From Fear To Faith (1) “Questions & Answers”
Habakkuk 1 & 2
During a terrible thunderstorm, a mother was tucking her little boy up in bed before turning off the light. Frightened by the storm, the little fellow asked, “Mommy, will you stay with me tonight?” Hugging him she replied, “No, dear, I have to go back & be with daddy.” Looking puzzled the little boy then asked, “You mean daddy is also afraid of the storm?”
Even when we are grown up, the storms of life can make us afraid. We sometimes feel alone & vulnerable. We find it hard to believe God is in control & wonder if we will make it through the storm. In this message & the next, as we look at the Old Testament book of Habakkuk – which has just 3 chapters – we are going to think about how to move from fear to faith, from doubt & questioning to trust.
The prophet Habakkuk lived in violent & evil times. Babylon had conquered the once powerful Assyrian Empire & quickly became the new superpower – around about 600 B.C. (By the way, just over 100 years earlier in 722B.C. part of the Jewish homeland, the northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed by the Assyrians). In Habakkuk’s time, the southern kingdom of Judah with its capital Jerusalem was increasingly coming under threat from Babylon. Babylon invaded Judah a few times & took captives. Looking at society around & looking at the wider international scene, Habakkuk was filled with fear & apprehension. He saw no hope. In fact, towards the end of his ministry the Babylonian army laid siege to Jerusalem itself. And the year after Habakkuk died, the Babylonians finally broke through the city walls & destroyed the city & burnt the Temple. Thousands were slaughtered.
1. The Prophet’s First Question (1:1-4)
Habakkuk saw the danger facing God’s people – danger both from within, from moral collapse, & danger from without, from foreign powers. He loved God’s people & longed for them to turn back to God – but no matter how much he prayed, he seemed to get no answers. Nothing seemed to change. Things only went from bad to worse. So in v.2, Habakkuk asks God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” Habakkuk felt God was not listening.
Dear brothers & sisters, are any of you feeling this way? Are you fearful or worried about the future? Have you been asking God to help you but He does not seem to be listening? Maybe you are praying for a loved one to be healed but they are not getting better. Maybe you are praying for a job or for a visa but all the doors still seem shut in your face. Maybe a colleague at work or your boss is giving you a really hard time but no matter how hard you pray God seems to be doing nothing about them.
Habakkuk felt like this, but he was not just praying about personal needs & issues of course. The nation was on his heart. He saw the decline in morals & religious life. He saw conflict & division in society. He saw exploitation & greed, cruelty & violence. He asks God how long must I “…cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?”
Not only was there violence, there was injustice. Habakkuk says in v.3, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” And he goes on in v.4, “...the law is paralysed, & justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” Habakkuk saw injustice all around. Bad people were doing & saying evil things & getting away with it. And good people were being ignored, shouted down, criticised & attacked.
How similar this sounds to today! Some people break the rules. They don’t care about right & wrong. They cheat & lie & do their own thing – and no one says a word. Yet other people stand up & speak up for what is right. They tell the truth, they show kindness to the needy & live a godly life – and what happens to them? They get hemmed in, pushed into a corner, criticised, called ‘bigots’, laughed at, maligned. There is no fairness, no justice.
Evangelist Franklin Graham is one of many American Christian leaders who have been calling upon fellow believers to pray for their nation in this election year. Franklin Graham said that the United States is in “big-time trouble.” He said, “No political party is going to be able to turn this around. My only hope is in Almighty God & His son, Jesus Christ. The most important thing we can do is pray. God hears prayer & God answers prayer.”
In his day the prophet Habakkuk saw the desperate situation facing his nation & he obviously did pray. However, when he saw no answers to his prayers he could not help but cry out to God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” Would God answer his cry? This brings us to our second point:
2. God’s Answer (1:5-11)
God does answer Habakkuk. This is one of the great truths we learn from Habakkuk. God wants us to come to Him with our struggles & fears, & our doubts. But what we also learn is that God does not always answer us in the way we might expect or hope.
God says to Habakkuk, “Look at the nations & watch – and be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (v.5) God tells Habakkuk that He is going to do amazing things, so amazing that people would be left speechless. And God tells Habakkuk not to simply look at what was going on in Judah & in Jerusalem but he was to “…look at the nations & watch.” God wanted Habakkuk to know that He is not only the God of Israel but is also the God of history. He is Lord over the nations. God is in control even of pagan peoples & nations. We may not always see it or realise it but God is in control. No one will frustrate or block His plans & His purposes. And what we must remember is that God is in control of our situations too – even if at first we do not see it or understand what God is doing.
What was going to leave Habakkuk & God’s people speechless? What was going to be so amazing? God says in v.6, “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless & impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.” Habakkuk never expected God to work in & through pagan nations. How could He use those ruthless, cruel, godless, idol-worshipping Babylonians to fulfil His purposes for His people & to fulfil His purposes in the world? It was a shocking thought.
And today we might find it hard to believe that God can use godless politicians, evil dictators or corrupt regimes to actually strengthen the church. We might find it hard to believe that God could use economic hardship, the collapse of moral values in society, civil, ethnic & religious conflict, or natural disasters – to move forward His plans & purposes in history. But as Jewish missionary & theologian Martin Goldsmith says, “It is important for us to learn to see the hand of God at work in every aspect of history.”
One very powerful example of this, I believe, is how God has worked in China. In 1949 when the communists took power it is estimated there were about 1 million Christians in the whole of China, out of a population of 500 million. By 1951 all missionaries had left China & pastors & Christian workers faced arrest if they did not cooperate with the new government & join the official church. Many churches were closed. By the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) there were no churches open in China, except one for foreign diplomats in Beijing. The Red Guards made bonfires with Bibles & believers were persecuted. Chairman Mao’s wife Jiang Qing boasted that Christianity had been put into a museum. Yet the fact is, God was still at work, even in those very dark days. And today we know that the number of Christians in China could be as many as 100 million. Marxism & atheism did not destroy the church – quite the opposite.
And if we think of our own lives & situations, we too must remember that God is at work even if we do not always realise it at the time. God sometimes allows very difficult people or circumstances to come into our lives – not to harm us or make life difficult for us, but in fact in order to teach us & bless us & in order to make us a blessing.
If you read 1:7–11 you will see a vivid description of the Babylonians. V.7 says, “They are a feared & dreaded people; they are a law to themselves & promote their own honour.” And in v.11 it says they are, “…guilty people, whose own strength is their god.” It seems unbelievable to Habakkuk that God says He is using these cruel evil people to fulfil His purposes for His people. And it may seem unbelievable to us that God uses difficult people & difficult circumstances to fulfil His purposes in our lives.
Some of you have been through very tough experiences, even heart-breaking experiences. Some of you have had to work with bad people who have given you a very hard time. Some of you have been abused, cheated, maligned, or unfairly treated by others. How do you feel? What can you say or do? How should you react? One thing we must do is remember who God is & we must remember that He is good & that He is in control. And we must remember that He is working all things together for good for those who love & obey Him. This brings us to our third point:
3. The Prophet’s Second Question (1:12-2:1)
Habakkuk has a follow-up question that he wants to ask God, but in asking this second question, he is not angry or bitter nor does he doubt God’s power or goodness. In fact before he asks his second question he expresses some wonderful truths about his Lord. He prays, “O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.” (v.12) Habakkuk affirms the truths he knows & believes about God. God is his Lord. God is eternal, from everlasting. He refers to God as “my Holy One”. He believes God will watch over him despite all that is happening. God is his Rock & God is a Rock for all His faithful people. Habakkuk also confesses that God is sovereign & has every right to use the Babylonians to execute judgment on God’s disobedient people.
Having stated his faith in who God is & what God is like, he now asks his second question. Something was worrying him. Again, let me say, God welcomes our honest questions. Like Habakkuk let us not feel afraid to bring these questions to the Lord.
Habakkuk says, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (v.13) Habakkuk wonders how God could use the Babylonians to punish the people of Judah – after all the Babylonians are worse than the people of Judah. It does not seem fair or right. Why would God use such a wicked & cruel enemy to judge & punish His people? Habakkuk gives more graphic descriptions of the wicked Babylonians in vrs 14-17. He did not understand how God could use them to help God’s own people turn back to Him.
Applying all this to ourselves, we might ask how God can use bad people to teach us valuable lessons & bring us closer to Himself? Why does God allow us to suffer & do nothing about the ones causing our suffering? Why does He allow us to be abused or cheated or treated unfairly?
Well, if you have such questions in your heart & mind I suggest you join with Habakkuk & say, “I will stand at my watch & station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me, & what answer I am to give to this complaint.” (2:1) Watchtowers were often built on the walls of cities so that watchmen could keep a look out for people approaching – either messengers or enemies. The picture here is of Habakkuk waiting & watching out for God’s answer.
4. God’s Answer (2:2-20)
God answers Habakkuk’s second question. We read in 2:2 & 3, “Then the Lord replied: ‘Write down the revelation & make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end & will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come & will not delay.’” God wanted Habakkuk to write down His answer clearly, so that others would be able to understand it too. It was a message that needed to be passed on to others. God also tells Habakkuk that full understanding may only come later at “…an appointed time.” This is a very important truth we need to remember. God does answer but in His time & way. Yes, certain things we do not understand, not yet, but one day we will. God will make them plain. God tells Habakkuk, “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come & will not delay.”
There is an old song which goes:
“I don’t worry o’er the future, for I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him, for He knows what is ahead.
Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow & I know He holds my hand.”
God assures Habakkuk that one day he will see & understand but in the meantime, he must live by faith. In 2:4, God tells Habakkuk, “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith.” The forces of evil get puffed up with foolish pride, but one day judgment will come. In the meantime God’s faithful people must not lose heart for we live by faith.
Hebrews 11:1 gives a definition of faith. It says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for & certain of what we do not see.” Two words describe faith – sure & certain.
Imagine a little child excited about their approaching birthday. They have good reason to believe that on their birthday they will get a nice surprise – a special birthday present & perhaps some other special treats. Faith is like this. Based on what we know about God, we can fully trust Him to fulfil His promises. We can be sure that He has wonderful surprises for us, His children.
Faith is having simple trust & enduring confidence in the justice, power, wisdom & goodness of God. Modern man often says, “I will only believe when I see!” But in the Christian life, very often it is a case of believing even when we do not see. It is trusting God even when we do not have all the answers. Faith does not rest upon feelings or circumstances. When my late wife was battling cancer her faith held firm even though her feelings & my feelings too, were not always happy feelings. Even though we did not see God heal her we never lost our confidence in His love or in the fact He was in full control.
Yes, God can even use bad situations & bad people to draw you closer to Himself. He may allow you to go through hard times but only in order to bless you & through you to bless others. So then, whatever is going on around you & whatever is happening to you, you can have full confidence in the justice, power, wisdom & love of God. He is good, all the time, & He is in full control. Do not doubt, do not live in fear. You may be going through a storm, & all around you may be dark, but the Lord is with you & He holds your hand!