There are times when God seems silent or distant.
And those times can be confusing. The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk experienced this. He wondered why God was not intervening as the wicked were prospering and God's people were suffering.
That feels like a familiar question and today on Truth for Life we'll see why seeking God's answer to a question like that can be painful but at the same time hopeful. Alistair Begg is teaching from Habakkuk chapter 2, beginning with verse 2. This revelation, which is the answer to Habakkuk's question, God tells him, is marked by four things. Let me just point them out to you. Number one, write down the revelation.
Make it plain so that someone can run and read it. For the revelation, number one awaits an appointed time. From Habakkuk's position, everything else is just going on as usual. The time to be born, the time to die, da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da-da, and so it goes on. And from his perspective, it just seems as though history is entirely cyclical.
It looks as though it's going around and around and around. God says, No, I want you to write this down, write it down clear. What I am doing has an appointed time. I haven't disclosed the time to you, but I know what the time is.
Trust me. Number two, it speaks of the end. You'll see that there in verse 3.
It will not prove false, and though it apparently lingers—wait for it—it will certainly come and will not delay. Now in verses 4 and 5, he contrasts the righteous life, which is live by faith, with the proud boasts and the activities that mark those who are puffed up and live for themselves. And this is a pretty difficult little section here, as it turns out, but the best I can do with it is this, that when he says, See, he is puffed up, he is puffed up, either what we have is the epitome of the Babylonian or, if you like, the description of the ruler of the Babylonians as being emblematic of that entire people. He is puffed up, he's on the wrong track, he is betrayed by wine—or it may actually be wealth. Both words are similar in Hebrew, and the translators disagree over it.
So let's just say both. The puffed-up individual is betrayed both by wine and by wealth, he's arrogant, never at rest, greedy, dissatisfied, and he swallows nations whole. You've got this picture—it's a kind of Monty Python's Flying Circus picture. Remember when they did all the little animated things, and then the big head would come, and then it would start eating things, like trains and everything, and move all across the screen?
It looks like about the 1940s now when you see it, but it was very futuristic then. And what you have here is the picture of this puffed-up individual, the ruler of the Babylonians, and he just moves across, and he eats nations. He just gobbles them all up as he goes. So from the Lord's answer, we turn to the Lord's judgment. The Lord's judgment. And the Lord's judgment is expressed in a succession of five woes. Woe! You may remember in Matthew chapter 23 that Jesus uses the same mechanism when he gives the Pharisees a jolly good ticking off.
Woe to you, he says. You do this, and you do that, and you shouldn't. He's employing this Old Testament mechanism. And here, in these five areas, he pictures people taunting the proud boasts of this apparently unconquerable force. Now what I've done is I've just tried to give a heading to each of these five, and we daren't work our way through them, and we'll be here long into tomorrow morning. And if you don't like my heading, get your own heading.
All right? First of all, in verses 6–8—6–8, injustice, injustice—woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion. You have plundered, verse 8, many nations. In other words, he sounds out a woe to the nation that has conquered lands to which it has no moral right, that has gone and taken for itself something that doesn't belong to it for whatever reason—usually on the strength of tyranny or the desire simply to have more than we have. Guilt to pile up stolen goods, guilty of dealing unfairly, being involved in extortion.
You will find all of these words and notions in this little section, 6–8. And what he says is, what you've piled up will come down on your head. You thought it was a great idea to come in here and vanquish these people and plunder these people and take over everything and call it your own. Well, guess what? It'll come down and land on your head.
I'm gonna have to stop myself from making tangential points of application. But every selfish human empire in the history of humanity has proved this to be the case. Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. That's what we sang coming out of school, 1957, on the school bus going home. We're in charge of the universe, we sang to ourselves. Well, it all came down on our heads.
Secondly, in verses 9–11, woe to those who make failed attempts at security! Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain—there's injustice again—to set his nest on high, and he does so in order to escape the clutches of ruin. To escape the clutches of ruin. I looked at that little phrase, to set his nest on high, and only one name out of all of history came to mind.
And what was the name? To set his nest on high. Who had a nest on high?
Hitler—Hitler, his eagle's nest, built for him on his fiftieth birthday, so that the Third Reich might go there and take tea—the Kalkstein House, the Tea House—so that these most brutal of totalitarian rulers may sit in pristine beauty and drink tea. And look! The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. And they do.
And they do. Thirdly, verses 12–14, cruelty—cruelty—woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Who holds life cheap, who uses the workers to build and beautify his temple and his palace and his own place, who watches slaves die under the blows of the taskmasters?
There will be blood. And look at the futility of it. Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people's labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? At the end of the day, when the wind has blown and when time has done its work, and when political forces have arisen and others have collapsed, all of their great endeavors with all of their bloodshed and all their crime-filled towns just amount to nothing at all. Fourth woe is on immorality, 15–17. Consider the people stripped not only of their clothes but of their honor and of their dignity. You will be filled with shame, verse 16, instead of glory. Now, you will notice that all of these little woes have a certain elasticity about them, and purposefully so. Habakkuk is not tying these things to a moment in time nor to a particular people. He is speaking under the direction of God's Spirit, and there is a sense in which, as he makes the succession of woes… The phrase that comes to mind is, if the cap fits, wear it.
If the cap fits, wear it. And you can determine at what point you want the American Empire to get on board with this drama. But we're pretty close right here, aren't we? The capital of the pornographic Western world is here in the United States. Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, gazing on their naked bodies. And notice the violence in verse 17 is a violence that's been done alongside this immorality, a violence done to Lebanon which will overwhelm you. That sets it in an immediate point of application in relationship to geography, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. I read that phrase, and I said, Now, what in the world are we dealing with here? And then you have shed man's blood, you've destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
And it's impossible to miss this. God expresses his judgment upon those who play fast and loose with creation. What is this but a devastation of nature? What did they do to Lebanon? What's Lebanon known for? It's forests.
It's forests. The violence you've done to Lebanon will overwhelm you. The way you've treated animals will terrify you. The way you shed human blood indiscriminately will cry against you. I say to you again that to be a Christian is to have a view about everything in the world.
Everything in the world. The Christian's response to ecology is a Christian response. It is a Bible response.
The Christian's view of the doctrine of creation is guarded and guided by the Bible. So the fact that we know that all creation groans in travail, waiting for the redemption of the sons of man, does not mean that we're supposed to say, See, therefore it doesn't matter. No, we're supposed to, on the basis of our understanding of what the Bible says, deal with it in a way that cares for that which God has given us to enjoy. We can't sing about the through the woods and forest glades I wander on the one hand and then just torch the place on the other.
Not unless we want just to be a walking contradiction, which of course is part of our dilemma. And the fifth and final woe, in verses 18–20, is the woe against idolatry. Idolatry. What value is an idol? No value at all. Woe to him who says to wood, Come to life, or to lifeless stone, Wake up!
Absolutely useless. I'm tempted to read to you from David Wells' book, but I'm not going to, because it would take too long, and I would violate my own desires and designs for the evening. But I have an unbelievably wonderful quote out of David Wells' latest book, entitled The Courage to be Protestant, and I was going to quote to you from page 164 and 65 and 66.
I would just leave it right here, he can read it afterwards. But his point is, the idolatry of twenty-first century America is the idolatry of me. It's the idolatry of the self.
And again, if the cap fits, wear it. Of what value is an idol? That we would look inside of ourselves for God.
That we would look to ourselves for our own answers. All of that is simply idolatry. The Lord's answer, then? The Lord's judgment. And finally, the Lord's glory.
The Lord's glory. Next time, in verse 2 of chapter 3, we will be confronted by that wonderful little call of Habakkuk to God, in wrath remember mercy. When he sees all that is unfolding in God's judgment, he cries out to God to show mercy. And of course, the whole story of the Bible is that God's righteous judgment on sin is always accompanied by his mercy, so that when Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden and the angels are there with flaming swords to prevent their re-entry, it is God who then comes to them in their nakedness and provides coverings for them—an expression of his mercy in the execution of his judgment. And when God sounds out his judgment upon the earth and calls people to repentance, he raises up his servant Noah, and Noah has charged with the prophetic responsibility of saying to people, God is justifiably angry with the state of affairs, and he's coming in judgment, and he is going to flood the world. But he wants you to know that he has provided here a way of escape, because in the execution of his wrath, he is preferring you and offering you mercy. And at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, as his wrath is poured out upon all the sinfulness and wickedness of man, in that very scene is the expression of his merciful love to all those who will hide under the shadow of what that cross provides. So when you read chapter 2 again later in the week, as I think some of you may, and you go through all of these whoa, whoa, whoa, whoas, make sure that you finish up by noticing verse 20, the Lord is in heaven, therefore, shut up.
That's what he says. The Lord is in heaven, therefore, let the earth be silent. Let the earth be silent. And then notice in verse 14, if you're tempted to doubt that it's all going pear-shaped, that everything is going horribly wrong, know this, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea, all the proud kingdoms of time will pass away, but God's kingdom stands and grows forever. And the pathway of the righteous, verse 4, is the pathway of faith. And the righteous will live by his faith. And of course, that verse is picked up and employed by Paul and by the writer of the Hebrews and pressed into service at the time of the Reformation, both by Calvin and by Luther, as a very cornerstone of the nature of Christian living itself, so that not by our endeavors, by our good deeds, by our attempts at righteousness, but on account of the provision of a righteousness that we are undeserving of and could never gain, the conduit of which is our faith, is our childlike trust. For the only thing that we bring to our Christian lives is the sin of which we need to be forgiven. And then on that pathway of faith, we come with our complaints and our questions and seek the Lord's answer. Yes, a painful answer, for it speaks of his judgment. But in the midst of that judgment, an expression of his mercy, which speaks of his glory. Therefore, says Paul, being justified by faith, we have peace with God. Through our Lord Jesus, Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand—now notice this—and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
We rejoice in the certainty of God's manifestation of himself. So, Habakkuk, hang on. I know what I'm doing, and it won't be late, and it won't be premature.
It will be at the right time. Some of us have illnesses that we would like healing for right now, and God says, Hang on. We don't like the answer, but it is his answer. But in his own appointed time, he will accomplish his purposes. So let us learn, with Habakkuk, to wait on him. We are looking at what the Bible teaches about God's judgment and his mercy on Truth for Life with Alistair Begg.
Alistair returns in just a minute. Today's message is a great illustration of why we need to study the whole Bible. If we learned about God's judgment, but not about his grace and mercy, we would be desperate for hope. That's why here at Truth for Life, we teach the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Verse by verse, Alistair Begg teaches the Bible every day with clarity and relevance, and we trust that God's Spirit will work through the teaching of God's Word to bring unbelievers to saving faith and to establish believers more deeply in their faith. This is the mission you support every time you donate to Truth for Life. And today, when you make a donation, we want to say thank you by offering a copy of Alistair's brand new book titled The Christian Manifesto. In this book, Alistair examines the famous sermon delivered by Jesus recorded in Luke chapter 6, sometimes referred to as the Sermon on the Plane. In this sermon, we see straight from the lips of Jesus a definition for life as it is meant to be lived and enjoyed. In this book, Alistair walks through Jesus' remarkable sermon that flips our values upside down and contradicts everything the world regards as important.
The book shows us how to live as members of Christ's kingdom by embracing these countercultural ideals that lead to the greatest blessings of all. Ask for your copy of The Christian Manifesto today when you give a donation to support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life. You can give a one-time gift at truthforlife.org slash donate, or you can set up an automatic monthly donation when you visit truthforlife.org slash truthpartner. You can also give us a call to donate.
Our number is 888-588-7884. Now here is Alistair with a closing prayer. Father, help us to make sure that we bring all our questions to the one who has the answers, to you, the omniscient, gracious, living, loving God. And then help us so to bring the truth of your answer to bear upon our lives, so that as we view our own circumstances and the issues represented in the history of our world, that we might increasingly think in a biblical way that our Christianity will not be something that isolates us from our society and from the world in which we live but allows us to think properly and to live rightly. Forgive us for all the times when we want to live in splendid isolation, to pretend that nothing's happened, to think that somehow we can just shoo it all away. Unless you come, O God, unless you execute your judgment and in so doing show us mercy, we are without God and without hope. But no, that cannot be, because as we have just read, we actually have in Jesus a hope that goes out beyond the bounds of our own small time frame. Fill us then with hope. Send us out in hope so that we might speak of hope to our friends and our neighbors who feel that life is increasingly fractured and futile and hopeless. For we pray in Christ's name. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening. Tomorrow we'll see how the prophet Habakkuk started out as angry and complaining as we often do, but he ended up with awe and wonder. His circumstances didn't change, so what did? We'll find out tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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