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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Hard Work of Trusting God
Text:Habakkuk 2:2-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-05-29
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 95:1,3                                                                                            

Ps 42:1,5

Reading – Habakkuk 1; Hebrews 10:26-39

Ps 13:1,2,3

Sermon – Habakkuk 2:2-4

Hy 14:1,9,10

Hy 65:1,2,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Loved ones in Christ, have you ever felt like complaining against the LORD? Maybe you’ve prayed and prayed, but the answer that you wanted hasn’t come. Or you don’t like what God has brought into your life: lots of disappointment, lots of frustration. Or maybe you look at all the wickedness in the world, and you fear that God is sleeping on the job. So you want to complain. Maybe you have complained. But are we allowed to?

Keep that question in mind as we turn to Habakkuk. This is a unique book in Scripture, because we’re allowed to see development in the prophet—we might say that there’s a growth in faith. The first two chapters are a dialogue with God, where Habakkuk lets loose his complaints. He begins forcefully, “O LORD, how long shall I cry?” (1:2). He’s upset, because he sees evil among God’s people. The church is full of hypocrites, and it looks like God’s letting them get away with it!

But then his complaint changes. For Habakkuk learns that God has plans to punish his people, and He’s going to use the Chaldeans to do it. For the prophet, it’s now a question of justice. Because weren’t the pagan Chaldeans far worse than God’s covenant people? Why should heathens get the pleasure of terrorizing God’s children?

You might think that Habakkuk’s a hard man to keep happy, running from one complaint to the next. A lot like us, actually! If it’s not this, then it’s the other. But God answers the prophet, an answer that’s essential for us also to listen to. The LORD calls Habakkuk to that hardest of activities, the most challenging thing when things are tough and life is unsettled: to trust. To rest yourself in the perfect character of God. To believe his promises, no matter what.

And that’s the growth we see in Habakkuk by the time we reach the beautiful chapter 3. It’s the prophet’s closing words: after beginning with an attitude of demanding complaint, he ends with a spirit of humble submission. This our theme based on Habakkuk 2:2-4,

Through Habakkuk, God calls His people to the hard work of trust:

  1. waiting for His promises to be fulfilled
  2. resisting the arrogance of the proud
  3. living in the humility of faith

 

1) waiting for promises to be fulfilled: Sometimes people will say, “Be careful what you wish for.”  Because sometimes the things that we think we want, can end up being more trouble than we expected. That’s probably how Habakkuk felt. We said that he first complained against the sin of his own people. And rightfully so, “For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises… the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth” (1:3-4). As a prophet, Habakkuk had to expose these things in Israel, to admonish and warn. Habakkuk took this part of his calling very seriously—he couldn’t stand seeing this evil! He’s ready to witness God’s judgment on the church.

But that righteous indignation gets toned down after the LORD’s first reply. “You’re sick of hypocrisy in Israel?” says God, “Well, so am I!” Therefore, “‘I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation, which marches through the breadth of the earth’” (1:6). Those mighty armies will come, and bring destruction to the land of Judah.

This isn’t what Habakkuk expected. It’s more than he bargained for—indeed, it’s more than he can understand. Which is why he makes that second complaint, when he says: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (1:13). To send the wicked Chaldeans seemed below God, like it was out of keeping with his holiness.

Let’s think of a modern equivalent. What if God raised up some activist Muslim group and brought them against us? What if they persecuted this congregation and closed down our building? Or what if the church lost some of our freedoms to a government without regard for the LORD? Wouldn’t that seem totally unfair? Wouldn’t it seem like God was tolerating evil to the harm of his own people? We would complain too. What’s God doing?

 Habakkuk wants an answer to this thorny question, so he says in 2:1, “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me.” He’s going to wait for God to speak, and clear up this unfortunate situation. And in his mercy the LORD does give his prophet an answer. Is it a tidy answer? Is it one that ties up every loose end, and makes God’s ways seem perfectly logical? That’s the kind of answer we want: straightforward and simple. But God doesn’t give it.

The answer comes in God’s revelation, starting in verse 2. He orders his prophet, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets” (v 2). There’s a few things to notice here. First, it’s a vision that the LORD gives to Habakkuk. We’re not always told how the Old Testament prophets received their messages from God—sometimes it was in a dream, sometimes it was by a voice, and sometimes it was through a vision (like here): when the prophet is still awake and able to see things unfolding before his eyes.

Yet it’s not a vision that’s too fantastic to write down; he can grasp it. That’s the second thing to notice: Habakkuk has to “make it plain on tablets” (v 2). Tablets have come a long way since Habakkuk’s time; now they have touchscreens and built-in cameras. But already back then, a tablet was a way to record things. If you had an important message or a piece of information to remember, then you would write it down, inscribe it on a tablet of stone.

And then not keep it to himself—there’s a third thing about why Habakkuk has to do this, “That he may run who reads it” (v 2). That could mean the prophet has to write this message so that someone can run through it swiftly with their eyes—get the gist of it in an instant. Or it means that even if a person’s running by, he can easily absorb the meaning. Point is, this answer from God is short, to the point, and it’s understandable.

Yet there’s a fourth aspect of writing it down. We find it in verse 3, “The vision is yet for an appointed time.” The fulfilling of God’s message won’t happen overnight, but it’ll take time. We hear something like this in Daniel 12, when he’s received a revelation about the final battle on earth. There God says, “Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end” (v 4). It’s almost like those time capsules that people bury in the ground, locking things away for the future. The words of this prophecy are sealed for a later date.

So what is the message? We read it in the rest of chapter 2, that the Chaldeans will one day meet their demise. There’ll be an end of Israel’s enemy, and they’ll march no more. Great news! For prophet and people, of course, this couldn’t take place soon enough: “When, LORD? How long ‘til we’re free?” But this vision is for an appointed time, not for now. Yet that doesn’t mean it’s going to slip from God’s mind. Judah might forget, but God won’t: deliverance will surely come, at God’s determined hour. How do you know? Because God has given his Word! That should be enough for the person of faith, in every time and place: if the LORD has said it will be, then it’ll be. Count on it!

In verse 3 the LORD affirms the truth of his message, “At the end it will speak, and it will not lie.” God’s Word will never prove false. Even if the Chaldeans or some other enemy advance, God will never go back on his promise to be our God, and to help us in our time of need. He will do what He’s promised!

Yes, even “though it tarries, wait for it” (v 3). When something tarries, it seems to delay; you have to sit and wait, like when you’re in the doctor’s office and she’s running an hour behind. Time drags… And that can still be the hardest thing for us: to wait. To sit there in distress and worry, not able to do anything, when cares or complaints quickly fill our minds. To wait, when events don’t happen how we want, or they don’t happen when we want. “God promised me blessing, and I’ve prayed for it, so where is it?” we say. “I’m just not seeing how this trouble works out for my good. I’m not sure what lesson I need to learn here.” We have our own timetable for going through life and meeting our goals, but things unfold differently. So we may want to complain to God. “What’s going on? Where’s your goodness?” And God says, “Wait for it. My help and protection will surely come—it will not tarry” (v 3).

Beloved, do you see what God is doing in our text? He’s not answering every question. God isn’t resolving all the difficult issues of justice and providence. He’s pointing instead to his holy Word. It’s clear to read. It’s plain to understand. More than that, it’s perfectly reliable. “Wait for it, because it will surely come.”

As we said, we’re probably more like old Habakkuk than we think. We tend toward complaining. We don’t like to wait for things. And this can make times of disappointment or uncertainty so very difficult. We’ve got eyes fixed on better things, but here we are, stuck in our illness, stuck in financial stress, in our loneliness: “How long, O LORD?”

God says, “Wait.” God says, “What have I told you in my Word? What’s written in your Bible? Rest yourself in that!” Like David exhorts in Psalm 27, “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD” (v 14). It’s not for us to diagram God’s every move on our behalf. We can’t figure out his schedule for our life. But we wait for his time, and accept his Word.

And what has God promised? Look at the Book! For the sake of Jesus his Son, God has promised you his help. He’s promised you his Spirit. He’s promised every bit of wisdom and strength that’s necessary to deal with what’s in front of you—grace sufficient for the journey. And God won’t lie. The hard work of trust always begins with waiting for God’s Word to be fulfilled, believing firmly that it’s true.

           

2) fighting the arrogance of the proud: A bit more about Habakkuk’s time brings us deeper into this text. You should know that this prophet was a colleague of Zephaniah, Nahum, and Jeremiah, and that they all lived during that last fifty years before Judah went into exile. Josiah had recently been king, and was known for starting a revival of sorts. But when we read about Judah’s sins in these four books, it’s clear that Josiah’s reforms where short-lived and skin deep. This was still a society of injustice and violence.

It was a time so evil that God said He was going to bring disaster on Jerusalem and Judah. The northern kingdom had already been dragged away, but this hardly stopped Judah, for they were sinning with new enthusiasm. No, God won’t tolerate their wickedness. He’ll raise up the Chaldeans (another name for the Babylonians), who were just reaching the height of their power. We read of their pride in 1:7, “Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.” Or 1:10, “They scoff at kings, and princes are scorned by them.”

We already mentioned how Habakkuk struggled with this. Didn’t the LORD care about their immorality? Did He think nothing of the Chaldeans’ violence against other nations, and against Judah, the LORD’s holy bride? The prophet and people have to understand that the LORD is only using the Chaldeans for a while, and for a purpose. He’ll use them to discipline his people, to teach them about what’s important. Though God permits the unrighteous to thrive, and even uses them to carry out his justice, it’s their arrogance that will bring them to destruction.

That’s the LORD’s message in verse 4, “Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him.” He’s talking about the kind of person who thinks he’s self-sufficient. He’s self-willed and self-propelled. For Habakkuk, this is obviously referring to the Chaldeans; they were so sure of themselves. They thought they were masters of their domain, yet their soul wasn’t upright. This verse speaks of Judah’s enemy at that time, but it does something else too, beloved. It shows what always separates the wicked from the righteous. The proud person trusts in himself and what he can do, but the just lives by faith in God.

And if we have pride, that doesn’t just mean that we walk around with our noses in the air. Being proud is far more subtle than that. For example, isn’t it pride when we try to call God to account for what He does? We don’t like his way of dealing with this world, or his way of dealing with us his children. That’s sinful pride, when we put ourselves over God, instead of beneath him. We want to be in control, to have to plan for everything that might go wrong. But with all this anxious care, we show that we don’t trust in what God has promised—we’d sooner trust ourselves. We’d sooner work it out on our own. That’s pride.

But what’s the end of the proud? Habakkuk tells us in chapter 2 how the Chaldeans would become drunk in their lust for power, and how they’d get attacked themselves: “Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the people shall plunder you” (2:8). This is a basic Biblical truth: God opposes the proud, and He brings down those who are lifted up.

And because of our own tendency to pride, the same words are a warning to us. We’ve heard Habakkuk’s complaints; we’ve wondered about our own. But I point you to the prophet’s conclusion in chapter 2. Take a look at 2:20, “The LORD is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.” Because God is King and Judge, because God is God, Habakkuk really has nothing more to say. He has no more complaints, no more impossible questions, but only humble praise. “Let all the earth keep silence.”

This is a lot like how Job responded to the LORD. You remember Job’s severe losses, and how he and his friends struggled with what it meant. Finally God spoke, and what was the core of his answer? He pointed to his undisputed glory as God. Confronted with God’s overwhelming majesty, Job replies to the LORD, “I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (40:4-5). That’s not pride, but humble faith. When we say that we don’t know better than God. When we don’t argue anymore. We might ask our questions, and we might wrestle with his will in prayer, but then we also trust. And that’s what God requires of his people,

 

3) living in the humility of faith: One of the high points of the Old Testament consists of a mere seven words. It’s in verse 4, “The just shall live by his faith.” Remember that this is said in contrast to the proud man in the same verse. Unlike the arrogant Chaldean, unlike the disobedient Israelite, or the self-sufficient Australian, “The just shall live by his faith.”

He talks about “the just,” because in Habakkuk’s time there was much that was unjust. These were tough times to be a true believer. If you’ve got deceitful neighbours next door who want to rip you off, and bloodthirsty enemies across the border who want to plunder you, you’re in a tough spot. What’s a person to do? You feel like giving in. You feel like blending in. But the LORD summons us to the hard work of trust! “You have to live by faith,” is what Habakkuk has to inscribe on tablets and broadcast throughout the land. What the righteous in Judah must do, more than anything else, is to hold fast to God. Living by faith, and trusting in God.

So how does that faith get shown? How is it evident that person believes in God? Back then, just like today, it’s by obedience. Faith works, James tells us. Faith comes into practice when instead of exploiting the poor, we show mercy to them. Instead of being unreliable, we treat people with fairness. Instead of idolatry, we worship God alone. “Living by faith” is exactly that: an entire way of living!

That this verse is a high point in the Old Testament is seen in the New Testament, where it’s quoted no less than three times. It’s in Romans 1:17, that verse that was so important to Martin Luther, “The just shall live by faith.” It’s also in Galatians 3:11, where Paul shows how our salvation isn’t achieved by works of the law. Instead, salvation is granted on the basis of a genuine trust in God and in his crucified Son.

We read from Hebrews 10, where our text is quoted again. There the Spirit says that living by faith is a necessity as we wait for the second coming of Christ. Why is faith important in these days? We might become impatient for him to return, and anxious about all the wickedness we see in the world. The Lord seems to tarry so long, that we might forget sometimes why He’s put us here. But the Spirit exhorts, “Do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (v 35). Believers, your reward is coming!

And then we find the quotation of Habakkuk 2—changed a little, but true to its spirit—“For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith” (vv 37-38). However long we have to wait, God calls us to humbly trust in him. However long we have to wait, He wants from us a resolute desire to obey his Word, and to rest in his promise. We can depend on Christ’s sacrifice as our one hope. That’s living by faith!

What’s the application of this, beloved? For us it means our faith is never a one-time thing. Faith isn’t just that moment when you stood up in church and made profession. Faith also isn’t that time of spiritual growth you might have had a few years ago, where your confidence in God really deepened. For then come days when faith isn’t so strong. There are times when we have on our lips more complaints than praise. When God’s promises seem empty or unreal to us, and we stumble along with our doubts. Such times can be expected.

But even then, the just “live” by their faith. Because faith isn’t just for those good times, and it’s not even just for the difficult times. It’s for all times. Faith is for when the enemy is banging at the gate; it’s for when there’s peace in the valley; and it’s for when you’re somewhere in between. It’s for all of life: returning every day to those promises of God, reading them, remembering them, being sure of them.

In that same spirit Habakkuk brings his prophecy to a close. He lets his complaints fall silent, and instead he sings a confident song of rejoicing in God. Listen to what he says in chapter 3: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (vv 17-18).

Chapter 3 has been called a psalm that gives voice to an unbounded faith in God. For here Habakkuk resolves to trust in his God, no matter what. Even when the Chaldeans invade, and all the fields are ruined, and the flocks are no more—he will trust. Even when the bank account is near empty, and the brokenness can’t be fixed, the illness won’t be cured, and the loved one is in the grave—we can trust. Even then, “I will rejoice in the LORD, and joy in the God of my salvation.” Because we believe that this God cares for us. Because we believe that this God is our God in Christ, and that in Him we will live forever.

God teaches us to trust in him as the sovereign LORD, as the One who does only what is right, never fails and never missteps. He teaches us to trust in him, and in his Son our Saviour. He tells us that anxious care and bitter sighing won’t help. Discontent will get us nowhere. Only humble trust, and steadfast faith: “For God will never those disown, who put their trust in him alone!”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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