Habakkuk 2: God is in his holy Temple! Quiet everyone – a holy silence. Listen!
Chapter two is mostly a listing of the sins of Babylon. The Lord may intend to use this godless nation in his dealings with Judah but that doesn’t mean its despicable evil will be overlooked. As a series of “Who do you think you are?” judgments is being listed, the prophet suddenly has a vision of God. Immediately, the prophet calls for “holy silence.” This isn’t the time to preach sermons of condemnation. The only thing a human being can do at this point is to bow in silence before the Lord. This, I think is God’s second answer to Habakkuk. The prophet has asked how a holy God can use a sinful nation to punish Judah. One answer is that God is well aware of the sin of Babylon and that he will decisively deal with it. The other answer is heard as the Almighty reveals himself to Habakkuk. This is similar to what happens in the Book of Job. Job has asked for an audience with God that he might plead his case. However, when God appears, Job is speechless and all he can do is bow in worship and adoration. When I see God my questions are answered. My need is not for the Lord to explain to me everything I think I want to know. The need in my life is a fresh vision of God.
Take Away: All our questions are answered when we genuinely experience the Lord.
Trusting without understanding
Habakkuk 2: Look at that man…full of himself but soul-empty.
The prophet understands that sinful Babylon is God’s chosen instrument for punishing sinful Judah. As bad as Judah is, Habakkuk is having a hard time understanding how God could ever use such an evil nation as his tool against the Children of Abraham. Habakkuk reverently takes his concern to God and now God answers. A part of that answer is contained in chapter two of this brief book of the Bible. The Lord tells Habakkuk he’s well aware of the sin of Babylon. Although the language used suggests that the remarks are about only the King of Babylon, the context tells us that it’s the nation as a whole that’s being described. The Lord wants Habakkuk to know that he hasn’t underestimated the sin of Babylon and he isn’t about to overlook it. Babylon’s self-indulgent pride, its injustice, and its immorality will be dealt with. Just because God intends to use this nation for his own purpose doesn’t mean that he’s going to overlook its sin. The Lord remains sovereign and, in the end, he always has the last word. This godless empire is, indeed, a tool in the hands of the Almighty. At some point it may seem that Babylon is getting the benefit of this arraignment, but the real result will only be seen when the final chapter is written. Today, I’m reminded that all of Creation is in God’s hands. Anytime he wants, he can use whoever he wants for his purposes. The Lord doesn’t need for me to explain his actions or to make apologies for them. He does, however, insist that I trust him even when I don’t understand him.
Take Away: I’m not required to understand the Lord but I am called to trust him.
Waiting for God’s response
Habakkuk 2: If it seems slow in coming wait…it will come right on time.
The prophet has stated his concerns to the Almighty. He’s troubled that a holy God would use such unholy people as his workers in the world. Having asked his questions of God, Habakkuk braces himself for God’s answer. The first thing he hears from God is that the Lord does, indeed, have an answer for him. The second message he receives is that sometimes God’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for, and when they do come, it’s plain that God not only answered well, but the answer came at just the right time. This passage is a wonderful blessing to all who have dealt with hard things in their lives; who have asked God for help in understanding them but haven’t yet received an answer. At such times God’s word to Habakkuk is also his word to us: “wait.” I’m not a big fan of waiting but in this passage I’m reminded that God hasn’t forgotten me and he isn’t ignoring me. At just the right time – in God’s time – the answer will come. When it does, it will have been well worth the wait.
Take Away: Sometimes the Lord’s answers appear to be slow in coming but they’re worth waiting for.
Telling it like it is
Habakkuk 1: Why are you silent now?
The complaint of the prophet to God is startling. He comes to the Lord and lays it all on the table, confessing his confusion and disappointment. He knows God to be righteous and loving but what he sees happening has none of that in it. The godless army of Babylon is destroying God’s chosen people and that doesn’t make sense to Habakkuk. Not only that, but his prayers go unanswered. Why, of all times, does the Almighty choose this dark hour to go silent? Where is God when evil is winning the day? Does God’s use of unrighteous people to achieve his purposes make God, himself, unrighteous? Habakkuk writes more on this topic, including a report on how God finally responds to his questions. However, today I’m taken with how he goes into the presence of the Lord to state his fear and disappointment. There’s something refreshing about Habakkuk’s approach to the Lord here. Habakkuk isn’t irreverent toward the Almighty, but he openly expresses his disappointment in how the Lord is doing (maybe better, isn’t doing) things at this point. I know I’m called to trust the Lord no matter what, but if I’m having doubts the Lord wants me to bring them to him. To pretend I believe when I don’t does me no good and is dissatisfying to the Lord as well.
Take Away: Better to victoriously march on in overcoming faith but when there is doubt we can be frankly honest with the Lord.
Habakkuk 1: God, how long do I have to cry out for help?
Most of the Old Testament prophets have messages from God and usually those messages are calls to repentance with a heaping helping of “or else” on the side. Habakkuk, who lives 600 years before Jesus is born, brings a different perspective to the ministry of the prophets. His messages start, not with a word from the Lord, but with questions for the Lord. While Habakkuk isn’t the only one to follow this path (we see it a lot in the Psalms) it does set him apart from the average approach of his fellow minor prophets. There’s some complaining to God in his writings. Habakkuk speaks from his heart as he tries to understand how a righteous God could possibly use an unrighteousness people like the Babylonians to do his will in punishing Israel. This little book is a good one to read when it appears that bad people are getting away with their sin. It’s also a good one to help us work through the unwelcome “silent God” times of life.
Take Away: It’s okay to be absolutely honest with the Lord in expressing our disappointment or confusion to him.
Why Nahum preaches to the wrong congregation
Nahum 3: You’re past the point of no return.
One hundred years earlier the reluctant prophet Jonah had been ordered to go and preach destruction in Nineveh. The result was repentance and God changing his mind about destroying them. Nahum isn’t instructed to go to Nineveh but he’s given a similar message of destruction. His sermons appear to be directed to Nineveh but his audience is Judah. One reason for these anti-Nineveh sermons being preached in Judah is that the people of God are more concerned about what Assyria and its capitol Nineveh is doing than they are with trusting the Lord. They need to be reminded that, even though they see Assyria as a mountain of power that God sees it as just another anthill. The second reason for this seeming “preaching to the wrong crowd” is what’s said in this verse. In Jonah’s day the Lord hoped to spare Nineveh. They were great sinners even then, but, according to the Lord, they were more ignorant than rebellious. Because of that, the Lord was more than willing to change his mind and spare them if they would but turn to him in repentance. Here in Nahum’s day that has changed. He preaches about a nation that has pushed God too far and, for them, judgment has come. Nahum preaches sermons against Nineveh for the sake of Judah. He doesn’t preach them in Nineveh because it’s too late for them to repent. I guess the lesson for today is that as long as God speaks to our hearts, even if what he says is guilt producing condemnation, there’s still hope for us. It’s when we no longer hear from him that it’s too late. Isaiah put it this way: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isaiah 55:6 )
Take Away: As long as God speaks to our hearts there’s still hope.
At just the right time God will speak
Nahum 1: And God has something to say about all this.
Things don’t look good for God’s purposes in the world. A wicked nation is doing very well. Their capitol city sits at the heart of incredible power and evil. God’s people are small in number and spirit. Is this the end of it all? Will sin and evil win the day? Nahum calls for calm as he declares good news for all those who love that which is good. Nineveh appears to be on top of the world, but “God has something to say about all this.” The “top of the world” position of that wicked city is a mere anthill in the eyes of God and when the Almighty acts, even that anthill will be “mowed down flat.” Through the centuries there have been many times when it seemed this world was out of God’s control and that the cause of righteousness was lost. There have been times when God’s people were speechless in the face of overwhelming sin. That’s okay. You see, even when we’re at a loss as to what to do or say, at just the right time, God will speak. What appears to us to be overwhelming circumstances is a mere anthill to the Lord. My mission in such times is, first, to keep trusting in him even when it seems evil has the upper hand and second, if he can use me, to be a part of God’s remedy for a sin-sick world.
Take Away: At just the right time the Lord will speak.
The God of grace
Nahum 1: He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help.
Even as the prophet prepares to deliver his sermon of condemnation on the mighty nation of Assyria he can’t help but rejoice in the grace and mercy of God. This same God who declares his judgment on those who reject his claim on their lives has nothing but good news for those who turn to him for help. In fact, the Lord is drawn to such people. I love the fact that even in these portions of the Old Testament that appear to be focused on God as Judge of the World that there are these beautiful word pictures of him as the God of Grace. Nahum declares that “no matter how desperate the trouble” that God is more than willing to “recognize and welcome” all who come to him. In an uncertain world I need such a Savior. I’m reminded in this passage that I don’t have to come to God and convince him that I’m worthy of his help in my life. Instead, I see that he stands ready to extend his mercy to me. In the parable of the prodigal son, the returning son expects to have to make concessions, to take a lowly role if he wants to, once again, have a place in the Father’s household. Instead, the Father runs to him, embraces him, and immediately begins celebrating his return. Hundreds of years before Jesus ever tells this story, Nahum understands this about God, declaring, “He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help.”
Take Away: The Lord stands ready to extend his mercy to us.