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“Look and Be Amazed!”

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
September 21, 2023 4:00 am

“Look and Be Amazed!”

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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September 21, 2023 4:00 am

Reading about the world’s atrocities may tempt you to wonder where God is and why He doesn’t seem to care. Listen to Truth For Life as Alistair Begg teaches you what to do when God’s timing and tolerance for wickedness don’t appear to match your own.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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When we read or hear about all that is going on in our world today, we can be tempted to wonder where is God?

Why doesn't He seem to care? But God is always at work and today on Truth for Life we'll learn what to do when God's timing and tolerance for wickedness doesn't match our own. Alistair Begg is teaching from the book of Habakkuk in chapter 1. We're beginning with verse 5.

Habakkuk Although Habakkuk lived long ago and far away, he introduces us to a timeless issue. Because as his prophecy opens, he's wrestling with the apparent inactivity of God in the face of injustice, violence, and destruction. His questions to God are straightforward.

He's been praying, but he's growing weary. And so, in verse 2, he asks the Lord, how long is it going to be that he has to keep coming to him in prayer, looking for an answer? And from the perspective of the prophet, there is a problem here as far as God's timing is concerned. The prophet knew well enough that when God established his covenant with his people, he promised that blessings would accompany their obedience. But he also promised that their disobedience would be followed by curses and by judgment. If you want to read of that for yourselves, you can read the whole of chapter 28 of Deuteronomy. It runs to some 60 verses or so, but essentially, that is all that it is saying. God is saying to his people, If you will obey me, I will bless you and prosper you. If you disobey me, disobey me, then curses will come down upon you, and judgment will face you inevitably. And so the prophet, knowing that, is essentially saying, So what are you doing? You said back in Deuteronomy that if we stepped out of line, if your people were out of line, if they were involved in wickedness, you would do something, but apparently you are not doing anything.

How long is this going to go on? Not only did he have a problem with God's timing, but he had a problem, as verse 3 makes clear, with God's tolerance. Why are you tolerating wrong? Why do you make me look at injustice? And when you read that, you realize that it is no small wonder why the prophets, in introducing what they have to say, refer to it not always as an oracle, as it is here at the beginning of Habakkuk, but as a burden. Indeed, a burden is the alternative word for oracle. And I think it is better to read it as a burden. Because what is actually happening is that God comes in some supernatural way and invades, if you like, the heart and mind of the prophet, a normal individual living a normal life in normal surroundings, reading his newspaper, going about his business. And God, if you like, impresses upon this character God's burden—his burden for a broken world, his burden for his wayward people. And he comes, as it were, and he lays that burden on the shoulders of the prophet. And he gives the prophet to see with eyes that make him unique among his contemporaries. And when he views the events and circumstances of life, he sees them almost, as it were, in another dimension, which lays upon him. And so it is that under the direction of God for him to write in this way, to speak in this way, is not simply the proclamation of a seer or the introduction of an oracle but is in every realistic sense the offloading of a burden. Now, it is in verse 5 that we begin to get God's answer. And look at how he begins. Essentially, he says to Habakkuk, You may want to sit down for this, Habakkuk. That's really verse 5, isn't it? I want you to look at the nations and watch.

Let me tell you what to look for. But beware, and in fact be aware, that it is going to be unbelievable to you. In fact, it is, frankly, amazing. Now, what he goes on to say is that this emerging superpower of the Chaldeans, it may be in your translation, or the Babylonians—it's a description of the same peoples—the emerging of this superpower is an instrument in Yahweh's hand. That's the significance of the opening phrase of verse 6, I am raising up the Babylonians.

I am raising up the Babylonians. In other words, God reveals that the momentous historical events that are unfolding in Habakkuk's lifetime are under God's sovereign control. May I just say parenthetically that the momentous historical events which are unfolding in our lifetime are equally under God's sovereign control. God is not watching, as it were, from the ramparts of heaven to see how history is unfolding.

He isn't doing it today, and he wasn't doing it then. And in verses 6–11, we essentially have a poem. But you will notice that at the very heart of it are these striking statements. Verse 7, the character of the Babylonians, they are a feared and a dreaded people, a law to themselves, and promote their own honor. And so he describes in rich poetic form, the horses, swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk, their horsemen flying from afar. Verse 10, when they come on these various cities and when they bump up against these other little rulers, they just deride them.

They scoff at rulers. But the prophet needs to know of their destiny. And in verse 11, we're told that then they sweep past like the wind, and they go on.

But they're guilty men, whose own strength is their God. Now, in that section, what is happening is that God is answering the request of Habakkuk. He's letting him know that he—that is, God—is at work, even though the prophet can't see it. He's letting him know that although the prophet is asking, Why aren't you doing something?

He is doing something. He is always at work. God is always at work. And so it was that far, far away from where Habakkuk was living in Babylon, the events were unfolding—momentous events—that were going to change the course of world history.

Habakkuk couldn't see that. Not until God opened his eyes to it. And even as he does, it is so amazing, it is so unbelievable, that he stumbles over it as we're about to see that the rise of Babylon wasn't as a result of some unique political strategy but was as a result of God's sovereign design. And when you just pause for a moment and think about that, and put it in contemporary terms, and view the little history in which we live—the rise and fall of various groups and plans and dreams, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the opening up of borders once closed, the meeting of people from places in the world that we thought we would never meet people and never see because they were closed off, they were unavailable. And so we stand back from our newspapers, and we talk together about the multicultural nature of our world, and we look at our own dwindling empires, and we see the destruction of the auto industry, and people bemoan and complain and wonder and worry and spill their coffee over their morning newspapers as they put their hands over their eyes, unwilling to see any more of it happen at all, forgetting all the time that God is sovereign over all these things too, and that his designs are different from our designs. He doesn't think as we think. He doesn't plan as we plan.

He is not preoccupied with the trivial issues that focus our agendas. And again, the hymn writer helps us, doesn't he, Cowper? For a different reason, but the verse is good.

Deep in unfathomable minds of never-failing skill, he treasures up his bright designs and works his sovereign will. You see, that's what Habakkuk needed to learn in his day, and the benefit of reading, again, the prophecy is being reminded of it in our own day. As I was thinking about all the dreadful aspect, if you like, of God raising up the Babylonians, all of these wolf-like characters and doing all these dreadful things in relationship to the people of God. And I decided I would go back and look at the beginning of Daniel, just to see how Daniel began. And I was so delighted to discover how it begins, and you'll be delighted too.

Because look at how it starts. In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim—you remember Jehoiakim from just a couple of moments ago? Remember what God said would happen to Jehoiakim? That's what Habakkuk has discovered, and that's what Habakkuk is going to have to share. The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it, and the Lord delivered Jehoiakim, king of Judah, into his hand. And as you read on, they brought all these fine young people into the place with them—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude, for every kind of learning, well-informed, quick to understand, qualified to serve, in the king's palace.

That's what I would do as well. If you go in there, and you rampage, and you steal, you might as well steal the brightest and the best. And so they did. And so you have Daniel. And then you have Daniel's friends. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And here's my thought. The same God who raises up the Babylonians to accomplish his purpose in relationship to the judgment of his people is the same God who was at work in the hearts and minds of Daniel's mom and dad so as to produce Daniel, at the exact moment in time, to be dragged away by the Babylonians so that he and his friends may prove themselves to be the very remnant of God's purposes, even in the midst of chaos.

Well, that was something of a detour, but I hope it was purposeful and helpful to you. What we're learning is that in this instance, as in so many instances, God's response is totally different from that which we feel we might legitimately expect. That's the thing that staggers Habakkuk. And that's why in verse 12 he comes back with this second problem. And essentially what he is saying to God is, frankly, this cure is worse than the disease. If I hear you properly, what are you saying? How can you, the everlasting God—now, he calls God's character in defense of his own questioning—how can you, the everlasting God, how can you, the Holy One, employ such wicked people to fulfill your purposes?

Do you see what he's saying? This isn't in keeping with your character. You are a holy God. Holy gods wouldn't do this. Look at verse 13. 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?

He's really back at the same thing, isn't he? Why do you tolerate this? Why are you silent? You can't possibly be serious. Are you telling me, says Habakkuk, that you're going to use really evil people to punish moderately evil people? I mean, we were a bad lot, but we don't even compare to this group that you're bringing in to do your work. I mean, we have turned our backs on you.

We admit that. We had not been caring for the poor, as you asked us to. There is injustice and violence and destruction in our land. But, Lord, we're nothing like these Babylonians.

Is it possible that you would use these people to deal with our people? And then 14–17, which takes us to the end of the chapter, you have essentially almost another little poem, certainly a metaphor. And you'll see the metaphor that is there. You've made men, us, like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. He pictures the people of God floating, as it were, rudderless and rulerless. And then look at the Babylonians, how they're described in this picture. The Babylonians, he says, they're going to come at us as if they were just out on a fishing expedition.

Look at them. The wicked, they pull all of these sea creatures up with hooks. They catch them in the net. They gather them into the dragnet.

And then he goes on, and he gets almost carried away in the metaphor, and he says, you know, look at these characters. They're so fascinated by their ability to do this that they're actually setting up their fishing nets in a shrine and bowing down before them, because their fishing nets are the key to their prosperity and the key to their victory. In fact, look at them there as they worship their little gods in their little shrines. Now, when you realize how fishing was as important as it was in Babylonia, you realize how apt the metaphor is.

For the region of the Babylonians was there amongst the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, and bordered in the south by the Persian Gulf. And for those of you who go to museums, you may have actually seen some of the reliefs that have been brought from the walls of Near Eastern buildings which portray in those reliefs victorious Babylonian rulers taking their captives away in fishnets. That's the picture. And that's the picture employed by Habakkuk here. But, you know, I have an observation, and I don't know how right it is, but I'll share it with you anyway, and if it's no good, you can just press Delete.

I noticed something here, and I'm not sure if it's right. But look what has happened, apparently, to the prophet. Back in verses 2–4, he was asking God to intervene because of the chaos of the people of God. He was acknowledging that amongst the people of God, there was violence, there was destruction, there was wickedness, and indeed, the wicked among the people of God were hemming in the righteous, so much so that the rule of law had been nullified, had been numbed, it was essentially paralyzed.

But it is, if you like, a picture of responsibility, a picture of acknowledged responsibility. The people of God have done these things. Now it's time for us to stop. And we're going to leave him, as it says in the King James Version, standing on his watch. Which as children we always loved, because we said that was the smallest man in the Bible, because he was able to stand on his watch. Some of my young people in Hamilton, when I was a younger minister, used to wish that I would stand on my watch.

In fact, I think they thought I had, which is why the sermons went on so long. But he is standing at his watch, he's stationing himself on the ramparts, and he's waiting now to see what God will say. And there's a sense in which, in leaving it here, we leave it, of course, as unfinished business.

And we must. But it is clear from the passage—and let's affirm this—that because God is almighty, he can and does at times do things that are the opposite of what we might anticipate in order that his purpose may be achieved. And in such times, we must learn to say, I'm not sure exactly what's happening here, but I do know certain facts to be true of God. And so, until such times as God chooses to make the hazy clear, I will hold on to what I am confident of, and I will use it to face up to that which at the present time remains uncertain. And then just a PS.

And the PS is this. All of the prophets' uncertainties and questions about violence and injustice and the unbearable spiritual intellectual tension which these things bring upon a person is ultimately answered not within the framework of Habakkuk but beyond it. There are little pointers, as we will see before we finish our studies, but we have to go all the way forward to Jesus to get the answer to the real fundamental issue that is raised here. The question of God's intervention, the question of God's dealing with injustice, the question of God providing the requisite judgment and showing within that judgment mercy that is true to his character. Because remember, it was something of a scene of injustice, wasn't it, at the cross? And that injustice dawning on the mind of one of the thieves, when he shouts across to his friend and he says, We are punished justly, for we are getting what our sins deserve. But this man, pointing to Jesus, has done nothing wrong.

And I put it to you that Habakkuk's dilemma—and dilemma it is—is more than matched than that of Isaiah. When in describing a scene he will never see with his own bare eyes, he writes these words, Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him, and cause him to suffer. And though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied. By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong. Because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Ultimately, all of these questions must be brought to the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. I'm sure that's why John Stott on one occasion said, I could never believe in God were it not for the cross. For in the cross, God comes and deals with it all, and enters into our suffering, and pours out his blood, dying for those who hate him and revile him, and in his death praying for his enemies. And all the moral and intellectual dilemma that is folded into Habakkuk's complaints is ultimately only resolved at that place.

And indeed, all of our moral intellectual dilemmas will only adequately be addressed there. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. As we just learned from Alistair, holding on to what we know to be true about God's character and promises will help us confidently face whatever remains uncertain. That's why it's so important for us to immerse ourselves in scripture. It's why our mission at Truth for Life is to teach the Bible every single day. Alistair has a brand new book called The Christian Manifesto. In this book, he navigates through the challenging teaching that comes directly from Jesus himself in chapter 6 of Luke's Gospel.

It's often referred to as the Sermon on the Plane. And in this book, Alistair helps us discover the marks of a genuine Christian. Ask for your copy of The Christian Manifesto when you donate to the ministry at truthforlife.org slash donate. Or call us at 888-588-7884.

I'm Bob Lapine. I hope you can be back with us tomorrow as we'll see that being a Christian may be personal, but it's not meant to be private. Our faith should impact our response to what's going on in our world. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-28 19:22:27 / 2023-10-28 19:30:46 / 8

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