Lesson 6 - Hab.1:1-6, 12-13; 2:1-4 - LIVING ON FAITH
LAST WEEK: In Zeph. 3:8-17, after delivering a message of imminent doom to Jerusalem and Judah two weeks ago in Zeph. 1:1-11, we heard prophet deliver a message of hope, which had both near-term and end-times applications. He foretold a future time when the LORD GOD would defeat their enemies and restore the faithful to Jerusalem, which was partially fulfilled when the Jewish exiles returned from the Babylonian captivity in 539 B.C., then from an end-time perspective, it looked forward to the restoration of Messianic Jews to Jerusalem as their holy city when Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom on earth. The overall message of hope described by the prophet looked forward to a time when God, out of His love, mercy, and grace, promised not only a revival of true faith among His people Israel, but a worldwide movement of people turning to Him. We know that during the Tribulation millions of people from all of the nations will come to faith in Christ and will reign with Him in the Millennial Kingdom. And Jew and Gentile alike will be heirs to God's promises.
THIS WEEK: In Hab. 1:1-6, 12-13; 2:1-4, we'll hear from the last of the pre-exilic prophets. Habakkuk, whose name means "to embrace," was a prophet of Judah who received his prophecy from God as a dream or a vision. He is generally thought to have delivered his message during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), who was the second son of Josiah. One of the worst kings of Judah, Jehoiakim essentially repealed all the religious reforms instituted by his father and led the nation into a time characterized by great moral evil, corruption, and injustice. Habakkuk also would have been a contemporary of Jeremiah and Zephaniah. Habakkuk is an unusual prophetic book because it never addresses the people of Judah directly but consists entirely of a dialogue between the prophet and God. One of the major themes this prophecy reveals is how a prophet suffering from confusion and doubt in a time of widespread evil can still grow in faith by learning to place all of his trust in God, who will, in His own timing, work out all things to His glory. Today we'll hear Habakkuk ask God two very basic questions and we'll hear God give him two concrete answers.
Read Hab. 1:1-4 - HABAKKUK QUESTIONS THE LORD
1 The pronouncement which Habakkuk the prophet saw: 2 How long, LORD, have I called for help, And You do not hear? I cry out to You, "Violence!" Yet You do not save. 3 Why do You make me see disaster, And make me look at destitution? Yes, devastation and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises.4 Therefore the Law is ignored, And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out confused.
v. 1: "The pronouncement which Habakkuk the prophet saw:' - The word "pronouncement" (Heb. massa) literally means to lift up a burden, and this prophecy was extremely burdensome from start to finish. Notice that Habakkuk identifies himself as "the prophet," which is unusual. Scholars believe this might indicate that Habakkuk was a professional prophet, someone serving on the Temple staff whose main function was to counsel worshipers who came in seeking divine guidance.
v. 2: "How long, LORD, have I called for help, And You do not hear? I cry out to You, "Violence!" Yet You do not save." - This verse and the next two frame the prophet's first question: In prayer, he basically wants to know "How long" he would need to keep asking for help before the LORD took action. We know that God hears all prayer because He's all-seeing and all-knowing; however, the prophet claims that God has given him no proof of having heard his prayers because He hasn't answered them or acted. Over and over, Habakkuk had cried out about the "Violence!" that was taking place in Judah, but from the prophet's perspective, the LORD had done nothing about it. We could almost say that Habakkuk is implying that God was giving him the "silent" treatment.
v. 3: "Why do You make me see disaster, And make me look at destitution? Yes, devastation and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises." - The prophet identifies three types of wrongdoing in Judah that he sees taking place around him almost daily: "devastation, violence, and contention." The word "violence" (Heb. hamas) means more that physical violence but extends to moral and ethical injustice that causes damage and ruin to people. He describes a society that's in chaos and conflict. Habakkuk can't comprehend why the LORD has permitted these things in the first place and allows them to continue. The prophet is expressing the kind of outrage any of us would feel if we saw a police officer standing, doing nothing, while a crime was taking place in front of him.
v. 4: "Therefore the Law is ignored, And justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore justice comes out confused." - In this verse Habakkuk pictures a courtroom scene where the court officers (judges, lawyers, etc.) no longer honor the Law but permit corruption and injustice to rule. The two descriptive words the prophet uses, the "righteous" (Heb. seda-qa) and "injustice" (Heb. mis-pat) are related to each other: Justice involves bringing people into a right relationship with God and each other, and these right relationships produce righteous living; however, when justice is perverted, righteous people suffer. So, the implied question is why is the LORD allowing this perversion of His Law to continue while the people it's designed to protect suffer?
Skipped vv. 5-11: As an answer, the LORD instructed Habakkuk to direct his attention away from what was happening in Judah to see that He raising up the "Caldeans" (= Neo-Babylonians), a cruel and violent army whom He intended to use as a rod of punishment on Judah, just as Assyria had been His instrument of judgment in Israel. In short, God was bringing judgment on Judah, not salvation.
Read Hab. 1:12-13 - HABAKKUK'S QUESTION ABOUT THE CHADEANS (Babylonians)
12 Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct. 13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?
v. 12: "Are You not from everlasting, O LORD, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O LORD, have appointed them to judge; And You, O Rock, have established them to correct." - This is a rhetorical question the implied answer to which is "yes," in which the prophet affirms his belief that the LORD (YHWH) is the one true God and Creator who is "everlasting" (i.e., eternal and un-created) and sovereign, so that history was unfolding under His complete control and authority. The statement, "We will not die," expressed Habakkuk's belief that God would never allow the people of Judah to completely perish because He had promised David that his kingdom would endure forever (2 Sam. 7:16). With this principle in mind, the prophet is now beginning to see that God is raising-up this terrible army to cleanse His people, not to totally annihilate them.
v. 13: "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?" - This is Habakkuk's second question. Because the LORD GOD was perfectly Holy, the prophet knew that He was too pure to approve of evil or support wickedness. But this raised another, more serious question in the prophet's mind. Why did the LORD look approvingly on the treachery of the Babylonians and allow it to go on unhindered? Habakkuk simply could not understand the justice of allowing a wicked nation like Babylon to punish a less wicked nation like Judah (i.e., yes we're bad, but we're not as bad as them). These questions suggest that the prophet was suffering from confused faith rather than weak faith. Habakkuk had strong faith in God, but the manner in which God was exercising His sovereignty quite frankly baffled him. The prophet simply didn't have God's 'big picture" perspective on these events.
Read Hab. 2:1-4 - GOD ANSWERS: THE RIGHTEOUS WILL LIVE BY FAITH
1 I will stand at my guard post And station myself on the watchtower; And I will keep watch to see what He will say to me, And how I may reply when I am reprimanded. 2 Then the LORD answered me and said, "Write down the vision And inscribe it clearly on tablets, So that one who reads it may run. 3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hurries toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it delays, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay long. 4 "Behold, as for the impudent one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous one will live by his faith.
v. 1: "I will stand at my guard post And station myself on the watchtower; And I will keep watch to see what He will say to me, And how I may reply when I am reprimanded." - Habakkuk pictures himself as sentry, sitting atop the city wall and watching the horizon for the approach of horsemen from the northwest. He has appointed himself to watch and patiently wait for the LORD's answer to his second question (1:13, above), so that he can report it to his people. The principle we learn from this is that God's answer to those who question Him is seldom automatic; they must be willing to wait-however long it might take-in order to hear what the LORD wants to tell them (Ps. 85:9).
v. 2: "Then the LORD answered me and said, "Write down the vision And inscribe it clearly on tablets, So that one who reads it may run." - When the LORD did answer, He instructed the prophet to make a permanent, easy-to--read record of the vision He would give him, big enough for passers by to see, so that he could make a completely unambiguous report to the people. Then having received and recorded the vision, he could "run" with it to inform the people of exactly what God wanted them to hear. Specifically, this gives the impression of a herald spreading God's message to all parts of the nation, and generally, to those hearing it who might want to flee away from coming judgment.
v. 3: "For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hurries toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it delays, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay long.' - The vision the prophet was instructed to write on the tablets pertained to an event that would take place in the future. While the prophecy would not take place immediately, it was absolutely certain to materialize sometime in the future. Habakkuk would be forced to wait on its fulfillment because it would only come at the LORD's appointed time (about 15 years as it turned out). God appoints a time for everything, and it always takes place on exactly the right time. Wise Solomon said "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven." (Eccl. 3:1).
v. 4a: "Behold, as for the impudent one, His soul is not right within him;" - The "impudent one" is a reference to Babylon, both as a kingdom and a people. The word "impudent" (Heb. aphal [aw-phal']) literally translates to puffed-up with pride and evil schemes. By implication, God is saying that the Babylonians were a faithless and godless people whom He would remove from the face of the earth (which in happened when it permanently ceased to exist as a political and military entity in 539 B.C.).
v. 4b: "But the righteous one will live by his faith." - This phrase is quoted three time in the NT (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, and Heb. 10:38) to emphasize that people are saved by grace through faith. But in Habakkuk's immediate context, it meant that those who lived by faith, as opposed to simply observing the rituals prescribed in the Mosaic Law, were the righteous who would be preserved among God's people. They would survive. This tells us that the kind of faith revealed in this verse is something more than the mere acknowledgement that God exists. It is a level faith that moves a believer to live by faith even in times when such faith doesn't seem consistent with his or her own selfish best interests. The person who possesses this type of faith will be faithful even when times are tough-even when it seems that God is nowhere to be found. People having such faith do not require evidence of God's love, because they live in faith that God loves them.
APPLICATION-Questions and Answers
1. The lesson of Habakkuk tells us that it's okay to question God in times of despair and confusion. Asking questions is often an essential step in the learning process towards greater understanding, and approaching God with questions must incorporate a level of reverence and respect consistent with God's holiness and character. When God finally responded to Habakkuk's questions, he gave him clear, easy-to-understand answers, and even had the prophet put them in writing for all to see. In this day and age, we have an even more direct means of communicating with God and discovering answers to our questions. God has published virtually all of the answers to our spiritual questions in one source-the Bible. If we seek guidance in any area of our life, God can and will guide to the right answer in His Word.
2. The lesson of Habakkuk tells us that we must accept God's timing. God always answers or acts on prayers at an appointed time. This is probably the most difficult aspect of waiting on God-God rarely answers prayers automatically. We don't know how long the prophet sat on that wall and waited for the second answer-it might have been years, but he purposed himself to wait however long it took. The simple truth is that God always answers or acts at an appointed time, which is on His timeframe, not ours. Habakkuk's example show us that waiting for God to answer demands three levels of self-discipline: (1) Patience - The prophet Isaiah said, "But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isa. 40:31); (2) Hope - The prophet Jeremiah said, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jer. 29:11); and (3) Faith - The apostle Matthew said, "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith" (Mt. 21:22).
3. The Lesson of Habakkuk tells us that the righteous live by faith. In the context of Habakkuk's time, it meant that the people who lived by faith would be preserved as righteous, while those who only observed the rituals of the Mosaic Law for outward purposes would perish. It is a kind of faith is far more than the mere acknowledgement that God exists. It is a level of faith that moves a believer to live by faith even when such faith doesn't seem consistent with one's own selfish interests. The person that possesses this type of faith remains faithful even when times are hard-and even when God's presence seems to be far-away. People who have this kind of faith do not require evidence of God's love, because they live in faith that God loves them.