I want us to study the whole prophecy of Habakkuk to understand his message to the people of his time, AND to see how his message speaks to us in our day.
We will also look at how Paul took up Hab's message of living by faith in his letter to the Galatians.
In order to understand the prophetic books we must first consider the context – the time when they were written, & the condition of the people of Israel & Judah that the prophet is addressing.
H prophesied around 620-600 BC, in the years before the destruction of Jerusalem & the temple by the Babylonians. He prophesied at about the same time that Jeremiah began his ministry. Josiah had been a godly king who tried to bring the people back to God. It was too little, too late. The priests & people continued in their wicked ways.
H doesn’t seem to have been given a message to the people of Israel, instead we read of his private prayer arguments with God about the state of the land of Judah.
Zephaniah prophesied at the same time as Hab – it's the next book after Hab. He warned the people of Judah:
1:4 "I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem... to v.14
That is very similar to Stephen's defence in Acts 7, when he was accused by the elders of Israel.
Now we will stay in Habakkuk.
1:2-4 is his prayer that God will look at the wickedness of the people and do something about it – to correct & save them.
2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. 4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
God’s reply is that he has had enough of the people who have constantly rejected him & his laws. He has protected & blessed them for 700 years. Now the nation has become utterly corrupt. Judgement has to come.
It will come through an invasion by the Babylonians (or Chaldeans). Jerusalem will be captured & the temple destroyed, & many of its treasures were taken to Babylon.
That reply horrifies Habakkuk. He argues with God. The Jews were Abraham’s descendants. They had the promises of God. The temple was the evidence of God’s blessing. How could God act against his own people? How could God break his own faithful promises & organise the destruction of the people he has promised to bless?
It is as if we prayed: “Britain has been blessed as a Christian country for hundreds of years. We have sent the Bible & the Gospel around the world. Now wickedness is increasing & churches are closing. Our Parliament is passing laws that violate the commandments of God. Please take action & bless us again, Lord.”
And God replied: “Britain has rejected the Gospel, so I am bringing in people of other religions to take over. They will take over your empty churches; they will influence the laws your Parliament enacts; they will get rich from the taxes you pay. You believers will suffer with the ungodly when I bring judgment on the whole land.
50 years ago, the Christian West Indians were shocked that England was not the Christian country they expected.
In Southall, 40 years ago, we hoped & prayed that the non-Christians coming into England would hear the Gospel, & take the Christian faith back to their own lands. But no – when we look around, we see they bring their pagan religions & gods, & build their own temples & mosques.
We live in a country that has rejected it's Christian heritage. We see the rise of godlessness all around us – TV, newspapers, magazines & the internet show the wickedness of our nation. We read the newspapers, & the angry reports about people breaking the law, but do they, do we actually honour & OBey God’s holy laws?
As a nation we are OBsessed with sport. The London Olympics were a great success for the nation. We wear the clothing; we wave the flags; but we do not play the sport. We sit back & watch on TV while others run about. Our national Christianity is like that. We claim to be Christians, but we do not live as Christians.
Hab prays about the national situation. He hears God’s answer & prays again. He knows he is living in a dangerous situation, where he now expects God’s judgement on the nation, not a revival & blessings. He still argues that God should be more concerned with the wickedness of the Babylonians than of Israel.
2:1 I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
He watches & waits for God’s answer. As a prophet, he is God’s watchman for the nation of Israel. We as believers should pray for our nation. We are our nation's watchmen. If we want peace, we should pray for our national leaders.
What was Jesus’ command to his disciples about watching?
Luke 21:36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Habakkuk gets his answer:
God is working to a plan – he knows the end & how he will achieve his purposes. The trouble coming on the nation through the Babylonian invasion is discipline for a few years, & that discipline will pass. God has a greater plan in view. Hebrews quotes v. 4 in a way that shows Christ is the one who is coming!
Heb. 11 gives a great list of OT believers who lived by faith.
God in Hab. 2 declares a great promise that will be realised by the coming of Jesus Christ & his saving work; his cross & resurrection: 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
He goes on to ridicule the worship of idols, & declare his sovereign greatness:
2:20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
The OT has many prophecies of the coming Messiah.
H sees trouble – the Jews he lives with, & the coming destruction.
God tells him, “your hope must be in the coming Messiah – I will keep my promises to Abraham. You can trust me.”
I want to look closely at 2:4 — but the righteous will live by his faith—
The last part of this verse is of tremendous importance. Paul builds his teaching on “justification by faith” on that Scripture in Romans & Galatians.
How do we live by faith? What does it mean?
There are two aspects to living by faith:
(i) Justification by faith, wherby we come as sinners to Jesus, & seek forgiveness because of his saving work on the cross. That faith saves.
Through the 70 years of exile, God's care & protection of his people would continue. His saving purposes could not be frustrated. That message of living by faith was believed by Daniel & his friends in Babylonia, and by Esther & Mordecai & others in exile.
God further revealed to Daniel that Messiah would complete his saving work in in 70x7 years. After the exile those who returned rebuilt the temple & re-established worship. We read their stories in Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah & Haggai,
Nehemiah serving the king in the palace, prayed for the city, pleading in prayer for many months, and was given the privilege of rebuilding the city walls & establishing law & order again.
These men of God lived by faith in very troubled times.
We have better promises – we know the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah, and we have promises of a glorious new heaven & new earth, not of an earthly heritage.
We too, in our troubled times, need to learn the same lessons.
In the course of Hab's prophecy, there is the assurance that God is working to his plan for blessing mankind. Note 2:14
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
That is a wonderful Gospel promise for all nations in all the world, fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ by the Gospel.
What was the first promise to Abraham? Gen. 12:3 “... all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
What is the “great commission?” Mat. 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to OBey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
We are living in the Gospel age and we have the message for all nations.
H has been complaining to God & arguing with him. God's last verse of Hab 2 ends his complaints & inspires a song of confident prayer.
20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. Our opening hymn took up that great statement.
Habakkuk shows us how to pray & how to live in that situation. God is still God. We must trust him. We must live in our troubled land by faith in our Saviour God.
Ch 3 The prophecy concludes with a song of praise & faith.
3:2 H remembers past blessings, & prays that God will renew them is his day. He prays that God will revive his work.
The prayer continues with the remembrance of the great works of God in the past. It is very poetic, but alludes to God bringing his people into the promised land.
16-19 H concludes with an expression of praise – he knows his God, & he will rejoice in him, even though he faces a time of suffering.
We will sing a version of that song when we conclude the service.
We need to look closely at that tremendous statement of faith in 2:4, which Paul develops in Galatians 3:1-14.
Paul builds a tremendous building on those 6 words of Habakkuk: The righteous will live by faith.
He shows that Christ must be the OBject of our faith, and that faith is by the Holy Spirit of God living & working within us. This is no vague belief that gives salvation without changing our life.
The Jews of Hab's time believed they were God's people, & that the temple protected them against the enemy. Within 20 years, the temple was destroyed, & the people taken captive to Babylon. 600 years later, the Jewish leaders of Jesus' time believed the same & rejected their Messiah. Within 40 years, the Romans destroyed the temple & Jerusalem. If you go to Jerusalem today, the stones still cry out in witness of that destruction.
I believe that if we are truly saved, we cannot lose our salvation. After all, Jesus saves completely those who come to God through him. But, I believe also that if we are saved, we will not continue in sin. We will live by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews gives very solemn warnings against those who turn away from Jesus – they live under the condemnation & wrath of a holy God.
Only in Christ are we righteous. His righteousness is imputed - credited to us when we trust in Jesus for salvation. I preached on that in my last sermon.
The prOBlem with the Galatians was that teachers had come among them who taught that they had to become Jews & keep all aspects of the Law, including circumcision to be saved.
That was no Gospel at all. If we have to keep all the Law, we are hopelessly lost. We are under the curse of God if we fail to keep the Law in every detail.
Under the Law we have the hopeless task of perfect OBedience. The Jewish teachers were still in the Old Cov, still clinging to Moses & his Laws, & all the rituals that no longer had any value now Jesus had finished his saving work.
Come to Jesus as repentant sinners; your Christian life begins as you put your faith in him; then live faithfully as his servants & followers whatever trouble we may face in this life. We live with the promise of glory.
I’ve written a hymn based on Hab. 3.
Blessing - 3:2 LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. -