Editors Note: Jeremy Sanders returns to In His Image for a three part series on the book of Habakkuk. Note the opinions of this author are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer or In His Image.
“Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous. Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations? (Habakkuk 1:12-17)
“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. And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people: Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay! Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them? Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness! Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD’S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory. For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein. What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:1-20)
In the first 11 verses of Habakkuk chapter one, we learned how to respond when God is silent. The question “Where is God” is one often asked, especially when the believer is experiencing trials. On a larger setting, Habakkuk demonstrates what to do when one’s nation has fallen into corruption and wickedness. Just as Israel forsook God, so too has America turned her back on God. Violence plagues our streets, and unrighteousness is heralded by our government. Knowing how to respond can be difficult, yet we learned that God is Sovereign and is always moving, even when we do not see His hand at work.
God graciously provides Habakkuk an answer, reassuring the prophet that He had not abandoned Israel to its sins. In fact, He promised divine discipline, demonstrating His Love and Grace towards His children. Of course, the method of discipline was rather astonishing. God moved the Chaldeans to invade Israel, choosing a method that seemed extraordinary to both Habakkuk and us today. In doing so, He demonstrated His Sovereignty over the nations of the world, as well as His sovereignty over the human heart.
God’s method of discipline leaves us in another quandary however. How can God use the Chaldeans, who are more wicked and vile than the Israelites, to chastise His children? Why are those that demonstrate great wickedness allowed to triumph over those that are “good”, or at least better than their tormentors? How is this just?
These are the questions with which Habakkuk wrestles. We will examine the question, see how Habakkuk attempts to deal with the problem, and then examine God’s response. In doing so, we will learn the Biblical method of solving problems. We will see that to live by faith when faced with the problem of evil, the Christian must practice three principles to overcome life’s challenges. 1. Stand firm on the firm foundation of God. 2. Wait on the Lord. 3. Live by faith.
II. Standing on the Firm Foundation
“Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.” (Habakkuk 1:12)
- Step 1 to Biblically Dealing with Problems
God’s answer to Habakkuk causes him to wrestle with the next problem. How can God use an evil nation to judge Israel? Habakkuk can’t understand it, he can’t figure out how a Holy God can permit evil to triumph, even if only in the short term. However, it is interesting how Habakkuk goes about solving this problem. He doesn’t place his primary focus on the problem He cannot solve. He doesn’t waste time trying to solve something He doesn’t understand.
Too often when we are faced with problems, we focus too heavily on the problem. Isn’t this what Peter did in Matthew 14:29-30? The disciples are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a tremendous storm, and all of a sudden Jesus appears walking on water. Of course, the disciples being the disciples, doubt it is Jesus and think it is a ghost. And Peter being Peter, says that if it is truly Jesus, that the Savior should beckon him to come out of the boat and walk towards him on the water. And this is what Jesus does. So, Peter leaps over the side of the boat, and this is where we pick up the story in Matthew. “And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” You see, Peter couldn’t understand how he was walking on water, especially in the middle of the storm with raging waves and heavy winds. It’s like walking on a trampoline when multiple people are all jumping as high as they can, it’s difficult to do. And walking on water on our strength is, of course, impossible! So, Peter focuses on the raging waves, he focuses on the problem, and what happens? He begins to sink. He focused on the wrong thing. When he jumped out of the boat he was focused on Christ. Once he focused on the problem, he began to sink. Notice then, the problem was not solved until Peter once again focused on God, when he cries out “Lord, save me!” What a powerful statement. We like to bash Peter sometimes, but aren’t we all a bit like Peter? We are more like the other disciples, we probably would have been too focused on the problem of the storm to even get out of the boat! But Peter did, demonstrating great faith, as well as the first step to solving any problem. Focus on God, not on the problem!
- The Character of God
We see Habakkuk exercise a similar strategy in chapter 1:12. Habakkuk has this burning question about God using the evil Chaldeans to punish Israel, But instead of making the problem his primary focus, he focuses on God! Notice what he says, “Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One?” Habakkuk lists the characteristics of God. These include: God is Everlasting, God is Holy, God is Personal, God is Faithful, and God is Sovereign.
God is everlasting. He has no beginning or end. Furthermore, he is the “LORD” meaning He is Jehovah. The proper name for God means the “self-Existent or eternal” One. He is “I AM”. The name demonstrates absolute Sovereignty over His creation, He existed before creation, He brought creation into being, He owns creation and can do with it as He wills.
Notice too that God is Holy. The Hebrew is “qadosh qadosh”, a double emphasis on holiness. God is not only Holy, he is Holy, Holy. He is sacred, set apart, and without any flaw. As we read in 1st John 1:5, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Everything God does is Holy and right, that is the very definition of being God. If God was not completely Holy and right, then He would not be God. This means that although Habakkuk does not understand the problem, he knows that God cannot make a mistake, and has every right to do what He wills with His creation.
Habakkuk twice refers to God as his personal God. “my God, mine Holy One” (Emphasis added). God is not just some impersonal, distant force. No, he is a personal God, one whom we serve on a personal and intimate level. And because He is “my God”, we can communicate directly with God and know that He cares deeply about us. So, not only does our focus need to be placed on God when dealing with problems, but we must also trust that God cares about our concerns.
Another characteristic of God described by Habakkuk is unending faithfulness. Notice the middle of verse 12, “we shall not die”. It is almost with relief that Habakkuk makes such a statement as if he is reassuring himself that Israel will not be totally destroyed by the coming judgment. It demonstrates in some ways that even the faith of a prophet struggles with unbelief. And how does he know that Israel will not be destroyed totally? After all, the Chaldeans have already obliterated Assyria, destroying the civilization that had once been the most powerful nation in the region. How can Habakkuk know Judah will not be destroyed completely? He is remembering the faithfulness of God.
God swore a covenant that He would establish Israel. A quick reminder of the covenant would be instructive. Let’s look at Genesis 15:5-10, “And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.”
Continuing to verses 17-18, “And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates”
God made a covenant with Abraham to establish his descendants forever. When Abraham asked how he would know his seed would inherit the land, God had Abraham prepare sacrifices. During that time, when two parties made a covenant or vow, they would divide a sacrifice into two parts, and then both would walk between the sacrifices together. At that point, the covenant was considered sacred. Neither party was released from his vow unless the other broke the covenant first. Notice though in verse 17, that Abraham does not walk through the middle of the sacrifices. Only God, characterized by a smoking furnace and a burning lamp that represents the Father and Son, walked through the sacrifices (A darkness fell on Abraham earlier in verse 12, representing the Spirit). God made the covenant with Himself! As the God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), the greatest surety of the covenant was with Himself. Thus, no matter what Abraham did, no matter how far his descendants strayed from the Lord, the covenant could not be broken. God has, and will, fulfill the covenant He has made with His chosen people. What a beautiful picture of God’s grace! We can see this in the salvation of believers as well. God, who has predestined and chosen His elect from before the foundations of this world (Ephesians 1:4-5), has promised eternal life to all who believe in Him. No matter how much we fail, how weak our faith may seem, we have that blessed assurance that Jesus is our eternal reward. That is complete faithfulness, something Habakkuk recognizes when He assures himself that Judah will not die.
Finally, Habakkuk recognizes that God is sovereign. Notice the ending of verse 12, “O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.” He recognizes that God has ordained the Chaldeans to execute judgment. The mighty God, far mightier than the host of the Chaldeans, established their nation for one reason, the correction of Judah. That is their purpose, why God permitted them to coalesce into such a powerful force.
By focusing on the character of God instead of the problem, Habakkuk was able to step back and put the problem into proper perspective. He has yet to solve the problem and is about to ask God to answer His questions. However, by focusing firstly on the Lord, Habakkuk has positioned Himself to properly receive the guidance to answer his problem. When you are encountering a difficult problem follow the example of Habakkuk. Take a step back, focus on the Person who can solve the problem, not on the seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
- The question (Habakkuk 1:13-2:1)
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? Habakkuk 1:13
- How can God watch the wicked punish Israel?
In verse 13, Habakkuk begins to ask His question in the context of God’s character. He has already stated that God is Holy. Because God is Holy and has pure eyes that cannot stand the sight of iniquity, how can God the Chaldeans judge Israel? After all, the Chaldeans are treacherous, and they wickedly devour others. How can God look upon such a people without turning them into dust, much less use them to judge the Israelites, who for all their wickedness, are surely better than their oppressors?
Habakkuk then recounts just a few of the “highlights” from the long list of atrocities perpetrated by the Chaldeans.
- Chaldeans have ruined nations and destroyed kings, making people like the fish in the sea. They have left people without leaders and a proper form of government. Since the government has been instituted by God, such an act violates God’s established order.
- They catch all the men as if they were fish in the Sea, never being satisfied. “They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad.”(Hab 1:15). Because of this, they are never satisfied with their spoils. “Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?” Their evil deeds do not cease, they continue increasing with every victory.
- They then sacrifice to the net, or the instrument of their strength, committing idolatry.
“Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.” They do not recognize that God has ordained their work. They have made a god of their might, indicated both idolatry and pride.
- Habakkuk awaits God’s reply
After posing his second question, Habakkuk steps back. He declares he will stand on watch, indicating he will wait intently and purposefully for God’s reply. Like the watchmen in Ezekiel 33, Habakkuk is standing with his gaze figuratively far in the distance. He is up in the tower, the highest point he can conceivably be, to see God’s answer as soon as possible. The key here is that he is expecting the Lord’s reply. Now, this has an important lesson for us as well. Too often we when pray, we do not really expect God to answer our petition. Whether the answer is yes, no, or not yet, we do not really expect to hear from God. Instead of watching intently, we let other things distract our gaze. Yet, if we truly trust God, we must expect an answer.
Notice what Habakkuk says next. And this is an extremely funny remark by Habakkuk, it demonstrates a self-awareness that I think few people possess. He says in chapter two verse one that he will wait to see “what I shall answer when I am reproved.” Habakkuk realizes that his questions and thought processes cannot compare with God’s. So, he just naturally assumes that he said something incorrect and is waiting to be reproved by God. We all remember the story of Job of course, who after complaining to God, is asked a series of questions by God. “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; (Job 38:3-6). Of course, Job cannot answer these questions, no one can. And Habakkuk, after questioning how a Holy God can use the wicked Chaldeans to accomplish His will, recognizes that he cannot know the mind of God. He is utterly incapable of grasping more than the tiniest smidgeon of God’s infinite wisdom. And so, he basically says “Lord, here is my question, now I am going to step back and wait for you to tell me why I am wrong!” The matter-of-fact way Habakkuk writes this phrase indicates that not only does he have a sense of humor, but also a deep sense of humility. He is demonstrating a humble spirit, without the pride to think he knows better than God.
- God’s reply (Habakkuk 2:2-20)
Thankfully for Habakkuk, he was watching intently at his post, for God answered his second question. The Lord gives Habakkuk a vision and instructs him to write it down plainly. Why is he to write it down? So that the vision does not remain in the mind of Habakkuk, but is distributed out to others. Habakkuk is commanded to write it plainly so that others “may run that readeth it.” The phrase does not mean Habakkuk should write the vision on a giant stone tablet so that those running by on the road could read it. God is not in the habit of making giant billboards, that is not His primary means of communication, although sometimes we certainly might wish that He instructed us in such a clear manner! No, the verse means that those that hear God’s vision will be inspired to run and tells others about the message. Perhaps you remember when you were first justified. Do you remember the excitement you felt, the burning desire to “give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1st Peter 3:15). New believers are often consumed with telling others about Christ. Sadly, that often fades, yet it should be our heart’s desire at all times. Indeed, when we read Scripture and glean a new perspective or understanding of the glorious character of God, we should be overcome with the desire to share the experience with others.
- Step 2 to Biblically Dealing with Problems
“For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”
The first step to dealing with problems is standing firm on the character of God. Once we do this, the next step is often the hardest. We must wait for God’s timing. Psalm 27:13 reminds us beautifully, “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” Waiting on God can be extremely difficult. We are naturally impatient creatures; we seek to move events according to our timeline. Yet, God is Sovereign, and we must be willing to do things according to His ultimate plan. We must not “run ahead of God” in our efforts, but must patiently wait for His plan. “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:4).
God informs Habakkuk that judgment will ultimately come against the Chaldeans for their wicked deeds. They will not escape punishment. Just as their predecessors, the Assyrians had experienced God’s judgment as foretold by the prophet Nahum (Nahum 3:7), Babylon would likewise face a similar fate. Roughly 70 years after God promises Habakkuk that the Chaldeans would be judged, the Persians under Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and destroyed their empire in 538 B.C. Unlike Israel who “will not die” as Habakkuk declares in chapter one verse 12, Babylon was totally destroyed.
Like Habakkuk, we too must often wait for God to accomplish His will in our lives. It is not always pleasant. It certainly would not have been pleasant for Habakkuk. We have no idea what happens to the prophet after he completes the book that bears his name. At best, he survived to see Judah overrun and destroyed by the Chaldeans, with many that he knew and no doubt cared for end up either dead or enslaved. At worst, he perished in the spoiling of Judah. Neither option is appealing, and indeed, demonstrates that serving God is not always sunshine and rainbows.
Unlike the prosperity gospel, which teaches a false gospel and a false Christ, the true Gospel does not promise we will be healthy, wealthy, and happy. Happiness is never mentioned in the Bible. The joy of Christ, however, surpasses all temporal circumstances. Peter describes such circumstances in His 1st epistle. Speaking to believers, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” (1st Peter 1:5-7). Believers are kept through the power of God, and rejoice even though for a season they experience great heaviness of heart and multiple tribulations. This trial of faith is more precious than any earthly gold because it brings praise, honor, and glory to Christ upon His return and our glorification.
So, while waiting can be extremely difficult, we can have joy in the midst of sorrow. Because our hope is in Christ, and not our earthly happiness, like Paul we “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:11-13) We can be content with little or much because we have Christ who strengthens us! Verse 13 is often incorrectly applied as an inspiration verse when people are trying to accomplish some great task. Whether it be children trying to pass a test that they forgot to study for, to an athlete attempting to win the state championship, to an introvert attempting to ask someone out on a date, the verse is often misconstrued to pursue our own desires and will. But that is not what it means. We can do all things through Christ in furtherance of the Gospel, to the pursuit of HIS glory and HIS will. And this includes waiting for His perfect timing.
- The Sins of the Chaldeans will be punished
After God explains that Habakkuk must wait for God’s perfect timing, God then explains why the Chaldeans deserve punishment. Although we have already cataloged the sins of the Chaldeans before, we will briefly examine again why God has the right to punish them.
In chapter two, verse four we are told “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him…” All sin is an expression of pride. We think we know better than God and therefore reject His standards for our own. This is the root of all sin, which we can see clearly throughout Scripture. Satan, when he rebelled against God, did so because of his great pride. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:12-14). Satan said in his heart that he would ascend in the heavens above all the other angels (the stars of God), sit upon the mountain, ascend the heights of the clouds and be like the “most High”, which of course references God. Pride was Satan’s downfall.
Pride is also the root of man’s descent into sin. If we read Genesis chapter 3, we see that Satan tempts Eve with the ability to be like God. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Emphasis added, (Genesis 3:4-5). Adam and Eve desired to be like God, and their pride ensured their fall. Such pride did not cease with Adam but was passed down to his sons. Cain lifted up his own pride, offered the fruit of his own labor as a sacrifice to God (Genesis 4:3). God rejected the offering, as He does to all such attempts to earn his favor through our own strength.
Although Pride is the first sin the Lord listed, He is not finished. He lists other sins committed by the Chaldeans that warrant their coming punishment.
- Pride: The Lord continues condemning the Chaldeans for Pride in verse five. “he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:” The Chaldeans are too proud to be satisfied with the land that is their home. So, he enlarges “his desire as hell.” Hell is a bottomless pit (Revelation 20:3), it will never run out of room for those deserving of God’s punishment. And just as hell is never satisfied, never full, so too are the Chaldeans never satisfied in their lust for conquest.
- Wine: “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine.” (Hab 2:5) Someone who is given to wine will make poor decisions and is also linked with being proud. And anyone who thinks they have mastered wine instead of the wine mastering them must take heed, lest such pride be his ultimate undoing.
- Robbery/ spoiling: “Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.” (Hab 2:8). The Chaldeans were addicted to pillaging the lands of other nations. Robbery and spoiling were natural to them.
- Shedding blood: Shedding blood and committing violence was part of their culture. Verse eight tells us that the Chaldeans committed violence against the land, the city, and all their inhabitants. They spared no one, demonstrating no mercy.
- Covetousness: “Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house” (Hab 2:9) Coveting the possessions of others, they took whatever they pleased. One could even say that their covetousness sparked their addiction to robbery and pillage. Because they coveted the possessions of others and were never satisfied due to their pride, they continued their reign of robbery and pillaging.
- Luring others to do evil: Not content to commit evil acts themselves, they also encouraged others to join them in their wickedness. “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!” ( Hab 2:15)They do not care that their actions can cause others to stumble. Indeed, they delight and plan to cause others to fall into wickedness. They desire to see the shame of others. Perhaps it is so that the Chaldeans can mock others, such is their pride. Conversely, it could be to hide their shame. It is much easier to sear a guilty conscience when everyone else is committing the same evil.
- Idolatry: The last and greatest sin is that the Chaldeans have rejected the worship of the one true God. They commit idolatry with impunity. “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.” (Hab 2:18-19) Not only is idolatry wicked, but it is also pointless. Trusting in anything of our own creation will not aid us in being redeemed. An idol cannot teach us God’s ways or some higher truth, it does not have breath, it is dead. And lest we be self-conceited in our own ways, an idol does not have to be a piece of wood or stone. It is anything that we worship more than God, whether that be with our time, money, or resources. The idol of sports is just as dangerous to the American man as the idol of stone to the Chaldean. The idol of video games is just as wrong as the idol of wood. Whatever the idols are in our lives, we must not cease until they have been removed and replaced with a reverence for God.
The sins of the Chaldeans are so bad, that God informs us that if He did not punish them, the very stones will cry out in judgment. “For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.” (Hab 2:11) Interestingly, our Savior quotes this passage during His “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem only days before His death. In Luke 19:39-40, we read this interesting account. “And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” Many people take these verses and claim that Jesus was declaring that the very stones would cry out in praise should the crowd stop. However, as the context of Habakkuk 2:11 demonstrates, this is a declaration of judgment. The crowd during Christ’s entry were praising Him incorrectly. They wanted a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule, one to set up an earthly kingdom immediately. Yet, that was not Jesus’ purpose; He came to seek and save the lost, not conquer triumphantly. That will happen when He returns, but that was not the purpose of His earthly ministry. The crowd would reject Him for who He was just four days later, ending their praise of Christ and replacing it with jeers of derision. The praise from Israel has been silent for over 2,000 years, and will not renew until Christ draws Israel back to Himself once again. The stones of Jerusalem did cry out in judgment against Israel once their praise ceased. In A.D. 70, the Romans besieged the city and destroyed the temple, leaving no stone standing amidst their pillage. And it is because of this message that Jesus weeps over the city in the very next verse. “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,” (Luke 19:41) How interesting that Jesus quotes Habakkuk when proclaiming this judgment. Israel, for all its outward goodness, would receive the same treatment as the Chaldeans because both had rejected God.
- Like the Chaldeans, we are completely guilty before God
God promised judgment against the Chaldeans for their sins. And God will judge you for your sins as well. God is so holy, that He cannot tolerate any form of sin. He cannot ignore man’s sins, for that would make Him unholy and thus not God. Such knowledge of God’s character leaves man in a dilemma. We are all sinful, we all have done things that separate us from God. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” (Romans 3:10). Furthermore, nothing we do can place us in good standing before God, verse 20 of Romans chapter three makes this very clear. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Following God’s law cannot earn us salvation. Works cannot save us. Titus 3:5 reminds us, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” It is not works that save us from our sins, but “his” (Christ’s) mercy! We do not conduct any work to accomplish our salvation. Even belief in God is ultimately God’s work. “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:28-29). When the crowd asks Jesus what they must do to “work the works of God”, His answer is that they cannot work the works of God.
Jesus does not answer “do this to work the works of God.” No, he expounds that the work is God’s alone, not our own. Why? Because the work of God is to believe in Christ, yet if it were a work we committed, then it would contradict the rest of Scripture. Belief is not the work of man, but the “work of God”. God is in the Genitive case in Greek, indicating possession. Τουτό (This) ἐστι (is) το (the) ἒργον (work) τοῦ (of) Θεοῦ (God). The work is God’s, who owns and controls the work because otherwise, it would be our own work. The work must be done by someone. If it were our work, then it could not save us because that would contradict Titus 3:5 and Romans 3:20, which clearly state our works cannot save us, and that the deeds of the law cannot justify man. We are forced then to understand it is the work of God.
The unbelieving man is completely responsible for his rejection of God and ultimate judgment in hell. God condemns man to hell because man has rejected God and will never seek after God on His own accord. Therefore, it is entirely just for God to punish rebellious man, and the greatest act of mercy and grace to pay the penalty for His sin and give him eternal life.
- The Third Step to Solving Problems: Live by Faith.
Since we see that it is God who accomplishes His work in us, we are called to live according to our faith in God. “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” Of course, doing so through our strength is impossible. We must receive strength and support from the spirit. Philippians 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” The Holy Spirit helps the believer live a sanctified life. When we sin and fall short after salvation, it is the flesh, the old man, that causes us to do so. We cannot blame the Spirit for our failings. Likewise, all our good deeds we can in no way take credit for since we are new creatures in Christ only through the work of the Spirit.
Living by faith is the third step to solving difficult problems. After standing on the character of God and waiting for His promises, we are to live by faith. Solving problems can only be accomplished when we live sanctified lives, otherwise, we are solving them through our strength and not through God’s. And only God can truly “make all things well” (Mark 7:37).
This verse also implies individual salvation, which solves man’s greatest problem, his need for redemption. The just man, just only because of the divine work of God, lives by his faith, which is only granted by God. He receives eternal life because of faith in God. It is something that will happen, just like Philippians 1:6 reminded us. God will perform a good work (sanctification) in His children. This is a promise, there will be spiritual fruit if we are saved. Yes, we will still stumble, but we will demonstrate good fruit. Matthew 7:16-20, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” The Just will live by faith. Not might live by faith, but they will live by faith. Works are merely the fruit, the product of faith.
Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted often by the New Testament writers. Paul quotes the passage in Romans 1:17, “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Emphasis Added). Faith not, works, brings salvation. Paul hammers the point home in Galatians 3:11, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” (Emphasis added). Again, the point is clear and also relates directly to what we read in Romans 3:20. The law (works) cannot justify us before a holy God. Only faith can save man. The writer of Hebrews also quotes Habakkuk when declaring how Christians should live in chapter 10 verse 38, “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Emphasis added). The theme of Hebrews ten is the inability of animal sacrifice (human works) to please God, and that only the blood of calvary can justify man. Verse four of Hebrews 10 states, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” Animal sacrifices never took away sins, even under the Old Covenant. A man in ancient Israel before the birth of Christ was not saved by animal sacrifice. They were a means to demonstrate the utter inability of the law to save mankind. The Old Testament patriarchs were saved by their faith in God, and the promise of the coming Messiah. Abraham was saved by his faith, not his works, as Paul describes in Romans 4:2-3, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” David likewise was not saved by animal sacrifices, but by faith. “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans 4:6-8). And as we can see, Habakkuk was likewise saved by means of his faith, not through any of his own works.
- The reward of a life of faith
The end of Habakkuk chapter two describes the great reward of living a life of faith. God paints a picture for Habakkuk to assure Him that righteousness will triumph in the end. Regardless of the evil committed by Israel and the Chaldeans, justice and virtue will one-day reign supreme. “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab 2:20).
One day in the future, the glory of God will cover the earth completely. Right now, Satan is the Prince of the world, but one day the knowledge of Christ, the glory of God will fill the world. Because the Lord is the eternal temple, the world’s worship of idols will one day be silenced forever. The entire earth will be silenced by God’s great glory. And one day, “… at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-10)
When we face difficult problems, it can be hard to know how to act. Habakkuk was faced with a difficult problem, understanding how God could use the wicked Chaldeans to judge Israel. Yet, instead of focusing on the problem, Habakkuk took a step back and focused on the character of God. He then waited patiently for God to respond. Once God responded, Habakkuk lived by faith. This three-step solution to solving problems is one we can learn from today. Habakkuk did not understand God’s answer. Even God’s assurance of judgment against the Chaldeans for their evil deeds was still something quite difficult to comprehend. Yet, by fixating on the character of God, and waiting patiently for His will, Habakkuk provides a blueprint when we deal with problems today.
The greatest problem faced by anyone is that of their standing before a perfectly holy God. As beings utterly incapable of saving ourselves, we need a substitute to pay the penalty for our sins. And God has mercifully provided us that substitute in the form of His only Son, Jesus. The solution to the greatest problem faced by man is to repent, turn to Christ, believe that He died for your sins, and submit to His Lordship. Do not trust in your works. Only faith in God brings salvation and eternal life. How will you face the biggest problem in your life? And if you are already saved, are you sharing the solution to the world’s greatest problem, or keeping it to yourself? Part of living by faith is sharing that faith with others. What will you do?