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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:Habakkuk 3: Woe to Sinners!
Text:Habakkuk 2:6-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Justice
 
Added:2022-01-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Revelation 21:1-8

Text: Habakkuk 2:6-2:20

 

WOE TO SINNERS!

  1. Woe to Greedy Sinners

  2. Woe to Violent Sinners

  3. Woe to Idolatrous Sinners

 

1. Psalm 98: 1, 2, 4

2. Psalm 7: 1-3

3. Psalm 49: 1, 3, 4, 5

4. Psalm 115: 1-5

5. Hymn 70: 1-4

 

Words to Listen For: knights, glittery, seven wonders, root, statue

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What does the word “woe” mean?

  2. What happens when you treat sin nicely?  What SHOULD you do instead?

  3. What two words does the shed blood of Christ cry?

  4. Which four people did shed blood cry out against? (3 real, 1 fictional)

  5. Compare an idol and the one true God

* 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,

Have you heard of Fire and Brimstone sermons before?  

This phrase, Fire and Brimstone comes from a description of God’s wrath in Revelation 21, our reading this morning, and it has come to mean sermons that focus exclusively on the wrath of God, threatening the congregation with harsh judgement if they don’t act like children of God.  Shape up or ship out essentially.

And when we read this reading...when we heard the text...and then looked in the liturgy sheet and saw the theme and points...you might be expecting that kind of sermon this morning.  But don’t just think about the end of the reading...verse 8 about the burning lake of sulphur.  But there are also verses 1-7.  There is grace.  There is salvation.  Even where there is wrath.

And there is nothing wrong with preaching on the wrath of God.  Scripture is very clear that our God has a holy and righteous wrath over sin.  But wrath is only part of the story.  Wrath is needed to understand the gospel, but the gospel itself is not wrath.  And so, a good and faithful sermon will not be EXCLUSIVELY FOCUSSED on the wrath of God.

Because the gospel means that there is ALWAYS hope for the sinner.  There is ALWAYS grace that is offered.  As long as there is life, there is hope.  And so congregation, hear the word of the LORD...the word about the WRATH of God, and the GRACE of God, preached to you under the following theme and points:

WOE TO SINNERS!

  1. Woe to Greedy Sinners

  2. Woe to Violent Sinners

  3. Woe to Idolatrous Sinners

 Woe to sinners!

Not really a sermon that you’re itching to hear, is it?  But this is the message of our text.  A message of woe.

But what exactly does WOE mean?  What does this word mean?

We might be familiar with the phrase, “Woe is me” from Isaiah 6.  When the prophet is confronted with the holiness of God and cries out: “Woe is me!  For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips...and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”  Woe is clearly something bad.  But what?

Woe is an expression of deeply held emotion.  Specifically the emotions of anger, grief, or fear.  In Isaiah’s case, it was fear.  He was so terrified by God’s holiness, that he thought he was going to die.  But in the case of Habakkuk, this woe from the LORD is a declaration of judgement.  It is a prophetic threat.  It is, for all intents and purposes, a curse.

Woe to him who: ________ … fill in the blank.  We have a series of 5 woes in this section, but they generally fall into 3 categories.  A woe against the greedy, a woe against the violent, and a woe against the idolaters.

But even though there are these three categories, these woes are against one particular group.  These are specific woes against the Chaldeans.  These are woes against the invaders of God’s nation.  The instrument of wrath in His hand.  Because even though God USES evil, He never EXCUSES it.  Evil is never excused, but instead, it is punished.

Our God has spelled out His justice in His holy law that we heard this morning, His righteous expectations.  There aren’t 10 woes here, one for each commandment, even though there could be.  But our God gives 3 main woes.  So let’s examine these three together.

Firstly, those who are greedy will be punished.

Shall not all these take up their taunts against him

“All these” refers to all the nations that the Babylonian empire had taken over.  There is a day coming when the survivors will rise up and taunt their abuser.

All these shall take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him

All the nations will take up their taunt against him.  

But is this right?  Is this appropriate?  Doesn’t scripture say that we are to LOVE our enemies and PRAY for those who persecute us?  How does something like this fit?

Well, there are two things to remember here.

First of all, the Babylonians took over many nations, not just Judah.  And so these taunts are not coming exclusively from the people of God.

Secondly, for those who consistently and unrepentantly sin against God, consistently and unrepentantly sin against their neighbour, by theft, murder, and idolatry...with no ounce of remorse...the JUST thing to do is for them to be punished.  For their wicked ways to be labelled as wicked, and for them to be brought down.

We SHOULD love our enemies.  We SHOULD pray for those who persecute us.  But, out of love for them, we want them to TURN from their wicked ways.  And if they do not turn, for the protection of society, they must be stopped.

WE are to love our enemies, because GOD loves His enemies.

Out of love for us, God reached down and chose us, at that time, His enemies, to be His own people.  He is more than a conqueror, because He not only DEFEATED His enemies, but He took our sinful nature, stopped it in its tracks, and started to reverse it.  He made our new nature come alive by His Holy Spirit.

And for the others...for those who unrepentantly seek to destroy His people...out of love, He will stop them too.  Either by salvation, or by destruction.

And His salvation goes out, even to some Chaldeans!  Psalm 87 boldly proclaims, “I number Egypt, even Babylon among all those who know me as their Saviour.”  These are the ones who are saved...but many will be destroyed.  And this is the woe.  This is the curse.  This is the prophetic threat.

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own -  for how long - and loads himself with pledges.

Do you see how God sympathizes with His prophet?  The prophet who called out “how long” is answered by the God who calls out “how long?”  How long will this injustice last?  Not too much longer!

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own.

For the children here, maybe you can think of a dragon.  In stories of knights and kings and princesses...there is usually a dragon, right?  A dragon, sitting on a heap of treasure.  Gold and jewels all around.  Dragons go through the towns, burning up all the people and taking their gold.  Here, the Babylonian empire is seen like a dragon, taking everything from everyone just to stare at it greedily, taking pleasure in his stealing.

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own - for how long? - and loads himself with pledges!  Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?

Will not your debtors suddenly arise?

Who are these debtors?  We shouldn’t take this literally, as though the Babylonian empire lent out money, and suddenly those who borrowed that money don’t want to pay them back and rebel against them.

But rather, this is in the context of JUDGEMENT.  Those who owe you...not money, but JUDGEMENT.  You took everything that they had, every last coin, every last piece of gold and silver.  And when this empire made its ways to the boarders of Judah, and overwhelmed them...do you think that they had respect and reverence for Yahweh’s temple?  These men whose own strength was their god? Those men who bowed down to speechless idols?

No! They would not have seen the holy place as holy.  They would not have treated the holy of holies with the respect and awe that it deserved, but they would have stripped off all the gold from the walls.  They would have taken the ark of the covenant with the two cherubim on top. They would have taken it all as plunder!

So, what did Judah owe the Chaldeans?  Clearly not wealth!

But they owed them recompense.  They owed them a punishment equal to their crime. 

The Chaldeans were so busy feeding their greed that they did not care who it was harming, and they didn’t realize that they were constructing a monster that would one day consume them.

This is what happens when you treat sin - any sin - like it is a cute and fluffy pet.  You invite it into your home, you feed it, you strengthen it, and one night, you go to sleep, and when you wake up, you’re dead!  Your sin has destroyed you with all the strength that you gave it.  When you turned your back on it...BAM!   If you aren’t working hard to kill sin, be sure that sin is working hard to kill you!

Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?  Then you will be spoil for them.

The tables will be turned, and the way that they treated other nations, as little more than obstacles to wealth….this is how they will be treated too.  Once the nations trembled in fear, but now it is the Chaldean’s turn to tremble.

Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you...woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!

All of our wealth, all of our safety and our security...it can be gone in an instant.  There can be a stock market crash.  Or a hurricane can take the top of your house off.  Do not rely on these temporary things.  Even though gold and silver might distract you, remember that they are TOOLS and not TREASURES.  The ultimate treasure is knowing God.  The ultimate safety and security is being loved by Jesus Christ.

And when we are members of the church of Jesus Christ, righteous believers in Him, righteous through faith...our affection cannot be divided!  There is only one God, and He will not share your affections with anyone or anything else.

GREED is not your God, Yahweh is.  When we sacrifice our love of money for Him (knowing that we can still use it as a tool)...it isn’t really a sacrifice.  Don’t think of it as LOSING anything, but rather DEFEATING something that has power over you.  These glittery things give you nothing but a false sense of security that they will then take away when you least expect it.

Greed is a horrible god to serve.  It WILL betray you.  WOE to Greedy sinners!

These greedy sinners scratched their greedy itch by plundering the nations.  But you see...the nations were not all too eager to part with their gold and their silver.  And so the Chaldeans took it by fierce fighting and brutal bloodshed.  This gold and silver not only wasn’t theirs...but it was also bloodstained.  The Chaldeans were VIOLENT sinners.  Woe be to them!  Our second point.

Violence.  Again this word comes up.  6 times in this short book.  Violence!

  • Violence

  • Wrongdoing

  • Harsh language

  • Cruel treatment of others

  • Intentional and premeditated ruthlessness

This is what the word means...but can it be used to describe the behaviour of the Chaldeans?  After all, the exile of Judah in Babylon was far better than the exile of Israel in Assyria.

The Israelites were essentially wiped out.  On the other hand, the Judeans were told to build houses and plant vineyards while they were in exile.  To pray for the land (Jeremiah 29:5).

Well, Biblical and extra-biblical evidence shows us that the Chaldeans were indeed violent.  Do you remember the story of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah?

After a 9 year siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the wall was broken through in the middle of the night.  And so King Zedekiah fled for his life, but the Babylonians found him and brought him back.  And what happened then?  One by one, his sons were brought before him and put to death.  And when the last child lay dead, Zedekiah’s eyes were put out so that the image of his dying children would be the last sight he ever saw.  Each and every town in Judah was burned and looted...crops were destroyed, villages destroyed.  And Yahweh’s temple was a charred ruin.

And there are many stories about the cruelty of King Nebuchadnezzar committing acts of rape and murder, torturing those who displeased him.  Unspeakable acts of terror and violence were committed.  We can read a description of that in our text too

Verse 8 - All the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth.

This brings to mind God’s promise in Genesis 9

For your lifeblood, I will require a reckoning...whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image

Life is something that is very precious to God, especially the life of humans.  Our God is a God of life, and when this is violated...when life is taken away...there are severe consequences that are paid.

Verse 10 - You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.

The Chaldeans would utterly annihilate their enemies.  It is only by God’s mercy that the Judeans were allowed to live.  But they committed genocide.  Utterly wiping out nations from the face of the earth.  Not allowing any to live.  In their 50 years of ruling over the known world, they made a mark on the world that will not soon be forgotten.

Verse 12 - Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!  Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that people labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?

If the Lord does not build the house, its laborers labor in vain.  With all of their might, with all of the blood that they shed.  Thousands and millions of souls wiped out, blood everywhere...by this they founded an empire.  They founded a powerful empire.  An empire whose EFFECTS will not soon be forgotten.  But the empire itself?  An empire that produced the hanging gardens of Babylon.  Beautiful architecture and writings.  And what is left?

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are gone without a trace.  Though they were declared to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world...there is no evidence of them anymore.  Historians are beginning to think that they never existed.  But there is some evidence that the Babylonians existed...fragments of a noble pillar.  Shattered pieces of pottery...all of it neglected amongst heaps of dirt.  This is all that is left of this once mighty and prosperous empire!  It is there, in the dirt that this great nation once dwelt.  It is now lost.  There is no way to get it back.

Just as we found with the Greedy Sinners in our first point...trusting in ANYTHING, devoting yourself to ANYTHING other than God will end this way.  With nothing left but a fading memory.  Your life as nothing more than that dash between your birth and your death.  Nothing but shattered remains.

What was all this bloodshed for?  What did it accomplish?  Not an everlasting empire!  What a fool he is who gives up his immortal soul for trinkets.  He is a fool who gives up what is eternal to gain what is so quickly lost!

 

Backtracking just for a moment to verse 11 - For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond

The mighty civilization, before it was nothing but scattered and shattered remains, cried out to God against those who built it.  This empire wasn’t, first of all, a demonstration of the MIGHT of the Chaldeans.  But rather, it was a demonstration of their WICKEDNESS.  It was a demonstration of their SIN stinking in the nostrils of God.  Their stench rose to heaven, and God decreed NO MORE.

The blood of their victims cried out to God.  We can think of God hearing the cries of His people in slavery in Egypt.  Their cries reached His ears, and He freed them.  Or the blood of Abel.  The voice of Abel’s blood cried out to God from the ground after Cain killed him.  The book of Hebrews tells us that the blood of Christ speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

But what word does the blood of Christ speak?  The blood of Christ speaks two words.  And these are very important.

          The blood of Christ speaks WOE - to some

          And the blood of Christ speaks PEACE - to others.

Or another way to put it...

          The blood of Christ speaks GUILTY - to some

           And the blood of Christ speaks FORGIVEN - to others.

Those who unrepentantly continue to sin against God, those who keep on sinning deliberately trample underfoot the Son of God and profane the blood of the new covenant.  And for them, the blood of Christ is on their hands, and they can never wash it off.  Like Pilate, publicly washing his hands of the blood of our Lord.  

How many times do you think he washed his hands?  Scrubbing and scrubbing...never being able to truly be clean.  Like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play

  • Sleepwalking in her chamber rubs her hands for a quarter of an hour, lamenting: “Will these hands never be clean?”

  • She smells blood from the gruesome murder that she forced her husband to commit.

  • “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand!”

Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing is the sign of guilt. It speaks of a contamination that can never be washed away.

The same was true of Pilate.

The same was true of Cain.

The same was true of the Chaldeans.

There is nothing that they could find that could take away their sin.  The contamination of wickedness can never be washed away by water.

Woe to the Chaldeans!!

BUT.

But the blood of Christ speaks another word.  It speaks of peace.  It speaks of forgiveness.  For the shed blood of Christ...for those who love it, for those who cling to it...the shed blood of Christ washes away all of our sins.  And so the cry of the blood is not a cry of judgement, though it is a cry of justice.  The cry of the blood is not a cry of wrath, even though wrath was poured out.  But the cry of the blood of Christ for those who depend on Him for salvation is peace and forgiveness.

And we must depend on God alone.  We must depend on Yahweh alone for salvation, rejecting all other substitutes, for they are no substitutes at all.  Because there is another woe.  A final woe.  WOE TO IDOLATROUS SINNERS. Our third point.

This “woe to idolatrous sinners” is the last woe, but we can also see it as a summarizing woe of the others.

The “woe to greedy sinners” was a warning to, and a judgement against those who devote their life to hoarding wealth.  This greed, at its root, is idolatry.  You are devoted, your heart is bound to something other than God.  The woe to violent sinners was a warning to, and a judgement against those who lived by the strength of their own arm.  Those who placed confidence in the fact that they would just destroy and slaughter anything that came against them.  This is idolatry.  Trusting something other than the only true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.  They devoted themselves to wealth. They trusted in their strength.  This is idolatry, barely disguised.

But the Chaldeans also committed outright idolatry.  They served many different gods and goddesses.  There were great temples and pagan rituals.

Something that is quite interesting, as well as humorous, given the description of God’s wrath in our text...is this prayer found in an inscription by King Nebuchadnezzar to the Babylonian god Marduk:

       Oh Marduk, lord of the gods, my divine creator before thee may my deeds be pious, may they endure forever, life for many generations and abundant posterity,                                             a secure throne, and a long reign grant as thy gift.  Truly thou art my deliverer and help, oh Marduk, by thy faithful word that changes not, may my weapons advance,                                   be dreadful, and crush the arms of the foe.

So, how well would this prayer work out for Nebuchadnezzar?

May my deeds be pious

          But God proclaims: they are guilty men (Habakkuk 1:11)

May they endure forever, life for many generations

          But God says: By cutting off many peoples you have forfeited your life (Habakkuk 2:10)

A secure throne and a long reign

           The LORD declares: Your debtors will suddenly arise, and...then you will be spoil for them (Habakkuk 2:7)

May my weapons...crush the arms of the foe

             Yahweh promises: the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will...destruction (Habakkuk 2:17)

Idolatry is an empty and futile road.  There is nothing down that road except for destruction.  The road is empty because IDOLS are empty.  In a few minutes we will sing of this truth from Psalm 115.

These so-called gods and goddesses were nothing more than carved images.  Images carved out of stone, and overlaid with silver and gold.    How could they possibly give life, posterity, a secure throne, and a long reign?  If Nebuchadnezzar talked to his CROWN this way, or his SCEPTER, or SIGNET RING, he would have been seen as insane.  But those same materials, made into a different shape...well.  Then he is a pious king.  Bowing down before the gods.

And, granted, there were those who believed that the statues were just some kind of conduit, some kind of way to talk to the reality of the god which was elsewhere.  But there are ancient texts that assert that the gods are actually present in the statues.  To them, the gold WAS the god.  There were those who truly believed.  Like Nebuchadnezzar in the apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon, who thought that the idol of Bel was eating the food offered before it.

But this is so foolish!  The foolishness comes out in the poetry here

What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies?

For its maker trusts in his own creation

When he makes speechless idols

 

A little more literally, it says something like this

  • Idols are just carvings from their carver

  • They are designs from their designer

  • They are speechless nothings

There is nothing to them.

Only God can make life from nothing.  Idols are not God.  And WE are not God.

Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, “Awake!” to a silent stone “Arise!”  Can this teach?

Idols are useless.  When you pray to an idol, there is only one living thing in the room.  And it’s you.

But when you pray to God...there are two living things in the room.  When you pray to God...there is one powerful thing in the room, and it’s not you.  It is HIM.

You can’t learn anything from an idol.  An idol has only the power you ascribe to it.  The power goes from you into it.

But God.  The One True God...the LORD - Yahweh Himself...is so completely different from the idols of the nations

As for the idols, there is not breath at all in them...but the LORD

BUT GOD!

But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him

Where is God?  In His holy temple!

God isn’t in your statue.  You can’t reach out and touch God.

An idol is near and yet far - you can reach out and touch it...but it could be a million miles away for all the good it will do

An idol is near and yet far - but God is far and yet near

Yahweh is in His holy temple.  You can’t reach out and touch Him.  But He is closer than a brother.  He is closer to you than I am right now.  Because He dwells in you by His Spirit!

The LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him

This brings to mind the words that welcomed us into worship this morning...from Psalm 46 - Be still and know that I am God.  In paganism, it is the idols that are mute.  The worshippers fill them with power and give them a voice.

But in true worship of Yahweh, it is the worshippers who are to keep awed and respectful silence before God.  Because He is the one who fills us with life and power.  He is the one who gives us a voice to speak His truth.

Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

Why?

So that we know that He is God.

When we are still, when we are silent, we are not trying desperately to surround ourselves with wealth.  To heap up treasure around us.  We are not greedy.

When we are still, when we are silent, we are not shedding the blood of our brothers and sisters, made in the image of God, treading down on someone else in order for us to secure our position, propping ourselves up by pushing others down.  We are not violent.

When we are still, when we are silent, we are not calling out to images of gold, silver, or stone.  We are not idolators.

But instead, when we are still and silent, we realize that we can’t do it on our own.  We realize that our safety, our security, our salvation, is not dependant upon the clever words we speak, or how fast we run, or how many good deeds we do.  Our salvation is dependant upon the Lord our God, enthroned in heaven between the cherubim.  His might and His glory is all we need.

So find your strength in Him.  Rest in His embrace.  Rest in His embrace of love.  For His wrath has already passed you by, if you live by faith in your Saviour.

The words of woe from the blood of Christ do not belong to you.

The words of peace accomplished by Christ are yours.  Forever.

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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