A Cry of Hope

Christ Covenant Church
Marq Toombs
Text – Habakkuk 1:12-2:20
Wait a Minute! A Prophet’s Cry of Hope and God’s Response

“Our prayers cannot force God to do anything,
but He uses them as His own instruments to bring about His will.”
—R.C. Sproul

————–

Listen at media.christcovenantc.com

May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Last week we began a mini-series on a minor prophet. Unlike other prophetic books, the book of Habakkuk is not a collection of sermons delivered to God’s people. Rather, it is a collection of Habakkuk’s prayers to God for his people. In this book Habakkuk the prophet stands as a mediator between God and man. He foreshadows the person and work Jesus Christ who sympathizes with his people and ever lives to intercede for us.

Last week we heard Habakkuk’s first prayer. He wanted God to intervene and discipline his people because of their many sins. But God answered and showed him that he was going to send the Babylonians to destroy his people and deport them to Babylon.

The word of God weighed heavy on his heart; it was a burden that he was unable to bear alone.

So he cried out to God a second time. This time around he cried out against the Babylonians not against his own people.

By doing so, he also runs the risk of crying out against God.

HABAKKUK’S PRAYER – 1:12-17

Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he? You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. The wicked brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?

The prophet is anchored to the foundational truth of God. His prayer shows that his theology is rock solid. He acknowledges that the Lord our God is the Holy One — that he is eternal and immortal. He confesses that God is the Rock who has followed his people from the beginning. He believes God is sovereign over all things including the rise and fall of nations.

Still, he is concerned about the dehumanizing aspect of God’s judgment. Men will act like animals, and the world will be red in tooth and claw. Only the strong will survive, and the weak will be devoured.

Babylon is a wicked fisherman. He casts his hooks and nets into the nations and drags captives back to his lair. Literally.

Like the Assyrians before them, the Babylonians pierced their captives with fish-hooks — through the lower lip or nose — and led them into captivity like so many fish on a trot line.

The prophet saw that Babylon’s military industrial complex was like a god of war. Babylon gave as much as possible to feed and fuel the militant god of war. No expense was spared to build it; no sacrifice was held back to maintain it.

In return the militant god of war rewarded Babylon with abundant health and wealth — with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The prophet expresses his concern about God’s plan. His prayer can be summarized this way: “Whoa! Now wait just a minute! Babylon is even worse than we are. We deserve better treatment than this!”

We have all felt that way at one time or another. We have all played the relative righteousness card before. I might be bad, but at least I am not as bad as so-and-so.

But that card does not play as well as we imagine. Cuz holy don’t play.

The prophet cries out to the Lord, “Why would God let Babylon do all these things?”

And “How long is Babylon going to get away with murder?”

That’s how we feel about ISIS and other enemies who terrorize us.

Keep in mind that Habakkuk is a faithful prophet, not a fatalistic cynic.

He has laid out his best case against God’s plan to send the Babylonians. He made intercession for the transgressors and pleads for mercy.

After he prays, he waits. He takes his stand at his watch-post and stations himself on the tower, and looks out to see what God will say to him, and what God will answer concerning his complaint.

He might have overstepped his bounds, but he will not run and hide. He braces himself like a man and stands his ground. Alone. He is watching and waiting to see what God will do. Alone.

To be a prophet is to be alone with the Lord. To be a mediator is to stand between two worlds; between God and men.

We don’t know how long he had to wait, but we do know that God answered his questions.

Instead of rebuking the prophet, God takes him to the movies so to speak. He shows him what he will do to the wicked Babylonians in the near future. And he tells the prophet to write it down on the tablets.

GOD’S ANSWER – 2:1-20

And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

Writing it down fixes the vision in space and time; it makes the vision objectively true. Making it plain on the tablets makes it clearly seen and publicly known. It gets it out of his head and into the world.

This word is from God; it is written in stone; it is firm, solid, and unbreakable.

[Side-note: The Tablets echoes back to the Tablets of the Law in Moses’ day.]

Now, imagine a messenger running from city to city. He must proclaim the news of God’s vision as he goes. The words on the tablets are large enough for him to read from right to left even as he runs. The fact that they are written in stone insures that every messenger will proclaim the same message in every place. (See Jer. 23:21)

Note: God never tells the prophet why he planned to let Babylon do all these horrible things to his people. He only tells him that he planned to let him get away with doing these wicked things for a short time: seventy years to be exact according to Jeremiah.

Until then, the prophet must learn to count time by faith.

As the apostles teach us: The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. Still, there is a limit to God’s patience, and the day of the Lord will come like a thief. (2 Peter 3:9-10)

So, contrary to Habakkuk’s complaints, God does not idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he. God is the Holy One; Babylon is the wicked one. And God will not let Babylon get away with murder forever.

He will judge Babylon because of his pride. Out of his proud heart flow the other sins for which he will be condemned.

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him. 

In the Book of Daniel, the stories that describe over-inflated ego of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon are legendary.

On one occasion the king set up a golden image and required all the peoples, nations, and languages to fall down and worship the golden image and to serve his gods. (Dan 3)

On another occasion he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and he said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4)

Nebuchadnezzar thought he was the master of his fate and the captain of his soul (Invictus). Only he wasn’t. The Babylonians thought they were invincible. Only they were not. They never saw their own downfall coming.

The story of Babylon is the story of pride going before a fall.

WOE: BAD NEWS FOR BABYLON

God pronounces five woes on Babylon.

The word woe is a curse word — a word of condemnation.

These five stanzas show the misery of the nation that thinks it can do without God. (See Boice, 94).

These woes tell us why God plans to judge Babylon in the future.

The woes could be pronounced against any nation that wreaks havoc on the earth and walks in proud rebellion against God. But since they were pronounced against Babylon first, I want to show you how they were fulfilled in Babylon.

Just keep in mind that the same woes could be pronounced against America and many other modern nations.

God says to Habakkuk: “Shall not all these [who have been abused and oppressed by Babylon] take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say: Woe to him!”

The woes are as follows: woe to the Greedy; woe to the unjust tradesman; woe to the indulgent and decadent; who to the violent. And woe to the idolaters.

One pastor says that in this text God teaches his people the lyrics to a taunt-song that may sing against Babylon when she falls. The song amounts to an “in your face / take that sucka” sorta rap.

My goal is to show you how these woes were fulfilled just a few decades after they were pronounced.

[Note: To show you how they were fulfilled in Babylon, I will reach into 2 Kings 24-25 to show what they did and the Book of Daniel 3-5 to show why they did it. and pulling out stories that connect to Habakkuk 2.]

This part is a little tricky, so for now, please just listen. You can go back and read it all later. Like Habakkuk, I wrote it down and made it plain.

+ Woe to the Greedy 2:6-8

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own— for how long?— and loads himself with pledges! Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

Nebuchadnezzar carried off all the gold and silver treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the LORD had foretold. (2 Kings 24:13)

And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon.

And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, the fire pans also and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. (2 Kings 25:13-15)

As we will see Babylon was destined to fall because she was infected with dragon-sickness — a delusional obsession with gold; Babylon’s problem was not that she possessed much gold and silver; rather, it was that gold and silver possessed Babylon.

These holy things belonged to the Lord God not Nebuchadnezzar. So God told the prophet that “their greed will be their downfall.” (Capt. Aubrey, Master & Commander)

+ Woe to the Unjust Tradesman 2:9-11

Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the people of Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths.

None remained, except the poorest people of the land.

And he carried away the king of the Jews to Babylon, the king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land — he took all these people into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.

And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. (2 Kings 24:14-16)

Then he burned up the temple of the Lord, and the palace of the king, and all nice houses of the people in Jerusalem. Finally, he broke down the walls of the city. (2 Kings 25:9-11)

He swept through the land and cut people off with the sword and hooks; he built a fortress city and a ferocious empire on the blood of his victims and the backs of his captives.

Profits were far more important than people.

And the stone and woodwork of the holy city Jerusalem cried out against Babylon, and God heard their cry from heaven.

Babylon was destined to fall because she was an unjust tradesman — like a thief she took what did not belong her for her own purpose and pleasure.

She gained the whole world and yet forfeited her soul.

+ Woe to the Violent 2:12-14

Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Nebuchadnezzar struck fear in the hearts of all people in his kingdom. On one occasion, he forced all his people to bow down and worship his image or else die in the fiery furnace.

Yet a few godly exiles decided to obey God rather than man. So they offered their bodies as living sacrifices—holy and pleasing to God. Their quiet acts of non-violent resistance ignited a spiritual reformation throughout the empire starting with the king.

When he saw that they were delivered by a son of God he was stunned and shouted in praise and worship:

Blessed be the God of the Jews, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. (Dan 3:28)

And he issued a formal decree that read:

Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of the Jews, shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way. (Daniel 3:29)

In this way the earth was filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea — just as God showed Habakkuk.

But one generation’s reformation is another generation’s deformation.

Babylon was destined to fall because she was violent and oppressive. She labored in vain to build a house; she wore herself out to build an empire.

In the end it was all destined to go up in flames — a bonfire of the vanities. God showed the prophets that he intended to burn Babylon down to the ground and cause her smoke to rise up into the sky.

+ Woe to the Indulgent / Decadent 2:15-17

Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink— you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

Babylon was infamous for its wine-induced orgies. Sensual indulgence and decadence was a national pastime — the sporting event of the day. It is shameful to mention in public worship all the things they did to each other in private parties. Suffice it to say that it involved lots and lots of wine, food, and sex.

One occasion — about 70-80 years after Habakkuk’s vision — Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords and drank wine in front of the thousand. Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. Then they brought in the golden vessels that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. (Daniel 5:1-5)

In the end, Babylon was judged by God, because she offered herself to the gods of money, sex, and power in defiance of the Lord God. She toasted the gods and drank her wine — and then she drank the wine of the cup of God’s wrath to her own destruction (Jer 25:15-32).

In this way the cup of the Lord’s right hand came around to them and utter shame came upon their glory. They were left shaking in their robes and trembling in fear and wallowing in their blood.

Babylon was destined to fall because she was given to all kinds of immoral activities — gluttony, drunkenness, and sexual confusion. All these were tied to her idolatry.

+ Woe to the Idolater 2:18-20

What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols (nothings)! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.

Babylon was an empire filled with man-made idols and gods.

From the kings down to the people everyone worshipped idols of gold and silver. They praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. The motto on their money said: In God We Trust. I meant “In Gold We Trust.”

On the very last night before the Babylonian Empire drew its last breath, a wise man in whom was the Spirit of God stood before the king and his guests and said:

You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know. But the God in whose hand is your breath, and all your ways, you have not honored. (Daniel 5:23)

That man was Daniel. He interpreted the writing is on the wall: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.

This is the interpretation of the riddle: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians. (Daniel 5:24-28)

And that very night the Babylonian Empire came to an end. The king was killed and the kingdom was taken over by the Medes and Persians and given to Darius the Mede.

The point here is that Babylon’s days were numbered from start to finish — not by chance, but by God.

Only God knew that the Medes and Persians were going to rise up and that the Babylonians were going to fall down.

And God showed it all to his servants the prophets — to Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Daniel.

What the prophets saw it through a glass dimly, we see it through Christ clearly.

So — contrary to Habakkuk’s complaints, God does not idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he. And God will not let wicked Babylon get away with murder forever. He will judge Babylon because of his pride. Just as he judged Jerusalem and Judah for hers.

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him — but the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. (Hab 2:4, 20)

Now, God’s answer to Habakkuk’s prayer ends with an indicative and an imperative.

Jerusalem will fall. Kings will die. The temple will burn. Captives will be taken.

But the Lord is in his holy temple.

Prophets will complain. Kings will boast. People will cry. Wisemen will babble.

But let all the earth hush before God.

Behold, the unbeliever’s soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him — but the righteous shall live by faith.

As Calvin explains: there is a special kind of silence when we willingly submit to God; for silence in this respect is nothing else but submission: and we submit to God, when we bring not our own inventions and imaginations, but suffer ourselves to be taught by his word. We also submit to him, when we murmur not against his power or his judgments, when we humble ourselves under his powerful hand, and do not fiercely resist him, as those do who indulge their own lusts.

Or, as one contemporary pastor-theologian puts it, A Christian is a man whose mouth has been shut.

God’s answer to Habakkuk’s prayer was intended to comfort and console the prophet. But such visions and answers from God only comfort those who live by faith. They only console those who trust him no matter what.

So hush — no more grumbling or complaining; no more arguing and debating; no more kicking and screaming. “Who are you O man to talk back to God?” (Rom 9)

shhh

HUSH: THE GOOD NEWS

We’ve just heard a lot of bad news, but now we will hear the good news.

Hope needs a story, and the story it needs is the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My goal was to show you how these woes were fulfilled just a few decades after they were pronounced.

Now my goal is to show you how Habakkuk points us to Jesus.

What does Habakkuk teach us about the gospel of Jesus Christ?

We will answer this question more fully in a couple of weeks, but for now I want to lay the groundwork by mentioning a few gospel truths from this text.

As God ordained that Babylon would judge Jerusalem, so God ordained that Jesus would be delivered up and crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23). In the crucifixion of Christ the wicked rulers swallowed up the righteous Christ because God ordained it. Thus, God draws straight lines with crooked sticks.

As God gave a cup of his wrath to Judah and Babylon, so he gave the cup of his wrath to Jesus. Let this cup pass from me, yet not my will but your will be done. In this way “the cup in the LORD’s right hand came around” to Jesus — and he drank every drop and utter shame came upon his glory for our sake! He drank cup of God’s wrath for God’s glory, his grace, and your good.

As God opposed the proud but gave grace to the humble in Babylon, so the poor in spirit shall receive the kingdom, mourners shall be comforted, and the meek shall inherit the earth in the church of Jesus Christ.

As God promised to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea, so the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus flows from jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not us (2 Cor 4:6-8) — and this knowledge of the glory of the Lord is being proclaimed to every culture under heaven (Col 1:23).

LIVE BY FAITH

In the face of God’s terrible judgments, how shall we then live?

The righteous one shall live by his faith.

What does it mean to live by faith?

It means though your body trembles; and your lips quiver at the sound; and rottenness enters into your bones; and your legs tremble beneath you; yet you will quietly wait for the Lord to keep his word.

Living by faith means though your labor yields no fruit, though your flock be cut off from the fold, and though your resources dry up and blow away, yet you will rejoice in the LORD and take joy in the God of your salvation. (Habakkuk 3:16-18)

It means we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah (Psalm 46:2-3)

Living by faith means we will trust God no matter what — though the nations rage and the kingdoms totter. (Psalm 46:6)

The righteous one lives by faith – and by faith he sings

Whate’er my God ordains is right
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth.
He is my God: though dark my road.
He holds me that I shall not fall.
And so to Him I leave it all.
He holds me that I shall not fall.

Pastoral Prayer

Grant, Almighty God, that as you see us laboring under so much weakness, yes, with our minds so blinded that our faith falters at the smallest perplexities, and almost fails altogether,— O grant that by the power of your Spirit we may be raised up above this world, and learn more and more to renounce our own counsels, and so to come to you, that we may stand fixed in our watch tower, ever hoping, through your power, for whatever you have promised to us, even though you might not make it known to us immediately what you have faithfully spoken; and may we give full proof of our faith and patience, and proceed in the course of our warfare, until at length we ascend, above all watch towers, into that blessed rest, where we shall no more watch with an attentive mind, but see, face to face, in your image, whatever can be wished, and whatever is needful for our perfect happiness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Photo by Mindy Ricketts

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