Anchored #1: Where are you God? – Habakkuk 1:1-11

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Anchored #1

Habakkuk 1:1-11

Where Are You, God?

Bruce A. Hess

If you would, please take out your Bibles and turn in them, in the Old Testament, to the book of Habakkuk. If you find Ezekiel and Daniel, Habakkuk is to the right of that. If you get to Jonah, Micah, and Nahum, the next stop is on the book of Habakkuk.

Have you ever wondered in your life, what is God doing? Why does He permit certain things to happen? Especially when life is hard and harsh and unstable and unsettling. When circumstances are crashing in on us and we are disoriented and we are discouraged and emotions propel us to anxiety and despair and frustration and fear. I don’t have to tell any of you that we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and fear is on the prowl. There is a sense of vulnerability that has spiked in our life. We are accustomed to having a reasonably stable life. But, now we fear for our own health, physically and psychologically. We fear for our families and friends, we fear for our food supply, we fear for our jobs and even our future in school. Then, we also have fear of a future of financial security we may or may not have. What is God doing? Why does He allow this? Why does it often seem that He is silent?

You know, personally, beyond these disorienting circumstances of the Corona Virus, the extended family world that I live in really had an additional adventure. In that additional adventure, it involved Rob and Laurie Kopf, who are part our Outreach Team here at Wildwood. Laurie is my youngest sister. They are involved in ministry in Michigan, with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth and Life Action. But, on April 1, Rob passed out in the warehouse. He ended up completely coding out four times. He had to be revived through CPR and shock, he had a blocked stint in his heart and he ended up having a new stint and a pacemaker and a defibrillator installed.

In the midst of all that, I know my sister, Laurie and all of us were saying, ‘What is God doing? Why does He allow this? I mean, after all they are serving the Lord in ministry.’ But, against all odds, actually, according to the doctors, Rob made it through. I was talking to Rob and I mentioned to Rob that in times like this, with the Corona Virus and everything they had gone through, this is a great time for a series on the book of Habakkuk and I mentioned to Rob that I had never preached on Habakkuk and Rob said to me, ‘Oh yes, you did, Bruce. Back in the 1980’s.’ He said, ‘I’ve never forgotten it and there is great truth to be found in the book of Habakkuk.’

So, I had to go back and check my records and indeed, in February of 1986, on Sunday nights, when we used to meet on Sunday nights at the time, we had gone through the book of Habakkuk, but I had forgotten about it. That was 34 years ago. But, Rob believes, and I believe, that Habakkuk has a message and a perspective that we all need.

What we want to do today is, we want to begin with an orientation to Habakkuk and the first thing we see is, it is one of the Minor Prophets. It is a short book from the most obscure part of the Old Testament, an unexplored wilderness in the Bible for many.

Now, when we say that it is a Minor Prophet, that doesn’t mean it was unimportant or there was nothing significant in it. It simply means that it is shorter in length than many of the other prophets. I think if we are all honest, many of us are unsure of the difference, really, between Habakkuk and Haggai. You know, it’s interesting, someone once asked a random group of folks, ‘What does the word Habakkuk mean?’ Some of them said, ‘Well, I think it is the name of a back disease, you know, Ha-back-uk.’ Someone else said, ‘It sounds like something that you would smoke.’ Then, someone actually said, ‘Well, Habakkuk is the devastating result of a failure to carpool.’ There are all kinds of ideas out there about what Habakkuk means.

The second thing we want to look at is that it is actually the name of the author of the book. You know, Habakkuk, it is a very rare name. I mean, how many of you who are parents out there, when you were going to have a son, were thinking of naming that son, Habakkuk? We just didn’t do that. What is Habakkuk and who is Habakkuk? Well, we learn from chapter 1 and verse 1, that he is a prophet. He is a spokesman for God and he has an oracle that he shares in the book, which is a message that God helped him put together.

We also learn from chapter 3 and verse 19, that he was a musician. He, in chapter 3, has a whole prayer that he puts to music. In other words, Habakkuk really was like the Greg Hill of Wildwood (Wildwood’s Worship Pastor). Literally, the name Habakkuk, if you just take the name literally, it means ‘to embrace.’ ‘habak’ in Hebrew means ‘to embrace,’ so his name means, ‘one who embraces.’ As we work through the whole book, I think we are going to see it is best to understand his name as signifying, ‘one who embraces and clings to God and to his promises.’

Hey, if you have ever wondered, where are You, God? If you’ve ever wondered, are You listening? How long do I have to pray about this? Why are You allowing what You are allowing? Then, you will be encouraged by the book of Habakkuk.

As we continue our orientation, we want to ask ourselves the question, why should we study a 2,600-year-old book? I think the answer for us is really given to us in the New Testament in the book of Romans, chapter number 15 and verse 4. It says there, “Whatever was written in earlier times…” now some of you who are younger, think with me, what does it mean, in earlier times? What is that referring to? Well, it is referring to the Old Testament, it is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures.

You know, there is this mistaken myth that seems to be at large out there, in general, in the church at large, that says that the Old Testament is irrelevant. It is not irrelevant at all. It was written for us for a particular reason. And, Romans 15 tells us why. It was written for our instruction. Now, again, some of us who are younger who are listening, what does that mean, it was written for our instruction? It means that we are to learn from it, we are to gain perspective from it. That is part of the reason why it says in 2 Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16, that “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable to learn from.”

Then, Romans 15:4 goes on to say, “So that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The idea is, these stories and events in the Old Testament are to help catalyze our perseverance, or if you prefer the word, endurance. And, it is to help us establish our hope as we face life circumstances.

Now, as we continue our orientation, we want to give us a little bit of historical background on the book. If you know your Old Testament history, you know that at one point the nation of Israel split into two, the northern group, ten tribes, was called Israel. The southern group, two tribes, was called Judah. A hundred years before Habakkuk was written, the ten tribes were carried off by Assyria and scattered around the world. So, now, when he writes, he is writing to the southern kingdom of Judah, the two remaining tribes. What was happening in Judah, is they hadn’t really learned from what happened to the ten tribes in the north. The culture was sliding downward.

He is going to share some of that and as we share that, I just want you to think about this, does any of this sound familiar to us in our culture today? In Judah, there was a sharp, spiritual decline taking place. There was surging immorality, ungodliness, and selfishness. Sin was spreading in the nation like a flooding river. Does any of that sound at all familiar to what we are experience? Much of the national leadership was corrupt and inept. People were flagrantly violating God’s truth with really no fear of divine intervention. There was a decline in the nation, politically, morally, economically, spiritually. To Habakkuk, God appeared to be asleep on the job. The truth is, right? God is never asleep on the job.

Now, I want to lay out for us an outline of the book of Habakkuk. I have entitled the series, ‘Anchored,’ and you can see here that it divides into two sections. You have chapters 1 and 2 and then you have chapter 3. In chapters 1 and 2, we have Habakkuk’s perplexity. In chapter 3, we have Habakkuk’s praise. In chapters 1 and 2, the focus is on life’s problems. In chapter 3, the focus is on God’s person.

We can break down the first two chapters this way,

  • We have Habakkuk’s first complaint in chapter 1, verses 2-4.
  • We have God’s first answer in chapter 1, verses 5-11.
  • We have a second complaint by Habakkuk in chapter 1, verses 12-17
  • Then, we have a second answer from God, which is all of chapter 2.

Then, if we are going to break down chapter 3, we could break into two sections. In the first fifteen verses of chapter 3, we have God’s sovereign power and glory. Then, in verses 16-19 of chapter 3, we have Habakkuk’s position of trust.

What is really interesting is, the book of Habakkuk starts and ends in different ways. You will notice it starts with Habakkuk perplexed and it ends with Habakkuk praising. It starts with confusion, ends with confidence. It begins with emotional despair, ends with spiritual rest. Begins with fear, it ends with faith. Begins with anguish and ends with adoration. It begins with wondering and it ends with worship. Now, how do you go from that to this? What is involved in all of that? Well, what occurs from the beginning to the end is divine perspective that Habakkuk gains from God as he interacts with Him.

The title I’ve given to the message today is this, ‘Where are You, God?’ We are going to look at complaint number one by Habakkuk and then we are going to look at answer number one by God. I would like to read the first eleven verses and invite you to follow along in your Bible as I’m reading. It begins saying this,

“The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw. How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save or deliver. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.”

And God’s response to Habakkuk, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days, you would not believe if you were told. For behold I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared; their justice and authority originate with themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards and keener than wolves in the evening. Their horsemen come galloping, their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swooping down to devour. All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand. They mock at kings and rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble to capture it. Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god.”

So, let’s look at complaint number one, in verses 2-4 of chapter 1. Notice he says there in verse 2, “How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear?” What was he really saying? He was saying, ‘Where are You, Lord?’ He was saying to God, ‘I’m in distress here. I am disheartened, I am overwhelmed, and it just seems to me, God, that You are indifferent to my situation.’

I want to notice a couple of things about this. First of all, notice that this was not the first time that Habakkuk brought this issue to the Lord. Remember, he said, ‘How long am I going to keep praying about this? I have prayed and I have prayed and all I seem to hear are crickets [an idiom for all I hear is silence…only the chirping of crickets].’ He felt like God was indifferent and inactive. Have you ever cried out to God for help and it just seemed like God didn’t hear?

The second thing that I want you to notice about this is, that what he was experiencing and what we experience is just a common experience. In fact, we learn from David in Psalm 13, he expressed this same idea. He said, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?” That’s how he felt. “How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I experience sorrow in my heart all the day?” It is a common experience that people who know God will have from time-to-time. Even, think about the Lord Jesus on the cross, when He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He just felt like God wasn’t there for Him.

What was happening here with this complaint? Well, Habakkuk was distressed, as many of us are now, I think, with the crumbling culture around him and his country, with the ever-growing bad news. And, he says there in verse 2, “I cry out, Violence!” Ever feel like saying that now, in our culture? Violence, if we take time to look at it, is all around us, all around us.

You know, the last year you could calculate the number of abortions in the United States of America was 2017. You know how many there were? It is startling when you think about it. 862,000 in one year in our country. That is nearly one quarter of Oklahoma’s population in one year. Worldwide it has been estimated that in 2019, 42.4 million abortions. I mean, there is violence all around us. We could talk about the mass shootings that are out there. We could talk about the terrorist threats that are out there. We could talk about the sex trafficking that is out there and the violence towards females and children.

He says, ‘I cry out, ‘violence,’ and yet You’re not delivering me. You don’t seem to be acting.’ Notice he says in verse 3, “Why do You make me see iniquity?” What does iniquity mean? Well, it means sinful behavior. I’m having to observe and watch all this happening around. There is wickedness out there. He says in verse 3 there is destruction and violence and strife and contention. We’re seeing that even in our culture now. There’s a lot of gory violence and overt wickedness in the movies that are being churned out in Hollywood. We see unbridled strife and conflict in the political realm. Is that not true? And we’ve seen just the ugliness of some racial unrest that has been going on recently. Sometimes Janet and I talk about it and she doesn’t really feel comfortable being alone at night. Isn’t that amazing to think about? We have the drug culture mushrooming. We have the Covid-19 virus on the loose. Why is God allowing these things? Does He really care? What is He doing?

Notice one of the results in verse 4. He says the law ends up being ignored. The NIV says, paralyzed, literally in Hebrew it means it is numbed. Violent offenders we see in our own culture are being released, criminals and gangs are crossing our borders.

He goes on to say it seems that the wicked are surrounding the righteous. Do you ever feel a little bit outnumbered, you know, being ridiculed by everyone around us for following Jesus, feeling hemmed in by all of that?

He goes on to say that justice comes out perverted, which means bent and twisted. It reminds me of what Isaiah wrote in Isaiah, chapter 5 and verse 20, when he talked about those in the culture of the day, there were some who called evil – good, and good – evil. Those who called darkness – light, and light – darkness. We’re seeing a lot of that, we’re seeing marijuana being promoted under the guise of medicine, we’re seeing pornography, not only promoted, but defended. Now, we see public schools and colleges, many of them attempting to stamp out a Biblical viewpoint from our culture.

What Habakkuk really was saying was this, ‘My world seems to be decaying from the inside out.’ He was asking the question, ‘God, why don’t You do something? Why is this happening to me? Where are You, God? I’m suffering, I’m distressed. Why do You seem to be indifferent and inactive?’ He was really saying to God, ‘Don’t just sit on the throne, Lord. Do something.’

Which then leads us to the first answer to this complaint that God gives in verses 5-11. Now, I want you to notice a couple of things, again, before we get into these verses. Did you notice that God does not chastise Habakkuk here? You know, Habakkuk didn’t go off, just to sort of whine to himself and stew in his juices (to be alone and just focus on your emotions…worry or anger, etc.) someplace. He didn’t go around complaining to others about the Lord. He took his frustrations directly to the Lord.

And, that is really the thrust that we see in the Bible.

  • You know, King David, in Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden upon the Lord.”
  • Peter, in 1 Peter 5:7 said, “Cast all your anxiety on Him.” Why? “Because He cares for you.”
  • And, Jesus, Himself says in Matthew, chapter 11, verse 28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden.”

That is what God wants us to do and that is exactly what Habakkuk did.

The second thing I want you to notice before God really answers, is our own tendency, Habakkuk’s own tendency. Our own tendency is to focus on the small story, to focus on our life, to focus on our circumstances. But, what we’re going to learn is that God is always seeing the bigger story. And here is the idea, here is the thing we all need to remember. That God is looking at the biggest picture of all. He is at work at all times, just as we were singing earlier, He is always at work. He is at work in our town, He is at work in our country, He is at work in the world, He is managing the universe. We have this tendency to look at the small story and God is always looking at the bigger story.

You know, you see this illustrated in the Apostle Paul’s life, when he ended up being imprisoned and he ended up being chained to a guard. Now, some of us feel like we’ve been imprisoned a lot recently, but hopefully you haven’t been chained up to someone in your home. But, that is what was happening to Paul and he could have just lamented that, you know, ‘I really want to be out there, I want to be in the synagogue. I want to be talking to people about Jesus and here I am in prison and I’m chained up to someone. I can’t go anywhere.’ But, you know what Paul did? He then stepped back and he began to look at the bigger picture. You can read about it in Philippians, chapter 1, verses 12-18. He goes on to say there, “My circumstances…” oh, there was a bigger picture at work. You can read about that. I would encourage you to go to Philippians 1:12-18 and read about how Paul handled all of that.

When we come to verse 5, in the book of Habakkuk, what we see here are some commands. Four of them rapid fire in a row. But what is interesting is, they’re all plural commands. In other words, what God was communicating in these four commands is, He’s not just talking to Habakkuk, he is talking to you and He’s talking to me, and He’s talking to the rest of the people that were in the nation.

So, the first thing He says, talking to all of them, Look,” if we would, you all (look). Look at the bigger picture. Look beyond our own world.

The second thing He says to them is, ‘I want you to observe. I want you to contemplate, I want you to reflect, I want you to ponder.’

Then He says this, Be astonished!” It’s a very interesting term here, be astonished. It’s the exact same term that is used in the book of Genesis and chapter number 43, with Joseph and his brothers. You remember how Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, he ended up in Egypt. He ended up being the right-hand man to Pharaoh. But, his brothers didn’t know who he was and they come seeking food in Egypt and when they come into the presence of Joseph, there is a little banquet set out there and the name tags are for all the brothers and each of the brothers was seated in their birth order. And, it says the brothers, when they saw that, were astonished. How in the world? This doesn’t make any sense to us. And, that is what God says, “His ways are higher than our ways.”

Then, the fourth thing God says is, Wonder!” Wonder, why? Because I am doing something. And when He says there, “I am doing something,” it is the term that would describe what a craftsman does when he is making a product. The whole idea is, that really what God was communicating here is, ‘Now in the midst of all this chaos you see around, I am at work.’ We could write over it, ‘I am always at work.’ God is always at work. Again, we worshipped earlier, singing that principle.

Really, what He is saying to Habakkuk and to all of us is, ‘You’re really not going to believe, I mean, you are going to struggle to process what I am doing.’

He goes on to say there, in verse 6, “I am raising up the Chaldeans.” The word, Chaldeans, is a synonym for the Babylonians. Why do we use the term Chaldeans? Well, the Chaldeans were the ruling class in the Babylonian Empire and He says, ‘I am going to be raising up these Chaldeans.’ Now, remember, the people of Judah had been making bad choices, they had been drifting in their relationship with God. They were deserving of some discipline from the Lord. But they could never even imagine that God’s tool for that discipline and judgment would be the Chaldeans. Just to give you a feel for that, if you imagine us in a Western culture, where we are a nation that because our drifting from God deserves some judgment, and God said, ‘You know what I’m going to send to you? I’m going to send to you the equivalent of the Nazis, who are going to come upon you.’

In the following verses, there are twenty plus descriptives here of the Chaldeans, or the Babylonians. Notice verse 6, He says, “I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs. They are dreaded and feared.”

I’m going to give you an illustration about how fearful they were that came about a few years later when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, took King Zedekiah of Judah. Now, I know for those of us who are a little bit younger, this is a little hard to believe that someone could be this mean and this evil. But what Nebuchadnezzar did is, he took all the sons of King Zedekiah and actually—it’s hard to believe this—he  actually killed all of those sons right in front of Zedekiah. Then, to top it all off, he then gouged out the eyes of Zedekiah, so the last thing he would have ever seen was the execution of his sons. Now, that, really is evil and dark.

In verse 7, He says, “Justice and authority originate with themselves.” They decide for themselves what is right and wrong. There is no sense of accountability that they have.

He says there, in verse 8, “Their horses are swifter than leopards and keener than wolves in the evening.” That phrase, keener than wolves in the evening, in the margin of the New American Standard, it says, they are more eager to attack than wolves in the evening. “They are like an eagle swooping down.” They are unstoppable.

Verse 9, “They collect captives like sand.

Verse 10, “They mock at kings and rulers.” To them they are a laughing matter. One of the things the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, would do is, when they captured another king, they would put them in cages and parade them around.

It says in verse 11, “They will sweep through like the wind.” The picture is, like we know in Oklahoma, that of a tornado, they’re just going to come in like a tornado. But then you will notice in verse 11, the later part, it says, But they will be held guilty.” They will be held accountable, God says. The final verdict on that is already settled.

We are going to look at that in more detail next time. This answer from God raises a second question that Habakkuk’s going to ask and that is, “Lord, how could You do that? It seems to be inconsistent with a good and a holy God.

Now, we’ve covered a lot of ground so far today, but we do want to take a few moments to look at some life response that we can have to what we’ve looked at.

The first life response is very simple. It is, Remember God is always at work. What I would encourage you to do, even at home as you’re listening and watching this, would be to take some time and list all of the events and list all of the hard things in your life and all the concerns that you have, make a list of them and then across the top write the words, “God is at work.” He is working on a bigger story, He’s not an unconcerned spectator at all.

So, the fist life response is, remember that God is always at work. The second life response is to Run to Him in prayer. That is what we should do when we are distressed, when we are discouraged, when we’re frustrated, when we’re confused. We need to seek and keep on seeking the Lord. It is encouraging to be reminded of what it says in Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 16, where he writes, “Come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find mercy and grace to help in time of need.” That is what God wants us to do, to focus not on the circumstances, which may be squishing us, to focus not on things, which are fleeting and temporary, but to focus on Him.

More than 200 years ago, there was a hymn written entitled, How Firm a Foundation, and I think the words of this hymn would be very encouraging to us right now, so I want to just read through them. Here is what it says:

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word

What more can He say than to you He has said

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled

Fear not, I am with you, oh be not dismayed

For I am your God and will still give you aid

The song goes on to say,

I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand

Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand

The soul that on Jesus has leaned to repose

I will not, I will not desert to his foes.

These are encouraging words, friends. Then, the hymn ends this way,

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You that You have given us Your truth in the Word of God, like the book of Habakkuk. We know it’s not just some old document, it is actually You speaking, not only in the Old Testament era, but to us today. We just thank You so much for all that You teach us through all these things, Lord. We get confused, we’re twisted around. We don’t understand what’s happening in our culture. We sometimes wonder why You’re not doing things differently. May we never forget that You are always at work and may we never forget that though all hell should endeavor to shake, You will never, no never, no never forsake us. We are so grateful for that today and we thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

Habakkuk 1:1-11
“Where are you God?”

1. As humans our natural tendency is to focus on the “small story” (our own life and circumstances).  List some ways that we often do that.

2. God always operates from the “bigger story” (what He is accomplishing in the world). How did Paul learn to see the “bigger story” in Philippians 1:12-18?

How can we see the bigger story in light of the current crisis we face?

3. Take time to make a full list all of your current concerns. When you are finished write over it, God is at Work

4. Close your time of reflection by doing two things:

  1. use Psalm 25:5 as your prayer to God.

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation.”

  • Download or look up the lyrics to the hymn How Firm A Foundation.  Then go to youtube and sing along in worship to the Lord.

            —- for a more contemporary version go to youtube and search

                  “How firm a Foundation Norton Hall band”

            —- for a more traditional version go to youtube and search

                  “How firm a Foundation Songs of the Redeemed”

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