Posts Tagged 'Habakkuk'

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 7

The remains of one of Nineveh's defenders. Photo David Stronach.

Nahum, Habakkuk

Choices. We all have to make choices. Sometimes we make wise choices, other times our choices are really our mistakes. But no matter, good choice or bad, there are always consequences to face and deal with.

The minor prophets declared a conditional message to their listeners: God’s judgment is never the final word; it can be averted if the people make the right choice: repentance. Whenever anybody chooses to accept God’s mercy, their whole life changes for the better. God’s generous offer of mercy, if ignored, won’t help because judgment is inevitable.

1. God’s power to avenge, Nahum 1:1—9

Nahum provides an interesting parallel to the book of Jonah. Each deals with the great city of Nineveh. However, the book of Jonah is really about the prophet himself. Nahum, though, reveals nothing personal about the prophet beyond his name. “Nahum” is a name that appears only one time in the Old Testament, in the superscription of the book. His name appears one time in the New Testament as part of the genealogy of Joseph in Luke 3:25. “Nahum” means “comfort” or “consolation.”

Though we know nothing about the man, his sermon to Nineveh has survived the centuries because it teaches us something very significant about about God’s mercy and His judgment.

a. The fury of the Lord, vs. 1—6

A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. (vs. 1)

This superscription was probably added by an editor for the purpose of identification. The “prophecy” is sometimes called “a burden” in some translations. That’s a good word; sometimes the Word of the Lord is a burden. Sometimes it’s not all sunshine happiness. This is especially true concerning this “burden” about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. (vs. 2)

Those are pretty strong words directed at Nineveh. Why did God feel this way about the Assyrians? The name “Assyria” comes from “Asshur,” who was a descendant of Shem (Genesis 10:22). Asshur and his kin eventually settled in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Ancient history has a lot to say about these people, and none of it is good. Every time we read about the Assyrians in both sacred and secular history. they are pictured as cruel, savage, and warlike people with a deep-seated desire to conquer and dominate as much territory as possible. They were known for flaying captives and wall-papering pillars with their skins. They would bury captives alive, impaling others on posts, gouging out eyes, cutting off hands, feet, noses, and ears. Young children were burned alive. These and other atrocities caused the Assyrians to be feared for centuries in the ancient Near East.

Verse 2 indicates how God felt about these people. They faced certain doom, not because the Assyrians were so evil, but because God is so holy. God’s perfect nature demands that He punish sin because the nature of sin demands that it receive punishment. God must oppose evil, wherever it is found. And Nineveh was overflowing with it.

The LORD is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. (vs. 3)

This could be considered the key verse of this book. The apostle Paul proclaimed the same message to the Romans:

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:3—5)

b. The end for Nineveh, vs. 7—9

God is all-powerful, but He does not remain unmoved by the decisions of people. This group of verses is comforting to God’s people but a warning to those who ignored God’s mercy.

Nahum’s ministry occurred some 150 years after Jonah’s. Immediately following Jonah’s ministry, Nineveh did a complete about-face. They repented and forestalled God’s promised judgment. But by Nahum’s time, they were a rotten as ever.

Here is a powerful lesson: each generation needs its own revival. No individual believer, church, or religious movement can survive on yesterday’s blessings. Human nature always bends away from God towards sin; that’s why every generation needs to seek God for fresh outpourings of His Spirit.

Whatever they plot against the LORD he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. (verse 9)

The prophet directly addresses the Assyrian leaders, and informs them that they don’t have a prayer if they come against God. This is it, as far as Nineveh was concerned. The great city would not be given a second chance. Why not? Nineveh had crossed an invisible line that only God can see. This does not mean that God’s grace could not reach them a second time, but that they could no longer reach it.

Halzi Gate excavation. Excavating skeletons in the gateway dating from the destruction of Nineveh. 7 May 1990.

2. A cry for righteous judgment, Habakkuk 1:1—6

Here is another prophet we know next to nothing about. His name is mentioned here, and nowhere else in the Bible. There are two things that distinguish Habakkuk from other Old Testament prophets. First is what we read in verse 1:

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk is one of the only prophets that is actually referred to as “the prophet.” This suggests that Habakkuk was recognized as a professional prophet.

Second, there is a verse Habakkuk wrote that appears no less than three times in the New Testament and it eventually became Martin Luther’s rallying cry and the watchword for the Reformation:

The just shall live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)

Habakkuk was a contemporary of the more famous Jeremiah, and this book is traditionally dated around 600 BC, not long before the Babylonian Captivity in 586 BC. So he ministered in and around Judah and this prophet was faced with with two big problems. This prophet was one of the few men with courage enough to wrestle and argue with God over the way God deals with man.

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. (2:1)

The answer, of course, is to be found in 2:4b:

The just shall live by faith.

a. The burden of the prophet, vs. 1—4

Here is the cry of a frustrated believer: how long and why. This could well be the the single issue that plagues all believers: Why does God permit evil to continue among His own people—evils like, the iniquity, the injustice, the strife, and the contention? This is an old question, but a new one.

Times were tough for Habakkuk, and they were getting tougher. Things were about to come a head; violence was on the rise, the balance of power was shifting fast in the Middle East and the Babylonians were on the march. However, as the old saying goes, “one man plus God is always a majority.” Habakkuk went straight to the Top with His complaints.

b. A new world power, vs. 5, 6

God’s answer to his prophet is the comfort of assurance: “I am working.” But, here is an instance where God’s answer wasn’t quite what Habakkuk was expecting. God was indeed working, but it wasn’t among His people, it was among the heathen!

Notice, though, the onus is on God’s people to see Him working:

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. (vs. 5a)

Sometimes God’s working isn’t all that obvious! Believers have to “look” for Him, and sometimes His hand is to be found working in the strangest of places, among the strangest of people.

God did not answer the “Why” part of Habakkuk’s question; He is sovereign and owes no man any explanation or apology. Besides, no human being is capable of understanding the mind of God. But God did speak to the prophet. Far from being insensitive to the plight of His people, God was in fact orchestrating it! In the darkest, most confusing hour for any believer, when we are apt to feel as though God has forsaken us, we should take comfort from God’s word to Habakkuk. God in no way ever loses control; regardless of what it may look like, God is always in command of the circumstances of our lives. It is our lack of perception that makes God look uncaring or uninvolved. God’s activity, though, is far-reaching. It extends from generation to generation. His work in our lives not only touches us, but reaches out to touch others.

3. Confidence in God’s sovereignty, 3:1,2; 16—19

This last chapter of Habakkuk is unique among the Minors. In fact, it’s not really part of his prophecy. We might call chapter three Habakkuk II, for it opens with a whole new superscription, like it was a whole new book:

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. (vs. 1)

The “shigionoth” is a word of unknown origin and meaning, although is has something to do with music; perhaps an instrument or a type of song.

a. An urgent prayer, vs. 1, 2

What a change had taken place in Habakkuk’s life. From complaining to God and waiting for God to answer him, Habakkuk was brought to the place of real, abiding faith. He was an honest questioner of God and God honored him.

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (vs 2)

What God had revealed to Habakkuk drew the prophet closer to Him and allowed him to worship God anew. He had been given a glimpse into the inner workings of God’s mind. He had a peek of things to come, and what he saw filled him with fear. But the prophet’s fear was not fear of the future but reverential awe of God. God opened His mind to Habakkuk just a crack and the prophet was overcome with wonder.

His heart’s cry to God was based on what God had done in the past: repeat your deeds! What a great, simple prayer for revival! G.B. Williamson gives a wonderful outline of these two verses under the heading, “A Prayer for Revival.”

  • Revival in needed because sin in rampant, religion is decadent, and judgment is imminent, 1:4; 2:18—20;

  • The time of revival is NOW: in “our day, in our time”;

  • The way of revival is through prayer;

  • The hope of revival is in God’s mercy.

b. Remembering God’s power, vs. 16—19

After praising God for His past intervention, Habakkuk says,

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

This is why it is so important for believers to get to know God through the pages of Scripture. Prayer is vital, but a believer doesn’t get to know God through prayer. God has revealed Himself to us only through His Word. The closer we get to God, the more we get to know Him through His Word, the more aware of His awesome strength we become. A lot of things may draw us closer to God. Sometimes it’s praise and worship, other times we are literally pushed closer to Christ by adversity. It is during those times that the true believer sees in Him the One who is sufficient to meet every need. Time and again in the Bible we see this. God sustained Elijah when he had reached the end of his rope (1 Kings 19). When Paul faces stiff opposition in Corinth (Acts 18), it was God who was his constant source of help.

Habakkuk’s personal story as revealed in these verses reveals that faith was the prophet’s only ally; all he could was wait.

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. (vs. 16b)

The threat of the Babylonians was real and Judah’s days were numbers, but all Habakkuk could do was to wait quietly. He waited for the end to come, but he had no fear. We learn something of the dynamics of fear from these verses. We fear things when we attribute to a person, a place, or a thing two important characteristics:

  • Almightiness—the power to take away another’s autonomy;

  • Impendency—the power to do another harm.

What we need to understand is that those things don’t belong to any human being; they belong to God. This Habakkuk understood, which is why he waited patiently for the end to come. His faith sustained him. He knew he rested under God’s protection.

God’s sovereignty is not a topic reserved for theological discussions. It is an important fact in the life of every Christian. We have been redeemed by God. We are His children and we belong to Him. We are of value to God. We are filled with His Holy Spirit, who makes us able servants. By means of God’s power working in our lives, we have the ability to withstand any and all circumstances that come our way.

Habakkuk’s experience is a good example for the modern believer. He may have had questions, perhaps even doubts, he saw things he didn’t like or understand, but he did not give into fatalism. He did not passively resign to what was to come. Even though he may had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach, Habakkuk had faith, and he had the courage to submit to the will of God and to exercise active dependence on Him.

Habakkuk wanted the people to sing his prophecy:

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

And why shouldn’t we sing what Habakkuk wrote? His head wasn’t in clouds, but he knew God and he had the kind of confidence in God that we all need. No matter what the outward circumstances of life may be, the just should simply live by faith. What Habakkuk found to be true, is still true today.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

A Faith to Live By

Habakkuk 2:1-4

Where it not for the apostle Paul, many Christians today would be blissfully unaware of this little book of prophecy.  In fact, it takes a great many folks in church forever to find it!  That is unfortunate because Habakkuk’s three-chapter book of prophecy is chock full of some of the most insightful and penetrating questions in all of literature (Carl Amerding).  Here are some of them:

  • Why don’t you do something?  Concerning God’s seemingly indifferent attitude toward the sin of His people.
  • Why are you going to use Babylon–a godless nation–to discipline your people, the people of Judah?  Asked of God when God informed the prophet that His chosen instrument to punish His people for their idolatry would be a nation of idolaters, the Babylonians.

If you have ever been baffled by the mysterious ways of God, then you’re in good company.  Habakkuk was in search of answers and the answer God gave him was, in some ways unexpected and, some might say, ambiguous:

[T]he righteous will live by his faith.  (verse 4b)

That is the verse that Paul made famous in his writings, quoting it both Romans and Galatians, and it is also referenced in Hebrews.  It’s also the verse that helped spark the Protestant Reformation.  So this small book, part of the Minor Prophets, is anything but minor, in fact, its influence has spanned the millennia.

1.  The man and his time

To help us understand verse four, it is helpful to understand the man who wrote it and the strange time in which he lived.  We know virtually nothing about the man, Habakkuk, except by way of his name.  “Habakkuk” has been associated with an Assyrian garden plan, and some scholars suggest that he was a Jewish captive living in Nineveh.  Others suggest that Habakkuk was actually a priest, like Jeremiah, his contemporary (James Gailey, Jr.).  As to its meaning, “Habakkuk” means “to embrace.”  Martin Luther comments:

Habakkuk signifies an embracer, or one who embraces another, takes him into his arms.  He embraces his people, and takes them into his arms, comforting them and holding them up, as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with assurance, that if God wills, it shall soon be better.

He was sensitive to the present condition and the future prospects of his people, whom he loved deeply.  Habakkuk was also in the mold of “Doubting Thomas,” as he is seen questioning God throughout, and God is seen answering him.

Like Nahum, Habakkuk seems to have contributed nothing of significance to the history of his people, except for this brief literary masterpiece that as influenced both is people and the Church for all time.

Habakkuk’s prophecy was written during the final, pitiful years of Judah’s decline, around 626-586 BC.  During this time, under the leadership of Josiah, Judah experienced its last period of both religious revival and material prosperity.  Also during this time, Nineveh fell, after having been given a century of grace by God (612 BC) and Babylon dominated all of Palestine, taking captive the residents of Jerusalem in 586 BC. when the city was leveled.  So, the prophet experienced it all during his lifetime, from peace and prosperity, to utter desperation and despair as he watched the mighty Babylonian forces approaching the beloved City of God.  It is likely that he did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem, although some scholars have suggested that he was, in fact, deported to Babylon, where he lived a short time.

Habakkuk, with his sensitive heart and keen intellect, was shown things by God that were disturbing, to say the least.

Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.  (1:5)

2.  The occasion and purpose of his prophecy

Any prophecy is the result of a divine revelation given to a person, who in turns passes that divine revelation on to the people.  Such revelation and its ensuing proclamation are the results of the prophets burden of the conditions of the people themselves and of the nation as a whole.  Habakkuk, though, was slightly different than the rest of the prophets because rather than speak for God to the people, he spoke to God about the people, with God giving him divine messages.

We can learn a lot about the mindset of Habakkuk when we understand that he was moved to go to God for answers by his observances of people he referred to in these verses:

Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

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?  (1:4; 13)

Just who were these evil, vile people?  It seems Habakkuk had in mind two groups of people:  foreign invaders, the Chaldeans or the Babylonians, as referenced in 1:6,

I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.

But there were also home-grown Judean oppressors, who were bleeding their citizens dry with outrageous lending practices and idolatry.

This intolerable situation; immanent invasion and destruction from without, and decadence from within, led Habakkuk to see astounding things.

3.  The setting for God’s answer

Before God answers the prophet in chapter 2, we need to be aware of Habakkuk’s two complaints and God’s two responses in chapter 1.

  • Complaint #1:  The coming of the Babylonians.  God is about to judge Judah for their wickedness by using a wicked, idolatrous nation.  This was a big pill for the prophet to swallow.
  • Complaint #2:  Why would God use the Babylonians, a people even more wicked than his own people, to punish those comparatively less wicked?

That brings us to 2:1,

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. (NIV)

I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.  (KJV)

I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will look forth to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer as to my reproof.  (Darby)

This is an interesting verse because it shows how the prophet’s mind worked.  He is not addressing God here, he’s talking to himself and the Hebrew is quite ambiguous.  Habakkuk, after pouring his heart out to God, withdraws to “the watchtower,” or “ramparts,” a very lonely and quiet place where he could look out observe both the city and land around it.  The simplest and most logical way to interpret this verse is that Habakkuk, who has just complained to God is now going to wait to see if God will answer his complaint or if God will “put him in his place” for complaining.  Dunning sees in this verse the arrogance of a man who would demand that God answer his complaint.

4.  God’s answer in a vision, verses 2-3; 16-17

Then the LORD replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
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.
You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed!
The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed man’s blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

Those who have come against God’s people, whether the Babylonians or backslidden Jews, will not escape God’s justice; they will reap what they have sown.  The fulfillment of this vision, Habakkuk is told, will come at some point in his future.

There is are two great lessons here for believers.  First, God will not “bawl out” any believer with genuine questions.   It is true that too many questions weary God, but be assured God will let you know when to stop asking.  Second, God may answer your prayers immediately, but with an answer you least expected.  In Habakkuk’s case, God’s answer to his complaint would not be fully realized until the future.  Without the right heart, that could be a disappointing answer!

5.  The key, 2:4

See, he is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous will live by his faith.

This is one of the key verses in all of Scripture, and it the key to understanding the real message of Habakkuk.

First, there are two groups of people described in this one verse, and they serve to contrast each other.  The first group is “puffed up” and “his desires are not right.”  To whom does this apply?  The Babylonians?  The backslidden and wicked Jews?  Or both?  Since this verse is part of God’s answer to the prophet’s complaints about “the wicked” back in chapter one, God has in view both groups.  The Babylonians were a warlike people, driven by pride as their empire grew dramatically over a relatively short span of time.  They were prosperous, wealthy, strong, and led by Nebuchadnezzar, a young genius.

The backslidden Jews of Judah, who, in their own way were oppressing the citizens, would also find God’s justice in the very near future.

Both groups, those who snubbed their noses at God, would come to sure and certain end.

The second part of the verse concerns those who have faith.  The just, we are told, shall live by faith.  The word rendered “faith” is the Hebrew emunah, from a verb meaning “to stand firm.”  It is usually used in the Old Testament in the physical sense of “steadfastness” (Smith).   Another and perhaps more accurate way to translate emunah could be “faithfulness,” or “beliefs,” which is derived from the same root as emunah (Smith).

To help us understand the strength of the word emunah, there are two references that may enlighten us.

  • Exodus 17:12, where it describes the uplifted hands of Moses, which were “steady.”
  • 2 Kings 12:15, describing men who dealt “honestly” with people’s money.

In each of these cases, emunah is used to describe a steady, dependable action.  Because the New Testament applies this verse to the Christian faith, we know what God meant:  the just shall live obediently according to their faith in God’s Word.  Faith in God is far more than merely passively trusting in Him, it involves actively living out one’s life in a way that remains absolutely loyal to the teachings of the Bible regardless of the situation one is living in.

Cook makes a insightful observation:

In one short saying, the two general aspects of the prophet’s inquiry are dealt with; the pride and injustice of the invader are dealt with, and the just man is assured life, ie., preservation from evil and salvation on the condition that he hold steadfastly to the principle of faith.

Conclusion

The apostle Paul uses this verse twice in his teachings on the great doctrine of justification by faith.  Christians, then, who have been forgiven of their sins, set free from the bondage to that sin, now stand before God “just as though they had never sinned.”  If that is how we appear to God, that is how we must attempt to live our daily lives.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd


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