Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 9, 1974
One of the plaguing problems of Christian life is the recurrence of doubts. They may be prompted by the deteriorating world conditions that we see around us. They may be prompted by severe personal crisis. We begin to think: Is God really there? Does He really know what's going on? Does God really care? Can God really change what's going on if He wants to?
Satan has tried to get God's people wrestling with questions such as these since the human race began. But the Word of God has provided answers to questions like these from the very beginning of time. The Word of God is as relevant to us now as though it were written today.
I want you to look at the experience of a believer with doubts. This man, Habakkuk, lived in the 7th century B.C. He wrote this little three-chapter book about his experiences. We don't know anything about him except that his name was Habakkuk and he calls himself "the prophet." He was probably a contemporary of Jeremiah, and he probably lived shortly before the Babylonians came in and destroyed Jerusalem, and took Jerusalem and Judah into captivity.
His little book has three parts to it that generally follow the chapter divisions. The first part is named in chapter 1 verse 1: "the burden which Habakkuk the prophet saw." The burden means something heavy, something grievous. We'll call it "the problem" for the sake of alliteration today. It goes to the first verse in chapter 2; the chapter division is not in very good spot.
The second part begins in 2:1 and it's what Habakkuk calls "the vision." "Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it" (Habakkuk 2:2). The vision is God's solution to the problem, and this is the prophetic part of the book so we'll call it "the prediction."
The third part of the book is a prayer. It begins with the first verse of the third chapter: "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet" (Habakkuk 3:1).
Now having seen how the book is put together, let's go back and look at the problem.
1. The Problem
"O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, 'Violence!' And You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds" (Habakkuk 1:2-4).
Habakkuk sees all kinds of evil in Judah and he thinks to himself, "These people are supposed to be God's chosen people and yet look at all this misery I see." Look at the words he uses:
- Violence: malicious conduct intended to injure someone
- Iniquity: wickedness, worthlessness
- Trouble: distress that one person brings to another
And plundering, strife, and contention. That sounds like the United States today  doesn't it? Just this week we saw racial confrontations and violence in Detroit. We've seen baseball fans acting like drunken apes in Cleveland. Habakkuk reads almost like the morning news.
In verse 4, there is wickedness and perverse judgment. Why doesn't God do something? That's Habakkuk's question. He prayed and he prayed but God just didn't seem be interested. "Lord, how long will I cry and You won't hear me?" Only silence. No answers. God interprets God's silence as a lack of caring.
Why doesn't God judge sin? Why doesn't God bring His nation back to Himself? Lots of you are praying the same thing, aren't you? God, why don't you do something? Why don't you bring our nation back to You?
The prophet is confused and perplexed. Doubts begin to chip away at his confidence in the Lord. We hear the same accusations today: If there is really a God and He really cares, why doesn't He prevent all this violence and war and poverty and injustice and inequality? Maybe the Deists are right: God created this world and then He just went away and left it. He doesn't really care what's going on anymore. Maybe He's even up there laughing at the mess we're in.
Ah, but the Lord gives us an answer in verses 5-11.
"'Look among the nations and watch--be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days
which you would not believe, though it were told you. For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans [Babylonians], a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful; their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves'" (Habakkuk 1:5-7).
God says, "OK, Habakkuk, I'm going to do something that's going to be so wild you won't even believe it. You're complaining about the wickedness of your people? I'm going to judge them. I'm going to discipline them. And when I do, it's going to be so unusual, that you won't even believe it. I'm going to pick one nation out of the many nations on the earth. A fierce people. A strong people. And I'm going to use that nation named Babylon to discipline your people for their sins."
Habakkuk says, "Hold it. Let's not go overboard here."
"Are You not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction" (Habakkuk 1:12).
The idea of that verse seems to be this: Lord, you made a covenant with Abraham that his seed would continue forever. You're not going to annihilate us are you? This is just discipline; this is just correction, Lord, isn't it--not destruction?!
"You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?" (Habakkuk 1:13).
"Lord, since You can't look upon sin, how is it that You're going to use a sinful people like the Babylonians--who are really more wicked than my people Judah--and use them to discipline your people?"
Now isn't this just like us? We complain about some problem and God shares with us how He's going to work it out, or at least how it seems He's going to work it out, and then we don't like the way He's going to do it. We think, "Now wait a minute, Lord. If I were You, I think I'd do it this other way." Rather than settle our doubts, sometimes we let Satan stir them up even more. It seems like Habakkuk is more distraught than he was in the first place. He's downright distressed; that just doesn't seem like the way to do it. So in verse 1 of chapter 2 Habakkuk says:
"I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected" (Habakkuk 2:1).
Habakkuk's thoughts plagued him, but he knew what to do. He says, "Lord, I'm going to wait right here until I get Your solution. I know You have answers to my problems and my doubts, so my eyes are heavenward, my heart is open to Your word, and I'm not budging until You show me Your will concerning this matter."
These are very important words: "I will watch to see what He will say to me." They're worth underlining in your Bible.
There are a lot of Christians who don't know how to handle their doubts. You see, doubts are going to come. You can count on it. They're normal; they're natural. Any Christian that tells you that he's never had a doubt may not be being very honest--or maybe he never had a serious thought in his life. But most everyone who is honest will admit that at some time in their lives they've had some doubts about spiritual things. It's natural to doubt.
But doubts are still the poisonous darts of Satan and they must be handled carefully. But a lot of Christians handle them carelessly. They feed them by sulking and by mulling over in their minds how badly God has treated them, or by reading materials that cast further doubt--about questions like the existence of God or the authority of His Word. Other Christians get put out with doubt and they spread their poisonous propaganda. They spread their doubts around. But that's not what God wants us to do.
Habakkuk did what God wants us to do with our doubts. He took them to the Lord. He said, "Lord, I'm going to wait right here until You show me what You have to say." So ask God to give you answers and get into His Word. Read the Bible to see what God will say to you. He'll help you resolve those doubts if you take this kind of a stance and steadfastly wait for His answer from the Word.
When Habakkuk decides that he's going to wait for God's answer, that answer comes in the form of a prophecy. The revelation is two-fold. First, there is the revelation that God is going to destroy Babylon--the pronouncement of blight on that nation that's going to discipline Judah. Second, there is a promise of blessing to believers.
a. The Pronouncement of Blight
Beginning in verse 6 there are five woes decreed on Babylon. A woe is a warning of sorrow and affliction. There are five reasons for God's future judgment on Babylon.
In Habakkuk 2:6-8, God is going to judge them for their ruthless plundering. "Woe to him who increases what is not his."
Then in verses 9-11, there is judgment for their insatiable covetousness. "Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house" (Habakkuk 2:9a).
In verses 12-14, there's going to be judgment for their slave labor. "Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, who establishes a city by iniquity!" (Habakkuk 2:12).
In verses 15-17, there's going to be judgment for their immoral treatment of captive people. "Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness!" (Habakkuk 2:15). That's a vile thing.
And in verses 18-20, there is going to be judgment for their idolatrous worship. "Woe to him who says to wood, 'Awake!' To silent stone, 'Arise'" (Habakkuk 2:19a).
Woe unto Babylon. You see, while God is going to use Babylon to discipline His people Judah, Babylon herself is going to be brought to sorrow and to woe. God's answer to the age-old question of why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer at their hands is simply this: Just hold on, folks; the wicked are going to get their due. Their end is going to be far worse than the suffering they caused the righteous.
That's God's word to Habakkuk concerning Babylon. Nothing to be concerned about; God is in control. Just wait for the ultimate outcome and God's righteousness will prevail.
A fellow named Asaph had the same problem Habakkuk had. He describes it in Psalm 73:
"But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked... Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end" (Psalm 73:2-3, 17).
When he was in fellowship with the Lord and he got into the Word of the Lord, then he understood that the wicked have an end.
"Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors" (Psalm 73:18-19).
That was good for Asaph to understand, that righteousness and justice will prevail. God's answer satisfied Asaph. And God's answer satisfied Habakkuk. And if you have doubts like this, my Christian friend, God's Word and God's answer will satisfy you if you'll just put your trust in Him.
b. The Promise of Blessing
Now let's look at the big promise in the book of Habakkuk. The promise itself is two-fold. The first promise is in verse 4 of Habakkuk 2 and it is the promise of light. The second one is in verse 14 and it's the promise of triumph.
"Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4).
It's that last part of the verse that I want to talk about: "the just shall live by his faith." God seems to be saying something like this. "Yes, Habakkuk, your opinion of the Babylonians is correct. They are proud, self-sufficient, unrighteous people. And while I use them to discipline Judah, some of the righteous people in Judah are going to suffer along with the sinful, BUT the righteous will not perish like the wicked do. They shall live because of their faith. The same faith that makes them righteous assures them of life.
That's a great verse. As a matter of fact, the New Testament writers think it's so great that they quote it three different times. Two times this verse is used to teach the doctrine of justification by faith. And one time it is used to show that faith is the key to successful Christian living. That's how great the verse is. And both aspects I believe are here.
Turn to Romans and let's look at some verses that likely nearly every Christian has memorized:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).
Paul teaches us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation but it must be believed. And faith appropriates that gospel message and brings to the believing heart eternal life--forgiveness of sins, the assurance of eternity in God's presence. How does a man even become just and therefore find eternal life? By faith.
Paul writes again to the Galatian believers:
"But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for 'the just shall live by faith'" (Galatians 3:11).
Keeping the law will never get you into heaven--that's what the New Testament teaches very clearly--primarily because we can't keep the law. There is no way we can love the Lord our God with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Not a one of us really does that. Therefore we fall short of God's law and it condemns us. Even though we're condemned, God has made a provision for us to be justified. Justification means to be declared righteous. He does it freely by His grace. He did it by sending His Son to die for our sins and all we have to do is believe Him and put our trust in His provision and we're justified: born into the family of God and receivers of eternal life.
Friend, won't you trust the Lord Jesus as your Savior today if you've never done it? Won't you enter God's family by God's means, through faith in His Son so that you can be found here in Habakkuk 2:4, living eternally because you have believed God and trusted His provision for eternal life?
Eternal life is something we possess in the here and now, not just in the bye and bye. Eternal life is something that makes us God's children and puts us in His care. It gives us assurance that nothing can touch us as God's children but what He knows is best. Faith in His loving care can help us live joyfully and confidently even in the sorest trials and problems. The just shall live by faith.
Are you downtrodden today? Do you feel low? Have you got the blues? Are there problems pressing in on you that you don't know the answers to?
"Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 'For yet a little while, and He who coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith, but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him" (Hebrews 10:35-38a).
Do you know God? Do you know the Lord Jesus as your Savior? Are you a member of God's family? Then don't despair. Keep on believing God. Don't throw away your confidence in the Lord. There is great reward for those that go on believing and endure with patience, that they might receive that righteous promise of reward. Trust Him. That's the way righteous people live. The just shall live by faith.
But that's not all of God's answer. This promise of light is not all of it. Sandwiched in these five woes is another great promise:
"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14).
If you've read Isaiah 11, you see a similar statement--almost the same words. That chapter makes it clear that this is going to happen when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is personally present on the earth. Jesus Christ is coming again to establish His kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace. When He does, justice and truth shall prevail. And the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. That's the promise of ultimate triumph. It's found all the way through the Bible, Old and New Testament alike.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "and you who are troubled, rest with us." If you have a problem, then listen, Paul says. "Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8).
There is a day of retribution coming. Christ is coming back to earth and He's going to destroy all iniquity and put down all sin, and make all wrongs right, and rule in righteousness and peace. It may seem in our day that wickedness has the upper hand; it surely does. That's exactly how it will be in the last days shortly before the return of our Lord Jesus. The Word of God assures us that Christ will come. "For yet a little while, and He who coming will come."
He's going to come and rule, and the knowledge of God's glory is going to cover the face of the earth. It doesn't today, but someday it's going to. We sang about it this morning in a hymn called This Is My Father's World<. "And let me ne'er forget, that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father's world. The battle is not done. Jesus Who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav'n be one."
God is still in control. He is still on the throne. He is still bringing human history to a triumphant conclusion and that's why Habakkuk appends to this prophecy in verse 20 this great statement:
"But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20).
God is really there, friend, and He's really in control of everything. And He really is bringing human history to a meaningful and triumphant conclusion in spite of what seems to be happening. We can rest assured in that knowledge.
3. The Prayer
Now God's answer restores Habakkuk's faith and he breaks forth in a beautiful praise in chapter 3. It's a song to be sung. We know that from the last verse, which says, "To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments" (Habakkuk 3:19b).
This is a beautiful psalm that recounts the mighty acts of God in the past, which shall foreshadow the mighty acts of God in the future. He did it before; He's going to do it again. Look at the way it begins in verse 2.
"O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2).
The idea seems to be this: "Well, here we are, Lord. We've got problems all around us and it's going to get worse when Babylon moves in. But we know You're going to work it all out in Your own way and Your own time. Meanwhile, Lord, we've got work to do. There's a lot to be done and we need to live as close to You as we can possibly live if we're going to Your work right here and now Your way. So, Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years."
What a tremendous prayer. Listen to me, Christian. If the work of the church on this godless, materialistic, immoral, revolutionary world, then it needs to be revived. It needs to come alive. We need what Habakkuk prayed for: We need revival. Believers need to confess their sin and stop rationalizing it. They need to begin loving one another. Husbands and wives need to get things straightened out. Parents and children need to get things straightened out. We need to be sharing our faith openly with a lost world. We need to begin trusting the Lord and resting in Him in difficult and trying circumstances in our lives and show the world what faith in Jesus Christ is all about.
We need a revival. We need a stirring of God's Spirit and an infilling with God's power. That's what revival is. And I believe the church of Jesus Christ in our day needs it--including ours. We need to come alive and begin walking with God as we have never walked before. And when we do, the last three verses of this book are going to be true in our experience.
Habakkuk is anticipating the destruction and desolation that the Babylonians are going to bring:
"Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls" (Habakkuk 3:17).
Friend, that's about as bad as things can get. Yet, Habakkuk says:
"Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer's feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills" (Habakkuk 3:18-19).
That's a clause that signifies ultimate triumph. "Though things get bad, yet I will rejoice in the Lord," Habakkuk says. You see, when we're really walking with God--trusting Him, believing Him--the changing circumstances of life will assume less importance and we'll find our delight in the Lord Himself.
The first time I preached through this book, I was in my study at the church and I poured over these last three verses. And God was really burning the reality of this into my soul and showing me that this is the way He wants me to live. However bad things may ever get, I'm going to find my joy and strength and satisfaction in the Lord.
While I was studying these three verses, the telephone rang. It was my wife. She said, "Honey. Are you in a good mood?"
I always know what that means! Something bad has happened. I don't always know what it is but it usually has to do with the car.
She said, "I pulled up in front of the house and I ran into the house for something I'd forgotten, and when I came back out the front door, the car wasn't there! I ran around to the garage thinking maybe I'd put the car in the garage, but while I was running around it seems to me I caught the sight of a front end of a car sticking out of the woods about a block down the street."
She suggested, "Maybe you better come home. I think we ought to go down there together and look at it."
At that time I lived about a hundred yards from that church across from the parking lot. And as I walked home, I was repeating in my mind, "Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vine...and though my car be a total wreck, I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation."
Well, it wasn't a total wreck, thank the Lord. It just had a few dents in it and it was able to be fixed. But the point is that God is in control over everything and we're to find our joy in Him however bad things get. Maybe you're with Habakkuk back in chapter 1 verse 2.
"O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?"
"Lord, when are You going to show me how You're working these things out?"
Why not just believe the Word of God shown to us from the book of Habakkuk? Just believe it, like Habakkuk 2:4, "The just shall live by faith." And Habakkuk 2:14, "For the earth shall be filled with the glory of the knowledge of the Lord." And Habakkuk 2:20, "But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silent before Him."
Why not believe these promises? And you, too, will be able to sing with Habakkuk, "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength."
He will bring you from confusion to confidence, and from doubt to determination, and from sorrow to joyous song. Why not believe Him?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
If you don't know the Lord Jesus as your Savior, the message is in this obscure Old Testament book: "The just shall live by faith." Why not trust Him today? Why not receive Jesus Christ as your Savior so that you can learn to rest in His sovereign care and control over all things? So that you, too, can daily turn your eyes upon Him and find peace and confidence and assurance. It's the only way to live. Here and hereafter.
Continue to LB-2A: Haggai: The Big Task