Two weeks ago we saw that Habakkuk was complaining of God’s idleness and silence to wickedness. We saw last week from Matt’s sermon that the judgement of God on sin is certain and the knowledge of it is a strange comfort to those who live by faith. This week we will see that Habakkuk’s perplexity in God’s judgement is overcome by his joy in God’s salvation.
It is inevitable that as you grow older, life changes you. Physically, mentally and spiritually you are a different person that you were ten years ago. Next month I will be 34 years old. I can remember moving to this area ten years ago and have reflected on the type of person I was than and am now. I’m different.
Physically I have a lot less hair than I did ten years ago. Mentally, I’ve gained more knowledge and experience in understanding people and how they act. Spiritually, I have grown in my understanding of and love for God’s Word and his ways. I’ve put those three in order of least important to most important. Physical changes in your body are not anywhere close to important as eternal changes that happen in your heart. My experiences in law enforcement, as an elder at Grace Church, as a husband, and as a dad in 34 years of living have changed me in many ways, but the most important way it has changed me is that God has used these experiences to make me enjoy him more deeply.
It is inevitable that you have changed and will continue to change through your experiences in life. You will change. The massive question you should ask is this- What will be the basis of that change? What will be the source of that change? What are the reasons for the change that happens in you? How will your soul process and think through the change that is happening around you and inside you?
The Habakkuk of chapter 3 is a different man from the one we saw in chapter 1. At the outset of Habakkuk’s complaint to God, he asks God why he hadn’t heard his prayers, why isn’t God stopping evil, and why is God not doing something against those who are evil? He was conflicted by all the unchecked evil that he was seeing happen around him in Judah and Israel and was wondering why God wasn’t bringing judgement on the people.
God responds by saying he is going to raise up the evil Babylonian empire to bring judgement. This confounds Habakkuk and he complains a second time asking how long will this go on. We see him start the second complaint by praising God for his holiness and his control over all things. His view is starting to shift from the problem, towards who God is. He presses into his doubts and questions and wants to see and know God. He isn’t just complaining anymore. He is worshiping God for who he is despite what Habakkuk sees all around him.
In this final chapter we will see that Habakkuk writes a prayer in song form, worshipping God for who he is. Habakkuk has changed, because what his heart is mainly looking at and delighting in has changed. You’ve got to get that to understand this book. You’ve got to get that to be able to process the evil around you and the silence of God in your life. Where is your heart finding it’s source for joy in the darkest nights of your soul?
A PRAYER AND A SONG
Chapter 1 started out with two complaints to God from Habakkuk.The first complaint was that God was not answering his prayers and the second complaint was that God was going to use an evil superpower to punish an evil Israel. Here in chapter 3 we see a different response to God from Habakkuk. Now Habakkuk responds to God with a prayer of supplication. To put that another way, he is asking God for something. “A prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet, according to Shigionoth.”
Chapter 3 is going to be a living out of what we saw in chapter 2, verse 4. “But the righteous shall live by his faith.” This chapter is going to be an unfolding picture of the glory, power, and greatness of who God is. In starting this chapter off with “a prayer of Habakkuk”, he is saying that he doesn’t have it in him to understand what is going on. He doesn’t have it in him to understand the plans and ways of God. Rather it is an acknowledgment of his limitations and God’s limitless ways. Habakkuk is weak and needing help, and God is strong and willing to give it. Habakkuk is trusting in a God he can’t fully understand.
Don’t move quickly passed that small introduction into this chapter. It has big meaning. It is an acknowledgment of Habakkuk’s dependency on God. Next, look at the word shigionoth. That word only occurs twice in the Old Testament and the other time it occurs is in Psalm 7. The meaning of the word is not clear, but it may refer to an instrument or rhythm or cadence. Remember, that as we move through this chapter, that Habakkuk wrote this as a song to be sung in the temple, by a priestly choir. That has direct application to how we respond to God in his silence and complexity.
This chapter is a prayer and it is a song. The last line in this chapter says, “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” The New English Translation says, “This prayer is for the song leader. It is to be accompanied by stringed instruments.” Habakkuk wrote this to the director of the musicians in the temple. They were to sing this as a form of worship to God and as a way to quiet their souls before him. In the dark times of the soul and when God seems silent, your heart can be a wreck. You don’t know what to pray, what to say, or how to think. What do you do in those moments?
You do this. You find Scripture and songs that are soaked in Scripture and pray them to God as a form of worship. I love the songs that Scott Anderson and Mat Adams pick out for us to sing each Sunday. I’ve created this playlist of them on my iPod so that when these seasons in life hit, I can have all these songs in one place to get my heart right before God. I’m going to share one significant song with you at the end of this sermon.
A REQUEST FOR MERCY IN WRATH
Habakkuk starts out this prayerful song with the words, “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” We talked about in chapter 1 how this word LORD is the personal name for God. It means all sufficient one and we got a picture of what that means back in chapter 1.
Habakkuk is personally crying out to God saying that he has heard (either by reading it or through someone else telling him) of the famous works of old that he has done for his people. These are works that God accomplished in times past for Israel that brought fame to the nation and glory to the power of God.
The word “fear” that he uses in this verse is one that means a sense of awe for who God is. It is not the type of fear you had as a child when you walked down a dark set of stairs and didn’t know what was down there. This is a type of fear you have when you stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon or see the Great Wall of China in person. There is a sense of awe and wonder that washes over you. Habakkuk is in awe of God’s power and glory because of the works he has heard done in times past.
He asks for God to revive, or restore back to life, these works he has done once before. Habakkuk longs to see this happen. But we should be asking at this point, what does Habakkuk want God to revive? What is this report and this work that he wants a revival of? Is Habakkuk wanting the threat of Babylonian invasion to be taken away from Israel? Is Habakkuk wanting the situation he is in to be made easier so that it is not so difficult for him personally? What is the work Habakkuk wants to have happen?
Here it is- in wrath remember mercy. That is what he wants from God and that is what verses 3 through 15 unpack. Habakkuk takes 12 verses to prayerfully sing what it means for God to remember his mercy while displaying his wrath. He is asking for God to show compassion and tender affection towards Israel while displaying his anger towards them.
Notice that Habakkuk is no longer asking God about why he is idle or silent or not answering his prayers. What he is looking at has changed. He is overcome by the awe of this everlasting Rock with whom he is speaking to. He is asking God to have mercy on his nation even as God pours out his wrath on them. Why is Habakkuk asking for mercy from God? He asks it because Habakkuk knows that the same God that pours out his wrath is the only one who can save from his wrath. No Babylonian or Assyrian superpower can overthrow the wrath of God. There is no help for them other than to plead for God to show mercy from his own wrath.
God has the ability to display perfect wrath and perfect mercy at the same time with zero conflict between the two. How can this be? Because God is the definition of wrath and mercy. Whatever God does is what defines wrath and mercy. Do you see that? You’ve got to get that to understand the Bible and understand the world. We can’t apply some outside standard to what is going on in the world and ask God why he is idle or silent. Habakkuk is seeing this now. His complaining has been melted away by his awe of God so that he now is writing a song that is a prayerful plea to God. What he is fixing his heart on has changed.
HABAKKUK RECOUNTS THE REPORT
As we move into verse three we move into Habakkuk recounting the work that God has done in times past. Why is this important? Why not just ask God for mercy when he shows his wrath and leave it at that? Why does Habakkuk look at the past? Because looking at the works of God in the past stokes his faith in God for the future. Verses 3 through 15 are the way in which you live out faith. Remember, Habakkuk says in chapter 2 that the just will live by faith? How do you live by faith? By trusting that God is who he says he is. How can you know who God is without knowing what he has done? That is why Habakkuk wants to take time and look back on what God has done.
Habakkuk uses the world and the things in it, as a metaphor for the work God has done. God has given us this visible world to not only enjoy it, but to understand what God is like and enjoy him most. Your enjoyment of creation should remind you of who God is and increase your enjoyment of God more.
We see three things about God from these verses. We see who God is, what he is like, and what he does.
Who God Is
Look at verse three. “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran.” Teman is a city or region in southern Edom, which is modern day Jordan. The people of Teman were known for their wisdom. Mount Paran was a hilly region or wilderness in the northern part of Paran. It was an area that Israel spent time wandering in after leaving Egypt. Picture Mount Paran as a vast wilderness. The point of Habakkuk writing about where God comes from is to remind us of the wisdom of God and the presence of God being in all places, even vast wildernesses like Mount Paran or the boundary waters or the Sahara Desert.
Our God, who is set apart and different from anyone or anything possesses all wisdom. He created the wisest and smartest people this world has. Not only does he possess perfect and complete wisdom but he inhabits the most desolate places on earth. From the deepest parts of the ocean to the coldest places on earth, there is no place that God isn’t. To put it positively, God is omnipresent. He is able to be present in every square inch of this earth while possessing all wisdom and knowledge. God sees every unjust, evil act. No thing, anywhere is hidden from God. So desolate places and cities have a way of teaching us about the attributes of God.
Look at verse 3 again. “His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.”
Splendor means glory, majesty, beauty and goodness. I picture the top of the line 5 star hotel when I think of the word splendor. When you walk into one of these motels your jaw drops because of the splendor that is everywhere. To see God in all his of splendor would make that 5 star hotel look like the dingiest Motel 6 you can imagine.
And how does the earth respond to this splendor that covers the heavens? It is full of his praise. Praise is a response we and creation give back to God for his splendor. This praise isn’t weak or half-hearted or empty or shallow. It is a full praise. A deep praise. A praise worthy for all of creation to give to God from the birds of the air, to the animals in the field, and to the fish in the sea.
So have you seen how verse 2 and 3 unfold the glory of God? The all-sufficient God whose splendor is present in one piece of wilderness (Mount Paran) is also present across the entirety of the earth. But God’s splendor doesn’t end there. It expands to the heavens, the stars, the moons, the planets, suns and solar system. From the wilderness of Mount Paran to the expanses of the Milky Way, God’s splendor and wisdom are everywhere, even in the coming onslaught of the Babylonian judgement.
Look at verse 6. “He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low.”
God stands above and outside of this world, sees it all, and knows it all. Habakkuk had only seen what has happening around him, and that was the reason for his complaint in chapter 1. Yet, God sees what is happening everywhere.
Consider that distance is not an inhibitor to God. We are unable to stand above and outside of this world as God does. Distance and laws scientific laws that govern this earth keep us from going anywhere we want and doing anything we want. Yet God controls the boundaries of nations and sets their influence. The nations belong to him and are servants to him and he causes them to do his will. No nation is too powerful to subvert his everlasting ways. Whether it is Assyria, Babylon, Rome, the United States, North Korea, or China. God can do anything according to his holy will with no thought to distance, or travel, or what barriers there may be. He just does it.
The second part of this verse shows us that what looks eternal to us, can be erased by God in a moment or in a word spoken by him. Floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes destroy what seems permanent.
What God is Like
Next, let’s look at what God is like. Look at verse 4. “His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power.” The NET describes this light like a lightning bolt, which is an outward display of his power. Why do electricity and lightning exist? One reason is that it gives us a glimpse of the power of God! God is as bright as a two-pronged lightning bolt that flashes across the dark night sky. Electricity and lightning will do awesome and damaging things. God’s splendor is brighter than lightning and his power is greater than electricity. Consider that Moses had to veil his face after seeing a glimpse of that splendor. His face was so bright that the Israelites couldn’t look at him. He had to cover his face with a bag.
Who can touch lighting and be ok? If lightning hits you, you will be stunned, injured, or killed. For God, he is so powerful, that he can control lightning. Lightning is the visible, outward display of God’s power. So think of this the next time a thunderstorm rolls through your neighborhood. That is God’s power on display!
Yet, this outward display is just what we can see. The rest is veiled from our sight right now. If we were to see it fully we would die because our broken, sinful bodies can fully absorb God’s splendor. Someday we will see it more fully though.
Next, look at verse 11. “The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped at the flash of your glittering spear.” This is probably a reference to Joshua’s victory at Gibeah in Joshua 10. Joshua 10:14 describes that battle like this: “There has not been a day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.”
In that battle God threw Israel’s enemies into a panic. Hailstones were sent down from heaven that killed their enemies in such a way that more were killed by the hailstones than were killed by Israel’s sword. God is a warrior and strikes down his enemies when he chooses. The image of his arrows and his glittering spear should create picture in our mind as to the power that God possesses.
We also see this battle imagery in verse 9. He takes out his bow for war, loads it with arrows, and strikes down his enemies. We also see it in verse 12. “You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger.” God marches through the earth! No geographical location and no person can stop God when he chooses to bring judgement and no one can escape it.
What God does
In verse 5 Habakkuk writes that pestilence and plague go before God and behind him. “At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.” God controls virus’ and illness. Even these aren’t outside of his control and he used death as a judgement on Pharaoh’s hardness of heart.
In verse 6 we have already seen that God has the power to destroy what seems so permanent, like mountains and hills. In verse 7 we see Cushan and Midian, both of which were dominant enemies of Israel, coming under the judgement of God. And in verse 8 we see that God used waters to bring his judgement on his enemies. God turned the Nile River into blood and used the Red Sea to collapse on the Egyptians and deliver Israel fully from Egyptian rule. “Was your wrath against the rivers, O LORD? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation?”
These descriptions of God demonstrating his judgement and power on enemies is an amazing thing. There is no one like this God. Yet verse 13 shows us that he is not just wrathful. Remember Habakkuk asked God at the start of this prayerful song to show mercy in his wrath? Look at verse 13. “You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed.”
To whom does God display his salvation towards? The people of God. The one’s that are anointed (chosen) by God to be his people. In his wrath, he remembers his mercy, but not to the entire world. He displays his mercy towards his chosen ones; the people that belong to him.
God had made a covenant with Abraham that he would make a great nation and that this would be the chosen people of God. Now, because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, for those who trust in Christ, they are grafted into that promise. God may display his wrath, but he also shows his mercy towards his anointed, and God will never go back on his promise. We are simply left to worship him and thank him for this underserved mercy.
Habakkuk ends this song in verse 16 by saying, “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.”
Why is he trembling, and quivering and has a sick stomach? It is because he knows the judgement of God is coming upon Israel and Judah. Habakkuk is the one who has the job to write this judgement down and give it to the people to read. Habakkuk has read tomorrow’s headlines and knows the coming news is really bad. Really bad. The storm is darkening, God’s fury is coming like thundering chariots, and he knows the damage and hurt is going to be devastating to his nation.
I am sure at some point in your life you’ve received unexpected, terrible news that causes your body to shake or tremble. Maybe it was the death of a family member? As a child our house burned down to the ground while my dad was working late one night. It was before the day of cell phones, and we could not get a hold of him to give him the news. A friend waited at the end of the road to meet him, so that he wouldn’t drive up and see our house burned down and be in complete shock. Still, when my dad got the news that our house had burned to the ground, a couple weeks before Christmas, his legs became weak and he trembled.
Yet, what does Habakkuk say next? He quietly waits and trusts God. Habakkuk has come to accept the judgement of God even though he can’t understand it. God has told him that he will use evil to punish evil and ultimately will bring judgement on both. Habakkuk does not close out this prayerful song as a man who has figured out the how’s and why’s of God doing what he does. We will never be able to fully understand why God works in painful and hard ways. Yet, Habakkuk has seen the splendor, power, and goodness of God.
But that is not the last word. This prayerful song closes in a powerful way in verses 17 through 19. Verse 17 states the situation, verse 18 states Habakkuk’s response, and verse 19 gives the reason his soul can have that response. In short, these verses show that Habakkuk’s perplexity in God’s judgements is overcome by his joy in God’s salvation. What Habakkuk is fixing his heart and his hope on has changed.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls.” What is the goal of planting a fruit tree? What is the aim of tending to a garden day after day? It’s fruit and vegetables and tasty rewards for your labor. You want to enjoy what you’ve worked hard to produce. Cows give us milk to drink and sheep provide wool to make clothes out of and cattle give us steaks to eat. You want to enjoy the rewards of your labor and effort.
But what happens when no visible good comes from your work? What happens when you adore the doctrine of God at your workplace day after day by showing kindness to your co-worker yet he still shows a rotten attitude toward you? Mom, what happens when you pour the gospel into your children and they show no response to faith in Christ? Personally for Johanna and I right now, we have been chasing after this adoption goal for years and we wonder, when will we be able to bring our child home. The situations are endless where God seems silent and idle or where we only see his judgements.
“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Glorious! Habakkuk says he will do two things. He is going to rejoice in the all-sufficient, self-existent, eternal God and he is going to take joy in the God who has saved him.
There is a delight and gladness in his innermost being that Habakkuk has said he will have even if his world all around him is falling apart. How can he do this? By remind himself of the God who saved him. This isn’t a God who has saved him from hard circumstances or a God who has clearly answered all of his questions. This is the God who has forgiven him of his sin and saved him from ultimate, eternal judgement. Because Habakkuk is right with God, he can take joy in that and endure everything that is not right in the world.
Jonathan Edwards said that the truth that God is our salvation means three things for us. It means that all bad things in our lives will turn out for good (Rom. 8:28), good things in our lives can never be taken away (Ps. 4:6-7), and the best is always yet to come (I Cor. 2:9). Let your mind dwell on that for the rest of your life!
“God, the LORD, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk is singing here about what God has done for him. Habakkuk is not determining on his own strength to have joy in God. Have you ever tried to force yourself to have joy in hard times? You can’t make yourself be happy when everything doesn’t make sense or seems to be falling apart. So how in the world can Habakkuk have joy and rejoice?
He can do it because the strength to take joy in God is coming from God himself! God is giving it to him. God is present with Habakkuk even as his wrath is coming on his people. The strength that God will use for judgement on Israel and Israel’s enemies is the same strength that he gives to his anointed so that they can take joy in him. Habakkuk says that he makes me tread on high places. God is the initiator in Habakkuk’s joy. It’s not his circumstances or his will that is the source of it. God is.
Habakkuk has changed because his view has changed. His heart is more rooted in God than in his circumstances. He hasn’t followed 8 steps to overcoming hard things or 7 steps to having a better life. The fruit tree is still barren for him. He hasn’t escaped to a light, happy, superficial view of God. What has happened is that he has seen the splendor of God.
Grace Church, where will you go when God feels distant and idle? Where can you go to get the clearest view of God? It is right here in his Word. We behold the face of Jesus Christ on display throughout the Scriptures. He is our strength and our salvation and we can see this even more clearly than Habakkuk can because we have the full Word of God. The promises of God’s Word are your strength for joy in God in the darkest nights of the soul. Press in, as Habakkuk did with God, when this happens. Stand on that watchtower and look for the salvation of God, but do not run from him to sin and escapism.
I believe that there are significant, confusing, and troubling times ahead for us Grace Church. Will we get on the watch post and station ourselves on the tower and look out to see what God will say to us? Will we wait for him? God will give joy and strength to those who wait for him. This is what it means to live by faith. Daily, we need to be seeing and beholding the promises of God and trusting in him, crying out for his deep joy in hard times.
Our circumstances may be barren, but our souls will have the joy of God that will last forever. Pray that your perplexity in God’s judgements would be overcome by a joy in God’s salvation. Paul wrote in Philippians 4 that he had learned the secret to being content whether he had much or little. He could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. Jesus can be so satisfying to your soul, that no matter what comes our way, we can endure it because Jesus is better than anything we could taste in this broken world.
I’ve been troubled and perplexed by the rift in our country over law enforcement and racism. I’ve heard hateful comments made by cops and by protestors. I’ve listened to smart Christians who love Jesus really disagree with each other. I stand back and ask God, where are you in this? Why won’t you give clarity to this issue among Christians? I don’t have the answer to so many of these questions.
A few weeks ago I scrolled through Twitter and watched the Philando Castillo funeral happen at the same Sgt. Michael Murphy of Dallas Police was being buried. Two very different groups of people who feel very differently were both grieving significantly. I was so perplexed as to how to process it that I could feel a numbness in my soul. God, I don’t want to feel this. I want to press in and understand your ways in this. And God if you don’t give me clarity, give me a joy in your salvation.
I may never get full answers on this tough issue. Yet, even if God seems silent, I’m going to behold his splendor and by doing that, I am certain that I will be satisfied in him and change more and more into the likeness of Christ. That is infinitely more important than any answered question.
If we believed and lived this out, how would our lives change? How would our conversations change before and after church, or with out neighbors, or with our co-workers? May our perplexity in God’s judgement or silence be overcome by our joy in God’s salvation. That salvation means that all bad things in our lives will turn out for good (Rom. 8:28), good things in our lives can never be taken away (Ps. 4:6-7), and the best is always yet to come (I Cor. 2:9).