Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire (Habakkuk Sermon 2 of 9)
April 07, 2002 | Andrew Davis
Judgment, Justice of God
I. Survival of the Fittest?
If you would take your Bibles and look with me at Habakkuk 1. We're going to look in a continuing way at Habakkuk, and we've seen already read for us, and we've understood the scriptures that God's eyes are holy and pure. And he cannot tolerate evil. Some time ago, June 1985, the cover of National Geographic, there was a haunting picture of an Afghan refugee, a young woman. I don't know if you remember it. But she had striking eyes in particular. I remember her eyes glowed with a color that was unusual for that region, kind of a bluish-greenish and vivid color. But even more in those eyes was a look of terror. Do you remember? As though she had just been rescued from the most terrifying thing that anyone could ever go through. And it wasn't until two years later, when I went and ministered in Pakistan to Afghan refugees and saw that same look on faces, of men and women, boys and girls, and realize that to be a refugee from your own country is one of the most devastating states, you can be in in this world. All of them had seen loved ones killed by the Russians, or by land mines or other travesties of war, tragedies of war, many of them were absolutely destitute of material possessions, many of them anxious for missing loved ones, and they had that look in their eyes. They'd seen things that they wish they hadn't.
And so their eyes were haunted. And so, it was also Habakkuk when he looked at Jerusalem and saw wickedness, among the people of God, that his eyes were haunted with that and he said, to God, "Why do you make me look at this? Why do you make me look at injustice? What is going on with your people, don't you see? But I know you see God because your eyes search through the earth and you see all things." God has eyes too, not physical eyes. But he sees all things. The Scripture says, " "Does he who formed the eye not see?" And he does see. Habakkuk's contemporary Jeremiah lived through the exact same things that Habakkuk went through, saw the exact same sins of Judah and Jerusalem. He said this of God, Jeremiah said or God spoke through Jeremiah, and said, "My eyes are on all their ways, they're not hidden from me nor is their sin concealed from my eyes." God sees all things. He took Ezekiel into the hidden places of the temple and showed him the kind of despicable things, that were going on in his own house. He sees it all. His eyes roam to and fro over the surface of the Earth and into the hidden places of the earth, to see all things. But Ezekiel had a vision of God, wheels within wheels, I don't know if you remember it. And on the wheels there were eyes all around a picture of the omniscience of God, that he sees all things, and yet Habakkuk says here, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil. You cannot tolerate wrong."
So in one sense, he sees it all, in another sense he can't look at it. And so Habakkuk was brought into a quandary here. As he looks at his own city, his own people, it seemed to be that the strong were getting stronger, the rich were getting richer, the powerful are always getting more powerful. The system was rigged financially, the system of justice was rigged. There was no justice. It seemed to be perverted and paralyzed and so he wondered if it is only, to coin a phrase that we learned much later in human history, "survival of the fittest." Is it only the strong survive? Is that what's going on among your people? God, do something.
II. Context: Habakkuk’s Complain of Wickedness
And so he had a complaint, he saw Judah overrun with wickedness that God didn't seem to care. And so he complained to God in prayer many times; the implication, how long must I call to you, for help he says. So that implies many, many prayers would go up for the purity of his people, Habakkuk praying. We saw last time that God gave him a shocking answer. He said, "Be astonished." Look at Verse five, "Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed, for I'm going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told." I am the shocking God, I'm the God who does things you could never predict.
Now, reading between the lines, we know that as Habakkuk, is stunned by what God said he would do that he was hoping that God would send a revival like he did under Hezekiah, like he did under Josiah, that he would send a renewal of the people, that God would maybe surgically remove some key evil people, perhaps, but then in general, that he would work in Jerusalem and bring righteousness there. But God's ways are not our ways. It says in Isaiah 55, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the Earth. So are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." God is utterly unpredictable. He's a shocking God. Our ways of thinking are earth-bound aren't they? We think like people. Of course, we are people, and all we know is the five cents world around us, we know what we see, we understand these things, but we can't understand spiritual realities. And so it was that Simon Peter, when he heard that Jesus had said that Jesus was going to die on the cross Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, and said, "Never Lord, this shall never happen to you." And Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me." "You don't think like God, you think like men."
It's a way of thinking. We think like people. We have a people's way of seeing things. We constantly think therefore too highly of earthly matters, lands and houses, cities, physical health and prosperity, favorite meals, comfortable beds, pastimes and hobbies. Conversely, we constantly think too lowly of spiritual matters, namely God's name. God's glory, people's eternal souls, Judgment Day, heaven and, hell. We think too little of these things. God delights to think of these things, he rules over it all, and he delights to be sovereign in his universe, and he is unpredictable, and so he didn't do what Habakkuk expected.
III. God’s Answer: "I Am Raising Up The Chaldeans"
He said "I'm not going to bring a revival. No, I'm going to bring the Babylonians and they're going to sweep across the whole earth and they're going to turn it into a waste land, they're coming Habakkuk the Babylonians, that's what I'm doing. And they're not coming by accident and they're not coming despite the fact that I wish they wouldn't. They're coming because I'm bringing them. I am raising them up," that's what he says. "I am bringing them." "I am raising up the Babylonians." Well, that's a shock. God using Gentiles to discipline his own people. Not only that, it's not just discipline, it's destruction, it's deportation, it's complete removal of the people from the Promised Land. Now, he says, "I am raising up the Babylonians," the Hebrew word is Chaldeans. The Chaldeans. "I'm bringing the Chaldeans" that's what he says. Now, it's ironic that that's who's coming because the whole thing started with Abram way, way, way, long time ago who lived in Ur of the Chaldeans and God raised him up out of Ur of the Chaldeans.
He came up across that arc known as the Fertile Crescent, and down into what became known as the Promised Land, and he settled there. Well, God says, "I'm going to bring the Babylonians to chase Abraham out of that promised land. They're coming up along the river, they're coming down, and they're coming your way." Now, the Chaldean's chief city was Babylon. We're going to talk more about that in the future. But Babylon and therefore the Chaldeans came to be called the Babylonians. Now The Chaldeans were originally a group of tribes living in what they called the Sea-Land. And Assyrian kings from Nineveh came down the Fertile Crescent, down to Babylon, and to the Chaldean area and conquered them and put them under their iron boot just like they had that whole region, the Assyrians were powerful. They were like the Nazis of the ancient world. In 734BC, the Chaldeans seized the city of Babylon, back from their Assyrian overlords, the Assyrians responded by invading again, the whole land and subjugating the whole region but by giving power to just that city, Babylon to the Chaldeans. And so there was a king of that city named Merodach-Baladan, he was the king of the Babylonians, king of the city of Babylon, he heard that there was a king in Judah, that was also opposed to Assyria. His name was Hezekiah.
And he sent envoys when he heard that Hezekiah had recovered miraculously from an illness and those envoys came over to Jerusalem and Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. We talked about this last time. Hezekiah took the envoys in from the city of Babylon, as friends, as allies with the mutual enemy, the Assyrians. And he took them on a tour of all of his storehouses. He showed them his gold, his silver, his costly stones, his spices, he showed them his armaments, all of his power, he showed them everything as though they were complete allies. Isaiah comes running. This is about a 100 years before this time, before Habakkuk. Isaiah comes and says, "'What did those men say, and where did they come from?' 'From a distant land,' Hezekiah replied. 'They came to me from Babylon.' The prophet asked, 'What did they see in your palace?' 'They saw everything in my palace,' Hezekiah said. 'There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.' Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, 'Hear the word of the LORD Almighty: "The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left." says the LORD. "And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."' 'The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,' Hezekiah replied. For he thought, 'There will be peace and security in my lifetime.'"
100 years ahead of time, the invasion of the Babylonians, predicted very clearly by the prophet Isaiah. Now, The Mighty Assyrians under Sennacherib conquered that region and for about 80 more years after the time of Isaiah ruled with an iron fist, but their rule began to crumble. By 627 BC, the Chaldeans had a leader named Nabopolassar and Nabopolassar was a genius, he was an organizer, one of the greatest leaders of the ancient world. And he began to challenge the Assyrians and started to roll up territory. And started to come up towards Nineveh of the capital of the Assyrians. All of this was predicted by the way in Nahum, the prophet right before Habakkuk, that the time for Nineveh has come. Nineveh's going to be destroyed. And it was Nabopolassar, the king of the Babylonians who did it. He and his son, Nebuchadnezzar. And the two of them came up there and in the middle of that campaign, they conquered, they destroyed Nineveh and then in 605, he Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Egypt and the powerful forces of Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish, 605 and then he said, "I've heard about a little kingdom in Judah, with some gold and some precious stones and other things that's worth looking at." And that was Judah. And so Nebuchadnezzar started coming toward Judah. And it was Habakkuk that saw it right around that time before any of it came to be because he said, "Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed." So the Babylonians weren't really well known yet. So it's coming, it's coming their way.
God is getting ready, they're coming. Look what it says at verse 9-11, "They all come bent on violence, the Babylonians do. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand, they deride kings and scoff at rulers, they laugh at all fortified cities. They build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep pass like the wind and go on. Guilty men, whose own strength is their God." So the Babylonians are coming. And so Habakkuk had a complaint about the wicked Jews in Jerusalem. The wicked of his own people. And God's answer is, "Okay I'm going to bring the Babylonians to destroy this whole land." This is out of the frying pan into the fire, isn't it? Now, it's much worse. You're going to use the godless Babylonians.
IV. Habakkuk’s Second Complaint: Like the First, Only Worse
And so he makes a second complaint, it begins at verse 12, look at his emotion look at verse 12, "O Lord, are you not from everlasting? O God, O holy one. We will not die, O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment. O rock, you've ordained them to punish." He's choked with emotion. Do you see all the emotional words in there. The word, "O", is an emotional word, isn't it? And so he's filled with emotion, he doesn't know what to say, look what he says. O Lord, my God, my holy one. O Lord, O rock.
Do you see what he's saying? He's torn up about this. It's shocking to him. And he uses a variety of titles here for God, he calls him Yahweh. That's what the word Lord, if you ever see the word Lord capitalized in your text, that's that covenant name for God, I am that I am the name Yahweh. We don't really know how to pronounce it, exactly, but that is God's covenant name and God you are the covenant God of your people. Are you going to step aside and let our enemies destroy us? You're the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you're a covenant God. And he says, "My God, this is... " Habakkuk's praying to the God who he has loved, the God that he has worshipped, he calls him my God. I don't understand what you're doing. He calls him my holy one. God's holiness is in view. How could a perfectly holy God use such wicked men and then he calls him O rock, he calls him the rock. The picture of the rock in the Old Testament is of something unshakable, something that didn't move, something that never changed. It says in Malachi, "I, the Lord, do not change therefore you, O Jacob are not destroyed." You see how that works. God's unchanging commitment to his covenant, it meant that he wouldn't destroy his people.
God's rock-like qualities were David's place of refuge. Psalm 18 he says, "The Lord is my rock. He's my fortress and my deliverer. My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge. My shield in the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." A rock is a secure place, it's solid, it's a place of refuge in a time of danger. But is the rock crumbling now? Well, the first time the word rock is used of God was in the Book of Deuteronomy.
Now, the Book of Deuteronomy, was given to the Jews just before they entered the promised land. It was their instruction manual to the promised land. Kind of like a father giving the teenage of the keys to the car. "You need to have the car back by 10 o'clock, and the tank needs to be full and I need the keys in my hand. Or you're not going to get to keep the car or use it ever again." It's kind of like the rules of the road. And so God says, "Here's the promise land, and if you want to keep the promised land, you must follow these rules, these instructions." And so, the Mosaic covenant was given. But God gave more than that. He gave a prediction of how it was going to go. Something called "The Song of Moses", one of the most extraordinary things in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 32. Do you know how when you're a child, you learn Bible verses by singing and you can still remember them. Do you know what I'm talking about? You can memorize verses more easily by singing.
And so he gave them The Song of Moses, in which all of their history was predicted before any of it happened. The Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32. And this is what it says, towards the end of The Song of Moses. Speaking of the people, the Jews. "Would that they were wise that they understood this, that they would discern their future." So it spoke of their future. "How could one man chase a thousand, How could, two put 10,000 to flight unless their Rock had sold them, unless the Lord had given them up indeed their rock is not like our rock, even as our enemies themselves attest." So there it is, God is called the rock. And basically, you can't be put to flight on the battlefield, Jews unless I give you over.
Unless I surrender and Habakkuk saw it, didn't he? He said, that's exactly what is happening here. He understood God's purposes. "O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die." Do you see what he's saying? We will not be extinguished as a people, "O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment, O rock you've ordained them to punish." They're coming to discipline us, but we will survive as a people. But it's still distressing to him. God's purposes were to discipline his people. Now, God, it says in The Song of Moses dreaded something. He was afraid that if he gave his people into the hands of a foreign power that that foreign power would boast about their own military strength. So what he says in Deuteronomy 32: 26, He said, "I said I would scatter them and blot out their memory from mankind. But I dreaded the taunt of the enemy lest the adversary misunderstand and say, our hand has triumphed. The Lord has not done all this." And so he dreaded the taunt to the Babylonians, saying, "We beat God. We defeated God, the God who brought them out of Egypt. We're stronger than God." But God was willing to run that risk so that he might discipline his people.
And so Nebuchadnezzar comes and they get moved back to Babylon, and then God starts to educate Nebuchadnezzar, read about it in the book of Daniel. That's what that's all about. He's educating him, he says, No. No, I control you too. And he turned Nebuchadnezzar's mind to the mind of an animal, just like that for seven years, he became like an animal and at the end, you know what Nebuchadnezzar said? He said, "God rules over the kingdoms of men. And the kingdoms are like a drop from the bucket, they're nothing. He does as he pleases with all the kingdoms and the empires on earth." That's what Nebuchadnezzar said.
But his lesson day would come later, this was Jerusalem's day of learning. And so Habakkuk brings the meditation into the holiness of God. Look again at Verse 13, "Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?" It's an incredible statement of God's holiness. God can't even look at evil. That's what he's saying. His eyes are too pure.
It says in 1 John 1:5, "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all." How can a sinner apart from Christ, think that they can stand before such a God on Judgment Day. God sees all things, he searches the darkest parts of our lives. Even the darkness is like light to God. He sees it all. But when it says his eyes are too pure to look on it, it means to look with approval on it to accept it. He certainly knows all about it or else how could he judge the world. But his eyes are pure and holy and he cannot tolerate wrong. He doesn't merely shrug and accept evil. He carefully notes it and will punish it. Every sin ever committed receives a judgment from God, do you realize that? Every little lie. Every great crime, all of it gets judged in one of two places, it gets judged at the cross of Jesus Christ, or it gets judged in eternity, in hell. But everything gets dealt with. God is meticulous, he is a judge. And his eyes are too pure and he does not tolerate evil. But then the question comes, the time lapse. Why doesn't he do it right away? As soon as the evil comes, why doesn't he judge it? Why does he wait so long? Why does he seem to tolerate evil? That is the question, Why do you tolerate evil men? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
This is out of the frying pan into the fire. The Jews were evil that's true, they were doing bad things, but the Babylonians are worse. How can you use the evil Babylonians to do this work? They are idolaters, they are violent, they are greedy, they're merciless, they're cruel, they're arrogant, they're godless. How could God do this? And look what it says here in verse 14, "You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler." This is a naturalistic explanation. It's like survival of the fittest, it's the food chain, right? We're like fish, there's no King here, there's nobody running the show, it's a mess, the big fish eat a smaller fish, the herring eat the plankton and the cod eat the herring, the mackerel shark eats the cod. We're like fish with no ruler. Who's in charge of all this? It seems to make no sense. And then on top of it all is the wicked foe with his hook pulling up the shark. He's in charge it seems of at all but he's wicked. It doesn't make any sense. And then after he pulls up the fish with his hook or with his dragnet, he sits down and has a worship service to his net. He sacrifices to a net, he's an idolater. It doesn't make any sense, God, are you ruling over all these things? And he delights in conquest.
Verse 15, it says, "And so he rejoices and is glad." He's arrogant, and boastful. They live in luxury, because of their nets. They're living high on the hog because they're good at fighting. They're good militarily." And then Habakkuk asked the question. Is it only survival of the fittest? Where is God in all of this? Verse 17, "Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy? Is it going to go on and on and on? Is there no end to it?" It's an agonized question.
V. Waiting on God: Seeking Wisdom in an Insane World (2:1)
I'm going to pray. That's what Habakkuk says. I'm going to stand at my watch and station myself, on the ramparts and I'm going to wait on God. I'm going to hear, I'm going to listen and he's going to speak to me and he's going to tell me what is going on. Look at chapter two, verse one, "I will stand at my watch and station myself, on the ramparts. I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint." History is bewildering. I can't make sense of it. I don't understand God why you give such success to wicked and evil people. Universal history makes no sense either. I'm not able to trace it out. I don't see what's happening. We were supposed to be your people, your chosen people, and you're evicting us from the Promised Land. It doesn't make any sense. What are you doing? And so I'm going to wait. Much later, a promise came from God, James 1:5 and following, it says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind. Such man shall not think he will receive anything from God. He's a double-minded man, unstable in all he does." Habakkuk was no double-minded man.
He said, "No, I'm going to station myself on the wall and I'm going to watch. Not for the Babylonians. I know they're coming, I'm not going to stand and watch for the Babylonians. I'm going to watch for God's wisdom and for an explanation." And so he waited on God. Is not waiting on God, one of the hardest parts of the Christian life? Don't you have a hard time with that? I want the answer now, I want the judgment now. When I see wicked things I want it dealt with now God. We're so impatient. God is not impatient. Do you realize that this invasion by this Gentile power into Jerusalem is just the first of a series of Gentile overlords over the city of Jerusalem that has continued to this very day. How patient is God? If Habakkuk said, "We want the city back, God. Now, when is it going to come later this month? He'd have a long wait. 25, 26 centuries and still counting. What it says in Luke, the times of the Gentiles, God is patient. We are not patient. And so Habakkuk says I'm going to wait on God, I'm going to watch and I'm going to pray and I'm going to wait. And what is the answer. Well, you have to wait 'til next time.
Because the text says we're only going to chapter two, verse one today. But all of chapter two is the answer isn't it? It's the answer. And the answer is that I am sovereign and the Babylonians are going to get theirs in due time, and then whoever conquers the Babylonians will get theirs in due time, and through it all I am working and building a kingdom of glory that's going to conquer the whole earth. It's a hidden kingdom and you enter it if you're an individual person by faith, for the righteous will live by faith. That's what I'm doing. So, the answer is going to come to who stands and waits. So God then what is this patience for? Why is it you don't crush the wicked right away? Well, 2 Peter 3 tells us, "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means, salvation." Do you understand that? God waits for the sake of salvation. It says the same thing in Romans 2:4, "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance." The wait period is for people to get saved, it's for people to repent, to trust in this God, that's what it's for.
Now, God's patience doesn't last forever, does it? It's measured out. The sin of the Amorites in Genesis 15 has not yet reached its full measure and when it does, then Joshua will come and destroy them. That's how that works. So there's a measured out amount of waiting. God knows the number of days, but you don't, do you? And he's not telling you instead he's telling you today is the day of salvation. Today is the opportunity to come to faith in Christ. Today is the opportunity to be justified by faith, to have salvation, today. Because you don't know that tomorrow will come. God's patience does not last forever. Again, in The Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:35, "It is mine to avenge. I will repay. In due time, their foot will, their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them." In due time, it comes. And so God has measured out the waiting period, but the waiting period is for salvation, it's for repentance, it's for trusting in God.
I heard the sermon, a sermon by black preacher, a Presbyterian preacher named EV Hill, entitled, Sunset for the Wicked. And there he's dealing with the exact same issue from a different text Psalm 73, the prosperity of the wicked. I can't preach like him, I wish I could hear that live. Wouldn't that be something to hear? But inner-city church dealing with the prosperity of the wicked, of drug, gangs and other they seem to be doing well while the righteous seem to be in poverty and they're in danger all the time. When is God going to act? What is the patience for? And Psalm 73 the answer is the same. In due time, their foot will slip, at the right time their end will come. Sunset for the Wicked. Judgement will come on the wicked, but here's the thing, who then is wicked? Aren't we? Aren't we sinners? Weren't we at one point enemies of God? Aren't you glad that God didn't bring the curtain down, the day before you came to faith in Christ? Aren't you glad that the day didn't end before you had a chance to repent and trust Christ. Because it says in Romans 5, if when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life. Aren't you glad that God didn't bring history to an end before you were reconciled to God because you were an enemy too.
And so God's patience means, salvation for people who have not yet trusted in Christ.
What application do we get out of this Habakkuk 1. First of all, it says the mystery of history. History is a mystery and you're not going to be able to figure it out, but God is weaving his sovereign plan out isn't he? And he's using some fibers, and some threads that you're not familiar with, but he knows what he's doing, he's got the picture in his mind, and he knows what he's doing. Even though for a time, it seems the wicked prosper and do well God is still using it for his glory, trust him and believe in the work that he's doing.
Secondly, God is holy, perfectly holy. His eyes see everything that you do. His eyes see everything that the most mighty military conqueror does. And yet he's patient, waiting for repentance. Thirdly, Sunset for the Wicked. Judgment will come at some point. God does not wait forever and therefore if you have never trusted in Christ, if you are not justified through faith in Christ, if you don't realize that every single sin will be paid for either at the cross of Christ, or on your own head on judgment day, if you've never seen that Jesus' blood alone saves, and you've never trusted in that, don't put it off. Today is the day of salvation. You don't know how long he's going to wait for you.
You don't even know if you'll be alive tomorrow, and therefore salvation for the wicked, God's patience means, salvation for those who need it, and that's sinners, sinners like you and me living by faith, simply believing in Jesus Christ. I want to say one final thing to you who are Christians, and that's about the holy eyes of God. Psalm 139, verse 1, David says, "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me." Right? What does that mean? You know everything about me, you see everything I do, you know it all. But then at the end of the Psalm, what does he say? "O Lord, search me and know me. Try me and see if there's any wicked way in me and lead me in the everlasting way." What is he saying? He's saying, "God, I know you see me, I want you to see me. Search me with those holy eyes. Show me if there's any evil inside me and move in me to turn from it and to repent."