Taking Comfort In An Awesome God: Habakkuk 3

November 26, 2007

Sermon Manuscript – November 25, 2007

HABAKKUK HAS A VISION

There’s a story in 2 Chronicles 6 about the prophet Elisha. The Syrian army has surrounded his hometown and they’re looking to kill him, because he’s been passing information about Syrian troop movements to the Israelite army. And Elisha is standing on the city wall with his servant, looking over the hundreds of tents and fluttering banners, watching the hot sun glinting and flashing and reflecting off the polished steel weapons and armour of thousands of enemy soldiers. His servant is in bad shape – he panics. “What are we going to do?”And Elisha just prays to God that his servant’s eyes will be opened. And suddenly, the servant sees thousands of fiery chariots and horses surrounding the enemy troops. He had a vision of God’s awesome power.

I think Habakkuk must have had something similar. Earlier in the book, in Chapter 2, verse 1, Habakkuk declares that he’s going to take his stand at his post. Like a sentry, he’s going to climb the stairs up to the top of the city wall, he’s going to take a position with a clear field of view, and he’s going to watch. Patiently. Passing the hours, staring across the plains below to the distant mountains, expecting at any moment to receive a vision. Habakkuk had been waiting patiently for an answer, and we read part of that answer last time – the five woes that God pronounced against the Babylonians. Well, Habakkuk responded with the psalm of praise we’re reading today, and I think that this song is itself a revelation from God.

Verse 3 – maybe he was looking to the southeast, toward Sinai, where the Israelites had received the Law, the direction that they had come from to conquer the promised land. And Habakkuk sees something awesome. From Teman, and Mount Paran – in the kingdom of Edom, down in the southeast – he sees a great light. Look at verse 4 – dazzling rays of light, so bright that God is veiling them so that they don’t destroy everything they touch. They’re veiled because no man can look upon God’s face and live – Exodus 33:20 – because God is that glorious.

THE POWER OF THE MOST HIGH

And as the light approaches, something even more terrifying happens. There’s a terrible earthquake – verse 6. The city walls are cracking and crumbling under his feet, bricks and rocks are falling from the buildings into the streets, and everyone in the city is screaming and shouting. And Habakkuk looks across the plains and sees an incredible sight. The mighty mountains to the east, that towered over the city, that year after year, age after age, never moved or changed – verse 10: those great mountains are writhing. Like a ball of snakes, the mountain ranges themselves are twisting and rolling as if in excruciating pain. And as the great light of the Lord passes through them, they are actually leaping out of His way, scattering every which way like antelope fleeing before a hungry lion. And as the light draws closer, the foothills that surrounded those mountains are sinking. Like balloons losing air, or a pile of sand collapsing, the hills are wasting away as God approaches, making the way clear and flat before Him.

And as the ground shakes, it begins to crack, and water from seas and lakes and oceans pours in. Verse 9 – raging rivers divide the land, sweeping aside houses and animals and people, splitting the landscape like a spiderweb of cracks spreading across a windshield. Off to the west, Habakkuk hears a growing roar, the crashing of waves and the thunder of surf. Verse 10 – the great Mediterranean Sea is frothing and boiling, great waves of water stretching out toward the light of the Lord as he approaches.

This is our God. This is the One we’re here to worship today, the God who made the entire universe with just a word, who personally shaped and molded each one of us, forming us tenderly and lovingly in the womb. This is a God of unimaginable power. This is a God of unthinkable might and strength. Nothing man has devised can even begin to measure up against the awesome power of Israel’s God. Who can scatter whole mountain ranges? Who can stop rivers with a word, dry up seas with a gesture, flatten hills with a thought? Our God is a God of staggering power. That’s our first point today. “Our God Is An Awesome God” –you know, that’s an understatement. I want you to keep that in mind as we go on. Ours is a God of power.

GOD OF JUDGMENT

Habakkuk’s still in this vision, clinging for his very life to the crumbling walls. And as the light approaches, he sees an even more terrifying sight. The golden fields and the green orchards below begin to turn brown. The leaves curl up and dry out; the animals fall to the ground and die; men and women and children cry out in pain and sickness. Verse 5: a plague is coming, driving in front of God as He approaches. And way off in the distance, beyond the great light, Habakkuk sees pestilence – disease and suffering and death, all following hard on God’s heels. Plague and pestilence – we’re not used to that in our world of healthcare and vaccines and disinfectant. But in Habakkuk’s day, even something as mild as the flu could wipe out whole villages. Think of the pictures you’ve seen on TV about Ebola in the Congo, or of the AIDS pandemic in South Africa – that’s plague and pestilence. And it’s coming Habakkuk’s way.

And another sound comes to his ears, growing and getting louder. It’s a pounding noise, like distant drums. The thudding gets louder and faster, and in the light Habakkuk can see shapes. Horses – great, big, powerful horses. And as those figures become clearer, there’s another sound – a rumbling and clattering sound. And Habakkuk sees the horses are pulling something – verse 8: a great big chariot, with huge wheels and a figure of blinding light driving it. More horses appear – hundreds, thousands of them. An army, a horde of huge beasts carrying a fierce and angry host of warriors on their backs.

Verse 11: at that sight – thousands of glinting swords and polished helmets – the sun, which had been sinking down to the horizon, suddenly freezes. The moon, which had been rising in the evening sky, stops cold. Like in the days of Joshua, the sun and the moon stand still in the presence of their maker. Like they did for Joshua, they will hold their place so that the army of God can do their dreadful work.

For this heavenly host has come for war. Look at verse 12. Their Lord is angry. No, actually, not just angry. He’s furious. His people have ignored Him and despised Him and rejected Him long enough. His people have killed His messengers, crushed the poor, abused the orphans, stolen from the widows for far too long. The nation that bore His name had chased after other gods, very literally prostituting themselves with the idols of the nations. They have chosen their path. They’ve had their chance.

And that’s not all. Israel isn’t God’s only target. The Babylonians, that “bitter and hasty nation” spoken of in chapter one, have also drawn God’s wrath. They’ve swept across the earth like a swarm of locusts, devouring everything in their path. They’ve crushed every nation that arose to oppose them – including the people of God. They’ve raped and pillaged and slaughtered, committed unspeakable crimes, unthinkable atrocities. And the Lord of Hosts has come in judgment – come to set things right.

Suddenly the figure in the chariot roars – verse 9. The voice is like thunder – it splits the ground and shakes the stars: “Arrows! Bring me my arrows!” In His hand appears a great bow – so huge, its ends stretch out like the wings of an airplane, the string so thick it could tie a ship to shore. And the Lord lets fly His arrows – flashing like lightning bolts, smashing towers, striking down giants, piercing city walls like paper. The armies of the nations, soldiers beyond number, chariots and horses and kings fall before the Lord. Look at verse 12: the nations are threshed like wheat at the harvest, beaten and tossed in the air for the wind to carry away the chaff. Nothing stands in His way. Nothing stops Him. In His fury, He marches through the nations. In His wrath, all who dare to rise against Him are destroyed.

This is our God. This is the Lord who we’re here to worship today, the God who wrote His Law on stone tablets, who made His will known to shepherds and fishermen, whose legions of angels cry, “Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord Almighty!” This is a God of unimaginable perfection. This is a God of unthinkable purity and beauty. And he sees the sin of the nations – His own people of Israel, and all the others who have taken His love for granted, who have forgotten His ways, who have rebelled against His authority and done things their own way. This is a God who is enraged with sin. He sees the moral decay of humanity and it makes Him angry. He hears of the crimes of men and women and He rises up in anger. This is a God who can’t stand His law being broken, who cannot bear His perfect image being tarnished by the bad things that His creation has done. Now He’s coming in judgment.

That’s the second point today. Our God is not just a God of unspeakable might, who can make mountains scatter and oceans boil. No – all that terrifying power and immeasurable might and strength is being directed in anger at the sinfulness of human beings. All that power is being channelled and pointed in wrath at living, breathing people on the street. Ours is a God who is marching through the nations bringing terrible judgment on sin. Ours is a God who brings calamity, who takes life, who judges and sentences to hell. Ours is a God furious with sin, because it is opposed to everything that He is. Ours is a God of judgment. That’s our second point.

That’s just terrifying. That’s what Habakkuk has seen.

FEAR THIS

Listen to our prophet’s response – verse 16. He shakes like a leaf. Have you ever been so scared, that you couldn’t stop shaking? Habakkuk sees the power and the wrath of God, and his lips quiver, his teeth chatter with fear. Rottenness enters his bones – a cold and empty feeling fills his body, the blood rushes from his arms and legs and his skin goes pale. His legs go weak –he leans against the wall, trying to keep his composure.

He fears the Lord. And you know, that’s not a bad thing. A little fear is often a very healthy thing. We fear electricity, for instance. We know that it can hurt us or even kill us. So we fear it – not a terror kind of fear, not a paralysing or depressing kind of fear, but a respectful, careful, wary kind of fear. A fear that keeps us from touching bare wires or setting appliances next to the bathtub. Now, my son Caden doesn’t have that fear. He doesn’t fear electricity. I see him trying to put knives and screwdrivers into electric sockets now. I’ve had to cover them all up. Why? Because Caden doesn’t fear electricity. He doesn’t know what it is! If he knew it – he would fear it, right? Fear is a good thing in this case. It’s a mark of maturity, right?

When I was a kid, we were living in Elkford, in the Crowsnest Pass, in an apartment building. One night I was in bed, and I was sleeping, when there was this tremendous BANG. The whole room flashed with this blue light – the flash was just huge. I remember literally jumping out of bed. That scared me – I remember my heart racing and my muscles tensing and that cold, trembling feeling you get after a sudden surprise. What had happened was this: there was a thunderstorm, and a lightning flash hit an electrical box or transformer and blew it out. It was so powerful that the blast ripped a hole in the side of the building, broken glass everywhere. I think the telephone pole was thrown into it. That’s what electricity can do if you’re not careful.

God is like that. Just like you don’t mess around with electricity or take chances with it, don’t mess around with God. Ours is a big God. Ours is a dangerous God. He is holy and powerful, and He takes His purity and His justice very seriously. To really know God for who and what He is, to actually understand Him, is to fear Him. Habakkuk saw what happens when people stop doing that, what happens when people get careless with God. And his healthy, respectful fear turned to terror, just like it did for me that moment I was scared out of bed.

HE COMES TO SAVE

Is it any wonder that Habakkuk cries out, “In wrath, remember mercy!”? If God gave us what we deserved, who could stand? If God was “fair,” what would we get? Which of us has done nothing wrong? Which of us hasn’t at one time or another taken something that wasn’t ours, or looked at a woman in a lustful and dishonourable way, or hidden the truth with lies, or built up bitterness and hate in our hearts for another person? We have all sinned. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God – all have turned away, done what is wrong, earned God’s wrath.

This is a vision, yes. A picture, a verbal painting. But its message is true – this mighty God will one day come in judgment. It’s terrifying. But – it’s not the whole story. That’s not the whole vision.

Look at verse 8. That great chariot, that terrifying war machine, what is it named? What does the prophet call it? “Your chariot of salvation.” Salvation!

God is angry, but it’s not an uncontrolled rage. He has a purpose. In the midst of all these fearful things, the prophet sees a promise: God is salvation. That’s our third point. God comes to save. He comes to protect and defend and to set free.

Who is He coming to save? Look at verse 13: God goes out for the salvation of His people. That sounds strange, actually. The whole book of Habakkuk is about God’s plan to destroy the kingdom of Judah – His people! – and have them dragged off into exile. Habakkuk has bad news. Babylonians are coming. When they get here, it’s all over.

How is God coming to save His people, then? Has He changed His mind? No. In verse 2, Habakkuk asks that God remember mercy in His wrath. The wrath is coming for sure. It’s certain. Habakkuk doesn’t ask that the wrath be cancelled – only that God temper and moderate it with mercy. But it’s still coming. In verse 16, the prophet says that he will wait patiently for the day of trouble to come on the invaders – he assumes, he takes for granted, the fact that the invasion is still on. Judah will be destroyed. So whatever this salvation is, it’s not that Judah will be saved from the Babylonians.

What is it, then? The answer is in verse 13: God is coming for the salvation of His anointed. The Hebrew is singular – it means “anointed one.” For a Hebrew, this would have two possible meanings. First, it might be the king of Judah. The king was God’s “anointed,” set apart by God to rule His people. As a descendant of King David, the king of Judah was special – because God promised David that one of His descendants would rule forever. The second possible meaning was that promised ruler himself – the Messiah, the Son of David.

God is coming to save His people, and to save His anointed one. That is, even though Judah will be conquered and the Jews sent into exile, God will keep His promise. The Jews will not be stamped out of existence – God will protect a remnant, a faithful few, and He will preserve them and save them. And the line of David will not be destroyed – it will be preserved. There will still be a king from David’s house. God will save His anointed one – He will preserve Him and protect Him.

What does that mean for us? We know who that Anointed One is. The Son of David, the promised King, was Jesus Christ. God became a man and came to earth to bring salvation for anyone who believes in Him. Jesus Christ came to save us from the terrifying vision Habakkuk saw. He came to save us from the wrath of God, from the punishment we all deserve for our sins. And He did so by allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross and left to die – the only good man died for sinful human beings, the innocent dying in the place of the guilty. On that cross, Christ absorbed the wrath of God that Habakkuk describes so graphically for us. Christ received the punishment that was meant for us. He died in our place. And God kept His promise that we find here in our passage – on the third day He saved His Anointed One, by raising Him from the dead. By going out for the salvation of His Anointed One, God saved His people.

So the question, then, is: who are His people? Our passage is clear: some are saved, others are not. God saves His people. Who are they? Habakkuk 2:4 – everyone who lives by his faith. God’s people are everyone who believes in Jesus and trusts in Him for their salvation. Are you one of God’s people? You are if you believe. You are if you, like Habakkuk, cry out to God for mercy, and, like Habakkuk, trust in God’s promises. If you do not yet believe, if you haven’t trusted in Christ for your salvation, read this passage again. The wrath of God is coming – God will judge the earth, and no one will survive unless they believe in Jesus Christ. Don’t wait. Cry out to God, like Habakkuk. Ask for mercy and trust in the Anointed One, Jesus Christ, to save you.

REJOICE IN THE LORD!

In light of all the bad stuff, it seems strange to read the last three verses. In spite of it all, Habakkuk rejoices. The fig trees don’t blossom, there’s no fruit on the vines, the olive crop’s failed, no sheep can be found – for an agricultural society like Judah, this was a disaster! There’s no food! There’s no clothing! So why does Habakkuk rejoice?

Because of the awesome power of God. We’ve already seen how incredibly powerful God is. We’ve seen what He can do. See, Habakkuk believes in God. He has faith. He knows that he is one of God’s people. And he rejoices, because all of the awesome power of God is being employed to save him and to keep him from harm. It doesn’t matter how bad things get! Habakkuk has God on his side! What more does he need? What could be better? For what more could he ask?

Now, that doesn’t mean that life won’t get uncomfortable. Habakkuk’s nation is about to be conquered and its people dragged away to a faraway land. Even the faithful will feel the pain. They’ll suffer alongside everyone else. We don’t know what happened to Habakkuk after this. Maybe he died before it came true. Maybe he died in the invasion, or was dragged off into exile like Ezekiel was. We don’t know. And Habakkuk knew that hard times would come – he describes them here. See, being a Christian does not insulate you from hard times. Jesus Himself said that those who follow Him would be persecuted and killed for His name’s sake. Paul reminds Christians that they will suffer in this life.

But God is on our side! As Jesus said, do not fear those who can destroy the body. The worst that can happen to a believer is death. With the promise of eternal life, what is that? Compared to endless ages without pain or suffering or disease or tears, what is death? It’s not the end! It wasn’t the end for the Anointed One – God raised Him from the dead! And so He will raise us too! In the face of trouble and suffering, we rejoice, because God has already won the battle, because God has already saved us, and the worst that the world can do is to open the door to eternity a little bit sooner!

But it’s more than eternal life. We rejoice now, because God is with us now. The whole book of Habakkuk is a conversation. God talks with a mere human being. God explains Himself to a mere man, indulges him and gives him the answers he was looking for. God cared enough to listen and to answer. And Habakkuk learned not only that by believing, he was safe. He also learned that, no matter what, but that God was with him – and that God is still fully in control.

Maybe you wonder why I chose to preach through this book. Let me tell you why. In February of 2006, Erin was three months pregnant with Caden, and I was studying the Minor Prophets in Old Testament class. I’d decided to do a research paper on Habakkuk. Well, all of a sudden, Erin began having complications with the pregnancy. We took her to the hospital, and they tested her hormone levels and found out they were very low. A second test found that the levels were dropping. They tried to detect a heartbeat, but they couldn’t hear one. The doctor told us it was almost certain we had lost the baby – that the dropping levels meant the baby was dead, and her body was ending the pregnancy.

We felt horrible. We cried, and we prayed that God would save the baby. They scheduled an ultrasound, but it was a few days away. Those were the longest days of my life. So for those long days, we prayed and hoped. To get my mind off all that, I tried to get to work on my school project, and so I remember reading Habakkuk during that time. In that book I found one thing that kept me going, one lesson from Habakkuk that sustained me during those hard days, and that was this: even when the fig trees do not blossom, even when there is no food on the table and everything is going wrong, rejoice – because God is in control. That kept me going – God was in control, and no matter what happened, no matter how things turned out, I knew that God had a purpose in it and that He loved us and was working for our good. I knew that our baby – and we, too – were in the strong hands of this mighty God, and that no matter what happened and how hard it was we would be okay in the end, because God was with us and He was in control.

God was merciful to us. He saved our baby. Our doctor was totally confused, but God is more powerful than doctors. He can answer prayers. Now, he won’t always say yes, but he can say yes, and that’s why we pray. He has all power and might and strength, and that is our hope.

That’s why I chose this book. Because it teaches a lesson that we all need to hear, so badly, and especially when the worst happens. That lesson is this: we can find joy in any situation, any circumstance, because God is in control. He can’t be defeated. He can’t be frustrated. He can’t be thwarted. Ours is a sovereign God! That’s why we rejoice. Even through tears, through suffering, through the worst pain, we can rejoice, because God is completely in control. This awesome and powerful God cares for us personally and has promised to save us. This mighty and unstoppable God has promised that all things will work together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). Take joy in that. It’s the most beautiful truth in the world.

– Jeff Jones

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2 Responses to “Taking Comfort In An Awesome God: Habakkuk 3”

  1. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Tortuousness.

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