Copyright 2011 by Bob Rogers
The ancient prophet Habakkuk was troubled by the very contemporary problem of why God didn’t seem to do anything about evil.
We can identify with Habakkuk. Life seems unfair, and when we pray, sometimes it seems like God isn’t hearing us and isn’t doing anything about it.
It’s kind of like getting stuck in quicksand. When a person gets stuck in quicksand, the harder they try to get out, the deeper and faster they go under. The harder they try, the worse things get because the nature of quicksand is to pull them down the more they move. Likewise, the harder you try to fight your problem, the more you feel like you are sinking. Let's look at how Habakkuk dealt with it.
I. Habakkuk’s complaint (1:12-2:1)
A. Life is unfair (1:13a)
Habakkuk could not understand why God was using Babylon to punish Judah. Judah was bad, but Babylon was worse. It didn’t seem fair. So Habakkuk said, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?” He was referring to Babylon’s total depravity.
Sometimes life seems unfair like that to us. When an umpire or referee makes a bad call, our sense of justice is offended, and we want to jump up and shout “unfair!” We demand for a correction. We want instant replay and the ability to reverse a bad call.
On July 26, 2011, the Atlanta Braves were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. The game was tied 3-3 after 19 innings. Umpire Jerry Meals was behind the plate. Julio Lugo was on third base. Relief pitcher Scott Proctor was batting. Proctor had 2 strikes on him and hit the ball to third base. The third baseman threw the ball home, and the catcher Michael McKenry got the ball and tagged Lugo on the leg before he even got to the plate, but umpire Jerry Meals called him safe, anyway. The instant replays clearly showed that Proctor was out, but the umpire called him safe. A lot of the Pirates players had to be restrained, they were so upset they wanted to attack the umpire.
Atlanta Braves announcer Chip Caray said on the air, “Folks, this is one that will be talked about for a while.” Bryan Jordan said, “This may be one of the worst plays we have ever seen by an umpire.” Boy, was he ever right. The next day even the news stations were talking about the bad call. But no matter how much the Pirates fans fussed about the unfair call, the Braves still won the game.
Sometimes, life is unfair like that. We get upset at a bad call in a ballgame, but what about the 12.4 million people in Somalia and the Horn of Africa who are in danger of starving to death? A drought has caused hard-working farmers and cattle owners to lose their crops and their cattle, and wander with their families in search of food. But warlords and terrorists are preventing relief organizations from getting food to the refugee camps. How do we explain that?
B. God is silent (1:13b)
Habakkuk went on to complain, “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” As the evil empire of Babylon destroyed nations and cities that weren’t as bad as them, God seemed to do nothing.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, A Grief Observed, of how he felt God was silent when he lost his wife. He said that when he prayed, he felt like God had slammed the door in his face and bolted the door shut.
In Habakkuk 2:1, the prophet wrote of keeping watch on the “ramparts,” that is, the lookout tower on the city wall, waiting for an answer to “this complaint.” Actually, the Hebrew word is stronger than “complaint.” A more literal translation would be “rebuke” or “reprimand.” Strong words for God, and many people who struggle with the problem of pain and the question of suffering and evil in the world are just as harsh in their condemnation of God. “Where is God?” they ask. He’s abandoned us. He’s silent.
What is the answer to all this? Habakkuk strained to get an answer, and beginning in Habakkuk 2:2, the answer came.
II. The Lord’s answer (2:2-20)
The Lord gave an answer in verses 2-4, and then elaborated on the answer in the rest of chapter two. In verse 2, the Lord let him know that the answer was so significant that it should be written down on “tablets” and a “herald” should run with the news to share it. The answer came in two parts, in verse 3 and verse 4.
A. Wait on the Lord (2:3)
The first part of the Lord’s answer was to have patience, and learn to wait on the Lord. “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
Billy Graham says, “Tears become telescopes to heaven, bringing eternity a little closer.” (Billy Graham in Quotes, p. 337) Through patient waiting in our suffering, we get closer to God.
God plans to work in His timing. The Lord was letting Habakkuk know that it would prove true, not false, and would certainly come. But he had to await the “appointed time.” He had to “wait for it.”
We know from history that in the appointed time, God judged Judah and God judged Babylon as well. Jerusalem and all of Judah fell in 586 B.C.; Jerusalem’s gates and temple were burned down, and the people taken into exile. But in 539 B.C. Babylon fell, as the capital was captured in a single night by the Persians.
In verses 6-20, the Lord goes into detail about the wickedness of Babylon and how He planned to punish them. These verses have two sections of five “woe’s” upon Babylon. Each of the two sections end with a statement about God’s greatness in contrast to Babylon’s sin.
In verses 6-8 he pronounces a “woe” upon the sin of greed. In verses 9-11 he pronounces a “woe” upon the sin of exploitation. In verses 12-14 he pronounces a “woe” upon the sin of cruel violence. Then in verse 14 he says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
In verses 15-17 he pronounces a “woe” upon the sin of drunkenness and debauchery. In verses 18-19 he pronounces a “woe” upon the sin of idol worship. Then in verse 20 he says, “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
It’s hard to wait on the Lord when life seems unfair and we don’t see Him doing anything right now, and He seems to be silent. But we must learn to trust Him and wait.
Isaiah said those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength and soar on wings as eagles (Isaiah 40:31, KJV). So wait on the Lord. One day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Don’t give up. Keep waiting upon the Lord, for despite all of the evil around us, the Lord is still in His holy temple, and we need to be silent in worship before Him.
B. Live by faith (2:4)
Verse 4 is the key verse of Habakkuk. Talking about the pride of Babylon, the verse begins, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright…” The HCSB translates it, “His ego is inflated.” Then the key part comes at the end of verse 4, the words that they should write down, the words the herald should run with and proclaim. Here it is: “the righteous will live by his faith.” The apostle Paul quoted this part of the verse in Romans 1:17 and made it the theme verse of his letter to the Romans, and it is also quoted in Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. It can be translated two ways: “the righteous will live by his faith” or “the righteous will live by his faithfulness.” Either way, it means basically the same thing, because if we have real faith we will be faithful.
For fifty-one years Bob Edens was blind. He couldn't see a thing. His world was a black hall of sounds and smells. He felt his way through five decades of darkness. And then, he could see.
A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and, for the first time, Bob had sight. He found it overwhelming. "I never would have dreamed that yellow is so ... yellow," he exclaimed. "I don't have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can't believe red.
"I can see the shape of the moon—and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is." (Max Lucado, God Came Near.)
Your life may seem like a blind alley right now. But hold on. Dr. Jesus wants to open your spiritual eyes. He wants to perform faith surgery. Will you let Him? If you do, you will live… by faith.
At the beginning of this sermon, I said that Habakkuk’s problem was like getting stuck in quicksand. Now, the person who knows how to handle quicksand knows that he should not fight it. Instead, he should paddle underneath, moving an inch here and an inch there, slowly getting to the bank.
That’s the way many of are problems are. If we strike out in anger against God and fight it, we will just sink into despair and bitterness. But if we will learn to wait on the Lord and live by faith, we can make it. Even though we cannot see the shore right now, if we will just hang on, and keep on paddling underneath even when we feel like giving up, in time, if we’ll be patient, God is going to bring us home. (Adapted from Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 239.)
In 1856, Henry Brown, a slave in Richmond, Virginia, decided he didn’t want to be a slave anymore, and he was going to take a huge risk in order to be free.
Henry Brown found himself a box, a wooden crate, and postmarked it to an abolitionist in Philadelphia, which was in free territory. Henry Brown got inside the box, sealed the box from the inside, and mailed himself to Philadelphia.
Henry Brown was banking on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver him. He was in slavery and needed to be free. The abolitionist got the crate. When he opened the box, Henry Brown stood up, after being in that box three weeks, and said, “How do you do, sir. My name is Henry Brown and I was a slave. I heard about you being an abolitionist, so I’m entrusting my future to you.”
That was a big risk. It was an oxygen risk, a risk of being discovered, a risk of going hungry. But when Henry Brown stood up in Philadelphia, he was a free man. It was worth the risk. (Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 42.)
Waiting on the Lord and living faithfully in spite of our troubles is like that. It’s hard. It’s a risk. But it’s worth it, because in the end, God will deliver us. Henry Brown entrusted his future to an abolitionist he had never met, in a land he had never visited. How about you? Will you trust your future to God, even though you haven’t seen Him, to take you to a land you haven’t seen yet? That’s what it means when it says, “the righteous will live by faith.” Will you?
Copyright 2011 by Bob Rogers