Date: May 26, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Habakkuk 3:1–3:19
There were two men attacked by a mob in the town square. The people were put off by men’s religious beliefs so they beat them nearly to death. Just before they died the local law enforcement intervened and threw them in jail. This was a long time ago and at this time they would fasten prisoners to the wall or in wooden constraints. But something strange happened on this day. In the middle of the night, these men, with bloodied and bruised faces and aching bones from the abuse, began singing hymns to God and praying aloud in the prison.
What explanation could be given for such a response to these horrible circumstances?
We know these men as Paul and Silas in Acts 16. They were content in God. Therefore, their joy was not tied to favorable circumstances but rather a faithful God.
And this is good news. Because if you are content in God then your joy is untouchable.
In our passage this morning we’ll read of a prayer from Habakkuk. He is promised some very difficult days ahead. But like Paul and Barnabas, he finds himself content — not in the circumstances he is anticipating but in the God he is trusting.
Outline: Four priorities for contentment: Pray, Remember, Wait, and Rejoice.
This might sound like the right answer. You want to be content? Pray. You want to be strong? Admit you are weak and need help. But it’s really hard. It’s unnatural.
You know what is natural? My life is really hard right now. I don’t want to pray. I can’t make sense of things. So I don’t pray. I feel guilty for being weak. I feel guilty for not getting it. I feel guilty for not praying. So I don’t pray.
This is natural.
But, it’s not healthy or helpful.
And, it’s not what Habakkuk does. This prayer to God comes in the midst of a difficult time. It’s a hard season. He doesn’t understand why certain things are happening. He doesn’t get why the people who don’t follow God seem to have it all and those who do follow God keep getting it between the eyes. What’s more, he doesn’t get why God would allow it to happen and even ordain it to be so.
Mark it down, we don’t pray because we have it all figured out but because we don’t.
We don’t pray because we are content, we pray because we’re not.
Habakkuk is coming to God in prayer with more questions than answers. But the questions he has answered are very important. He believes that God hears him, is good, is holy, and will do what is right. He believes God is worthy of his trust.
And so he prays.
Does hardship and uncertainty draw you to prayer or does it repel you? Does it bring you to God or push you further away? Does it create intimacy or distance? We are meant to learn here that it is to bring us to God.
This only becomes more instructive as we consider what he prays. Look with me at verse 2, “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.”
Habakkuk here in his prayer recounts to the Lord, in his prayer, that he has heard the report of him, and his work. But you’ll notice he fears and then he makes a couple of requests.
What does this mean? There are a couple of ways to take this.
You may look at this and say that Habakkuk is saying in verse 2 that he has heard of how God has worked in the past in saving people. But yet he is fearful, perhaps of how the process will play out. Then he prays for God to revive the actions of saving again.
It’s certainly possible but I don’t think, in light of Habakukk this is the best way to take it.
Another way is to zero in on this word, “work” in verse 2. Has he used this word anywhere else in this book? Yes he has, in verse 5 of chapter 1. God said, “I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
What is this work? It is the work of judgment. We have seen this in chapters? 1 and 2. And what is the logical response of Habakkuk to this judgment? It is fear. He considers it and it makes him tremble. He knows that the judgment of God upon Judah is not going to be pleasant. He is bracing himself for it.
And then he says, “revive it.” Revive what? The judgment? That would be a strange prayer. The word used here is means to live. And this is another word that has a prominent place in Habakuk. You may already be thinking of it. Back in chapter 2 verse 4, I believe this is the heart of the book, we read, “the righteous shall live by his faith.” The righteous, that is the believers, live by enduring faith.
This is a request then, for faith to endure amid the certain, fearful, work of God.
Then he goes further and says, “in the midst of the years, make it known.” This refers to the time in between. It’s between the time of announcement and fulfillment. He is saying, make known the record of divine revelation. Let people know what is in this book. Let them hear the truth of who you are as God and your promises to make all wrongs right. Make it known that you are in your holy temple. He is asking for his book to go viral amongst the people of God.
You can’t help here but think of the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He too considered the work of God—his judgment. He too trembled at the sight of the cup. He turned the will of God over in his hand like a coin to be studied. And he too retired to his Father in prayer and pleaded with God in faith with pleas of dependence. And he too pleaded with God to make it known. This path that was paved for Habakkuk was walked by our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is to be walked by us as well.
But then he pleas for mercy amid the judgment. “In your wrath remember mercy.” This is where the difference with our Lord Jesus emerges. In God’s wrath he received no mercy. He received all wrath. But, this was so you, and me, we would get mercy.
It might shock you to read that Habakkuk admits that he is afraid. Is it?
It’s a bit of an unvarnished prayer, isn’t it?
Do you think God is put off by you coming to him with fear? Can he handle it? Does he want you to bring your anxious thoughts?
Does a dad want his little girl or little boy to speak to him about their fears? Uncertainties? Anxieties? I think he does.
We need to see that it was the weakness of fear that leads him to cling to the oak of divine mercy. He needs mercy. He needs help.
I was reminded of God’s mercy this week when I heard the story of a zoo in Illinois. Several years ago a toddler somehow fell into a den of gorillas. Suffering badly from the fall everyone feared what was next. But to everyone’s surprise, a female gorilla ran up and picked up and coddled the toddler in her arms. Then she brought the child to the door for the workers to care for.
How do you respond to this story? You are likely moved by the whole scene. Why? It’s quite unusual to think of a gorilla rescuing a human like this. None of us would volunteer to jump behind the fence in a zoo to see if we can have the same results. It’s exceptional. This mercy and care is not something we’d expect from a gorilla.
Do you think of God’s mercy like this? Is it exceptional?
Do you think of God’s mercy as only that which comes to you at salvation and then never again?
Friends, we have a God who is merciful to his people. He loves you. And he delights to show you mercy.
When facing the crucibles of life and death. When we are at our weakest, trembling in fear, we can remember Habakkuk’s prayer.
I’m afraid God. Help me to live by enduring faith. Let me cling to your word. And in my trembling, God, remember mercy.
His contentment comes through prayer. And since his contentment is in God, his joy is untouchable.
In order to have comfort in the present Habakkuk remembers what God has done in the past. This is so encouraging because God does not change; he is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
As we look briefly at these verses, let’s consider what, how, and why he prays.
First, what he prays. We read in verse 3 of Teman and Mt Paran. What is this about These two locations form the boundaries of Israel’s journey through the desert. This is the path that God led the people out of Egypt.
Why might this be significant to the people of God?
Remember, their situation: they are presently under Assyrian captivity and they are soon to be under Babylonian rule. They have been or will soon be evicted from the promise land. Like Canaan before them, they will be ejected from the land by their idolatry. Now here we read of the king coming to judge. Reminiscent of how he led the people to possess the land, he comes again in judgment. You can trust God. He is faithful to keep his promise. He anticipates that God will judge in the future in a manner that is consistent with his past work.
Then Habakkuk remembers two enemies of God’s people and overlays them activity as a template for future judgment:
Cushan (v.7): Back in Judges 3, we learn that Israel rebelled against God, did not keep his commandments, and went after other gods. God raised up Cushan to come and chasten them. But then he also raised up a deliver, Otheniel, to defeat them and restore the people.
Midian (v 7): This tent of Midian recalls a scene when Gideon was judging/leading the people. In Chapter 7 Gideon overhears of a dream where there was horror in the tents of Midian because one of the soldiers had a dream about a loaf of barley that came tumbling into their camp. Gideon, overhearing and consequently reassured, went on the attack against them and he destroyed them.
What’s the point: God’s past works of judgment and deliverance are a template which Habakkuk lays over the future. He prays with recollection and anticipation of God’s final triumph for himself and his people. He had confidence that while the world around him (including kings and kingdoms) would perish, ultimately he would not.
Then we think about how he prays. Habakkuk shifts to talking about God in terms that has to remind us of a warrior.
We see in verse 8 God triumphing over the river and seas. He is like a mighty warrior—even more than the Babylonians in their high tech military advancements. He is seen here with a chariot of salvation. He has strength, power, and honor. He has a bow and arrow (v.9). With a view toward conquering his enemies, Habakkuk is praying the past works of God in triumph upon the future. He is saying that this final triumph is what he is trusting God to do. In verses 10-15 there is a vivid depiction of God’s triumph over his enemies.
Habakkuk, after having his mind and heart trained upon who God is, looks back upon the past and remembers God’s triumph over his enemies through Moses, Joshua, and David. He is remembering God’s powerful victories, saying in verse 13, “You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.”
Do you see how specific Habakkuk is in his prayers? He could have just prayed with simplicity, “God, just like you did in the past, defeat your enemies and save your people.” And that would have been faithful, good, and true. But he does something more. He seems to be mulling over, reviewing the details, meditating upon the truth of these victories. He seems here to really love God and to be so filled with the joy of seeing him in that he is quite liberal with his words. He is going on and on about the victories. He is playing the greatest hits and singing along in prayer. He is saying “do it again, Lord!”
How familiar are you with the works of God?
Do you know them?
Do you rehearse them?
Do you boast in them?
Do you declare them in prayer?
Do you talk to others about them?
This leads to the why of his prayer. He loves God. This is why he prays like this. He has his heart and mind gripped by the Lord God.
It’s hard to wait. We don’t want to do it. We would love to microwave those periods of impatience. But, it’s especially hard to wait when you know there is great difficulty laid before you. This is what Habakkuk is facing.
He’s not waiting for vacation but for an invasion. It’s not his promised comfort but the promised discomfort. He’s awaiting the hard days ahead. They are looming like dark clouds over the horizon.
And we see how he feels it so acutely. Look at verse 16, I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.”
He is feeling this. He’s swishing around the bitterness of the days of difficulty lying ahead in his mouth. He’s shaking. His lips quivering. He feels like he’s rotting from the inside. His knees are knocking.
I’m sure you’ve been involuntarily seized by the anxiety of a moment. You feel your heart race. Your knees knock. Your stomach turn. It’s the first thought of the morning. It’s the last thought of the night. You know what he’s talking about.
How do you deal with this?
Let’s learn from Habakkuk here.
Acknowledging his predicament, he says, “Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.”
He says that he’ll wait. Wait for what? The day of trouble — or judgment — to come on those who invade.
Just to reset. He’s talking about Babylon. And he is referring back to God’s promised judgment upon them.
God has told Habakkuk that in the end, he is going to make everything right. Those whom he dreads so much will feel and know justice.
He is letting the promise of the future determine his current state of mind. In other words, he is living by faith in God and his promises.
This is a remarkable transformation for Habakkuk. Isn’t it? He has gone from a worrier to a worshiper. He went from how long? to I will wait. From, You don’t hear me…to I hear you. From, Where is justice?…to I tremble at the thought of justice. From, uncomfortably uncertain to uncomfortably certain.
He went from worry to worship.
What brings him there? It is the revelation of God through the Word. Friends, it’s the Bible!
He is content - or resting, trusting, treasuring God - amid the dark cloud of adversity.
His contentment, his joy, cannot be wrestled from him because he is trusting in the God of the Word through the Word of God.
Think about this for a moment. This is the worst possible news for Habakkuk. His country is going to be invaded. His sacred spaces desecrated. His people will be abused and taken hostage. This is horrible news.
Yet he clings to a sure word from God. He trusts him. He believes that in the end, God will make it right. He has made promises.
What would be the worst possible news for you?
Grab on to that and think about it.
How would you live through it? How could you make it while swishing around this bitter and painful taste in your mouth?
The Bible’s answer is: live by an enduring faith in God. Even on that horrible day, God still reigns. Facing death, disaster, disgrace, or other great pain—know that he is in his holy temple.
Habakkuk not only says he will wait, but that he will quietly wait. He is content in God. He is not going to grumble at God but he is going to trust in God. He will make it right. He is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silent before him.
There was another faithful servant who was promised a day of trouble and he quietly trust God and his word. You might remember that Jesus immensely felt the hour of adversity in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was sweating like drops of blood. He soul was deeply distressed. He cried out in prayer to God. But his resounding prayer was not my will but your will be done.
He trusted God.
He believed that even unto death, God would raise him from the dead.
The promises of God transcend this life — and all of its troubles, they even transcend the grave.
So Christ powerfully conquered death and purchased life for all of his people.
And this is what we need to remember. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
Read verse 17 with me, if you would.
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,
This is quite a punctuation of this book.
He is talking about all of the blessings of life. Many of these were staples for them as a people. Should the figs, the fruit, the olives, and the flock — all be gone. Yet I will rejoice.
Should the grocery stores be empty, the 401k disappear, the water no longer flow from our faucets, and though we have nothing and are reduced to nothing…yet I will rejoice.
What?! Why? How?
Why? I will take join in the God of my salvation.
How? He is my strength.
Here is where we find something amazing about being content in God. When you are content in God your joy is untouchable.
Why? Because our joy not tied to circumstances but to God’s character.
Look, the circumstances can’t get worse. That’s Habakkuk’s point!
Yet, even so, he will rejoiced.
Because our joy is bound up in God this means that we can face anything and it cannot be touched. It is untouchable.
(1) Faith isn’t abandoned but strengthened when calamity comes.
(2) Faith reads circumstances in light of God’s character.
(3) Faith doesn’t see God as a means to an end but as the actual end himself.