Who Are You To Talk? Habakkuk 2:6-20

November 11, 2007

Sermon Manuscript – November 11, 2007

This is a “fire and brimstone” section of the Bible. There are five “woes,” which are pronouncements of destruction and punishment by God upon the Babylonians. There’s a woe on those who pile up what isn’t theirs. There’s a woe on those who set their nest on high to glorify themselves. There’s a woe on those who delight in shedding others’ blood. There’s a woe on those who cause others to drink from the bitter cup of suffering. And there’s a woe on those who fashion and worship idols. God is very angry about these things, and He’s going to deal with it.

This passage is bad news for a lot of people. And there’s no sense denying that. This is the side of God that many people don’t like to think about. This is the God who comes in wrath. This is the God who is angry, who punishes, who destroys, who takes life. This is the stern God who sits in judgment, taking vengeance upon the wicked.

So, right at the start, we face an undeniable truth about our God. This is no teddy bear God; the Lion of Judah is not a tame lion. He is love, yes, but he is also just. To emphasize one aspect of God to the exclusion of another is irresponsible. In fact, to paint God as being simply positive, warm, soft, and safe while downplaying the sterner stuff of his character is perilously close to creating a god of our own liking. And look at verses 18-20, where God pronounces woe upon those who do just that.

I want everyone to notice this. This is God’s plan. God isn’t just saying that this is bad karma or something – he’s not saying that bad stuff will just happen of its own accord. Verse 16: the cup is in the LORD’s hand, and it is God who will force the Babylonians to drink it. What does that mean? The image of a cup is fairly common in the Bible. And very often, like in this case, it is a cup being served to human beings by the Lord. So what’s in the cup? In the words of Revelation 16, it’s “the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” I think Psalm 11 sums up the idea quite well: “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” The consequences of sin don’t just happen on their own. God “dishes it out.” God will take a very personal role in punishing the wicked.

Listen. God doesn’t need to be “let off the hook.” God’s not trying to hide anything! He is the Righteous Judge of the whole universe, and He’s proud of it! He’s looking for glory in His punishment of the wicked – who wants to rob God of His glory? The whole Bible – not just the Old Testament – makes clear that God values His character and His justice as being matchless treasures. God will not compromise His principles, like we so often do. That means He’s got some unpleasant stuff that He has to do. Ezekiel reminds us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked – but God certainly does take pleasure in goodness and righteousness and justice.

That is good news. Not for those who oppose God, for sure. But for those who love justice as God defines it – that is, those who long for the day when all things will be conformed to the image of Christ, those who long for everything and everyone to be in submission to God and practicing His ways – for those people, God’s love of justice and willingness to punish evil is good news. If you’ve ever been cheated or robbed by someone else – read verses 6-8, and take comfort in the fact that God will deal with those sins the way he dealt with the Babylonians’. If you’ve ever been walked over by someone else on their way up the ladder, read verses 9-11, and see what God thought of the Babylonians doing the same thing. God’s going to judge the world, and every wrong thing will be punished and set right.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, that’s good news, because we will inherit a world where God’s justice reigns. Where life is like it was supposed to be – free of fear and pain and suffering. Where, finally, love and truth and peace and joy can actually flourish. Have you ever thought about how all these good things are possible? It’s all because God’s not just a cuddly, teddy bear kind of God. It’s all because He’s willing to be tough. Because He’s willing to deal with evil. Because He won’t compromise. Because He is a just God. And He will do what He says. He’s got a plan to punish the wicked, and it will happen.

That’s why we can afford to turn the other cheek. Yes, bad things happen, but God will take care of it. We don’t have to. In fact, as Christians we are commanded to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive the brother who hurts us. It’s not an option! If someone hurt you recently, if they did something wrong, bring it to God. Ask Him to help you forgive. And ask Him to help you leave the settling of scores and getting even in His hands. That’s His plan. He’s going to make things right.

That’s our first point. God has a plan. He plans to punish the wicked. He plans to bring justice to the world. And He will bring it to pass.

THE UGLINESS OF PRIDE

Why is God so angry? Why does He hate evil so much that He’s willing to suffer the death of His own Son rather than just sweep sin under the rug?

Look at verses 6-14. The Babylonians were sweeping across the Middle East. They defeated every army in their path. The superpowers of the day, the Assyrians, the Egyptians, tried to stop them but were crushed. Walled cities were no defence. The first chapter of our book said that the Babylonians just piled up earth and took those cities, and there are pictures and sculptures from the time that show them doing exactly that.

They pile up what isn’t theirs – verse 6. They plundered the nations – verse 8. Back then, warfare was very profitable. You capture a city and you get to loot it. This included people, as well – warfare resulted in prisoners, and quite often these prisoners were sold as slaves – for a tidy profit. The soldiers would quite often get a cut of what the army took, and this was a way to maintain discipline and keep morale up.

They shed a lot of blood – look at verse 12. Why? Killing people was, and is, a means of control. An invading army might kill a large number of people simply as an example, to encourage obedience and dissuade anyone who might resist the new order. Blood was the price paid to build the empire – to found a city of iniquity. To create this kingdom of man and to maintain it against opposition required killing a lot of people.

For what end? Look to verse 9. They seek to build a nest on high, the prophet writes. Why do birds build nests on high? Erin once told me a story about a hawk that built a nest on a telephone pole in her hometown in New Brunswick. Hawks are beautiful birds, but like these Babylonians, they are ruthless. One day, this hawk went hunting. And the townspeople learned very quickly what that hawk had caught. Up in that nest, high above the road, where no one could reach, no one could interfere, that hawk had brought a little puppy. And Erin told me how horrible it was to listen to that puppy cry, and how the people of the town tried to rescue it. That’s why birds build nests up high, though. They keep their young – and their food – up there so others can’t get at them. So others can’t interfere in what they were doing. Those people couldn’t save that puppy, because that hawk had build its nest on high. And like that hawk, the Babylonians lifted themselves above other men, building a great empire that was too strong and too high for others to interfere or to tell them what to do.

In the Bible, the image of lifting up high means to make oneself great. The Babylonians craved greatness. They were proud. They exalted themselves. And they crushed everyone else to make it possible. Their high perch was build with other people’s stones, their nest lined with the soft, cushy things they robbed from others. All to make themselves great. All to become the highest and the most important. How often do we seek the same thing? Let’s examine our hearts – which of us want to be famous, want to be important, want to be above the rest, want to be better than everyone else?

It’s so easy to do. Some of us try to dress better than everyone else. Some of us want to build something that makes us special – a nice house, a big personal library, the fastest computer, the most powerful sound system in your car – you name it. We gossip about others who stumble or fall or do something wrong, even though we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations. We look down at other people because of their behaviour or values or social status, when it is only the grace of God that makes our position any better than theirs. We all have this tendency to try to be better than other people.

God hates human pride. He hates it because, in its essence, pride is the declaration that we don’t need God. That God is irrelevant, useless, that we are His equals or even better. Pride is replacing God with self.

THAT THE WORLD WILL KNOW HIS GLORY

We live in a world dedicated to exalting itself. And it’s all pointless. It’s all so silly. Why? Why is it so absurd? After all, many of these people succeed. They get the bigger house, the fatter wallet, the faster car.

It’s pointless because it won’t last. Eventually, every one of those proud people will die. And then they’ll come face to face with the One whose glory they tried to take.
The prophet writes, “is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?” What’s so ironic is that this frenzied rush by so many people to raise themselves high is itself “from the Lord.” Why? It’s judgment. God has given them over to a wild-goose chase. He has sentenced them to a life of chasing something they can never have. The ancient Greeks had this story of a man who was sentenced by the gods to roll a stone up a hill, and then when he got there, watch it roll down the other side and have to start over again, for all eternity. That’s kind of what the True God does here – he gives these sinful men (and women!) over to their evil desires, and they spend the rest of their earthly lives pushing the stone of worldly fame and fortune up the hill of life, only to watch it roll down the other side – whether during their lives or at the end when they meet the Living God.

It goes on: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” This is the aim of creation. This is the purpose for which God created the world – that it might be filled with people who know who God is and recognize Him for just how valuable He is. This is our second point. God has a purpose. That purpose is that all creation will know His glory. That all the earth will acknowledge His greatness and worth.

The rat race is pointless because all of its participants are losers. They lost the moment they entered the game. Only God will get the glory. Only God will be exalted and lifted high and worshiped – forever and ever. What is a world empire compared to that? What is a business monopoly or the world’s fastest car or the possession of a few million dollars compared to that? What are a few short years – as comfortable as they may seem – compared to the riches of everlasting life with God… or never-ending years of suffering under God’s punishment in hell?

God’s aim is that the knowledge of His glory will fill the earth. Not just the glory itself – His aim is that it be acknowledged and recognized. That’s the real purpose of evangelism and missions, you know. Worship. We evangelize because there are people out there who don’t worship Him, and to bring them to do that. The only life that matters, the only life that will ultimately make any difference, is one lived to the glory of God. Do you want to matter? Do you want to live a life that’s not a waste, that means something? Live your life in service to God, every moment as worship to Him.

One day, every human being will know God’s glory. Some will do so joyfully and willingly. The rest will do so grudgingly and angrily, not wanting to admit it, but unable to deny that God is indeed the most precious and valuable thing – Person – there is. That’s our second point this morning – God’s purpose, that the knowledge of God’s beauty and goodness will one day fill the whole earth. That’s His purpose. That should be ours as well.

SHALL THE MAKER SERVE WHAT IS MADE?

Now, some of the most biting sarcasm we find in the Bible is reserved for those who make idols. Our passage is a classic example. Look at verses 18-20, and see how God ridicules them.

It’s quite a contrast being made here, and it revolves around one quality – the ability to speak. See, idols can’t speak. They’re rocks. They’re blocks of wood, hunks of metal. They are speechless. And yet human beings, who have the gift of speech, who can communicate, for some reason will carve an image out of some material and put their trust in it. They will cry out to these gods, who cannot cry back. Their prayers go unanswered because their gods cannot answer. We have the power of speech – God gave it to us. Yet we try to serve things that cannot speak – things like money, like ideas, like possessions – while ignoring the One whose words created the universe from nothing. It’s the height of foolishness.

It’s also exactly backwards. There’s a good definition of idolatry in verse 18: “its maker trusts in his own creation.” The way things should be has been turned around. Creation is supposed to serve the maker. Yet idolatry is an attempt by the maker to serve the creation. Could God be pointing out something about sin here? We already saw that God is fighting human pride here – the human urge to exalt himself, to be his own god. Could it be that it’s even worse than that? Could it be that idolatry expresses one of sinful, fallen humanity’s most perverse desires – that its True Maker be subjected and made to serve the creation?

How many times do we as believers try to make God serve us? We pray for things we should not have. We substitute faith in God for faith in our own faith, or believe in what we think God will do for us instead of believing in God Himself. We demand and we claim things from God as if we are somehow entitled to His service. We turn prayer, which is supposed to be an act of worship and submission, into an attempt to dominate and manipulate.

That’s a lot of noise that God has to put up with from us. You know, we talk an awful lot, we human beings.

THE VALUE OF SILENCE

Ever notice how much we like to immerse ourselves in noise? Erin can’t sleep without “white noise,” a fan or something making noise to soothe her to sleep. And for my part, I can’t seem to drive anywhere without the radio on, listening to music or talk shows. People in our culture leave their TVs on just for background noise – without even paying attention. I did it as I wrote this sermon! We even put soundtracks to speeches and sermons these days, even. It’s even a technical term now: “surround sound.”

We’re afraid of silence. I don’t know why that is. But silence makes us uncomfortable. If I was to stand here and stop talking, and just let the silence hang there, everyone’s skin would be crawling after just a few moments. Am I right? Ever been there with a person, trying to think of something to talk about, desperately uncomfortable in the silence?

Silence can carry a message all its own. When a person goes silent in a conversation, something is wrong. When you see something so beautiful you can’t find words, and you just stand there speechless, it means something.

Our inclination is to make speechless things to serve and devote our lives to. In contrast, look how our prophet wraps up his message: “Let all the earth keep silence before him.” Just – don’t say anything. The gods of the nations are silent before their worshippers, but with the True God, it’s the other way around.

Job, when his life fell apart, presumed to question how God ran His world. God responded, essentially asking, “Who are you to question God?” And Job’s answer? “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Paul, in Romans 9, is describing God’s choice of some people over others. And he describes an objection: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’” Paul’s answer? “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’”

God knows every word before we even say it. He knows the very thoughts of our hearts. So really, isn’t there a sense in which we really don’t actually have anything to say to God at all? This passage reminds us that sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Sometimes, God just wants us to be quiet before Him. I wonder sometimes if we don’t spend enough time in silence before God – time spent not talking to him, not even praying silently, but just silent before Him.

CONCLUSION

Let all the earth keep silence before him! And so, to close today, we are going to do something different. We’re going to have another moment of silence. We do this for men on Remembrance Day; I think it’s fitting that, today of all days, we take another moment and spend it in silence in honour of God. This one is going to be an offering of worship to Him. Instead of a song of praise – us talking again – we’re going to praise Him with our silence.

– Jeff Jones

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One Response to “Who Are You To Talk? Habakkuk 2:6-20”

  1. Naila said

    May GOD bless you for bringing insight from GODs perspective on the book of Habakkuk.

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