Intro to Habakkuk:
Habakkuk has some overlap with Nahum in terms of timing. However, whereas Nahum was prophesying the destruction of Ninevah to the Assyrians, Habakkuk is confronting the difficult question of how God could use a wicked people like Babylon to influct his judgment on Judah. God had used Assyria as an instrument of his wrath toward Israel and the Northern Kingdom. Now God is about to use Babylon as an instrument of his wrath against the southern Kingdom of Judah and against Assyria. So, Habakkuk is wrestling with the wisdom and justice of God as he brings harm to his own people through a nation and people who evil in their own right. These are real, raw and necessary questions for us all to wrestle with, and there's real wisdom here for us as we try to reconcile some distrubing realities.
v. 1-4 - Wow... who among us can't relate at some level to theart cry of Habakkuk? You can feel his distress in the questioning, and if we're paying any attention at all to the world we live in, we can understand from where that anguish comes. It's truly difficult to reconcile the suffering we see, the injustice we see, the prosperity of the wicked, and the suppressing of justice and righteousness. Anyone who has ever longed for wholeness, and justice and peace, and for the violent and greedy and powerful to be shamed and humiliated can surely relate to this. Anyone whose heart has felt the sting of suffering and observed the apparent victory of wickedness and the seeming defeat of goodness can empathize with the prophet. It's real question... a good question... one which any serious person needs to confront. And thankfully, Habakkuk gives voice to our own struggles with making sense of the world. And even more thankfully, the God to whom he directs his questions does not remain silent.
v. 5-11 - God says look around and see what's happening. There is a new military power on the move. They are dreaded in every way that your oppressors are, but I'm raising them up and positioning them to overcome the Assyrians. God is telling Habakkuk, that he sees what Habakkuk sees, and he feels what Habakkuk feels, and he's not indifferent to the plight of His people. He is on the move, governing over the affairs of men and the rise and fall of nations. He is at work among earthly kingdoms, manuevering them as pieces and playing by their rules to bring them down and advance his kingdom which is altogether different.
v. 12-17 - Habakkuk isn't satisfied by God's first answer. In fact, it provokes more questions and more angst. How can you, God, judge us and kill us and allow us to suffer for our sin, through the instrument of a more sinful people than us? How can you advance the rule, prosper the violence, and expand the power of godless, tyrannical regime like Babylon, in order to punish little old Judah? You can hear in Habakkuk's plea a sort of "what kind of cruel game is this you're playing with humanity?" outrage. Habakkuk's confused... disoriented... discontent... he's in disbelief at God's ways and wisdom. It's confounding and frustrating.... it's understandable really. I've been there. You probably have been there too. Maybe you are right now. If you aren't or haven't been you probably aren't thinking too deeply about life or allowing yourself to really engage life in a serious way.
But that's it for today. We'll leave it on the question. And I'd invite you to sit in that, and ask your own questions of God today... what's stirring in you heart and causing you anxiety and angst? What's not making sense to you? Will you have the humility not just to stew over the questions, but to articulate them and direct them to the one who is actually sovereign and who really does speak? Will you ask the questions of the universe, or philosophy, or other people, and not ask the question directly, boldly, and wisely, of God himself?
A Prayer for Questioning:
God, I want to grow my faith, and an untested, untried, unquestioned faith is a weak and fragile faith. WOuld you give me the courage to ask the questions that Habakkuk is asking? Will you give me the strength and boldness to come to you with what troubles me and haunts me and undermines faith within me? I like to avoid certain things cause I'm afraid you don't have answers... I'm afraid madness is the only explanation and so confronting the real questions is scary to me. But today, I'm aknowledging you're big enough for the questions that are in my heart. I don't have to fear thinking deeply and seriously about the deepest and most serious things because you are at the bottom of everything... you're underneath it all, upholding everything and so I can wrestle with real questions and real doubts and get real answers that help secure real faith. Give me a willingness to descend into uncomfortable places knowing that you'll meet me there and reveal yoruself even there. As we read through Habakkuk, give me the grace to identify with this prophet and hear your repsonses to him as your responses to me and my questions... let your Word to him be as you intend it... a word to me. Amen.
v. 2-3 - This is God's response to Habakkuk's questions... he basically says to record what he will say that those read it will move forward and in step with the word of God... and then he prepares Habakkuk for the fact that his plans will unfold perfectly but it may seem too slow for him and for Israel. He is preparing them for a patient endurance while they await God's rescue... this is appropriate because it will be 30 years or so before Judah is judged by Babylon's invasion, and another 50 or so years before Babylon is judged by the Persian empire... God is operating on a different timeline than our personal sense of urgency. He's outside of time operating within time but often at the level of generations rather than seconds and minutes and hours...
v. 4 - This is the underlying message of this short book... Babylon as a nation is "his" whose soul is puffed up. They are arrogant and inflated in their self importance, and evil. But God gives Habakkuk a critical insight which is repeated numerous times by the NT writers. He says "The righteous shall live by faith." In other words, God is telling Judah then, and us now, that life with God is entered into by faith and sustained by faith in his sovereignty and goodness, even in the midst of the darkest days, deepest pains, and disorienting confusion. He is most pleased by our steadfast belief in his grace and and love despite our feelings in the midst of troubling circumstances.
v. 5 - Living by faith will be essential because Babylon is coming drunk with power, insatiable in its appetite for more, ravaging and plundering people and nations for it's own gain and to expand the reach of their empire.
v. 6-8 - God is condemning the greed and excess of Babylon before they've even overtaken Judah. He's letting Habakkuk know that before these dark days have come upon Judah, that he's already appointed an end and seen the wickedness of Babylon... he wants the prophet to know that this won't last...
v. 9-11 - there is a second woe pronounced over them here... they will build their empire by taking what isn't theirs. God won't stand for it. They're attempts to insulate themselves from suffering by inflicting suffering on others will be their condemnation.
v. 12-14 - They will us violence and oppression to extend their reach and rule. This is antithetical to God's Kingdom and one day, the whole earth will be filled with knowledge of God and his glory will fill all things and assimilate to his ways... the kingdoms of this earth will be exposed for the frauds they are because God's kingdom will overtake and remake everything.
v. 15-17 - God will not ignore the decadence and excesses of an irreverant, exploitative people. They're abuses of people and pleasure will bring God's wrath and fury down on themselves and what they perpetrate, they will also suffer.
v. 18-20 - Lastly, here, God condemns the idols and gods of Babylon. Ultimately, it is there trust in created things and rejection of the Creator of all things that brings his judgment. And their lifeless, silent, impotent gods will be exposed for the counterfeits they are by the presence of the living GOd who rules from his own temple, and who is not neither silent nor still... and he will get the last word on Babylon and all will sit in awe of Him.
These pronouncements of judgment coming to Babylon before Babylon has come to Judah is to be a word of hope and reminder of God's grace while His people will be enduring years of hardship. The underlying message is that God is never far off, or detached, or disinterested, or uninvolved. He is always engaged, always invested and always advancing his agenda through the affairs of men and the unfolding events of history. While earthly kingdoms are flaunting their powers through various shows of strength, God is in heaven ordering and orchestrating things so as to repurpose their wickedness for his glory and he will always flex in the end by bringing the idolatrous to their knees.
There are many parts of the Bible that encourage us with God's personal involvement with each of us... but this is where we can draw encouragement from the fact that the whole world and all of history falls under God's jurisdiction... the events unfolding around us, and around the world, which we're fearful of and concerned about fall under thesovereign rule of God. If we're playing checkers, it's not even that he's playing chess. He's playing a multi-dimensional, infinitely layered, unquantifiably complicated version of chess... and he's in absolute control of the board. God's word to Habakkuk is a word of peace to his heart and mind and soul, when the world is shouting chaos and disruption and fear. He speaks the same to our souls and the world still shouts the same as well... we all have to decide which source we'll listen to.
A Prayer for Peace:
Father, give me settledness in the midst of chaos. The news cycle and events of our day are cause for concern. The whole world is anxious and fretting over so many things. And they're real. They matter. Things seem so out of control. And may they are. But only because you're in control. Let me my heart and mind rest in your sovereign rule and sovereign grace. Steady me and your people in the midst of the stormy conditions we find ourselves in. While everything else is blown and tossed about, let me and your Church stand solidly on the firm foundation of Christ. Amen.
v. 2 is really such a deep and human appeal… Habakkuk has heard far more about God than he has personal experience with God, and he’s pleading with Yahweh to do in his own day what he has done in former days for Israel. He’s conceding the judgement due Judah, but such a humble and yet bold request… in your wrath remember mercy. In other words, Habakkuk is not resenting or resisting the coherence of these two characteristics. He understands that there is a place for both with a good God. And he’s not presuming anything, or demanding anything, but just asking God to remember his own mercy even as he justly deals with sin and sinners. This is a worthwhile prayer in our own day.
v. 3-16 - Habakkuk is recounting through poetic language and imagery the saving acts of God through Israel’s history. There seems to be an emphasis on different aspects of the Exodus, but other references as well, like when God made the sun stand still in the sky for Joshua. He is reminding, perhaps himself as well as God’s people, that God has always intervened in miraculous ways to deliver them from their enemies. And though he started the book with questions of God’s wisdom and goodness and a sense of urgency and need to reconcile troubling realities, but in v. 16 Habakkuk surrenders to the Lord… not because he’s gotten a clear answer or understanding, but because he has a renewed settledness of heart that God is best suited to be God. He says he will simply wait for God’s deliverance and rescue to come in God’s timing.
v. 17-19 - Habakkuk declares that even in darkness and difficulty… in the despair of very painful and scary realities, he will rejoice in the Lord and find joy in the God of his and Israel’s salvation. In other words, who God is will define how Habakkuk sees himself and the surrounding circumstances, rathe than seeing God through the lens of his difficult circumstances. It is God who gives strength and energy and life, even in the midst of such deep struggle. It is God who allows him to rise above his circumstances and his doubts and his questions, to live alive to God and dead to the world.
What about you? Can you say this? Are you able to surrender your own heart and will and understanding like Habakkuk? Because of the Spirit of God with you, the life of God in you, and the perfections of Christ for you, are you able to rise above all that you wish were different about your life and all the uncertainty that surrounds your life to keep moving forward and through life with joy and confidence and hope, knowing that God will ultimately get the last word and hold you fast through whatever threatens to toss you about? If you can’t, memorizing these few verses and praying them daily is a good way to choose surrender and humility by following Habakkuk’s example.
Introduction to Zephaniah:
Zephaniah is another prophet in Judah just prior to Babylon’s invasion and Jerusalem’s destruction and exile. He was a contemporary of Habakkuk. And this short book focuses on “The Day of the Lord” which is how Zephaniah characterizes the coming judgment of Yahweh over Judah. There are two horizons to which this can be applied. First and foremost was the nearing defeat of Judah and Assyria by the Babylonians, and specifically the destruction of Jerusalem, the city and the temple specifically. Secondly, there is the judgment which Jesus will bring when he returns. Zephaniah speaks of God’s judgement in stark terms and for reasons of spiritual and moral degradation, and the corruption of her leaders at every level.
Chapter 1, v. 1-16 - the opening sections are a warning of God’ wrath at hand. Zephaniah identifies the political and spiritual leaders as sources of God’s anger and targets of his judgement. He warns of the destruction of the city, and the ruin coming for them. v. 13 is particularly poignant as he speak of all those who are laboring to build a life and future for themselves - planting vineyards and building houses - but who are essentially building the Babylonians future, not their own. He characterizes the “day of the Lord” in v. 15-16 in very dark and distressing terms, highlighting the intensity of God’s displeasure and the force of his justice. He is telling them and us that when God comes to judge, he isn’t playing games. God’s wrath against sin and unrepentant sinner is so definitive that it will dominate everything for those who suffer it… their whole world will be consumed by the reality of their arrogant and foolish rejection of God’s authority and disregard for his glory.
Chapter 2, v. 1-4 - Zephaniah actually calls Judah to repent… to seek the Lord while there is still time. To avoid the coming judgement by turning to God in faith and obedience… to pursue humility and righteousness and justice, that God’s anger may relent.
v. 5-7 He gives hope and even promise to those who will turn to the Lord, saying that he will preserve a remnant and restore Judah again. The judgement coming does not have to land on them or be the final word for them… than can still live under the promise and protection of their covenant keeping God and live under his blessing.
v. 8-17 - Zephaniah give this vision for a restored and triumphant Judah… God’s people sustained and preserved. Assyria would be destroyed and Judah to, but God would keep the faithful safe and return them to a place of prosperity and peace. God will rebuild his people and give them safety and security and victory so that this coming disaster doesn’t define them or end them or break his relationship with them. Instead, his faithfulness to those whose faith is in him, will prove his glory among the nations.
Again there are a couple horizons of fulfillment to this prophecy… at one level God is foreshadowing the return of the faithful remnant from exile to rebuild Jerusalem… both the city and the temple. But at another level it’s this foreshadowing of God ultimately gathering to himself a people from among every tribe, tongue and nation, to join them under the blood of Christ to himself and to each other, to live in his kingdom and under his rule after judgment comes to the earth.