. Faith is trust. Faith is confidence. It’s how we show love and respect towards a person.

Our church just had the marriage yesterday of Ian and Sarah. You enter into a marriage based on faith. You take actions based on faith. Or to use another example, if my mechanic states what’s wrong with the car, and he’ll have it fixed on a certain day, I have a choice to make. Will I show faith and confidence in what he says or will I just dismiss it? And for my mechanic and for many other people, and you do this too, it depends on their character, it depends on their past performance. Will I have faith? What’s the character of the person making the statement like? And what’s their past performance?

See, that’s why one of the reasons we have to come to the Lord in faith, because just as my mechanic makes statements that I can believe or disbelieve, so God makes statements that you and I will have a choice. Will we believe or disbelieve? For example, God’s word says this: that God so loved the world that he gave his only son that who would ever believe in him would not perish, but have eternal life. That God didn’t send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him is condemned already because he’s not believed in the name of God, the name of God’s one and only Son. You see, God is making statements and he’s saying, This is what I have done and now will you believe those based on character, based on past performance?

It’s the atoning work of Jesus on the cross that makes the unrighteous, you and me, righteous, as the Spirit calls out. If you’re here and not a follower of Christ, or don’t know where you’re at, that’s great. Or seeking. We’re glad you’re here. And we want you to hang around, keep interacting with us. And yet, we also want you to think about what we’ve had to think about, which is this: What will I do with Jesus? What will I do with his statements? Is he, and are his words, worthy of putting my faith or trust in?

Ultimately, we either respond by believing and receiving, or we say, nope, nope, that’s not enough. And that’s what we see the contrast in verse 4. Because, and I want to be very careful, I want to be very gentle, but what God says in verse 4 is we’re either the righteous living by faith, or we’re puffed up. You see? I’m a wallflower. I don’t have a problem with pride. So we’re either Babylonians or we’re living by faith. Me, a proud person? Well, there’s really two types of pride. There’s the peacock pride, which is constantly showing off as the life of the party. But there’s also turtle pride. Turtle pride. And both can have the same response to the Lord’s words.

Whether loud or quiet, if we say to the Lord, Yeah, you say you’ve given your son to atone for our sins. All I have to do is reach out in faith. But that’s not enough. I don’t need it. I don’t believe it. What’s underneath there? It’s pride. Yeah, auto mechanic, you can tell me this. I don’t believe it. I know better than you do.

God makes the offer, he states clearly. We enter God’s kingdom. It comes by faith by receiving what he says. But not only do we enter the kingdom by faith, we live in that. And that’s this passage: keeps on living by his faith. The Christian starts with faith and continues with faith. And I’m not talking about the slap happy, you know, Oh, I’m just believing God for a parking space today. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about deep abiding trust of God, the trust, even as Habakkuk is wrestling with God. The Bible teaches that our faith can grow and increase, or it can shrink. That God purifies our faith. Our faith is more valuable than gold. We’re to build ourselves up in the faith.

And where does that faith come from? Hearing. And holding on to God’s spoken word. That’s where faith comes from. Hearing and holding on to God’s spoken word. So, if you’re a follower of Christ, are you walking through this turmoil living by your faith?

We’re still in point 2 under the second part- What are those things God says? And we need to do this quickly, we don’t have time, but what God does in the last part of chapter 2 is give five woes (or five curses or five pronouncements of punishment) and two promises. Look with me really quick if you’re following along in the Bible. The first woe is verse 6: woe to him who amasses what is not his. Verse 9, woe to him who dishonestly makes wealth for his house to place his nest on high to escape the grasp of disaster. Verse 12, woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with injustice.

In other words, all of those woes have to do with people who are building their kingdom, building something unrighteously and through injustice. And God here promises that those who build their own kingdom this way are going to be frustrated. It’s going to come down. And that’s a promise. Jesus said that those who are last will be first and the first will be last. That’s a promise. That’s a promise.

Look at the positive promise. Verse 14. If the first three woes are negative, about building my own kingdom there, verse 14 is the contrast. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory as the water covers the sea. Habakkuk, here’s a promise to hang on to. The earth is going to be filled. Your tiny little nation, one little prophet, this whole world, one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory. Just like the ocean. Is that true? 2,600 years later, we have time. We have to evaluate. Let’s evaluate not only the character, but also the past. Yes, and not yet. Yes, it’s not like an ocean. But it’s more like ponds and lakes. But we know it’s being fulfilled. This morning I prayed for the nation of Nepal. Today, red, yellow, black, white are worshiping and loving an olive skinned Middle Eastern rabbi named Jesus who proclaimed salvation and rose from the dead.

That’s the tribe I’m a part of. Politics makes a very poor religion. This new kingdom is worldwide. It’s a new tribe. And if you’re a believer in Christ, he’s our king. He has our allegiance. The earth will be filled. I think of this verse often when I go to the water. The earth, one day, is going to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory. It’s already happened in 2, 000 years. Nepali brothers and sisters who worship the same king I do.

The next two woes are for those who laugh at holiness. Man, you could read verse 15 and say, this is our country. This is the internet. Woe. Verse 15. Woe to those who make his neighbor drink in order to gaze at their nakedness. This is not a modern problem. This is a mankind problem. Verse 19. Woe. Do you make idols? It’s a woe, it’s a curse on those who don’t think about holiness. Verse 20. What’s the promise? What’s the promise? What do you need to hang on to, Habakkuk, during this time of turmoil? The Lord is in his temple. The Lord is in his temple. Jesus is on the throne. Let the earth be silent before him.

We know that that’s not just “hope so” faith, that there’s historical evidence- it’s overwhelming- that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. People saw him, witnesses. We’re called to be a people who keep on living by faith, and who base that faith on promises that we are holding on to. For Habakkuk, one of those was, the earth is going to be filled with the knowledge and the glory of the Lord. Hold on to that. Hold on to the Lord is in his temple. We’re going to keep on living by faith.

I think some of the applications for us are obvious. God sees and God cares and as God’s people, even if we’re in the midst of the turmoil, perhaps even judgment, the God wants us to live by faith. We live by faith on the promises that he’s given us based on his character, based on his past performance.

Let’s finish now and look in chapter 3 because, really, this is the third point. You look at how Habakkuk has changed and the final verse, I don’t have time to read it, but he writes it down as a song. He’s going to remember this. This is worship as he responds. And so you’ll see that he’s gone from fear to faith, from turmoil to trust, from worry to worship.

And there are four ways he responds to this word, and I want to suggest that they are applications for us as well. The first one is, if I can skip over verse 2 for a minute, verses 3 to 16. Habakkuk remembers what God has done in the past. Verses 3 to 16 can be a little… difficult to understand. Sometimes he’s recounting Israel’s history, and sometimes it seems to be poetic, but what Habakkuk is saying is, my God enters into history in dramatic ways at times that we’re not expecting him, and that we’re not to misinterpret God’s silence as rejection or his delay as denial, that we’re to remember how he acted in the past.

The Old Testament saints had stones to remind them of past events. How has God worked in your life individually or corporately in ways that you can’t explain it any other way except God broke through? We need to remember those and remind ourselves of those because there’s ones for Christian history that apply to all of us, but there’s also ones that apply to me and you personally. Many of those I’ve written down in the front of my Bible just so that I will not forget.  So we’re to remember. Habakkuk remembers what God has done.

There’s  a second way he’s changed in the midst of this prayer. You can see it in verse 2: O Lord, revive your works in these years, make it known in these years, in wrath remember mercy. In essence, Habakkuk praise for revival and renewal. When we have God-sized problems like we do today, we need a God-sized revival. Did you know that during the unrest of the 60’s, God started a revival that’s been called the Jesus Movement? And these hippies, they called themselves Jesus Freaks. There was an outbreak of new Christian music. Names like Keith Green or Barry McGuire. These leaders matured into denominations like Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Churches. In 1966, Time magazine had a big cover saying this, Is God Dead? In 1971, they had a big cover that said, Jesus Revolution. There was a revival and a renewal going on. There were prayer meetings in New York City, where people would just get together and pray at lunch.

The Great Awakening happened in England and in this country in the 1730s and 40s, uniting our churches and having a social effect. Faith prays for revival in the midst of turmoil. Based on God’s heart, God, in wrath, remember mercy. You are merciful. Do it again. Would you pray for that way for yourself? God revive my heart, enlarge my heart, revive my family’s heart, revive this church’s heart, revive the churches in the area, pour out your spirit on this state, on this region, on this country, bring renewal in judgment. Remember mercy. Habakkuk prays for mercy in the middle. We can too. That’s asecond way he takes this interaction as he goes from turmoil to trust.

For the third interaction, look at verse 16. I find this one of the more haunting verses of Habakkuk. God has basically said, as he’s heard his turmoil, I’m going to bring an invading nation. That’s the answer to your prayer, Habakkuk. He says this: I heard, I trembled within my lips, quivered at the sound, rottenness entered my bones. I trembled where I stood. Now I must wait. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come upon the people invading us. Habakkuk knows judgment is coming and he settles his heart. He does heart work. He keeps the garden of his soul. The psalmist wrote, Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear though war break out against me. Even then, I will be confident. That’s a person who’s done heart work. Faith prays for a settled heart.

And then fourthly, and these are some beautiful poetic verses, Habakkuk determines to rejoice in the Lord no matter what. To go to higher places with the Lord. Look in those last verses there. Though the fig tree doesn’t bud, though there’s no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails, though the fields produce no fruit, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stall- I want to stop right there. Maybe just a tiny bit of the fear that we felt in March and April  when there were runs on the grocery store. We can start maybe just a tiny bit.

What does he do? Verse 18. Yet I will celebrate in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord my Lord is my strength. He makes my feet like those of the deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights. Habakkuk has determined that he’s going to celebrate and rejoice in God who is his salvation, the Lord who is his strength, even amidst pestilence.

Worship destroys worry. Problems are big when God is small, and worship doesn’t make God big, but it reminds us of how big he really is. And notice what worship does in that sense. He makes my fear like the deer. He makes me walk on the mountain heights. You ever seen those deer? Those animals who can walk on the sheer cliff? They can walk across it because of the way they’re designed. That’s what he’s saying. I’m up on the heights. I am sure footed. God has brought me to new heights through this turmoil and through this trial or turmoil. Problems are actually an opportunity to go to higher places with the Lord.

Job says, Though he slay me, I will trust him. Another popular worship song, All I Have is Christ. I remember one particularly difficult time as a pastor singing that with 17, 000 other people in tears going, that’s it. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. It’s Christ, and that’s enough trials can make us give us the ability to go to new heights.

Habakkuk moves from turmoil to trust. Why? He’s interacting with God. He’s bringing his heart to God. And God responds to him. I see. I care. I’m involved. Even if you don’t like my answer, I’m involved. I’m there. My people will live and keep on living by faith, real faith, deep faith. That’s how my people will live.

And what are the promises that you’re going to hold on to? The Lord- the Lord!- is in his temple.

You’ve been listening to The Disciple-Making Parent, a ministry of The Apollos Project. For more information about the book, The Disciple-Making Parent, visit thedisciplemakingparent.com