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Dec 02, 2018

Finding the Best in the Worst

Passage: Habakkuk 1-3

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Mining the Prophets

Keywords: difficulties, evil, hope, joy, pain, questions about god, suffering, trials

Summary:

Life can throw some pretty hard stuff at us. When it does, questions about what God is or isn't doing seem to multiply. Here's an Old Testament prophet who has tons to teach us about how to grow close to God through dark valleys rather than running from Him.

Detail:

Finding the Best in the Worst

#7 in Mining the Prophets Series

Habakkuk 1-3

December 2, 2018

 

[Disclaimer:  I’m starting today’s message with one of the most difficult subjects every one of us must face and wrestle with in life:  the ugliness of evil.  The images you will see are not shown to shock you.  I’ve not chosen the most gruesome or vile ones.  They are hopefully just enough to remind you that our lives, for the most part, have been very insulated from much of the evil this world continues to perpetrate upon itself.]

Most people intuitively hate to see suffering and evil…yet so many people throughout history and in our day still practice horrific evil against others.

Truly evil people aren’t bothered and don’t suffer when they view evil going on around them…or help others engage in evil…or perpetrate evil themselves. 

It is good people, people who have a clear sense of right and wrong, who know the difference between justice and injustice…who have compassion and are kind… these are the people who suffer when evil and wrong reign.

Good people are the ones who cry out with questions to and about God when evil seems to abound, not evil people.  Decent people question God and his goodness when they have no immediate or clear answers for why evil seems to abound. 

This was the situation that faced our prophet today—Habakkuk.  He was apparently a good man.  Evil bothered him.  It wasn’t the evil of other nations or other cities.  It was the evil of his people, his nation, his city…and “his” was supposed to be THE BEST people in the world at that time.  His nation was to be the most god-honoring, the most just, the most kind, good and loving nation in the world.  But it wasn’t. 

The name Habakkuk actually meant something in his day.  That day was in the late 7th century B.C., sometime around 620 B.C.  His name meant “to embrace” or “to wrestle.”  I guess the difference between those two words is a matter of degrees…and a matter of whether the two parties touching each other are in agreement. 

In a way, I think the story of Habakkuk is a story of both meanings.  What starts as a wrestling with God seems to end with a true and deep embrace of God—not necessarily as Habakkuk wanted God to be but as what God truly was and needed to be

But before we dive into the book, I want you to think over your life and take note of the more difficult, ugly, perhaps downright evil things or people that have had an impact on your life. 

  • If those people or experiences don’t come readily to mind, count your blessings and thank God.
  • If they do, don’t let them drive you into anger or despair; just tuck them away in the background for a moment.

In fact, those of you who may have spent a good deal of your life trying to keep those memories under control rather than in control of you may actually be the people today who can resonate most with this prophet and God’s answers.  If that hasn’t been your experience, again, thank God…and don’t be shocked if you still encounter evil like that in the days ahead.

So this book begins with a complaint.  While not a real picker-upper start to a book, it is still refreshing, I think. 

APP:  Our God is not one we have to treat with kid gloves.  He’s not going to blow his stack or yell back at us (like perhaps some of our parents did if we told them how we really felt about them at as kids).  Unlike parents…or customer service…we have a God who actually welcomes complaints.  Not that He enjoys whiney children; but He values relationships that are genuine far more than relationships that are superficial or that harbor huge questions that might keep us from deep trust.  So let’s isolate the complaints:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?

Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?

3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.   

That’s a pretty damning list!  Have you ever found yourself saying any of the following to God:

  1. 2--You don’t answer my prayers for help! [WHY might that be?]
  2. You didn’t protect me from violence as a child/spouse/student! [WHY might that be?]
  3. 3--You didn’t remove me from horrible injustice!
  4. You didn’t stop evil people from doing horrible evil to me! They just kept doing it!  You didn’t protect me from that horrible abuser!  That devastating violence! 
  5. I cannot understand why you wouldn’t rescue me from such a conflicted home…such a horrible marriage…such a violent neighborhood…or city… or war!
  6. 4--I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that wicked people seem to always win while good, even godly people lose/suffer. God, where on earth is the justice You claim to stand for?

Your complaints to God may or may not be this direct or bold.  But if you live long enough, you’ll make up your own! 

Interview:  Eli H.

  1. Death of Valetta
  2. Murder of her daughter.
  3. Personal beating.
  4. Birth of Joshua

APP:  Fact is, God allows a lot of things to happen in life and to us that are unjust, harmful, hurtful, damaging, violent and downright evil.  Until we are ready to accept that such experiences are not incongruent or inconsistent with the God of love, power and justice whom we serve, we will not be ready for God’s actual answers to our complaints. [False assumptions underlying our problems with God not stopping evil: 

  • God obviously doesn’t prefer a world without suffering. There could be/must be “greater good” that a world with suffering facilitates.
  • God can’t create a world with free will to the degree He deems good and limit evil to the degree we deem good. God can’t do logical impossibilities/logical contradictions.

So HOW does God answer Habakkuk’s complaint?  Does he explain it all to him?  Walk him through the logical steps of the “problem of evil”?  Hardly. 

NOTE:  Sometimes God answers our questions about pain in life with even harder realities.

5 “Look at the nations and watch—
    and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
    that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
    to seize dwellings not their own.

The rest of that prophecy is simply acknowledging how evil the Babylonians were. 

Q:  So what is God’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint? 

A:  “Yes, and what will you think if I tell you that I’m going to use a nation more ruthless, brutal and evil than even YOU, Israel, to punish your evil?”

Q: If we have room in our theology for God turning evil things to our good, why do we have trouble with God using evil to judge other evil nations…or even discipline His errant kids?

APP:  Many of us have been praying for God to restrain and judge the growing evil in our American society. At the same time, we’ve been praying for spiritual awakening of the lost and revival of the church.

What if world events spiraled out of control, a shooting war started with China over its new military “islands” in the South China Sea and God decided to give them the victory and have them conquer us and rule us for the next 50?  What if we found ourselves under a communist dictatorship with Christians treated right here worse than the Uighur Muslims are being treated in Western China today?  What would you think about that as God’s answer to our prayers for spiritual awakening and revival? Would you say God didn’t answer your prayer?

APP:  Reality is, God doesn’t always give us the answers we want or expect. We usually have it in our mind how we want God to answer our prayers. When He does it differently (which is frequently), how do you respond and what does that do to our faith?  As we’re going to see, it doesn’t have to destroy it.  It could actually help us.

 

So in the rest of Habakkuk 1:12-18, the prophet lays out his reply to God’s shocking news of using evil to punish evil.  If just the existence and continuation of every day evil was troubling to Habakkuk before, the use of godless, brutal, merciless nations to punish his wayward nation is really messing with his theology and experience with God. 

            He paints a picture of the Babylonians as ruthless and idolatrous fishermen who fish people and nations both by hooks and nets, gathering in every fish around them and doing with them as they will. But if that weren’t enough, they go on to worship their nets and the false gods of fishing they imagine are responsible for their success.  And success it is, at least in terms of them being able to live in lap of luxury and be on the top of the international heap. 

            Habakkuk ends his 2nd complaint with this:

16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
    and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
    and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
    destroying nations without mercy?

So chapter 2 is pretty much God’s answer to Habakkuk’s continued complaining.  (Don’t you like the fact that God is patient?)  This response has some amazing little gems tucked into it. 

            God is going to develop a list of specific sins for which he will judge Babylon in due time.  The first one is pride or arrogance. And God is going to contrast that with what His people are to live by:

4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
    his desires are not upright—
    but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—

This last statement is one we see appear in Romans 1:17 in the N.T. when Paul is talking about the Gospel and a “righteousness of God” that is “by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” 

            Here’s the contrast:  pagan, evil, abusive people are puffed up with their own importance and power.  Their very desires are evil.  The real contrast isn’t just that godly people aren’t proud.  The real contrast is that people in right relationship with God are faith-filled people…people who take GOD at his word and live in as many ways as they can in accordance to as much of God’s truth as they know. 

            This is THE transformation and vast difference between God’s people and this world’s people without God:  both O.T. saints and N.T. Christ-followers must be people who stake their very lives on believing God, not on having life and circumstances go their way.  Pagans become proud when they are on the top of the heap and life is “going their way.”  God’s people are called to humility, whether on top or at the bottom, regardless of whether life is great or awful. 

            God goes on to point out these specific sins and pronounce judgment over them.  The first 4 sins follow a sort of progression from one to the next.  The last two pretty much define just about any godless nation.  They all serve as warnings to each of us individually and our nation as a whole:  don’t become this kind of person OR this kind of country!

  • Woe to the Proud-- 2:4-5
  • Woe to the Greedy-- 2:6-8—“…greedy as the grave…plundered many nations.”
  • Woe to the Dishonest-- 2:9-11—“…builds his house by unjust gain.”
  • Woe to the Violent-- 2:12-14—“…builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice.”

The next description sounds like most college campuses on any Friday or Saturday night.

  • Woe to the Sensual-- 2:15-17 15--“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!”
  • Woe to the Idolater-- 2:18-20—basically someone who takes the creation of something made by their own hands or work and turns it into the god they serve. Every day people in this city do that with work or money or stuff they purchase or people they “can’t live without”. 

But God ends His prophetic speech with these words:

20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth be silent before him.

The sins of sensuality and idolatry fill this earth…but the one place on this earth where wrong is to be right is God’s “holy temple.”  Whether that was in Jerusalem then or it is in God’s people, the church today all over the earth, where God dwells and lives and moves is to be a “holy” people, vastly different from both nations and individuals who worship other things and people in life. 

            By the time we get to Habakkuk’s final prayer in chapter 3, something has happened.  This book that started out in the dungeons of despair is going to finish up on the mountain tops of faith.  I’m not totally sure what all transpired in Habakkuk’s life from the complaint of chapter 1 to the Psalm and worship service of chapter 3.  But the change is stunning! 

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.

2 Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

Perhaps Habakkuk was reading his O.T. or the Psalms of David and just being reminded of God’s great deeds on behalf of His people in past generations.  If a few plagues on Egypt and a few battle of deliverance in Israel could move a man to change his complaining into praise, what might soaking in the Scriptural truths of redemption and life in the Holy Spirit…or what we have in the armor of God…or in life together with Christ as His family DO to turn us to prayer and worship and praise??? 

I think this prayer should become our prayer:

I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

In a nation deserving of God’s judgment and wrath for our incredible arrogance…yes, even hatred of God…we need to stand in awe as His people of His awesome deeds.  We need God to “repeat” His previous works of great spiritual awakenings and historic revivals. 

            But He may just use some very evil people to turn us from our sins and idols of the day.  And we certainly will need God to “remember mercy” in the coming days when He will judge “in wrath” evil nations. 

            Now, as we read the next few verses, put them in the context of what God is going to do when Jesus returns, when God sets up His rule here (in the Millennium?), banishes Satan to the abyss and shows people what godly government and rule really looks like.  Habakkuk uses the past tense but imagine he is speaking about the future.

3 God came from Teman,
    the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
    and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise;
    rays flashed from his hand,
    where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him;
    pestilence followed his steps.
6 He stood, and shook the earth;
    he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
    and the age-old hills collapsed—
    but he marches on forever.

You see, “by faith” Habakkuk is “seeing” what is going to happen…just as if it already had!  He’s got the eyes of faith through which he is looking at this evil world now.  God has lifted his gaze to see the mess of this world as the means to get to God’s glorious kingdom! 

11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
    at the glint of your flying arrows,
    at the lightning of your flashing spear.
12 In wrath you strode through the earth
    and in anger you threshed the nations.
13 You came out to deliver your people,
    to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
    you stripped him from head to foot.

If you know your Bible, you know that this sounds distinctly like the description of what God will do, according to Revelation 19, when Jesus comes again and brings an end to the horrific evil of the Great Tribulation.  The Apostle John writes,

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

            That is the vision of the glory of God and the future of mankind and every evil nation and person that God calls us to cling to in this evil day!  We must, even in the darkest moments of our experience in this evil world, by faith cling to the reality that God has decreed in every generation that He is faithful. 

            Habakkuk ends with one of the most inspiring and faith-filled statements of any O.T. prophet.  Despair has been replaced by faith that will see him through any terror, any abuse, any evil.  The impending destruction of his people by the Babylonians may make him weak in the knees.  But the presence of God himself with him will change the present reality from one of hopelessness to one of triumphant HOPE. 

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.

Habakkuk is up on the wall of the city, hearing (or imagining) the impending attack of the ruthless Babylonians.  His lips quiver and his legs tremble…and then he puts on his faith-glasses. 
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

If we want HOPE and JOY in this world, it better not be dependent upon how full the pantry is or the kind of car in the garage.  It better not depend on how well business or our work or the government is doing.  It even must not depend on how well our marriage or family or friendships are going. 

We will need to learn, as Habakkuk did, that there is only 1 source of HOPE & JOY in this life that is secure, unchanging, ever-present and unending in love:  it is the unshakeable presence of “God our Savior.”  He is the ONLY being, the only Source of joy and hope who will not change in whatever life brings us—good or evil, pain or pleasure, joy or sorrow. Christ IS our life.  If He is not, then life will certainly be disappointing and depressing.

            There is a saying that goes something like this:  “You will not really know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”  Every one of us will have at least one more time in life when that axiom is tested.  It will be at our time of death.

            But God will allow is to probe the depths of that truth through a multitude of small and large “deaths” or “losses” in life.  Habakkuk would live to see his nation destroyed, his beloved home destroyed, people he loved killed or carried into captivity.  But those losses…those “deaths” of very good things in life…only served to make his faith stronger, his joy deeper and his Hope closer. 

APP:  I see that happen week after week in this place.  I see people come here to serve God who have experienced terrible loss in life.  Yet their joy is in Christ.  The more I get to know each of you, the more I see and am blessed by the reality that Jesus Christ is more than enough for whatever loss life can throw at us, whatever difficulty I might experience, whatever suffering and sorrow I might be required to face in the future.  I know God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are enough…because I see that reality in you. 

            It doesn’t mean we won’t struggle deeply when that loss comes.  But it does mean we are living testaments to the reality Habakkuk found:  God is all we will ever need when He is all we truly have. 

            You don’t need to take my word for it.  Just look around you and see what dark valleys others have endured yet are still here trusting and praising God.  If you don’t mind, would you just raise your hand and hold it up for a moment so others can see the kinds of losses God has allowed you to experience thus far in life? We need to see that God has been enough for whatever crisis or problem we’re fearing of facing.   Raise your hand if…

  • If you’ve had, at some time in life, a good friend or friendships taken away?
  • If you’ve suffered verbal, emotional or physical abuse and lost being or feeling safe?
  • If you’ve lost a pet you loved?
  • A dream or life-longing you once had?
  • You have lost secure housing and have been at some point or currently are homeless?
  • If you lost your freedom at one point in life through incarceration/time in prison or even because you’ve had to care for a loved one in their illness or weakness?
  • If you have lost your marriage at some point?
  • If you have suffered the loss of a child to death?
  • Of a parent to death?
  • Of a spouse to death?
  • If you have lost some measure of your health?
  • You suffered the loss of your job or even your business?
  • If you’ve been robbed and suffered financial or material loss?

We won’t truly know that God is all we need in life… and death… until we experience that God is all we have. 

RESPONSES:

  • Has God been using difficult life circumstances to show you how much you need Him?
  • Do you need to start the forever-relationship with God through faith in Jesus—what He did for you on the cross, what He asks you to do by believing in Him?
  • How about insuring real joy and hope for your Holidays by worshiping today by faith and making our time of worship your response of FAITH?