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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Habakkuk 1: God's Exhausted Prophet Cries Out
Text:Habakkuk 1:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose
 
Added:2022-01-20
Updated:2022-01-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Malachi 2:10-3:5

Text: Habakkuk 1:1-11

 

GOD’S EXHAUSTED PROPHET CRIES OUT

  1. The Prophet’s (seemingly) Unheard Pain

  2. God’s Unexpected Providence

 

1. Psalm 123: 1, 2

2. Psalm 94: 1, 2, 6, 7

3. Psalm 88: 1, 2, 4, 6

4. Hymn 41: 1-3

5. Hymn 76: 1, 2, 4

 

Words to Listen For: Matrix, rope, crocodile, light-bearers, ancient

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What two things do we learn from the first verse?

  2. What is violence?  Why is that word so important?

  3. What are the two reasons that God doesn’t seem to hear your prayers?

  4. How do we help those who are suffering?

  5. Why did God work with the Chaldeans?

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


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

This morning we start our sermon series on Habakkuk.  A fairly obscure prophet, tucked away amongst the other 11 minor prophets.  There aren’t too many sermons on Habakkuk, his prophecy isn’t the first on the list for groups to study...and yet…

And yet, Habakkuk, more so than many of the other great figures of faith presented in the Scriptures, Habakkuk presents a relatable picture of the human condition.  Our Lord and Saviour presents us with the ideal human being.  Never once giving in to sin or moral weakness.  Showing perfect and pure obedience every step of the way.

The Apostle Paul, for all his great sins, persecuting the church...everything that Paul did, even as Saul, he did because he thought it was the right thing to do.  He shows us that you can be sincere...but you can be sincerely wrong!  I don’t know about you, but as much as I dearly love the Apostle Paul, I don’t feel that I can relate to him.

But Habakkuk.  Habakkuk is the one who speaks my language.  Habakkuk is the one who doubts and fears.  He is the one who is exceptionally honest.  Honest with his people and honest with his God.

He cries out, time after time.  Exhausted from the tears that he has wept.  Not able to move on.  Desperately clinging to the hope that God hears him.

Habakkuk is a believer in a non-cliche way.  Habakkuk is the Psalmist Asaph who calls out because of the prosperity of the wicked.  Habakkuk is the father of the demon-possessed boy who says: I believe, help my unbelief!

Habakkuk is each and every one of us.  For we have all prayed and the skies have seemed to be like bronze.  The ground beneath our feet seemed to be like iron.  We have seen no blessings directly from God, and we have seen no blessings through the other methods He uses.

And we are SO. VERY. EXHAUSTED.

There are times when I have felt like Habakkuk.  There are times when you have felt like Habakkuk.  And we shouldn’t be ashamed of our exhaustion.  We shouldn’t feel guilty that we aren’t the “good Christian” that we think we should be.  Because God doesn’t expect unwavering faith.  Or else He wouldn’t have given us His Spirit to comfort us.  God doesn’t expect us to smile through the pain, or else His Son would never have wept at the tomb of Lazarus.

So if this is you right now.  An exhausted believer, calling out to God…if this has been you at any point in your life, or if this will be you in the future (and by now this applies to all of you)...find the relatability and hope that you’re not the only one - in God’s prophet.

But more than that, find hope of a different tomorrow, whenever that tomorrow will happen, find that hope - in God’s answer.  Hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through the prophet Habakkuk preached under the following theme and points:

GOD’S EXHAUSTED PROPHET CRIES OUT

  1. The Prophet’s (seemingly) Unheard Pain

  2. God’s Unexpected Providence

 

The Prophet’s (seemingly) Unheard Pain

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw

This is how the book of Habakkuk starts off.

The oracle.  Or, as some translations have it, the burden. The burden that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

Now, this may seem like a strange way to start a book of the Bible.  After all, the prophets always start with “the word of the LORD came to me.”  But an “oracle” sounds almost pagan, doesn’t it?  The oracle at Delphi, the oracle in the Matrix...pagan ways of telling the future.

But it’s not as unique as you might think.  This word, oracle, or burden, it is used throughout the prophets, though not usually at the start of the book.  An oracle is simply negative prophecy.  It is prophecy of judgement.  Prophecy of destruction.  Prophecy of wrath.

But more than telling us WHAT KIND of prophecy is it, this verse tells us something more.  Something more basic, but something equally, if not MORE important.

The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

If we didn’t have this verse, it could be easy for us to read Habakkuk as nothing more than a conversation between God and a struggling believer.  A conversation that could be happening in the believer’s head.  But this little verse makes it very clear that this is the inspired word of God.  This is something that Habakkuk saw.  He received it.  He got this message, and he was to pass it on.  We will see that more and more throughout the book.  Be on the lookout for that!

But even though the first verse of Habakkuk isn’t unique... Habakkuk is still a very unique prophet.

 

What IS the job of a prophet?  If I were to ask you right now, what is the job of a prophet, what would you say?

Some of you might say: "To tell the future!  A prophet receives a prophecy about the future, and then shares it."  And this is true, but it’s not the whole picture.

Others of you might say: "To speak God’s Word to the people!  A prophet receives the Word of the LORD and has to share it."  And this would be a good description for 15 of the 16 prophetic books we have in the Old Testament.  But Habakkuk.  But Habakkuk stands out, because while Habakkuk does indeed talk to the people on behalf of God, Habakkuk also talks to God on behalf of the people.

With Habakkuk it is a two-way street.  He is an intercessor like Moses.  He calls out, he cries out, he complains to God, and God answers him.  And then he cries out again.  And God answers him.  And then, finally, Habakkuk’s faith has come to a new level of maturity.  Gone are the cries and complaints, and there is calm assurance in chapter 3.  But that’s not where Habakkuk starts.  Habakkuk starts out in deep despair.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help

After addressing God, Habakkuk says those two words that embody frustration and exhaustion.  Pain and despair.

HOW LONG??

HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS?

WHY AREN’T YOU DOING SOMETHING, GOD??

A very heartfelt, very real cry.

And you may notice here that Habakkuk doesn’t start his prayer (because that’s what this cry is, a prayer) Habakkuk doesn’t start this prayer by praising God.  Adoring Him for His power, and then moving on to his needs.  Maybe when Habakkuk started crying out, he started his prayers like this.  We will see a change in Habakkuk already in his second complaint, and even more in the third chapter.  But for now, Habakkuk cries out.

Over time, his prayers became more frantic.  More desperate.  Enough posturing, enough saying what I’m supposed to say before I can get to my needs…I NEED YOU GOD!  PLEASE HELP!  And a prayer can look like that.  Just those two words: Please help.  This is a prayer that is heard by God!

Our prophet here is at the end of his rope

How long, O LORD, shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?  Or cry to you “violence!” but you do not save?

Habakkuk is the prophet of the LORD, but he feels as though he has lost his connection.  Instead of unwavering faith, Habakkuk is just not seeing God’s plan.

He can’t reconcile what God is DOING with what he knows about God’s CHARACTER.

Isn’t Yahweh the God of justice?  Isn’t the LORD faithful to His covenant promises?  But that’s not what Habakkuk sees when he looks out at God’s covenant nation.  The land of Judah.

So what does this land look like?  How are we to understand Habakkuk’s situation here?

We heard about this in our reading from Malachi

Malachi 2:10 → Why are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?  Judah has become faithless and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem.  For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.

Here God’s nation is described as an unfaithful spouse.  While many times, God is seen as the husband and Israel or Judah as the wife, here the roles are reversed.  Judah has left the wife of his youth, his loving, faithful covenant God.  He profaned the marriage covenant and has gone away with the daughter of a foreign God.

Even though it is likely that Malachi was writing AFTER the exile, and Habakkuk was writing BEFORE, the nation is in the same disastrous place.  They weren’t acting as a faithful spouse.  Their sins were that of worshipping other gods, of still pretending to worship God and wondering why it didn’t work.  They were violent and cruel.  God’s nation had become evil.

Take a look again at Habakkuk

Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

Destruction.  Violence.  Strife.  Contention.  What a description!  This isn’t a nation that is on the BRINK of moral bankruptcy...it passed that point a long time ago!

And this is GOD's nation!  God’s covenant people!  They are the ones who are morally bankrupt.  They are VIOLENT.

This word “violence” appears 6 times in this short book.  It’s important to pay attention to it.

  • Violence

  • Wrong

  • Harsh language

  • Cruel treatment of others

  • Intentional and premeditated ruthlessness

Of these 6 times, two of them are applied to God’s people, and the other 4 are for the incoming Chaldeans.  Or Babylonians.  God’s people were acting no differently than the cruel and ruthless nations around them.

And, in being no different than the other nations, there were, in fact, worse!  When God’s covenant people act no different than those around them, they are dishonoring the name of God.  The name of God is blasphemed when His covenant people do not act differently.  We are to be different!  RADICALLY DIFFERENT!  We are called to be holy people!  Just as God is holy, we must also be holy.

But God’s people had abandoned God’s standards.  Verse 4 - So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

The Law

Briefly, let's hear about the beauty and function of the law:

  • The law of the Lord revives us
  • His testimony gives us the strength to stand in the truth
  • His precepts are the path that we should walk on
  • His commandments show us how to walk on that path, illuminating each new step
  • When He sees how we walk on His road and how we live, His law rightly judges us

This is the function of God’s law.

But when the people ignore God’s law, when they simply follow the externals like in the days of Malachi: You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand.

And why is this the case?  Why is this the response of God?  Because the heart of the people was corrupt.  They refused to seek Him, and were only doing the externals of religion for show.  Their heart wasn’t in it.  In their heart, they served someone else.  And as a result, the skies above them were as bronze, and the earth beneath was as iron.  But one of you might say...wasn’t this Habakkuk’s experience as well?  Was God silent to Habakkuk because he was as wicked as the other covenant people?

No.  Not at all.

For those of you who are spiritually exhausted, you need to take a good hard look at yourself.

Is God not answering BECAUSE you don’t actually serve Him?  Because when you cry out, crying before His altar, you are shedding crocodile tears?  If this is what you are doing...please stop.  You might be fooling your neighbour.  You might be fooling your elder and your pastor, but you’re not fooling God, and you’re not fooling yourself.  Hypocrisy just makes you miserable, and accomplishes nothing with God.  You can’t fool Him.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6)

But if you are earnestly seeking the face of God, and the sky STILL feels like bronze, the ground still iron, and God’s providence still seems to pass by us while we pretend that everything is fine…then the solution is not to feel guilt.  To rack your mind for whatever unconfessed sin there might be and blame yourself.  This is a fruitless and futile endeavor.

Step 1: Blame yourself

Step 2: Confess anything and everything

Step 3: Continue having problems

Step 4: Repeat

This is what Martin Luther did before he discovered grace.  He didn’t feel God’s presence and so he assumed the problem was some unconfessed sin.  He spent hours and hours in confession until the priest was fed up.  And none of this helped.  The only thing that helped was the gospel.

So instead of turning inwards and blaming yourself...instead of turning outwards and becoming more and more hopeless about the situation…turn upwards.  Turn upwards in prayer.

Keep praying.  Keep wrestling with God.  Don’t sit back and say that your wrestling is over and now it is God’s turn.  But wrestle with God.  Pray so long that you cry out “How long?”  And then pray some more.

And remember that you aren’t doing it alone.  The church is right there with you.  Supporting, caring, loving.  And sometimes we need a prompt here or there.  The church isn’t perfect.  Your pastor isn’t perfect.  For those who need that support, please ask.  For those who can provide that support, please offer.  Sit and listen.  Mourn with those who mourn.

And God will start to speak.  Probably not directly in your ear like He did with Habakkuk.  But the skies will become a little less bronze.  The earth will become a little less iron, and His providence will be shown.  It may happen in ways that we do not expect.  But He DOES HEAR, and He WILL ANSWER.  Our second point.

When we sit and listen, when we mourn with those who mourn…there is as time when your presence isn’t enough.

Those who are suffering are looking for answers, just as Habakkuk was looking for answers.

And we may feel inadequate to deal with grief.  We aren’t counsellors, we aren’t crisis workers.  But as believers, we do have the ultimate answer.  The ultimate answer is JESUS CHRIST.  They are looking for some light in the darkness...and we have to remember that we aren’t that light.  We aren’t the light ourselves, but we are light-bearers.  Light bringers.  Bringing the light of Christ into their darkness.  Because Jesus Christ is the answer to Habakkuk’s cries.

Yes, Habakkuk’s questions are directed at God’s providence.  Primarily the work of God the Father.  But how is God’s providence shown most powerfully?  In the person of Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus also cried out “Why?”  He cried out, and there was silence.  There was thick darkness that covered the land.  He was abandoned.  He was forsaken.  And though we may feel like we are Christ on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” … we are never really forsaken.  We are never truly abandoned.  Because that happened only once.

And the answer.  The answer to Jesus’ question of “why” is so similar to the answer to Habakkuk.

Why aren’t you doing something?

GOD IS DOING SOMETHING.  God is acting in a way that is consistent with His character.  Consistent with His Word.  There will be punishment for sin.  For Habakkuk, there was going to be judgement on Judah.  God’s chosen nation.  For Christ...the judgement was on Him.  God’s chosen One.  There was punishment that would bring about salvation.  Restoration.

Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded.  For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.

FINALLY God answers His prophet.  He has seen.  He has heard.  And in His perfect timing, He will act.

God had been planning something incredible.

And while He was planning, it seemed, in the eyes of the earth, that God was doing nothing.  But He wasn’t.  He wasn’t inactive.

During this time, God kept His people.  He kept Habakkuk faithful.  He preserved a small remnant of the righteous.  Those Habakkuk was calling out on behalf of.  He preserved His Old Testament church so that they would see His might.  His glory. His salvation.  No matter how evil the days seem, no matter how hopeless, we confess that our God is gathering and preserving His church.

It is at these moments when we have to draw our attention upwards instead of outwards.  We can find comfort and confidence in the character of our God, even if He acts in ways that we do not understand.

And so this answer that Habakkuk received was both comforting and confounding.  God listens to His people.  He hears their cries, and He will act.  But He will act in His way.  In His time.  And we can take comfort that His way is best.

Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded

God’s answer to “why aren’t you acting” is…”Look out!  Keep a weather eye on the horizon.  Something is coming”

For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.

And this is always the way of the LORD.  His salvation happens in miraculous ways.  Ways that we as human beings would neve have imagined or considered.

  • The plagues of Egypt, where God defeated and humiliated their false gods and destroyed Egypt’s military force, saving His people

  • The fall of Jericho, where the walls came tumbling down with nothing but an act of faith

  • The defeat of the Midianites with Gideon’s 300 men.

Again and again we see God work in the most surprising, best possible ways.

I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation

God is going to work with the Chaldeans.  Or, as you may know them better, the Babylonians.  They are His chosen instrument of punishment, but we see, right from the beginning, that God knows exactly who they are.  He is under no illusion about the character of the nation that He is raising up.  He knows full well that they are wicked.  But He decides to use them.  He will use their cruelty, their violence, for good.  God is essentially saying here: “There’s nothing good about a Chaldean, but I am raising them up.”  They will accomplish His purpose.  They are terrible and dreadful, but so is God’s justice, His wrath against sin.  God’s wrath is a terrible thing to behold, and His covenant nation were about to receive it.

They march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.  They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves

Dreaded and fearsome...their justice goes forth from themselves.  There is no higher standard for the justice of the Chaldeans.

Does this sound familiar?  It sounds a lot like Habakkuk’s complaint over God’s nation!  The law is paralyzed.  Justice never goes forth.  You see...God’s choice of punishment wasn’t random.  He’s doing something more than just punishing His people.  He’s also teaching them.  Do you see the wickedness of the Chaldeans?  That is what you look like!  Your wickedness and sin isn’t overlooked just because of your lineage.  Descending from Abraham doesn’t save you!  Faith and repentance saves you!  Jesus Christ, though He hadn’t yet come in Habakkuk’s day...THAT is where you find your salvation.  HE IS THE ONLY ONE.

Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar.

This nation that God is raising up is indeed powerful.  They are to be feared.  A super-power on earth like no other.  The Babylonians held the ancient world in the grip of fear for over 50 years, sweeping across the nations, destroying and taking captive all who stood in their way.  They took over from the previous super-power of Assyria, who God used to judge the northern Kingdom of Israel 150 years before.  The Assyrians were cruel and horrific.  And the Babylonians were just as bad.

Their armies would march across the land, inflicting destruction on all those in their path, overrunning every fortified city, taking prisoners of war.  This was a horrifying message for Habakkuk to hear...and yet it was important for him, and all the rest of the citizens of Judah to hear it.

  • The Chaldeans are SWIFT - they will not be outrun

  • The Chaldenas are FIERCE - they will not show mercy

  • The Chaldeans are POWERFUL - there will be no earthly deliverance.

This punishment is coming.  It cannot be avoided any longer.  God has seen the sins of His people.  The sins of cruelty and violence.  The sins of abusing the poor and the helpless.  Murdering, committing adultery, revelling in pain.  And God decreed: NO MORE.  It would end.  God, the God of mercy and love is also the God of holiness.  His wrath against sin is so great that it had to be punished.

He is the God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  He forgives iniquity and transgression and sin, but will by no means clear the guilty.

The guilty had to be punished, and here is that punishment.

But, for the righteous.  Those who looked with the eyes of faith.  Those who saw God for who He was...they would be delivered.  For those who believe in Him today, for those who trust in Him for their salvation, there is deliverance.  God’s justice demands that the sins must be paid for.  But the bill of the faithful has been paid in full.  Your sins have been paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross!

Habakkuk is completely surprised by the Lord’s ways.  This was an answer that was completely unexpected.  It was unexpected, because Habakkuk did not see.

Even in God’s wrath, He is to be trusted.  He is always true to His promises: whether they are promises of grace and love, or promises of anger and wrath.

This is why Habakkuk received this prophecy.  This burden.  He received it that he would know God more fully.  That Habakkuk would trust Him more completely.  That his vision would be opened.  That he would use the eyes of faith.  Of trust.

And this is why we have received this prophecy too.  This is why it is in our Bibles.  Because, like Habakkuk, we can look out at those around us and cry out.  We can look at our own sinful life and cry out for deliverance from the sin that seems so strong.

There may be times when God seems silent.  When you feel alone.  But if you look with the eyes of faith...if you look at who God has revealed Himself to be in His Word...you will truly see Him.  You will truly trust Him.

Through Him there is salvation.  Because...the punishment of God is a fearsome thing.  It cannot be outrun.  It cannot be turned back by wise arguments and protests.  There is no earthly deliverance from it.

And yet.  There is divine deliverance!  Throw yourself on the mercy of God in Christ.  Repent of your sins.  Remain steadfast in prayer, even if that prayer is two words: Help me!  Find your salvation in Him alone!  For the Kingdom of God is coming.  It may not come in its fullness today.  Or tomorrow.  You may not be so fortunate as to witness it in your lifetime on earth, but it will come!

Live in the strength of what you have received as covenant people!  Live with the trust that you can have with the eyes of faith, seeing Him for who He truly is.  A God of justice and love.  Who cares for those who struggle.  For those downtrodden.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench (Matthew 12).

All things will be made right.  Because of Christ Jesus’ work on the cross, everything will be made fully right when He returns.

So.

Be the one who trusts Him.

Be the one who hopes in His promises.

Be the one who eagerly anticipates this day!

AMEN.




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

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