Date: May 19, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Category: Biblical Exposition
Scripture: Habakkuk 2:5–2:20
Outline: Three Foundation Stones to Fortify Your Faith
We live with acknowledged frustrations in the limitations of human justice. In 2015, Oskar Groening was sentenced for being an accessory to murder to over 300,000 people. Known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz, he was intimately involved in the leadership of the genocidal machine of the Nazis. But since Groening was so old and in such poor health and because his case was mired in appeals, he died before ever serving a day in prison. When he died in March of 2018, many threw up their hands, frustrated with the obvious limits of human justice. Groening, like so many others, seemed to just get away. It was like he filibustered the justice due to him.
The Bible acknowledges the limitations of human justice but emphasizes the integrity and perfection of divine justice. This truth serves as a bedrock for our faith.
But this can be hard, especially when we are leaning heavily upon what we see. In our passage this morning, God lifts Habakkuk’s chin up a bit, above what’s right in front of him, and shows him that in fact, he will deal righteously with the Babylonians.
And this is the central point I want to persuade you of this morning, in an unjust world, trust the God of justice will prevail.
To see this we’ll look at three foundation stones that fortify your faith; first, justice delayed is not justice denied, second, sin reaps what it sows, and third, above the chaos the Lord reigns.
Habakkuk is wrestling through his concerns over justice. He’s been experiencing a disconnect between his expectations and his experiences. In chapter one, he rightly lamented the progress of the godless around him but he wrongly impugned God for allowing it. God has graciously revealed his will to the prophet and in summary said, “You need to trust me.”
But what’s so interesting here is what God said before he said trust me. In chapter one as Habakkuk is on the ropes, losing his voice crying out to God, “How long!?” and “Why?!” God answers him not with a promise of relief but a proclamation of sovereignty. But this declaration of sovereignty doesn’t provide immediate relief for the people of Judah. What does it promise? It promises their discipline at the hands of the wicked Babylonians.
When Habakkuk throws up his hands, confused, and in a crisis of faith, God says, “Trust me.” He tells him that he —and all believers—must live with enduring faith, even when things are difficult and don’t completely make sense.
If Habakkuk is buying that, there is still a lingering question that the bold prophet doubtless would be keen to ask. “What about the wicked, Lord?”
To this God answers. In verses 6-20 we see that the Babylonians (and indeed all) will receive the justice that they deserve. Justice delayed is not justice denied. While there may be limitations to human justice, there is no limitation to God’s justice. The God of all the earth will do what is right.
Often times people think the Bible is an archaic book that is out of touch with what dominates our progressive and sophisticated culture. I was talking someone this week about the Bible who considers the cultural hurdles to be too high for them to clear. I told him about what I was preaching this week. This morning we are going to cover robbery, exploitation of others, excessive cruelty, sexual assault, and the belief that you can worship however you want. Are we going to be reading from the front page of the Boston Globe or the Bible?
We are reading from the Bible. From the ancient prophet of Judah, from over two and a half thousand years ago.
As we walk through these verses I want you to keep something in mind. People throughout history abhor these types of practices. There is not a question whether or not the majority of people think such injustice is wrong. No, it’s what can you do about it? What we see with the God of the Bible, not only does he see it and say it’s wrong, but he is actually going to do something about it.
But he is going to do it on his own timing. And according to his own purpose.
This is why we must live by faith, trusting the God of justice will prevail, in an unjust world.
As we look at this judgment, we’ll notice some repetition that I’m sure you noticed when Luis read the Scripture a few minutes ago. There are five woe’s in the passage. These woe’s are pronouncements of judgment. While we might not speak with the words of woe we do know what God is saying and doing here. The woe language here is more of a mocking-song that means to taunt Babylon. It is pointing out the folly and certain doom of the nation. Similarly, we might go to a Red Sox game and as fans join in various chants about opposing players or teams, especially the Yankees. And as we do we see it a bit tongue in cheek with a hopefulness that on this particular day it’s true. But here in Habakkuk 2, it’s not a hope. It’s certain. The mocking chant of these five woe’s is the opening song, the prelude in their funeral service. Their time is up. Even while they are revving up their engines of death.
1. Robbery (6-8) It’s straightforward what they are doing here. They’re taking advantage of the poor by gobbling up others’ property. They would do this either by robbery or fraud. They plundered many nations (v.8). And then they’d take advantage of those whom they conquered by extortion. They would take a number of pledges. So the poor would need money and then the Babylonians would take all of their stuff and give them a fraction of what they need. God is saying that there is a time when those who caused others to shake and fear will themselves tremble (v.7). It’s interesting here to consider this in light of all of the political discussions about social and financial inequality. There are important conversations to have. But, while we may tire of the failed solutions, it’s good here to notice the motive of this judgment. It’s an injustice. The acts committed by the Babylonians are unjust. And why? It’s because they are committed against other image bearers. It’s not right to treat other people in this way? Why? Because it’s an attack upon the glory of God and the dignity of man. There is a reason why we should care about those who have been financially oppressed, and it’s primarily theological. God is reminding us here, that while justice is delayed, it will not be denied. Babylon will pick up the check.
2. Exploitation (9-11) As they heaped up their riches they built these great compounds as testimonials to their triumph. They are likened in verse 9 to live like eagles in a nest, high up and safe from others. They thought they were secure in their financial and military security. We might likewise grit our teeth when we see those in power seem to evade justice. People with lots of money avoid the prison they seem to deserve. Politicians leverage their influence to mitigate their crimes. People seem able to cash in their capital in order to protect themselves. But even from the place of apparent security, we see the stone crying out from the wall and beam crying out from the woodwork. Similar to the rocks in Luke’s gospel calling out, when there is none to stand and do the job, the inanimate objects personify their disdain for this injustice. So too when we see those apparently secure not high up in their houses, but in the high positions of politics, corporate America, Hollywood, or other industries. We remember they can never be out of reach of the long arm of God’s justice. While justice is delayed, it will not be denied. Babylon is going to hear the doorbell ring, and justice will come.
3. Cruelty (12-14) Then we read of the people who build towns with blood and cities with iniquity. We can’t help but think of our own country where so many make money on vile things like sex trafficking, prostitution, child pornography, and other forms of iniquity. But then there is building the country on blood. How many politicians receive lucrative checks and corporations and billionaires sign big donations in order to keep the murder of children in the womb legal? The abortion industry in America is a billion dollar a year industry. The slaughter of children is as lucrative as it is repulsive. But even worldwide, we know that far from ushering in a utopia, the last century was the bloodiest in history. Despite all of the medical, technological, scientific, and military advances of the last 100 years we have not entered a utopia. With dictators like Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, the twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history. Many of you come from countries that have a sad history of bloodshed. Some of you, I know have seen unspeakable things. You may have wondered what will happen to them? Habakkuk is learning, and we should be learning, that justice delayed is not justice denied. Dictators and oppressors, the wicked and evil alike will stand before the judge of all the earth. And he will do what is right.
4. Assault (15-17) Here we talking about the conquest of others and then either making them drunk literally or making them drunk figuratively on wrath. Either way, the point is they will assault them by making sport of them. It is an R rated description here that involves “gazing at their nakedness” v.15. This probably involves far more than the violate of looking. It’s an unspeakable assault. But what do we read? In verse 16, there is another cup to be served. The right hand of the Lord will bring judgment upon them. Even though it may seem in the moment like this type of thing is lasting forever, and that justice tarries, we know that one day the oppressor will feel the weight of judgment.
5. Idolatry (18-19) Finally, God pronounces judgment upon Babylon for their idolatry. While Babylonian was a strongly pagan nation, it was not the only one. As one has said, “God made man in his image and man has been repaying the favor ever since.” At its core idolatry is replacing the love and devotion to the creator for a supreme love for something that he has made. It’s disordered love. A problem of the heart. It assesses God and says he is unworthy. To this God will judge. This a good word for us today isn’t it. We need to see that God does not just chalk up idolatry to a different type of worship. It’s robbing him of what is due. And so he will bring clear judgment. We may be tempted to look around the world and see how people seem to be getting along well with their persistent denial of God’s worth and they may even seem happy while pursuing these gods. But we should be assured that there is a jealous God in heaven. And he has a hammer that will smash all idols.
Knowing that justice is coming brings us encouragement amid the chaos. But also, it’s important to be reminded that sin reaps what it sows.
I wonder if you noticed the surprising irony of this passage. Did you see how much of the sins committed by the Babylonians seemed to come right back upon their own heads? It’s like sin has a boomerang effect. Like it is hard-wired for personal destruction.
There are a few examples I want to highlight.
In verse 7 we read that the debtors will arise and become the accuser. The one who took others for spoil will themselves be taken. Why? Well, verse 8, because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you. It’s like a boomerang right back upon them.
Then you see in verse 15-16, the one who makes others drink the cup of their judgment will themselves have their mouths held upon and they shall drain down the dregs.
This should remind us that sin is perverse. It is a dangerous mistress, involved in the dark arts. In the pursuit of promised personal enjoyment and happiness, sin delivers the scourge of death and judgment.
I want you to also note the futility of sin.
God in his judgment upon sin actually injects futility in the pursuits. As if to say, “you don’t want me, then you will get the nothing that you want.” There is a built in frustration element to all who oppose the Lord. (note verse 13-14) There is a frustration that builds within them as they attempt to find salvation in created things. There is a futility an emptiness. Babylon is building itself up but doing so wholly independent of God’s kingdom purposes. But at the same time, at a deeper level, God is allowing them to expand for his purposes. And then, in the end, they will be destroyed for their rebellion.
And in spite of everything, the Lord will accomplish his mission. Notice again the flow in verses 13,
“Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that people labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? (Hab. 2:13)
In spite of all of the work — the progress, accomplishments, and perceived breakthroughs — what’s the point? The progress, this laboring and wearing, in the end is for nothing if it is not for the Lord.
The self seeking nations are doomed to futility. All is vanity. Life is fleeting. What becomes of all people have done?
Why? No desire for the kingdom of God at its center.
This is very important when we think about geo-politics in our day. Just because a nation may be favorable in a relative sense (it provides nice benefits, there is order, and opportunity) does not mean that it is doing God’s will. God makes clear that nations that do not have him at the center of their identity and existence will be toppled and fall. Self-seeking nations are doomed to fail. If there is no desire for the kingdom of God at it’s center then they will be toppled by the jealous king.
This does not mean that God does not use nations. He does. Look at Babylon. But, there is something greater going on. We should remember this when we wave our flags and engage in political debate.
Sin reaps what it sows.
You must see that sin reaps what it sows. It cannot stop God’s agenda. And, in a surprisingly sovereign way, we see it even serve the divine plan.
This brings us to the final fortifying stone. Above the chaos, the Lord reigns.
In the midst of the futility of sin, and the promise of certain judgment from God, did you see how verse 14 reads?
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14)
In spite of opposition, the Lord’s agenda is proceeding ahead and will accomplish its mission. There is a futility to sin. It reaps what it sows.
Think back to creation. God made man and woman in his image. And what did he tell them to do? Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth. In an ancient society when a king would conquer an a region he would set up monuments or images of himself throughout the land to reflect his rule and remind his people of who he is. In a similar way, when God created people, he stamped his image upon us. And he told our first parents to multiply — make more image bearers — and to fill his earth with his glory.
But we know that Adam and Eve sinned and rebelled against God.
Nevertheless, this did not stop his mission. Sin does not thwart God.
God sent another Adam. This one wouldn’t fail. He came and lived the life that you and I didn’t live, couldn’t live, and wouldn’t live. He perfectly reflected the glory of God and fulfilled his law. Finally, he died upon the cross to pay the just penalty for image bearers who have sinned and broken God’s law. Then he rose from the dead on the third day. When we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus Christ, we become new. We begin to, as Colossians 3 says, be remade in the image of our creator. Through Christ, we in the church, begin to spread his glory to the nations.
And, now, he has sent his disciples to the nations. He does so with a desire to see more and more people come to Christ. God’s mission to reach the nations with the gospel through healthy churches is this unstoppable mission of filling the earth with the glory of the Lord.
This knowledge here includes an acknowledgment. People will come to confess him.
God will make Christians. He will cause people, like you and me, to be born again. He will do this!
And we know this is unstoppable. We have read the end of the book. What is the picture from the book of Revelation?
Revelation 5:9–13— 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Why? V13 — for the earth will be filled w God’s glory.
All opposition will be on the trash heap of history. God will have the prime place.
The other aspect of this sovereign reign of God can be found in verse 20.
Habakkuk 2:20— 20 But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
We see here a contrast. “But the Lord" is contrasted to these idols. These idols that ar fashioned by human hands. Even though they are worshiped by the multitudes, they cannot speak. They cannot teach. There is no life in it at all.
But in contrast, the Lord. Yes, God himself, the self-existent, author and sustainer of life. The eternal God. He exists and forever more will.
Notice where he is. We read he is in his holy temple. Throughout the Bible, the temple portrays the presence of God and the rule of God. The picture here is of God ruling over the entire world. He is sitting on his royal throne. He is the Lord God.
In spite of all of the questions from Habakkuk —and no doubt from all of us — we find the fact that God reigns. The Lord rules from his temple.
There are a lot of question marks in chapter 1. But there is a massive exclamation point in chapter 2! The Lord reigns!
You and I need to remember this, not only when we read the newspaper but also when we lay our head down at night. Or when we get the bad news in the morning. Or when our heart sinks in our chest. When things don’t go as planned. When life doesn’t make sense. When our question marks are piling up. Grab these three words and cling to them with all you have. The Lord Reigns!
I want you to also notice here that this temple is described as a holy temple. This is not a throwaway word. It’s not trite. It’s important.
Holiness means both morally pure and transcendent. That is, holiness means there is no charge of impurity or imperfection. And by nature then, it means that the one who is this holy is set apart and transcendent of everything else. God then is exalted.
You know what makes this so arresting? The context.
Remember, Habakkuk in chapter 1? All of his questions. Normally the prophets prosecute the people for their unfaithfulness to the terms of the covenant but Habakkuk is prosecuting God for his perceived unfaithfulness.
Habakkuk 1:12–13 — 12 Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. 13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?
This is why this statement in chapter 2 is so important. God is saying that his work of using the wicked Babylonians to accomplish his ends is not impure. It’s not evil.
But even more than that. It’s consistent with his holy character.
It’s one thing to say that God is not guilty of sin. It’s quite another to say that God knows about the wickedness of the nations and even uses it —not coincidentally but intentionally- for his most holy ends.
How can God allows bad things to happen? This is a question that comes up all the time. Habakkuk is showing us that God not only permits them but has sovereignly ordained them in order to accomplish his ends.
The Bible nor plain logic would indict this as traceable to God as the source of the act as if God were the author of sin. On the contrary, human beings are free agents who act according to their own desires. God is simply so sovereign that he can allow people to do what they want to and simultaneously accomplish his most holy, excellent, and gracious ends.
We have seen this countless times in the Bible. God used Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery in Egypt in order to save the people. They did exactly what they wanted and it served God’s ends.
God uses Pharaoh in order to bring about the exile. did exactly what they wanted and it served God’s ends.
He used the wicked Assyrians to punish his people. did exactly what they wanted and it served God’s ends.
He even uses these Babylonians. did exactly what they wanted and it served God’s ends.
And friends, he used the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders to bring about the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. They did exactly what they wanted and it served God’s ends.
God sits in his holy temple.
How do you respond to this?
Quiet. Read the verse. “Let all the earth keep silence before him.”
We don’t like silence. We like stimulation. We like distraction. Silence is hard.
But here we see silence as the right response.
Well, we have hush of fear. Who can stand before this God? He cannot be thwarted by evil. He is going to have his way. Even the most powerful nation - of any age - is but a tool in his ultimate plan to accomplish his will. What can we do before him other than silence? He deserves quiet fear.
This is going to be the response on the last day, isn’t it? There will be no excuses or mocking or anything else that would besmudge his name. Every mouth will be closed and God will be proven to be true. There will be no more question marks. Just an acknowledgment of fear before the holy one, with silence.
There is also a hush of gratitude. This is for the one who has bowed the knee in faith and repentance. If you have come to the place in your life where you have seen your sin before a holy God and seen that he has come to unload his judgment —not upon you but upon the head of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you know that your sin has forever been cast into the sea, never to be found again. If you have come to see that all of your sin has been nailed to the cross and you bear it no more. You have different hush. You are overwhelmed with gratitude and cannot speak. You just bask in the rays of his radiant grace and approving love.
Above the chaos, the Lord reigns.