Habakkuk Chapter 3 (21 Oct 2013)

“The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.”  – Claude Lévi-Strauss – French Anthropologist

“What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” – Jonas Salk – discoverer of a polio vaccine

“It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.” – G.K. Chesterton

“There are no right answers to wrong questions.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

“We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.” – Bono

Many people ask the wrong questions such as, “Why does God let these terrible things happen to me or to them?”

It’s understandable that they should ask the question – Habakkuk did in the beginning of the book: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help” and he complains of the rebellious obstinacy of the people, and deplores the corruption which then prevailed.

But the better question to ask is more like, “Why shouldn’t God allow these terrible things to happen?  Why should he do anything about it?  What have I done to deserve better?”

I remember being in a meeting with the late John Chapman when a man asked why God allowed disasters and pain to occur and that he, God, should do something about it.  John’s reply was along the lines of, “so you want God to clean up the mess in the world, but what if he decided to start with you?”

As Richard brought to our attention a couple of weeks ago God’s response to Habakkuk’s complaint was to do just that.  His response, unbelievably, was to send in the Babylonians to clean them up and cart them off into slavery.

Last week Eric showed us that while Habakkuk appears as the herald of God, and warning the Jews of their approaching ruin he also consoles them by telling them that, in their turn, God would punish the Babylonians when their pride and idolatry became intolerable. He exhorts the people to be patient, godly and exercise wisdom while surrounded by the foolishness of men. Don’t get caught up in the stupidity of placing your confidence in things you yourself have made, in your own efforts, in injustice, debt, corruption and even murder.

Instead, have confidence in the Lord and come before him in awe, respect, and trust.

 

Today we look at Chapter 3 where Habakkuk turns to supplication and prayer – and what a beautiful prayer it is.

 

In passing, see that verse 1 tells us it is a prayer of Habakkuk “On shigionoth”.  I won’t explain that word to you because I have no idea what it means – apparently an ancient Hebrew word which passed out of use and meaning with the ancient Hebrews so it is something of a mystery for the academics to debate.

 

I have been told that all I need to do here is read the last 3 verses but it would be wrong, I think, not to look at more than that.

 

It seems to me there are three highlight points in the chapter:

 

In verse 2 we are reminded to think about what God has done in days gone by.

 

In verse 13 we are reminded that God has brought salvation for us.

 

In verses 17 to 19 we are reminded how we should respond to God after all this.

 

Verse 2:

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

 

In the subsequent verses Habakkuk reviews the way God has rescued his people over and over again. Using pictures of a great, wise and powerful God coming in great splendour and majesty. His enemies have been overcome.

 

Unlike many of the prophets he does not speak of the exodus from Egypt or the crossing of the Red Sea directly but his pictures tell of just that sort of rescue.

 

When God comes his glory covers the heavens and his praise fills the earth.  His splendour flashes like the rays of the sun, his power that is so much held hidden and in reserve is made evident.

 

When God was not present what did you have? Plague ravages.  And after he has gone? Pestilence.  You don’t want to be wherever God is not present – that would be hell.

 

And when God acted the earth shook, mountains crumbled and nations were left in anguish.  And when everything on earth is destroyed what you have left is God himself – his ways are eternal.

 

But when God acts in this way just where is his anger directed?

 

He came, split the earth, mountains writhed, floods swept through and, we could add, bushfires ravaged the land.

 

Habakkuk has a rhetorical question. “Were you angry with the rivers, O Lord? … against the streams, the sea?” No, God was not angry with these.

 

“In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations.”

 

Instead of asking the wrong question and saying, “why does God let disasters befall us?” Habakkuk instead says, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. “

 

And so should we be in awe of such a great God.

 

And more than that, as Habakkuk says, “Renew them in our day”, seemingly asking for more of the same! If God is to clean up mess in our world then, when that is his will, there will be more of the same. Jesus told us to expect wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes and more before he returns in the final, complete clean-up and judgement.

 

Then he says, “in our time make your deeds known; in wrath remember mercy” and again we have an example to follow.

 

We are called to remember God’s great deeds over thousands of years, to remind others around us of those deeds and urge them to come to God in awe, repentance and praise.  Like us they too need to ask God that in his wrath he will have mercy on us.

 

Each of us, our church, our village, our city, our state, our nation and beyond need to avoid God’s wrath by turning from disobedience and the idolatry of self confidence, and in repentance acknowledge God for who he is. We cannot expect God to bring healing to our politics, our environment, our legal system, our health or our relationships without such a response from us as individuals and as a people.

 

Verse 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.

 

Verses 14 and 15 seem to refer to other actions God took to save his people, perhaps referring to Jael who procured a victory over Sisera in the very surprising method of inviting him in for a snooze then, while he slept, driving a tent peg through his forehead and killing him.

 

And perhaps to the Red Sea opening up in an unbelievable way enticing Pharaoh’s horsemen into it only to be drowned and washed away.

 

But verse 13 refers to something else no one would have expected as God takes us by surprise, just as he did in chapter 1. In this verse we can see something Habakkuk could only anticipate and prophecy but we have seen fulfilled.

 

God came to earth as the man, Jesus, to bring the final deliverance to his people. And the way he did this only God could have devised.

 

Yes, Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One was himself crushed, stripped and crucified. But the twist followed, because God raised him from the dead and has placed him in a position higher than any authority one day to return in such a way that every eye will see him, every knee will bow before him and every single person will inevitably acknowledge him to be the Lord.

 

What a turnaround.  The anointed one was crushed but was so victorious that the leader of the land of wickedness is himself stripped bare, seen to be the liar that he is and be crushed before the might of the Lord Jesus.

 

Peter explained it this way:

 

Acts 2: 22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

 

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

 

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

 

They should have expected this.  Habakkuk was only one of the prophets who told them this was going to happen.  But when confronted with God’s anointed Messiah, Jesus, they continued in their rebellion and crucified him.  But God made fools of them by raising Jesus as King.

 

What is unbelievable to me is that people can be so dismissive of these facts.  Even as Christians we can be reminded of this amazing sacrificial love and grace and be unmoved.  Habakkuk couldn’t be unmoved:

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

 

When you hear the old, old story and think about it does your heart pound, your lips quiver and are you weak before your Saviour? Does it move you that deeply?

 

If not, then think about it; meditate on it, read the story again and again in the Bible until the Holy Spirit revives your first love and you once again rejoice in his company in prayer and worship.

 

There is a practical and precious value in this: even though calamity might come upon you, you will have the capacity as Habakkuk did to wait patiently even though calamity should come upon you.

 

Verses 17 – 19

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 Saviour.

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.

 

We could ask, “why has God let the calamity fall on me.  Why is their no fruit, no food, no cattle – why all this pain and loss?”

 

Or we could ask the right question, “Why does God provide for me at all?”  And, “why shouldn’t he take what is his own?”

 

And we can ask, “How should I respond to God’s actions?”

 

Habakkuk tells us: rejoice in the Lord, be joyful in our God Jesus our Saviour.  He is our source of strength. It is because he makes our feet like the feet of a deer or, as Isaiah says; we soar on wings like eagles. He enables us to “tread the heights”.

 

We know, as Habakkuk knew:

2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

 

How do those words apply to me with my uncertain knees and my dicky heart and flabby belly?

 

Well, despite physical, personality and emotional limitations, these words are for us!

 

Put your confidence in Jesus.  Let his Spirit lift your heart.  Remind yourself of what he has done, of his power, of his glory, of his inevitable return, of his Holy Spirit’s comfort and strength, of the gift of faith which has brought you into adoption as a child of God, of the hope he has given you of eternal life and of his tendency to surprise.

 

Verse 2:

“Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.  Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.”

 

The wonderful good news of the salvation Jesus has won should leave us in awe. Each time we think of it we should let the Holy Spirit renew it in us. That news is something to make known in our time to those around us so that others also may learn that in his wrath God has shown mercy. He has made his enemy nothing and has shown his power, love and mercy to us.

 

Verse 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.”

 

And that is something that should raise our hearts and our hopes and lead us to the words in …

 

Verses 17 – 19

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 Saviour.

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.

 

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