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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:What does faith look like in the face of an uncertain future?
Text:Habakkuk 3:17-19 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2019
Added:2020-01-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 121

Psalm 18:1,10

Hymn 14:1,9,10

Hymn 64 (profession of faith)

Hymn 83

Scripture reading:  Habakkuk 3

Text:  Habakkuk 3

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


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

In a few hours, the clocks tick over midnight and we enter into a new year.  We’re in the final hours of _____.  Who knows what the new year is going to hold?  Things might go well for you.  There might be many good things in store.  But things could also go pear-shaped.  You just don’t know.  You hope for good things, but there’s always a level of uncertainty, isn’t there?

The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time of uncertainty.  There was huge economic and political instability.  He was a prophet to whom God had revealed a coming storm of judgment on the land.  The day of reckoning was coming.  No one knew the exact time, but when it would arrive, the consequences would be severe.  But, in the face of that, God’s prophet takes an attitude of faith.  As we face the uncertainty that comes with a new year, it’s good for us to pay attention to God’s Word for us from Habakkuk this evening.  I preach it to you with this theme:

What does faith look like in the face of an uncertain future?

We’ll consider:

  1. The serious uncertainty faced by Habakkuk
  2. The sound reasons for faith

Habakkuk lived in the 600s and 500s before Christ.  As he looked around him in the land of Judah, he saw corruption and oppression.  He called out to the LORD to set things right and God responded and said that he would – through the Babylonians.  God told Habakkuk that the Babylonians would come and destroy the land and they’d be his instrument to discipline or chastise the people.  When Habakkuk complains about a more wicked pagan people being used to punish the wicked people of God, God answers that also the Babylonians would get their due.  All of that takes place in chapters 1 and 2 of this little prophecy.

When we come to chapter 3, we find a prayer, basically a psalm.  It’s modelled along the same lines as the psalms of David.  For instance, the Psalm ends with an inscription giving an instruction on how the psalm is to be played, much like many of the Psalms begin with such an inscription.  In this psalm, Habakkuk stands in awe of God and his deeds of salvation and judgment in times gone by.  He especially reflects on God’s deliverance of Israel through the exodus from Egypt.  During that time, salvation came for God’s people, while wrath and judgment were poured out on their enemies. 

In verse 16, he comes to the present and the approaching storm.  When he thinks about it, his heart pounds in his chest.  His lips quiver and he feels the fear even in his bones.  His knees knock together.  The coming judgment on God’s people is comparable to the judgment that their enemies faced in the exodus.  It’s going to be a day of calamity when the Babylonians arrive.

To understand the seriousness of what Habakkuk was facing, you have to know something about the Babylonians and their reputation as fierce warriors.  When the Babylonians invaded a land, there was little or no mercy.  Everything in their path was destroyed.   So, typically they ended up laying siege to the major city or cities where the people would seek safety.  In a siege, the walls would be surrounded and no one could get in or out.  Sieges could last several years and in that time, food would be in short supply in the city and eventually people would be starving and many would resort to cannibalism.  Eventually, the desperate people would surrender and the Babylonians would sack the city, killing most of those who waited out the siege, and carrying the rest away into captivity.  You can see why having the Babylonians invade your land was something that’d make any Israelite’s knees knock.

With verse 17, Habakkuk introduces us to another practice of the Babylonian armies:  their scorched-earth tactics.  When the Babylonians would invade a land, they’d destroy everything along the way.  Setting fire to the fields, chopping down trees, poisoning wells.   They did everything in their power to ensure that the enemy would be on its  knees for a long time.   We call this practice a scorched-earth tactic and it’s been done more often in history – just think way back to 1991 when Saddam Hussein set fire to all the Kuwaiti oil wells.

Habakkuk knows that when the Babylonians invade, they’re bringing their axes and the fig trees are going to be targeted.  Fig trees not only provided tasty food, they also provided shelter and shade.  The fig tree came to symbolize the good life.  Dwelling under your own fig tree was an image of safety and prosperity.  For instance, we’re told in 1 Kings 4:25 that during Solomon’s reign, every man dwelt under his own fig tree.  Fig trees took a long time to grow and to bear fruit.  If they’ve all been cut down, it’s going to be a long time before anyone is enjoying any figs or finding any shade.

Same with the grapes.  This is the fruit on the vines in verse 17.  If there are no grapes on the vines, because they’ve all been cut or burned – that means no wine.  And in the Bible, wine is associated with joy and gladness – for instance, Psalm 104:15 speaks of wine as something that makes the heart of man glad.  When the Babylonians show up, that’s gone.    

Olives are mentioned next in verse 17.  They were one of the most valuable trees in ancient Palestine, particularly for their oil.  Olive oil was valuable for food and cooking, for lighting lamps, for medicinal purposes and much more.  In the best of times, the oil harvest was unpredictable and if there was a poor olive season, often poverty would follow.  According to Joel 2, a good olive harvest was a sign of God’s blessing.  Now unlike fig trees, when an olive tree gets axed, new shoots right away start springing out from the stump.  However, it can still be a long time before the tree starts producing fruit again.  And those are going to be hard times.

The Babylonian invasion would also have its impact on the fields.  Either the people would be confined to the besieged city and unable to tend the fields or the Babylonians would burn the fields, ensuring that there’d be no crop.  Either way, the fields won’t be producing.  As for sheep and cattle, many of them will be slaughtered by the Babylonians and those that aren’t, are going to be wandering here, there and everywhere.  Habakkuk portrays a scene of economic and societal devastation, a crisis of huge proportions.  This wasn’t just a recession, or even a depression, but a holocaust.  How is anybody going to get through that when it happens?

Then we get to verse 18, and we find these words that just seem so out of place, so disconnected from what precedes.  Habakkuk says that even in that worst case scenario, he is going to exult in Yahweh, in the LORD.  That word for “exult” indicates an enthusiastic and expressive rejoicing – there’s no reluctance here whatsoever, this is no holds barred rejoicing.  When this word is used elsewhere in the Bible, it’s God’s character which provides the reason or the basis for jubilation.  That leads us to ask: what is it about God’s character that gives Habakkuk a reason to rejoice, to have this positive attitude of faith towards God even in the midst of the worst adversities, adversities that God himself brings on?  What it is about God that can help us have that positive attitude of faith no matter what happens?    

Well, look at the next line of verse 18, “I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”  If that first word “rejoice” wasn’t expressive enough of this joy, then he adds this other word, “I will take joy.”  Literally, it means that he’ll shout with joy.  Again, this isn’t a forced reaction.  This isn’t a joy where you force a smile on your face, where you sing the happy songs because it’s your duty and obligation, something you’re expected to do.  Instead, this joy that Habakkuk writes about, it comes from the heart.  It’s 100% sincere, not mixed with any pretension.  And the basis is there in those words, “the God of my salvation.” 

With those words, we have to go back to what Habakkuk had been writing earlier in this psalm.  God was the Saviour of his people through the Exodus, the salvation event par excellence in the Old Testament.  When Israelites reflected on the fact that God was their Saviour, they’d think back to what happened at the Red Sea – how God wiped out Pharaoh and all his armies with a wall of water.  God saved them.  But all of that wasn’t the ultimate deliverance.  Believing Israelites recognized that God’s saving work was to be fulfilled in the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.  God would save through the coming Messiah.  The Christ would be the fulfillment of all of God’s promises and then there’d be salvation, not from human threats, but from the greatest divine threat – God’s eternal wrath. 

Habakkuk says that reflecting on the fact that God is his Saviour is what gives him the ground for rejoicing, for shouting for joy.  Now remember that Habakkuk lived before Christ.  He could only see the promises and the prophecies.  He didn’t know the reality.  Here we are some 2000 years after our Lord Jesus was on earth and we can look back at what the Bible says and know that almost everything has taken place.  Everything happened according to plan and the result was salvation for everyone who believes.  Through Jesus Christ, we’ve been forgiven, we’ve been reconciled to God, we’ve been received into his family.  Through Christ, we have the assurance of God’s love for us, that he will never forsake us.  If Habakkuk knowing what he did and relating to God in the ways that Old Testament people could, if he could say, “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will take joy in the God of my salvation,” if Habakkuk could say that, what about us today who are far richer? 

Loved ones, that challenges us with some questions:  does our joy in life depend on our outward prosperity?  Even if everything in our lives goes wrong, when all those external things are endangered or taken away, are we fully persuaded that our lives are in God’s loving hand?  Do we believe that we are God’s children?  Jesus himself sent a letter to a New Testament church in Revelation 3.  He said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.”  Sometimes God’s children need to be disciplined; can we accept that from God’s hand with faith and even with joy?

Commenting on verse 18, John Calvin provided some helpful direction.  He said that sometimes signs of God’s wrath meet us in outward things.  Some of these signs have to do with chastisement for God’s children, some of them have to do with punishment for the wicked, and some of them are both.  But when that happens, Calvin says, we have a remedy, a way out.  He says that we’re to “consider what God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy which faith brings to us can overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows and anxieties.”  

When we come to the last verse this attitude of faith is encouraged again.  Habakkuk says, “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”  Before the sermon we sang from Psalm 18.  I don’t know if you noticed, but verse 19 is a direct quote from that psalm.   Take note of that.  Habakkuk is faced with a crisis, a holocaust.  Tough times are ahead.  Times filled with much uncertainty.   And he goes to the book of Psalms for encouragement.  He gathers words of hope and confidence from the Psalms.  The psalms are God’s covenant prayer and song book.  Through the ages, God’s people have always turned to the psalms for the words that capture not only their joy, but also their sorrow, their concerns, their anxieties, and even their anger.  The Psalms are there for you, to give you the words, to lead you in prayer and song.  Brothers and sisters, let me encourage you to pray the Psalms, to use them in your personal devotions as a guide for prayer in whatever circumstances you find yourself.  Use the Psalms especially when you have a hard time finding the words for yourself.  That’s what they’re there for.  Use the Psalms.

And as we read, pray and sing them, we do so with our eyes fixed on Christ.  All the Psalms refer to him in some way.  He explicitly said in Luke 24:44 that the Psalms speak of him.  So, it is also with Psalm 18, as quoted by Habakkuk here.  Let’s see how that works.  Habakkuk was encouraged by Psalm 18, by the knowledge that God is his strength.  When everything around you is falling apart, you feel more acutely your weakness and your utter dependence on God.  You are weak, but he is strong.  Yahweh is the one whose strength never fails – he is a rock and a refuge.  But what does that strength look like?  How does it play out in the life of a believer?

Habakkuk says that “he makes my feet like the deer’s.”  Deer are nimble, fleet-footed and graceful.  When danger approaches, they can take off just like that.  So, things may be going to pieces around him, but Habakkuk is still going to be on his feet.  He’s confident that he’s not going to be just barely standing, but he’s going to be able to run and keep going.  The danger may be there, but the crisis and all its uncertainty won’t be able to hurt him in the ways that really matter.

Then finally he says, “he makes me tread on my high places.”  High places are places of safety, places where the danger cannot reach.  God will put him there, above the fray.  He’s certain that even in the midst of this crisis and all its uncertainty, God’s hand will be on him and under him and with him, guiding him. 

That was the hope of an Old Testament believer faced with imminent disaster.  As New Testament believers, we can share that same perspective of faith, that joy, and even thankfulness in the face of adversity and uncertainty about the future.  Habakkuk says God is his strength.  In 1 Corinthians 1:24, we read that Christ is the power of God.  And in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul relates how he learned that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  Paul says he embraces weakness so that Christ’s power would rest on him.  Echoing the words of Habakkuk, Paul says he delights “in weaknesses, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  The new year might bring adversity, there may be difficulties.  When faced with troubles, we need to rest and trust in Christ who is our strength and there, in Christ, we will find joy, delight and the resources to be thankful even when times are tough. 

Loved ones, looking to Christ, we can be sure that that no trouble can hurt us in the ways that really matter.  Looking to Christ, we can be certain that God will put us on high places where his loving hand will be on us, under us, guiding us.  In Romans 8, Paul writes about all kinds of crisis situations.  There are troubles, hardships, persecutions, famine, nakedness, dangers, swords.  You name it, it’s there included in all those categories.  But God gives us deer’s feet.  He makes us walk on high hills.  Paul puts it this way, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  And then he adds that there is nothing at all in this world, nothing, no sickness, no financial troubles, no family difficulties, nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In Christ, we have the guarantee of God’s love for us – and so we can rejoice from our hearts, we can even shout for joy.  Even if everything else is taken away from us in this new year, we will always have Christ, we will always have God’s love for us in him.

Again, we don’t know what the year ahead may hold.  No one but God knows.  Loved ones, whatever happens, remember who is in control.  You don’t know the future, but you know the one who holds the future in his hands.  Remember who your God is and what he’s done in ages past.  Remember that he is your Saviour, that he is your strength, that he is the one who loves you and will carry you through.  And all of that is guaranteed through our Lord Jesus.  AMEN.                         

PRAYER:

Almighty God and Father,

We thank you for your word of promise to us, that you will always be our Saviour and our strength.  We praise you as the one who makes our feet like those of the deer, who makes us walk on high places.  Father, we thank you for your love guaranteed for us in Jesus Christ.  We have every reason to be thankful to you, to rejoice in you, even to shout for joy to you.  Even if the world falls apart around us and we lose everything in the year ahead, we ask you to give us more grace so that Habakkuk’s confident confession of faith would be ours.  Teach us to be joyful, thankful and faithful in all circumstances of this coming new year.  Whatever happens in our personal lives, in our families, in our church, in our nation, we pray that you would help us always to acknowledge you.  We pray Father that you would continue to guide the events in the world around us.  We pray that if it is your will to chastise us with adversity, that we would recognize this and that we would learn from it the necessary lessons.  O God, please lead us and guide us, for the glory of your own Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In Christ we pray, AMEN.   

     

            




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

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