ALL SEEMS PROBLEMATIC, YET …
A Study of HABAKKUK 3:16-19
Why does God allow evil to exist among His people? In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet attempts to resolve this question through a dialogue with the Lord. From that dialogue, and through a revealing study of the seemingly insignificant word yet in its biblical setting, we learn that a believer’s faith is shaped by a deep abiding relationship with God, not circumstances. Such a relationship comes from spending time with God, who will reveal a deeper understanding of Himself and His purposes as the believer opens up his or her heart.
Pastor Paul from the pulpit
As the prophet Habakkuk looked out into his world, he saw social and political upheaval, moral decline, and religion that had lost its relevance. The political landscape in Judah at the time of Habakkuk had indeed been eventful. There was a succession of kings, a dismantling of reforms, and administrations were rife with corruption. Yet … for through faith in God, there is always a yet, as Habakkuk came to see. But first let us return to the tumultuous political setting in which the prophet operated …
Though King Josiah had been leading the nation in spiritual revival, he was killed on the battlefield during fighting with Egypt. Of his sons, Josiah had chosen Jehoahaz to succeed him. But the King of Egypt deposed Jehoahaz, and appointed his brother, Jehoakim, as a vassal king. Jehoakim began paying tribute to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, after the Babylonians defeated Egypt at Carchemish. But, after a few years, he switched his allegiance back to Egypt because the war between the two nations continued. The switch led to the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, and many in Judah were deported. Jehoakim’s son Jeconiah succeeded his father, but Nebuchadnezzar replaced the new king with Zedekiah, the third son of Josiah.
Many of the reforms Josiah had initiated were undone by his successors. Corruption also reigned, while the exorbitant tributes Josiah’s successors paid to either Egypt or Babylon placed heavy burdens on the people of Judah. These, and the costs of ambitious capital projects funded with public money, created much unrest among the people. The absence of strong leadership caused by instability within the monarchy left the nation vulnerable to conquest. As people lost faith in their political leadership, they returned to former practices.
Amid this, we see in the first two chapters, Habakkuk had two queries for God. In the first …
Habakkuk wanted to know how God could allow so much evil to persist among His people. God pointed out to Habakkuk that people are their own worst enemy.
As we scan the world today, turmoil reigns in many parts. Amid the suffering, there are threats of genocide and nuclear war. In each case, the spark that ignited the conflict can be traced to a person or a group. Greed and self-interest are also at the root of many of the problems in our own country. Numerous examples abound: the banking and mortgage crisis; the Ponzi schemes targeting unwitting investors; soaring health care costs; and credit-card debt. God had nothing to do with any of these issues and the ripple effect they have had on our society. The blame lies squarely with people.
In the second query …
Habakkuk asked how God could use evil to overcome evil. God revealed that no matter how close people walk with Him, they will not always understand His ways.
In Isaiah 55:8 & 9, God says,
– “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.
– “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
In essence, some things God does do not seem to make sense. Habakkuk could not understand God’s sense of judgment. God told Habakkuk He was going to use the Babylonians to dispense justice and judgment on Judah. Habakkuk wanted to know how you could use the wicked to punish wickedness. There is a spiritual principle at work here: What goes around comes around.
There are things we do in life that, at the time, seem insignificant. But everything we do has meaning and will have consequences, either immediately or the in the future.
There are things I did as a child that are now coming back to haunt me today. As we grow older we realize the folly of our youth, but it is too late, at that point, to take it back.
What about the innocent? Must they pay for the sins of the guilty? Unfortunately, the answer is sometimes yes. In a commercial I saw recently on insurance fraud, a father goes to jail. In another scene, his son is troubled by the fact his father had shamed the family.
There are some situations where the innocent will suffer because of the actions of the guilty.
It is easy to say that God should exempt the innocent, but let us remember everything we do affects others. In divorce, no one wins. Children suffer because their parents had either not taken the time ahead of their marriage to work out whether they were compatible, or failed to manage their differences once married. Both of these examples underscore the need to consider our actions before we engage in them.
It is always prudent to consider how we will achieve what we set out to do, and how our plans will affect others as well as ourselves.
Following his dialogue with God, Habakkuk looks at his world through a new lens. He says in verse 16,
– “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.”
For me, this is a powerful verse. Habakkuk, a man of God, makes it clear he is afraid of what is about to happen. Some news we will receive will rock the foundation of our existence. There are some reports that will shake the core of our being, and we can do nothing about it. Fear is a natural, normal response to life-threatening situations. Habakkuk teaches us it is sometimes better to acknowledge we are afraid than pretend we are not.
Acknowledging fear is a sign we are honest with ourselves about what we are facing. The spiritual principle at work here is that once we admit something, it loses power over us.
Once we admit we are afraid, the likelihood fear will paralyze us diminishes because it is out in the open. This applies equally to anger, addiction, greed, lust, or anything else that has a hold on us.
We are as sick as our secrets, for they do the damage when we hold them in our hearts.
I grew up in an era when boys were told men did not cry. As a result, this type of thinking produced several generations of dysfunctional men who never learned how to process their emotions. They allowed their emotions to destroy them and their relationships with others. They say that water seeks its own level. But it will also seek an outlet. This is true of human emotions. The more we suppress our emotions, the more they build up. At some point, they will seep out, or we will implode.
While verse 16 is powerful, the next three verses are equally so. In verse 17, the prophet says,
– “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines; though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food; though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls.”
Here the prophet points out that bad things usually follow bad news. The realization that suffering follows sickness, or hardship follows financial shortfall, is a bitter pill to swallow. However, understanding what is coming is an important step to dealing with it as it looms on the horizon.
At the first sign of bad news for our economy, most people hoped the downturn would be short-lived. Other than economists, I do not think any of us expected things to get as bad as they have become. I had a mentor who used to say,
– “Expect the worst, but look for the best.”
Some would say this is a pessimistic way of looking at things, but I beg to differ. An honest look at life reveals that things usually get worse before they get better.
We need to be honest about what we are facing, and when the prospect is not good; we need to brace ourselves for what is coming. In this way, we are not caught off guard and further devastated by setbacks or the unforeseen.
Something happens between verses 17 and 18 that causes the prophet to change his tune. Verse 18 reads,
– “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Habakkuk begins verse 18 with a three-letter word that joins what he has already said to what he is saying. The word yet in this instance means “in spite of” or “however” or “nevertheless.” In verses 16 & 17, the prophet expressed fear regarding his current situation but, in verse 18, he expresses faith – not in himself, but in God. Verse 18 teaches us …
… we will face in life some horrific things, and some will be beyond our control. However, it is an abiding and deep seated faith in God that will sustain us through tough times.
I am not speaking of a Sunday faith, where we hear about the wonderful things God has done, are encouraged, and feel better about ourselves. I am speaking about a living faith that comes from spending time with God; walking and talking with Him; sharing one’s heart and soul with God. And God, in turn, reveals Himself.
It is clear Habakkuk knew who God is by what he says in verse 19:
– “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer. He enables me to go on the heights.”
In this verse, we discover that …
… faith is not shaped by our circumstances, but by our understanding of who God is.
Who is God? The answer is found in verses 18 & 19.
God is the LORD – translated as the unchanging, eternal, self-existent God; the I am that I am; a covenant-keeping God. In other words, God does not change. God is the same God He has always been, and will always be. God is from eternity past to eternity future. God does not have a beginning or an end. Everything God needs to carry out His work is contained within Him, and God does not need our help to fulfill His purposes. God will be to us whatever we need Him to be, whenever we need Him to be it, and wherever we are. We can take God at His word; whatever God says, we can take it to the bank He will do it, and it is done.
God is my Savior – God is a deliverer of his people and, in time of trouble, He will rescue his people from the calamity they face, or bring them through it. God is the true and only source of our salvation. Every time we have been delivered, rescued, or saved, it was by the hand of God. All the medical miracles we read about, all the life-saving interventions and rescues we hear about, God worked through people, or supernaturally, to bring about healing, deliverance, or salvation.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength – The God who is over all and superintends the affairs of this world, the God who neither slumbers nor sleeps will impart to us the power to endure and face whatever confronts us. It is by God’s power that we will be able to go on. When our strengths run out and we grow weary, God’s divine power will kick in and energize believers so that they may complete the journey, climb mountains and overcome obstacles that stand in their path.
This is why Habakkuk could say yet because he knew who God is, and he could put his trust in a God that never fails, no matter how bad the situation, or the prognosis of things becoming worse.
Can we say yet in the face of uncertainty? Can we put our total and complete trust in God, especially when the outcome is bleak and there is very little hope?
If we cannot, then we should take a page from Habakkuk, and spend time getting to know whom God is and what God has promised to do for believers in His word.
As we grow in our knowledge of who God is, and spend time walking with Him and allowing Him to reveal more of Himself to us, we, like Habakkuk, will come to the place where we too can say,
– “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”
The Bible tells us that the only way we can come to know God is through God’s son, Jesus. We must first receive Him as our personal Lord and Savior. Then Jesus will introduce us to God, the Father. If you do not know Jesus in the pardon of your sins, say this prayer …
I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.
You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and arose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.
I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.
In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer
Sunday 7 June 2009
May God Bless You