Monthly Archives: May 2018

Haggai 1:1-11

1In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month on the first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak the high priest, saying, 2“Thus says the LORD Sabaoth: these people say, ‘this is not the time to rebuild the house of the LORD.’” 3Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, saying, 4“Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in paneled houses, while My house lies in ruins? 5Now, therefore, thus says the LORD Sabaoth: Consider your ways. 6You have sown much but harvested little; have eaten but are not sated. You have drunk but have not had enough; you are clothed but are not warm. And he who earns wages does so to put into a bag of holes. 7Thus says the LORD Sabaoth: Consider your ways. 8Go up to the hills, and bring wood and build this house, that I may take pleasure in it, and be glorified, says the LORD. 9You looked for much, but it came to little, and when you brought it home I blew it away. Why, declares the LORD Sabaoth? Because of My house that lies in ruins, while each is busy with his own house! 10Thus the heavens above you have withheld the dew and the land has withheld its produce. 11And I have called for a drought on the land, and the hills, and the grain, and the new wine, and the oil, and on the ground that produces, and on man and cattle, and on all their labors.

 

 

Editor’s Note: the exegetical commentaries I’m using for this text are as follows:

  • Interpreting the Minor Prophets (Robert Chisholm)
  • The Books of Haggai and Malachi (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), Pieter A. Verhoef
  • Haggai (The New American Commentary: Haggai and Malachi), Richard A. Taylor (another Hebrew professor of mine)
  • Micah-Malachi (Word Biblical Commentary), Ralph L. Smith
  • The Ancient Christian Commentary: Vol. XIV, The Twelve Prophets, Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden

 

As Habakkuk had predicted, trouble was, indeed, coming upon Judah. Shortly after Habakkuk’s prophecy, the Chaldeans (Babylonians)—led by Nebuchadnezzar—invaded the land bent on conquest in 605 BC. The siege of Jerusalem was over by 587-586 BC, and the temple was destroyed. During this defeat, many of YHWH’s people were carried off into Babylon as slaves—among them Daniel and his three friends. The prophet Jeremiah had predicted that this would last for 70 years, and then they would return. This lined up with Habakkuk’s word that eventually YHWH would bring judgment upon the Chaldeans, and His own people would live by faith (and faithfulness). What happens next in history shows that the prophets of YHWH were right.

 

In the same night as Daniel’s prediction of the writing on the wall, the Babylonian empire came crashing down with the invasion of the Medo-Persians. The king Darius mentioned in Daniel 9 is not the same one mentioned in Haggai; the one in Daniel’s day predated Cyrus, and is lesser-known. Cyrus of Persia is the big dog in history following this point. He had established himself as the king of Persia by entering Babylon as victor, and eventually had written a memorandum (Ez 6.3-5)—that is, an oral decision of the king filed in the royal archives. This memorandum had provided that YHWH’s temple should be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, that costs were to be paid from the royal treasure, and that all the stuff taken by Nebuchadnezzar should be returned (Verhoef). Unfortunately, the Jewish response to Cyrus’ edict was disappointing. There was hostility from their neighbors (aristocratic people from Samaria), and eventually a spirit of procrastination had settled over the exiles (Chisholm). The temple DID finally get rebuilt by 515 BC.

 

Haggai’s time comes sixteen years after the project had begun (Ezra 3.8-13; 5.16). Unlike many other works in the Old Testament, the messages in this one can be precisely dated due to Haggai’s mention of corroborative dates. This book contains four main messages, each of which can be dated to 520 BC:

  • 1-11: 29 Aug 520—this message emphasizes agricultural matters
  • 1-9: 17 Oct 520—this message emphasizes God’s presence with His people
  • 10-19: 18 Dec 520—this message continues an emphasis of God’s presence with His people
  • 20-23: 18 Dec 520—this message emphasizes eschatological realities on a universal scale

 

There are two individuals singled out as the recipients of Haggai’s work: Zerubbabel was a political authority and Joshua was a religious one. This latter name was a direct descendant of Aaron the priest (1 Chr 6.14-15). The distinct eschatological flavor to Haggai (which will show up a bit later) is enhanced by this motif: after all, the book of Revelation will divide the Great Tribulation between a political authority (Antichrist) and a religious one (false prophet). In that day, apparently, there will be a perversion of YHWH’s holy program….a sort of “evil” version of Zerubbabel and Joshua. The phrase “by the hand of Haggai the prophet” appears twice, and emphasizes the formula of revelation. YHWH is speaking, and does so here through a prophet. This entire work is extremely centered from YHWH’s perspective because of this. Another phrase that makes repeat appearances is “Lord Sabaoth” (4x). The Hebrew is יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֹ֖ות, and the explicit imagery here is military. This is the edict of the commander of the armies of the Lord God Almighty (“the Lord of Hosts”) speaking here, and forms a powerful contrast with the carrying on of Cyrus’ edict. What they saw as the word of the emperor pales in comparison with the fact that the entire project was actually the word of the Almighty Himself. The central problem here is that YHWH’s people didn’t prioritize YHWH’s house, and thus didn’t prioritize YHWH’s worship. Their excuse was that the time for building was inconvenient to them (2). This was a major problem, for “a people who acted and argued in this manner could not be designated as ‘My people.’ They had disregarded the attitude of their ancestor Abraham who believed the Lord, and they had forgotten God’s word through Isaiah: ‘if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all’ (7.9)” (Verhoef). They had become a people of sight, not faith. Now you can see how Habakkuk’s word is still hanging powerfully over them. Their inattentiveness to YHWH’s house was palpable: their own houses were empaneled and beautiful, while His lay in ruins (4). YHWH’s response to their lack of faith (also known as unfaithfulness) is sketched in the text: an acknowledgement of the inverted priorities of the people (1.4), the unsuccessful efforts of the people (1.5-6), and the necessity of obedience (1.7-11). Verse 8 is a threefold command to them: go up to the mountains, get timber, and rebuild My house. The consequences of failing to trust YHWH in the program that He has given them is that they are in violation of the original covenant that He’d made with them. This is why there is drought (חֹ֜רֶב) and blight and failure. It is why they sow and don’t reap, why they work and are still broke. It is not because YHWH is “inflicting” it on them, but because these things are the natural consequences of violating the covenant (Dt. 28.1-14). Their agricultural and economic success had always been contingent upon the covenant relationship with YHWH. If He’s sovereign, there are consequences to ignoring that relationship.

Some have considered Haggai’s work as of lesser importance because he seems so preoccupied with the rebuilding of YHWH’s temple. But such people underestimate how significant the concept of physicality was (and is) to YHWH in His definition of worship. The theology of Haggai is grounded in his understanding of the covenant relationship that YHWH’s people had with their God. Part of that covenant was the significance of their corporeal worship in YHWH’s house. Thus, Haggai’s focus is quite appropriate, and those who are dismissive of the significance of the building of a physical place of worship are actually demonstrating the exact problem for which YHWH’s people are here being calle out. His command to them to rebuild is coupled with a divine rationale: “that I may take pleasure in it, and be glorified” (8).

 

How relevant this is for us today! God has given us a divine command: to rebuild the institution of the local church as a community of faith situated in a broader community of people we’re called to love. For too long, God’s people have ignored this command, seeing it as unnecessary to their spiritual growth. For too long, God’s people have prioritized the personalized, individualistic “what is God saying to me” aspect of evangelicalism over His divine decree to live by faithfulness. We learned last year that it is impossible to be faithful to God apart from being faithful to the local church (1 John). The reason that the church fell into disrepair is that the physical, corporeal place of worship stopped being a “thing” with God’s people. What they could “get” from listening to or watching celebrity ministers was more important. But just like in 520 BC, God has a plan for the community in which the local church sits. He intends for His name to be glorified in that community, and He intends to specifically do that through the institution of the local church. So a refusal to “get on board” with that program is actually a refusal to prioritize what God wants ahead of what we want. Like the faith community in 520 BC, many local churches today wrestle with how to revitalize. In order to shift our priorities from “me” to “we,” such communities must wrestle with this problem. We must break patterns of the past and turn to God with urgent sincerity. If not, all of our endeavors and efforts are caught in a web of diminishing returns, just like those described in the first message of Haggai.

 

Do you value the local church as much as God? Do you value the program that He has for the community around you? The first challenge of Haggai the prophet is that we get our priorities straight. What God is doing, He’s not just doing in the personal lives of disconnected people. He’s doing it locally, physically, powerfully, habitually. Are you on board with this?

 

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Habakkuk Overview

“The righteous will live by faith.” (2.4)

 

17Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor is there fruit on the vines, though the olive produce fail, and the fields have no food, though the flock be cut of form the fold, and there is no herd in the stall,

18Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation!

19GOD, the Lord, is my strength. He makes my feet like a deer’s, and makes me to tread on high places. To the chief musician, with stringed instruments. (3.17-19)

 

 

The year is 605 B.C. The kingdom of Israel has been nonexistent for almost 300 years, punished for their idolatry and scattered among the peoples of the earth. The kingdom of Judah still exists, but is caught in downward spiral of spiritual adultery and selfishness. They refuse to worship where YHWH wants, how YHWH wants, and when YHWH wants—they make up their own rules as they go. And eventually, they recognize that a god whom they can manipulate isn’t much of a god at all…and they descend into idolatry, as well. The prophet of YHWH, a man named Habakkuk, is grieved at the cavalier attitude toward sin and idolatry exemplified by the people in the land. But he doesn’t turn his attention to the people and castigate them; rather, he turns his attention toward YHWH. He demands to know from YHWH how much longer this wickedness will continue. He reminds Him of His eternally good nature, and how that nature demands justice. YHWH responds by telling Habakkuk that He is sending a fearsome pagan enemy to punish that wickedness.

 

Now Habakkuk is truly grieved. This isn’t what he had in mind at all. The only thing worse than wickedness reigning supreme in YHWH’s land is a pagan nation running over YHWH’s people and making Him look weak and defenseless. How can YHWH do such a thing, Habakkuk demands of Him. The prophet knows YHWH’s nature—he knows that YHWH is good and perfect and relational and will certainly act. That’s why he’s so confused: where is the action? Where is the justice? Where is YHWH? Confused, disillusioned, and depressed, he waits for an answer to his questions—from the only One Who can answer.

 

When YHWH answers, He tells the prophet that the fearsome enemy will go down in humiliating defeat eventually. The only one left standing in the end will be YHWH. He wins, and He’ll rescue His people. His entire purpose for coming onto the scene is the salvation of His people, and He will most certainly accomplish it. Habakkuk looks around him. Nothing like rescue or salvation seems to be in the air. And so he sighs and waits, living in the meantime—knowing that YHWH will act according to His nature, but in His time. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding him, the prophet determines in his mind and his body that he will respond in the only way a man of faith should: rejoicing. It is the ultimate act of defiance to the wickedness in the land and in the enemy.

 

There is much in this book to instruct us today. How often do we look around and wonder how much longer a society can embrace narcissism and wickedness at every turn? How often do we entertain doubts of God’s presence or existence because of the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves? How often are we in a position in which we must remind ourselves that God is real and He’s on His throne, even though it certainly doesn’t look like it at the moment? How often do we lament, along with the prophet, “How long?”

 

God hasn’t changed. He is still good, holy and exceedingly powerful. He is still a mighty God, and He still moves for our salvation—our rescue. Though it doesn’t look like it at the moment, He is on the case. You can trust HIS nature. You can trust HIS abilities. Your only true response, as you sigh and wait for Him to answer and deliver, is to rejoice. It’s one thing to convince your mind…it’s quite another to convince your body. And you convince your body by physically engaging in praise of the Almighty God. Rejoice in Him, and exult in His name. He wins, and indeed has already won. He is with you, near to you, and hears you. He inhabits the praise of His people, and He loves you. He’s not about to stand idly by and let you sink. He’s on the case. Rejoice ahead of time. It’s your ultimate act of defiance to the pervasive enemy all around.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

17Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor is there fruit on the vines, though the olive produce fail, and the fields have no food, though the flock be cut of form the fold, and there is no herd in the stall,

18Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation!

19GOD, the Lord, is my strength. He makes my feet like a deer’s, and makes me to tread on high places. To the chief musician, with stringed instruments.

 

Judah had a largely agrarian economy. It was based entirely on produce from farming and meat from ranching. The coming invasion was sure to decimate not only the political structure of Judah, but the very subsistence of the people as well. Verse 17 lists the ways that it might be possible for complete disaster to come upon YHWH’s people, building up to what Habakkuk’s response to that disaster will be: “Even though these sources might fail in some way, the psalmist sees that ultimately his existence is not based on them, but upon their source, YHWH” (Baker). The Hebrew verb conjugation is imperfect, indicating something future, and the syntax contains the preposition “though” (כִּֽי). Coupled together, the prophet is saying that even if this calamity comes upon them, his response to it will not change. That response will be to “rejoice” and “exult.” This seems an odd response to calamity, but Habakkuk is here determining that it will be HIS response. After all, he knows who is working his purpose out, unseen, behind the turmoil (Achtemeier). Habakkuk is setting forth the faith that knows how to live “in the meantime.” This “rejoicing is grounded in, and springs from, the relationship which God has with him and his people” (Baker). YHWH is described as the “God of my salvation” and “my strength.” One expositor (Robertson) even translates that line as “YHWH my God, my strength.” I prefer to stick with the syntax of the Hebrew, which renders it “YHWH, my strength.” The prophet is thus addressing the covenant God of Israel Who has made promises and is known for keeping them…and also addressing the personal relationship he has with Him. It is in this God that the prophet will find his excitement, validation, and reason for exultation: “like a female sheep, he shall mount with swift surefootedness to the heights of the mountains” (Robertson). In these last verses, Hab 2.4 finds fulfillment. Habakkuk lives—by faith. He keeps on trusting God, despite the utter chaos of the exile. It is a practical commentary on, and example of, the kind of faith mentioned in 2.4 (Baker). The prophet starts in depression and ends in lively confidence in YHWH’s sustaining power. There are no external signs of God’s presence, but he rejoices anyhow, for he determines to rejoice in the Lord regardless what does or does not happen.

 

The last verse reveals the tradition that this psalm of submission was to be celebrated in the congregation throughout the generations. So it’s a liturgy—and to be celebrated in the community of faith. It is not just a testimony of one lonely individual, depressed before YHWH. Each time the congregation celebrates it, it demonstrates victory over the oppressor who sought to wipe out this corporate body. And the best phrase is בִּנְגִינֹותָֽי, which means “on stringed instruments.” YHWH clearly enjoyed fine musicianship.

 

What an easy thing it is to be beaten down by life. It is easy to look at our circumstances and be depressed or in despair. The situation often seems hopeless. There is no relief on the way. There is no outward sign that the calamity will soon pass. The only thing that seems certain is more calamity. Worse, it sometimes feels that God doesn’t hear us when we cry out to Him about it. It can become quite easy indeed to descend into doubt and despair when our eyes are on our circumstances. But it is when our lives are littered with just such emptiness that our proper response is worship. The ultimate symbol of living “in the meantime” is shouting for joy in the darkness. The ultimate blow to the enemy as we live between the “already” and the “not yet” is rejoicing in the very nature of God. We have seen the end of the book; we know how this story ends, and He wins. All sorrows will be wiped away, all bodies will be healed, all bank accounts will have enough, all relationships will be reconciled. This is in God’s very nature, and it is in His nature that we ground our response. So the only proper response is thanksgiving and exultation, even (and perhaps especially) when there is no immediate sign of His presence. While sitting in a Nazi prison cell awaiting his unjust execution by Adolf Hitler, German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words: “By good powers wonderfully hidden, we await cheerfully, come what may.”

 

You’ve got one task today: rejoice. Did the sun come up today? Rejoice. Are you breathing? Rejoice. Where there is darkness, praise His holy name. Where there is trouble, exult in His ultimate victory. It is precisely this counterintuitive activity that is so revolutionary and defiant in the face of an oppressive enemy: the ultimate taunt (Hab 2.6) of the enemy with the understanding that the conclusion of the story still lies ahead. You might recall that the Whos down in Whooville began singing on Christmas morning despite the fact that the Grinch had stolen all of their presents (the REAL Grinch from 1964, not that Jim Carrey Communist business). Their singing was grounded in something divine, not material. Similarly, in the midst of your trouble, rejoice. His nature is unchanging, and can certainly be trusted.

Habakkuk 3:1-16

1A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

2O LORD, I have heard Your report, and I am terrified of Your works. In the midst of the years, revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.

3God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah!                          Splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise.

4His brightness is like the light; rays flashed from His hand. There, He veiled His power.

5Before Him went pestilence, and plague followed at His feet.

6He stood and measured the earth; He looked, and shook the nations.                          He scattered the eternal mountains, and the eternal hills collapsed. His ways are everlasting.

7I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian trembled.

8Was Your wrath, O LORD, against the rivers? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode Your horses, Your chariots of salvation? Selah!                                  

9You made your bow naked, calling for many arrows. Selah! You split the earth with rivers.

10The mountains saw You and writhed; the overflowing waters swept by; the deep gave up its voice; it lifted its hands on high.

11The sun and the moon stood in their place; at the light of Your arrows as they went; at the flash of Your glittering spear.

12In fury You marched through the earth; in anger You trod the nations.

13You went out for the salvation of Your people, for the salvation of Your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah!

14You pierced with his arrows the head of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.         

15You trampled the sea with Your horses; the surge of mighty waters.

16I hear, and my body quivers. My lips quiver at the sound; rottenness creeps into my bones. My legs tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of trouble that will come upon the people who invade us.

 

 

Now we begin to approach the end of the book of Habakkuk, and we notice a few things about the text of this chapter. First, we run across the word “shigionoth” in the heading, and this has been the source of some debate throughout the centuries. The word itself (שִׁגְיֹנֹֽות) was translated by the patristics and Greek LXX translators to mean “errors committed in ignorance,” but the same term was used in Psalm 7 as a musical directive. It is likely preferable to see it in this latter way, because the chapter itself functions as a sort of liturgy—that is, there is an acknowledgement of YHWH (perhaps even an appearance of Him), followed by a statement of faithful response. Many expositors see this chapter as an example of theophany: an appearance of God in the Old Testament. The idea here is that one section of the chapter shows YHWH “coming,” and the following section shows Him present to the prophet. However, we must not forget that the genre of this book is poetic. Often in poetry, the narrator could change, the point of view could change, the pronouns of address could change—all for artistic or aesthetic reasons, not necessarily corresponding to some exegetical propositional view. I think it’s a stretch to claim that Habakkuk was describing an actual appearance of YHWH, based on my lifelong understanding of how poetry works. Many of the expositors claiming “theophany” are among that group that hasn’t read much poetry outside the Bible. The sheer command of imagery in this poem demonstrates Habakkuk’s skill as a poet. Like Moses, He sees YHWH as being in command of nature and creation. He portrays YHWH as coming to conquer chaos, as He did at the dawn of creation. The entire cosmos responds in fear to YHWH in 6-7, reminding the audience that there is only one Creator and therefore only one Savior. Verse 2 contains a petition on the part of the prophet that petition that YHWH will preserve life, give knowledge, and remember mercy—all of the things He Himself has promised He will do.

 

There is in this poetic work a personification of nature—“mountains writhed,” “deep gave its voice, lifted its hands on high” (10)…sun and moon stood (11). This is obviously not to be taken literally; it is a creative way of noting the power of YHWH over creation. Habakkuk pictures YHWH as being “on the way” in verses 3-7, and in verses 8-15 He is present and in combat on behalf of His people. The military imagery of verse 9 (“unsheathe Your bow”) points to this as the Lord Sabaoth—the Lord of Hosts who leads a military expedition against His enemies. And there is, it turns out, a reason why YHWH “goes forth,” in verse 13: for the salvation (יֵשַׁע) of His people. There is only so much He will allow to befall His people before He rises to swat away the dreaded enemy. In contrast to this Anointed One who goes forth to accomplish salvation for His people is the chief of the wicked who oppresses YHWH’s people in verse 13—a picture of combat between the Righteous One and the Evil One. The entire poem radiates with the imagery of shekinah—a brightness and a terrifying power so great that it is typically veiled lest it completely destroy. In response to this vision of shekinah glory and power, Habakkuk reiterates his intention to “wait quietly” for the “day of trouble” that YHWH will visit on the enemy. Verse 16 uses, as a verb, אָנ֨וּחַ֙ , which is from נוח. It is used in the Qal imperfect first person, and typically means “to lament or wail.” However, when it is couple with the preposition לְ it means “to sigh.” Just think of the imagery here: trouble and trial abound for Habakkuk. He is grieved at the burden of prophecy that makes him to see the wickedness of his own people. He is even more grieved at YHWH’s solution to the problem: the invasion of the Chaldeans. He challenges YHWH with respect to His character, asking if the continuation of all this wickedness piled upon wickedness can really be allowed by a just God. And as he acknowledges YHWH’s sovereignty and power, he does the one thing that is in his power to do: he sighs and waits.

 

One expositor argued that the theme of this chapter is “faith triumphs in life by the intervening power of YHWH.” While this is true, it bears some closer investigation. We cannot help but notice the troubles around us. Financial problems, relationship problems, medical problems, car problems, the unfairness of life on every side—these all conspire to challenge the very existence of a just and true God Who is sovereign over all. We trust—by faith—that the God we serve is truly sovereign and powerful and will rectify these wrongs. He will heal, He will save, He will deliver, He will provide. From His perspective, moreover, He will do so in the next minute. But from our own perspective, it sure seems like a troublesome wait. He’s not nearly in as big a hurry as we are. We must live in the “meantime,” with Habakkuk. All that is available to us is the twin remedy given to mankind: to recall Who God is, and to sigh and wait for His nature to be revealed in our problem. We are reminded that this is the God Who created everything from nothing. He is the God Who defeated the chaos already, is still doing so, and will ultimately do so for all time. We are reminded that He sees all, and nothing escapes His attention about our problem or our lives. We trust in His nature, and His unchanging hand.

 

And we sigh and wait.

 

The restless one who cannot “wait” along with his sighing is prideful—he lifts up his own self against the God of the universe, demanding that God act according to his plan rather than God’s own. He stands in opposition to a just God, revealing himself to be more god than God Himself. Everyone sighs. But the righteous wait, as well.

 

It is not in moments of great triumph and victory that we are truly upheld by God’s mighty hand. It is in moments of despair and mourning, of trouble and doubt, that His mighty and unchanging hand upholds us. Because it is only in such moments that we remind ourselves of His nature, and re-invigorate our trust in that nature. It is the troubling moments in which we learn to trust in Him fully. It is in the despairing moments in which we learn to wait—in trust of that unchanging nature. Those who “name it and claim it” and loudly shout victory at the enemy have missed deeply the lesson of Habakkuk. The righteous sigh, along with everyone else. But what makes them righteous is the willingness to wait.

 

Sigh and wait for His answer today. It is really the only task He has given you. To attempt to do more is to attempt to usurp His role—the God Who goes forth for your salvation. Sigh and wait, trusting in His nature.

 

 

Habakkuk 2:6-20

6Shall not all of these take up taunts against him, with satire and taunting against him, saying,

“Woe to him who increases to himself that which is not his—how long?—and loads himself with debt!

7Shall not your creditors arise, and shall not those awake who vex you? You will be spoils to them!

8Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples will plunder you!  Because of the blood of man and the violence of the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

9Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high so that he might be delivered from the reach of evil!

10You have devised shame to your house, cutting off many peoples, and you have forfeited your life!

11For the stone in the wall will cry out, and the beam in the woodwork will answer,

12Woe to him who builds a city with blood, and founds a town with iniquity.

13Behold: is it not from the LORD Sabaoth that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

14For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as waters cover the sea.

15Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor—you pour out your wrath; you make them drunk in order to gaze on their nakedness.

16You will be sated with shame instead of glory. Drink up yourself, and show your foreskin! The cup of the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and disgrace will be on your glory.

17For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as the beasts that terrified them. Because of the blood of man and the violence of the earth, the cities and all who dwell in them.

18What 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 dumb idols.

19Woe to him who says to the wooden thing, “Awake!” and to the dumb stone, “Arise!” behold: can it teach? It is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath in it.

20But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

 

 

Up until this point, the invading Chaldeans have seemed invincible. They have been portrayed as tyrants, as deadly fishermen, as a nation of violence that cannot be defeated. But in this section, Habakkuk has defeated nations rise up poetically and pronounce a future judgment on them. What follows is a pronouncement of five woes against Babylon. Interestingly, the Hebrew word that most expositors have translated “woe” is an onomatopoeia that sounds like “Aha!” or “Ha!” As each of the five proverbial sayings (6,9,12,15,19) are uttered, those who have suffered most under this terrible enemy are laughing in triumph. In fact, what really marks this section is the vicious humor of the taunt, or satire (“מְלִיצָה”). The Hebrew word for “creditors” is נשׁך, which regularly means “to bite.” Those to whom one owes money are devourers, in a sense, and Babylon has metaphorically borrowed against her own future by invading with such violence and abandon. The debt will ultimately be repaid when the Medo-Persians invade in 539 B.C., and Habakkuk sees it here. The Babylonians had selfish motives, bent on world domination, and they cared not for the lives of the vanquished. They had no value of life, having cut people off, and ow they will forfeit with their own lives (8). They have built houses, and now those houses will cry out against them (9). All of their labor is described as coming ultimately to nothing, and this is peculiarly interesting to the American mind. All meaning in life is given by YHWH, but there is never a shortage of those who establish the meaning of life in their push for gain. A ray of light penetrates the gloom of this prediction in verse 14, when Habakkuk reminds the audience that ultimately what will fill the earth will not be Babylon but the knowledge of YHWH. In this passage, Babylon is described as: the pillager (6-8), the plotter (9-11), the promoter of violence (12-14), the debaucher (15-17), and the pagan idolater (18-20). The section on debauchery is particularly interesting: Babylon is described as a lecher who gets people drunk in order to gaze on their nakedness—a sexual exploiter, greedy for self-gratification. The tables will be turned, however, as it will one day be Babylon’s turn to be drunk and show his own genitalia (16). It is described as shameful because uncircumcision would be particularly shameful for a Jew, as well. When I read this passage, I am reminded of the same imagery in Revelation 19, when the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will turn the tables on the nations, making them to drink from the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. The section ends with a little Hebrew word play, as “Elohim” (God, to the Israelite) is contrasted with “Elihim” (“worthless things”). Ultimately, the invincible evil one will be vanquished himself, and this vanquishment is absolutely certain. Because of this, the only proper response before YHWH, Who has accomplished this, is silence. A deep reverence for the transcendental God of gods is in order, and nothing is left to be said.

 

We fight against great evil today. Disease is foremost on my mind, of course, but the evil that befalls man is everywhere, and in many forms. None are more or less important than the others. They are all an example of the enemy sticking out his tongue at God. Where are you? Powerless to do anything about this, aren’t you? These are the taunting questions that he asks, and they are the questions that reside within the consciousness of even the staunchest believers as we struggle to live in the “meantime” as Habakkuk. But the vanquishment of evil is certain. Just as the Babylonian empire came to a sudden and crashing halt within a century of this prediction, it will happen to all tyrants, including the worst one. His doom is sure. God’s victory is imminent. We therefore think of it as already having happened. Where eternity is concerned, He has already won that victory. We are just living in the “meantime” before that victory is revealed. And as struggle to walk by our faith in His nature and His already-written ending for this story, there is only one real response to this Almighty One: silence. Reverence. The very fear of God. You know….the stuff we evangelicals abandoned 40 years ago in our attempt to woo wayward young people back to Christianity. We overemphasized God’s immanence (His nearness) and have completely forgotten His transcendence (His “otherness” or “impenetrableness”). Churches built when people valued transcendence are beautiful and majestic and awe-inspiring. Churches built from the 1960s on are nondescript boxes that have merely a practical use, rather than a beautiful one. Not uncoincidentally, the way we behave in God’s house is quite different now. He’s our buddy, not our God. His house is more like our house, and we hope He sort of shows up on Sunday. We pray as though we hope to manipulate God. We “name it and claim it” as though we are the carriers of divine power. We have lost our reverence for the One Who has commanded it.

 

The evil is defeated. Doesn’t look like it yet? Be silent before God, and wait for Him. Be assured in your heart how this will shake out. Know that He is God, and will not be defied. He wins, and every knee will bow. Might as well get a head start on that today, and meditate on His greatness, awesomeness, transcendence and “other”-ness. Nothing and no one can truly stand in His presence. Silence the taunts of the enemy when he whispers to you—by reminding him of what happened to Babylon, one of his former tools. After all, it is his destiny too.

Habakkuk 2:2-5

2The LORD answered me and said, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.

3For the vision is yet for an appointed time; it will hasten to the end—it does not lie. If it delays, wait for it, for it will surely come—it will not linger.

4Behold: he is puffed up and his soul is not upright within him, for the righteous will live by faith [faithfulness].

5Moreover, wine [wealth] betrays; it is an arrogant man, and he is never at rest, for his lust is wide as Sheol, and like death he is never satisfied. He gathers to himself all the nations, and collects to himself all the peoples.

 

Habakkuk has asked YHWH an important and disturbing question: how is Your “fix” to our wickedness any better than our wickedness? How is sending the pagan Chaldeans consistent with Your nature? I’ll sit here and wait for Your answer.

 

Now, YHWH answers.

 

He tells Habakkuk to write the vision on tablets, implying that this message isn’t just for him and that day and time—but for future generations. He is predicting not only the eventual end of the Chaldeans (Babylonians), but also the coming of the True Law, Jesus Christ. In fact, He is speaking of the pattern of life that will be embraced by all trusters of YHWH for centuries to come. Therefore, this text is for all time. He cautions Habakkuk to realize that the vision—or YHWH’s “fix”—may seem late. It might seem to be untrue, or late. But it does not lie (יְכַזֵּ֑ב). It may seem to be late; it might seem to delay, but it will not delay (יִתְמַהְמָהּ֙) or linger (יְאַחֵֽר). YHWH’s plan is true and right on time, even if it seems otherwise: “that which may seem to be delayed or halted by our reckoning has not been impeded at all. God’s purpose cannot be thwarted; it is speeding toward its conclusion” (Achtemeier). According to YHWH, there are two kinds of people with regard to this truth about His program: there is the prideful, and there is the righteous. The contrast in verse 4 is palpable: the prideful is “puffed up.” He is not upright, because he has an arrogant restlessness about the timing of YHWH’s plan. He doesn’t truly believe, because he needs to see further down the road than YHWH has allowed him to see. He cannot be righteous, because his true trust is in his vision—what he can see. But the truly righteous, according to verse 4, will live בֶּאֱמוּנָתֹ֥ו, or “by his faithfulness.”  Paul in the New Testament quotes this verse when he says that the “righteous will live by faith.” The Hebrew term that I have translated here is best understood as steadfast trust, or steadiness. While the arrogant is restless and doesn’t trust YHWH’s timing, the righteous trusts that YHWH has things well in hand. What looks like a surprising and horrifying pagan invasion is not surprising to YHWH at all, but is well under His control. My old Hebrew professor Bob Chisholm writes that “Even with the realities of Babylonian imperialism looming on the horizon, the truly righteous would be preserved through their faithfulness.” Thus, we see that the triumph of faithfulness is contrasted with the arrogant restlessness and lack of fulfillment of those who do not trust YHWH.

 

God is never late. I do believe that He has missed a few opportunities to be early…but He is never late. He is not surprised by circumstances, and His plan is not thwarted by them. He sees them before we do, and His plan is rooted in His character—which means our ultimate salvation. We might be surprised by our circumstances, but He is not. We might be stressed out and anxious about WHEN He will move, but that stress is really just pride. It is evident of the conviction that we are the solvers of our own problems. Either God can be trusted or we must trust ourselves. The arrogant self-truster is restless in the “meantime,” but the righteous trusts God’s character. He thus lives by faith.

 

I don’t have to remind you of your circumstances. You know them all too well. And just like Judah during Habakkuk’s day, you are only too human if you have a sense that sometimes it’s all out of control. You wonder where God is in the midst of those circumstances. You wonder if His plan is really your complete destruction. But remember that His nature can be trusted: He does what He says. He is not a man, that He should lie. There is nothing too difficult for Him. And His character is that of the Savior, the Healer, the Provider, the Deliverer. What you see is deceptive; the best-educated modernists get it wrong every day. But what you KNOW is that God is right on time, and His program is best. Trust that today.

 

 

Habakkuk 1:12-2:1

12Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We will not die.

O LORD, You have ordained them for judgment, and You, O Rock, have established them for correction.

13You Who are of purer eyes than to behold sin, Who cannot look upon wrong:

Why do You tolerate the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked devours the one who is more righteous than he?

14You make man as the fish of the sea, as crawling things who have not king over them.

15All of them he takes up with a hook, he catches them with a net, and gathers them with a dragnet, so he rejoices greatly.

16Thus he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by them he lives in luxury and his food is rich.

17Is he then to continually empty his nets, and to kill nations mercilessly?

2 1I will stand on my guardpost and station myself on the rampart and will keep watch to see what He will say to me, and how I will answer about my complaint.

 

 

Habakkuk has asked YHWH why evil seems to triumph over good among His people, and YHWH has answered him. It’s not the answer he wanted: YHWH is sending the Chaldeans (the Babylonians) as an instrument of chastisement. This seems, in Habakkuk’s view, as an even greater wickedness, since the Chaldeans are idolaters who trust in only themselves and their own might. So now Habakkuk asks another question of YHWH, and note its wording. He begins his line of questioning with an acknowledgement of YHWH’s very nature. He is “from everlasting”—which refers to “earlier periods of history when the Lord made promises to the patriarchs, delivered Israel from Egypt, and led them in the conquest of Canaan” (Chisholm). He is the “Holy One,” and His holiness is the basis upon which one can come to Him for help in the first place. Verse 12 refers to YHWH as “Rock,” implying that YHWH is unchanging and sure. He is faithful in the midst of transitoriness of life in the world (Achtemeier). This is a real God, not a subjective one of one’s own making. From this acknowledgement of YHWH’s nature, we must therefore conclude that Habakkuk is a man of true faith. His challenge or question to YHWH isn’t merely petulant or rash; it comes from a place of deep trust. He had just received, as an answer to his question to YHWH, an even more bitter answer. Thus, his faith had received an greater challenge even as he was granted fuller insight into YHWH’s purposes; it is “not a weak faith, but a perplexed faith that torments Habakkuk” (Robertson). Habakkuk notes that YHWH has established these Chaldeans for the very purpose of Judah’s chastisement. I have translated this verb שַׂמְתֹּ֔ו “ordained,” demonstrating that YHWH has established them for this very purpose. These Chaldeans are described with fishing metaphors, in which all the nations are powerless and undisciplined schools of fish easily snatched up in dragnets. Then, because of their own self-serving interest, the Chaldeans actually worship the nets. Their validation comes from within, not without, as servants of YHWH would do it. Habakkuk’s question in verse 17 is, essentially, “Is this bad guy to keep emptying his nets and destroying nations without mercy?” Interestingly, YHWH’s purpose has always been that of ultimate salvation of His people. So Habakkuk’s question is sincere and profound: this doesn’t look like it’s headed toward your program—the one rooted in Your eternal and holy nature. How long are you going to keep allowing this to happen? As the next chapter begins, Habakkuk finishes his line of questioning and does something very peculiar: he waits. The military terminology of ramparts only helps to establish that he sees YHWH as a fortress or unchanging rock, and now he will wait for His response. This is telling: Habakkuk doesn’t attempt to conjure or cajole or manipulate a response from YHWH’s Spirit. He waits because there is no way to glean YHWH’s word. There is no wisdom in the world that can find out the ways of God. The true revealer of God is the Word of God (John 1.3). Habakkuk waits. He is totally dependent on the word of God, not the other way around. As Elizabeth Achtemeier puts it, “there is no abandoning his faith here in the face of perplexity, no despairing cessation of a lifetime habit of prayer, no shadow of suspicion that God has proved untrue, but there is only the firm confidence that God has yet more to speak and do, and the persistent, patient waiting and watching for that divine speech and action.” In other words, in the face of confusing morality and an ignorance of what YHWH’s plan is, Habakkuk is going to sit down, shut up, and wait.

 

It would be nicer if we knew what God was up to. It would be nice if all doctor reports showed perfection. It would be nice if our bank accounts were always full. It would be nice if there were no conflict among God’s people. It would be nice if we KNEW what He was up to in this program called life. But we do not know. We are finite beings, incapable of even comprehending God’s true program. In the face of unyielding and seemingly unending evil, we are called upon to process this—both for ourselves, and for others. And so we do two things: first, we acknowledge God’s true nature. He is holy, He is the everlasting One, and He is the rock. His eternal and holy nature necessitate that the ultimate outcome of all of these trials and tribulations will be ultimate salvation. In the face of perplexing circumstances, we yet trust His nature. It is in His very nature to save…to heal…to deliver….to provide. Doesn’t look like it’s happening right now? Fine. We trust His nature, even when we can’t see how it makes any sense whatsoever in this moment. The second thing we do is even harder than the first one.

 

We wait.

 

This is hard stuff for many Pentecostals. We have unfortunately fallen under the spell of many who teach us that we can raise our hands or shout loudly enough or listen to just the right praise music while we pray…and the end result will be that we make God move. Many of us are under the mistaken impression that we can make God do what we want. We can heal others or ourselves, we can call down fire from heaven. But Habakkuk shows us that, once we sweep aside this pride-based delusion, all we really can do is wait for Him to answer. If you had the power to give God a push, you would be God. You are not God; ergo, you wait on Him. How long? Good question. As a matter of fact, that’s Habakkuk’s question…so if you ask it, you’ll be in good company.

 

Acknowledging God’s nature and waiting on Him are the two things that we do in the midst of adversity that bring Him glory. True people of faith act this way. They lob their questions and challenges at God, but those questions and challenges come from a place of trust. We trust His nature, and we wait for Him to answer. And as we wait, we know that He WILL answer, because it is in His very nature.

 

Acknowledge and wait.