We live in distressing times. But given our historical amnesia, we forget that so have many other people. Indeed, history is full of desperate and difficult times. And history is also the story of God at work. The short book of Habakkuk is a great illustration of all this.
In its three brief chapters we learn of major shakings among the nations, God’s people asking hard questions, and the Lord of the nations declaring his purposes. The setting lies between two momentous events for ancient Israel: the fall of Israel (the northern kingdom) to the Assyrians in 722, and the fall of Judah (the southern kingdom) to the Babylonians in 597.
Nineveh (the Assyrian capital) had already fallen to the Medes and Babylonians in 612, and these new bad boys on the block were about to target Judah. Indeed, Yahweh told Habakkuk that this was going to happen, and with his express purpose as well.
The prophet had been crying out to God about all the sin and evil in the land, and God turns around and tells him even more bad news: the nasty Babylonians (Chaldeans) are coming, and they will be the instrument of His wrath. Not exactly the sort of news Habakkuk was looking for.
He was quite devastated about all this, and asked God some hard questions. Yahweh responded again, and then the prophet gives his final word. It is this last word of confidence and trust I wish to speak to here. Earlier he was asking where God was, and where his justice was. But after Yahweh’s second reply (2:2-20), the prophet had seen the light.
He had learned to trust in God and his purposes, even though we do not always understand his dealings with us. So he comes to accept that a righteous God can even use an unrighteous pagan nation as an instrument of punishment on his wayward people. The concluding verses I will address are these:
I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights. (Hab 3:16-19)
He has learned that the ‘righteous must live by their faith’ (2:4) and at the end of the day, we must trust a sovereign God who is too wise to make a mistake and too loving to be unkind. We may not have all the answers, but He does, and he is still in control.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones did a series of sermons on this book just after the Second World War, when England was still reeling from what had transpired. He offers many gems (as he so often does) but let me just quote one passage which focuses on the prayer of ch. 3, especially v. 2:
LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
He says, “There is no request whatsoever that God should hold His hand, or spare Israel. We find, rather, a recognition that what God says He will do is perfectly right; that God is absolutely just, and that the punishment which is going to come upon Israel is well deserved – an attitude of complete submission to the will of God. There is no attempt to defend Israel or himself, but frank admission of sin and recognition of the righteousness, holiness and justice of God. ‘To us,’ he says, ‘belongs confusion of face.’ Not a vestige of self-righteousness remains, just complete admission of sin and utter submission to the judgment of God upon the nation.
“How was Habakkuk brought to such a position? It would seem that it was when he stopped thinking of his own nation, or of the Chaldeans, and contemplated only the holiness and justice of God against the dark background of sin in the world. Our troubles can nearly all be traced to our persistence in looking at the immediate problems themselves instead of looking at them in light of God.
“So long as Habakkuk was looking at Israel and the Chaldeans, he was troubled. Now he has forgotten Israel as such, and the Chaldeans, and his eyes are on God. He has returned to the realm of spiritual truth – the holiness of God, sin in man and in the world – and so is able to see things in an entirely new light. He is now concerned for the glory of God and for nothing else”
I was just about to close this article with a few thoughts on the US election results, and what we can learn from Habakkuk, when at the very same moment I was alerted to another piece written by US evangelical Dutch Sheets. It seemed fitting to offer a bit of it here. He looks at five responses to the election outcome. Let me pick up on number four:
4) The fourth explanation offered is that America is being judged, and that Barack Obama and his policies are part of the judgment. The reasons given for the judgment are the inevitable result of God’s laws of sowing and reaping, and His determination to “wake us up” as a nation. Many of these individuals believe the results were inevitable—no amount of hard work or prayer could have turned the tide.
I certainly believe America is and will continue to reap judgment. And I believe the fruit from the reelection of Barack Obama will be our most severe judgment to date. Let us not forget that the political party Americans just voted back into power boldly favors abortion, homosexuality, homosexual marriage, and that they voted God and the support of Israel out of their platform. And, I might add, boo-ed when God was put back in the platform after the potential fallout was realized. God is not mocked, however, and will have the last word.
Our economy will suffer greatly. The financial devastation and quality-of-care deterioration associated with socialized medicine will be staggering; more liberal, pro-abortion, Constitution disregarding, anti-God Supreme Court justices will be appointed (meaning more babies will die, marriage will be dishonored and immorality will be defended); Islam will be emboldened; our military will be weakened; and devastation from natural disasters will continue and perhaps increase. This is the short list.
The fact that Obama is a judgment, his policies will increase judgments, and this will be used by God to turn America is clear to me. What is not so clear is whether or not the outcome was controlled by God as a part of His judgment, or if He was giving us another choice and we rejected it. I cannot agree that because America had gone too far, God mandated the outcome. I believe He was still offering America an opportunity for grace. We chose judgment, not God.
And his final point:
5) The fifth and final explanation is there simply wasn’t enough desperation, prayer, repentance and humility on the part of the church in America. Others disagree, contending that millions prayed concerning this election, and there was enough. One leader boldly proclaimed he was positive there had been enough effort; therefore God caused Obama to be elected for other reasons.
Of course, only God really knows for sure if this is true; the rest of us are merely offering educated opinions. Personally, I’m not so certain there was enough effort by the church. I don’t believe God was looking for quick, easy, one or two sentence prayers offered up during our quiet times or normal church services. I’m afraid most believers in the United States are still looking for convenient, inexpensive answers to our plight. There are none. God was looking for sacrifice, passion and desperation.
Finally, I want to address the question, “Were the efforts and prayers of those who did offer them simply wasted?” The answer is a resounding NO!
I woke up Wednesday, the morning after the elections, thinking of Wilberforce, the great English statesman who spearheaded the effort to remove slavery from the British Empire. It took him 40 years, but he and his co-laborers won the battle. They did so incrementally. God gave the same one-word encouragement—“Wilberforce”—to two other friends of mine on the same morning. Just as He did for Wilberforce and his fellow reformers, God is storing up every prayer we prayed, and every act of obedience we performed. Nothing was wasted.
It would also be appropriate to think that our prayers and worship accomplished nothing at the present time and will only be used later. The Holy Spirit spoke to another friend of mine the morning after the election saying, “Your prayers and worship did prevail…though not in the way you wanted. Because of them, however, I will now deal with this man who has mocked Me and My laws.”
Two more friends of mine had dreams in which Barack Obama was named Belshazzar (see Daniel chapter 5). This was the ruler in Babylon who saw a hand writing on the wall of his palace—as he and his friends were mocking God. The ominous message written by the hand of God was, “You have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.” The writing went on to say Belshazzar’s reign would end.
I don’t know what form the judgment of the Lord will take, but I am quite confident that God has put up with all of the mocking He intends to from Barack Obama, and that Daniel 5 is now his passage. I say this without malice or ill will, but nonetheless, confidently.
I encourage those of you who prayed and worshipped over this election—your prayers were not in vain. Just as surely as slavery became illegal in Great Britain—the day Wilberforce died!—we will prevail in our efforts to see America awakened. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary,” (Galatians 6:9).
We do not have all the answers as to why God allows things like the re-election of one of the most anti-Christian, anti-life and anti-family American presidents on record. But we do know we have a wise and sovereign God who is working to achieve his purposes. Like Habakkuk, we must trust him and worship him, even if all the answers are not in yet.