On Monday I took this photo of two white faced heron or Matuku Moana, perched on a stone breakwater. The two birds are standing with their heads into the wind their long elegant necks down and pulled into their bodies for warmth, and they seemed to be waiting and looking out over the water. Still and focused: Waiting for the tide to turn so they could go out on the mud flats and forage for food. Waiting for the wind to drop and the warm sun to heat the day. Waiting for a mate to return to this breeding ground. I don’t know but as well as making a great photo it bought to mind Habakkuk’s posture waiting on God’s answer and his moving in history on behalf of his people. In chapter 2 verse 1 with which we finished our reading today. He says I will stand on the ramparts, like a sentry on duty, ready and alert, staring off in to the storm of injustice and judgment and waiting, waiting and looking for God’s answer to my laments, waiting for God to move. The same posture we had in our New Testament reading, where Jesus tells his followers they should be alert as they wait for the consummation of God’s Kingdom.
Habakkuk speaks to us as well to wait on God in the face of life storms, to wait on God in the face of personal storms where we need to know God’s care and love, wait on God, in social storms, where like Habakkuk we see or experience injustice, wait on God as it seems the world just does not make sense. The series is called “As the waters cover the seas” and it refers to the verse at the heart of Habakkuk . Where we are given one reason to have hope in the face of life storms. That history seems to be like the turbulent surface of the ocean, with wild waves tossed and turned by unpredictable shifting winds, but that there is a deeper steady and unstoppable current of God’s purposes and plans that the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Glory of God, as the waters cover the seas’.
Habakkuk the prophet has a vision in which he has a dialogue with God. Habakkuk laments about the injustice he sees in Judah (verse 2-4), then we have God’s response in verses 5-11, and instead of it being about God saving his people, Habakkuk is told that God is raising up the new world super power of Babylon as his instrument to discipline. This does not sit well with Habakkuk and in verse 12-chapter 2:1 he again complains to God, how could a righteous God use such a vicious and arrogant and violent people. That’s what we are looking at today. Next week we are going to look at God’s answer to Habakkuk’s second complaint, and then finish off the series the week after looking at chapter three which is a psalm of praise and trust from Habakkuk.
Habakkuk is writing in the seventh century BC. Judah, the southern kingdom, had been through a period of religious and social renewal under king Josiah, the reforms had been sparked by the discovery of the scroll of Deuteronomy in the temple archives. You can read about that in 2 Kings 22-23. However Josiah is killed in battle with the king of Egypt who had marched north to support the Assyrians battling against the raising threat of the Babylonians. The Pharaoh appoints a series of Josiah’s sons as successors on the throne and we are told in 2 kings 24 that they did evil in the eye of the Lord.
Habakkuk describes this is a series of six different ways. Injustice and wrongdoing, violence and destruction, conflict and strife. The law and the courts, which the prophet would expect to uphold the law of Moses, is paralyzed in the face of this, when he speaks of the wicked hemming in the righteous so that Justice is perverted, you get the sense that the courts themselves have become clogged up with law suites designed to rob the people not protect the innocent.
At the heart of what troubles Habakkuk is how can the God of Israel, the God who has revealed himself as just and righteous allow such things to carry on. The hope in the face of the storms of life is in the person and the character of God While our hope and history don’t rhyme. Habakkuk’s complaint does not turn him away from God, rather it turns him to look more at God. His prayers are constant and consistent, waiting for God to act.
In verses 5-11, the LORD answers Habakkuk, and God’s answer is have you noticed the surprising rise of the Babylonian empire. In 605bc they defeated the Assyrians and the Egyptians and start their conquest of the region. The imagery that is used here speaks of their military might. The swiftness of their cavalry like a leopard and an eagle swoop. They are like a sand storm, vast and unstoppable, that picks prisoners up and swept them away. Like the Assyrians before them the Babylonian strategy to stop resurgent nationalism in the countries they conquered was to deport the population to another part of the empire and to indoctrinate and enculturate them in to Babylonian ways and religion. That is the background t the exile and the story of Daniel and his friends, who resist that process, by refusing to eat the food given to them. In Jeremiah 21 we read that the people of Jerusalem felt impregnable in their fortress on a hill. The LORD’s answer is that these people laugh at fortified cities, they had developed the tactic laying siege and building an earthen ramp up against the walls.
The answer to Habakkuk’s complaint is that God is going to sovereignly move in history. While it may look like the rise of the Babylonian empire was their own doing and they would claim the triumph of their God’s over the God’s of those around them. The LORD says the ebb and flow of history is at his command. We may look and not perceive that as we see things unfolding and we may question and wonder. But the answer to Habakkuk’s complaint is first and foremost the sovereignty of God in history. That’s hard for us to understand its hard perhaps to see in the short term as Habakkuk finds it hard. It seems that injustice is going to be overcome by greater injustice. But amidst this churn and blur of history God has not lost control…
The answer to Habakkuk’s complaint was that in the sovereignty of God, injustice would bring about judgment, not a popular message. But Habakkuk would have known this was the case, as God was being faithful to the covenant he had made with his people as he had bought them out of Egypt, that had been restated in Josiah’s time with the discovery of the second book of the law. That if the people of Israel continued to ignore God and his righteous ways and law, that they would be removed from the promised land.
But even in this pronouncement of correction and punishment there is a glimmer of hope. Judgment is never God’s final word, it is never God’s purpose or plan. It may be a spoiler alert, but this judgment was not to destroy or simply punish God’s people, rather to discipline them, after seventy years the remnant would return. Even more than that the words that the LORD starts his answer with here in Habakkuk of watch and look and be utterly amazed, because God was going to do something people would not believe even if they were told in Habakkuk 1:5 is quoted by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:41 to point people to the sending of Jesus Christ his death on the cross and his resurrection. God’s ultimate purpose and plan is salvation in Jesus Christ. God’s ultimate answer to injustice and oppression comes in the establishing of his Kingdom in Christ. We live in the tension between the all ready of Christ’s death and resurrection and the not yet of his return, We too are called to wait and wrestle with the how long of injustice and judgment and the hope of salvation. .
In verse twelve Habakkuk responses to what he hears from the LORD. Again he brings a complaint, a lament. Habakkuk is aware of God’s holiness and righteousness, he acknowledges that God is his rock, but Habakkuk cannot see how God could use such a evil people as the Babylonians to achieve his purposes and plans. Habakkuk uses a vivid metaphor of the Babylonians like a cruel and arrogant fisherman, always casting the net to drag up more and more fish, feeding their own appetite with no mercy. A fisherman who worships their net as a God, and relies on and worships their own strength. The net represents the military strength of Babylon. How can a righteous and just God use these people, this nation on histories stage to achieve his purposes. It is not right…
Habakkuk stops there and takes up that posture of waiting like a sentry alert on the parapets. We will have to join him there because we know God does answer him, but we are going to look at that next week. But as I said before Habakkuk’s posture his waiting has a lot to say to us.
Firstly, in the face of all the language of military strength and overcoming fortresses standing watch on the wall seems to be a dangerous place to be. You are kind of in the front line. God has just finished saying how futile fortresses are to the Babylonians. But Habakkuk’s waiting is different it is not a dependence on his own resources and those of humans in the face of God’s sovereign action in history. It is a posture of setting up watch for God. He looks not to the troops coming over the horizon, but rather it is the posture of Psalm 130, where the psalmist also uses this image of a watchman waiting for the morning to say that in the depth he waits for the Lord with his whole being. It is a Psalm that finishes by saying Israel put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. It is a posture of hope and faith only in God. As we face life’s storms waiting is not a simple hope that things will work out, but a posture of trust in a God who cares for us, whose plans are for good and not for harm, who has in Christ already saved us from sin and death and can be trusted to act justly. Part of God’s answer to Habakkuk in chapter 2:4 is that the righteous will live by faith.
The idea of a watchman also has other scriptural ramifications. Ezekiel in his prophetic ministry is likened to a watchman in Ezekiel 33looking and seeing what God has to say and bringing that word to the people. In this oracle Habakkuk also does that as well. Waiting on God does not mean that we are Silent and passive rather we are called to speak our our hope and our faith. Our calling as people of God is to be prophetic, to witness with our words to the good news of Jesus Christ even in the face of the storm. To declare God’s goodness even when it all does not seem to make sense. Like Habakkuk to be prepared to speak God’s justice and righteousness in the face of the storms of injustice. Not in a name it and claim it shallow faith, but with confidence and trust. On the steps of the capital building in Washington DC in 1963 as the civil rights movement was starting to pick up some momentum, in his I have a dream speech Martin Luther King Jr speaks out God’s purpose and Plan in the words of the prophet Amos “let justice flow like a river, and righteousness like a never-ending stream.” That still echoes and speaks and hopes even today…
In the Olivet discourse, Jesus other sermon on the mount in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus turns to address his followers waiting between the crucifixion, resurrection and the full coming of his kingdom. Jesus tells a series of four parables to instruct his followers in what it means to be alert and wait.
The parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant, he articulates that to keep waiting is to keep going about caring and loving and treating one another with the love of Christ.
The parable of the ten virgins and the oil for their lamps, Jesus says to wait is to keep on in our spiritual disciplines, to keep alive and full the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives.
In the parable of the talents, to wait on God is to continue to invest our resources and gifts into seeing God’s kingdom grow.
The parable of the sheep and the goats, waiting on God is seen as continuing to care for the poor and the imprisoned and those without, because what we do for the least we do for Jesus himself.
I wanted to finish this sermon by tying everything up and giving answers, but by stopping where we did in our reading of Habakkuk, we find ourselves like the herons in the image. Like Habakkuk on the ramparts waiting for God. It sort of feels like we are left hanging… but actually it’s a good place to be In the storms of life, in the uncertainty of the world around us, the churn and blur of history, to be alert and waiting… How Long O God is a lament… but how long O God is also that posture of hope and trust and faith… will you stand watch and wait on God…