Anchored #2: Why God? – Habakkuk 1:12-17

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Anchored, Part 2

Why God?

Habakkuk 1:12-17

Bruce A. Hess

Now, if you would, please take out your Bibles, the Word of God, and turn in them, in the Old Testament, to the book of Habakkuk. As we move into Habakkuk today, we are going to be exploring what may be the most asked question in human history and that question is, ‘Why God?’ Why? Why, God, did You allow Covid-19 to come? Why did You allow one of my loved ones to get sick with it and for some of us, to have our loved one even die from it? And, maybe not even be able to have a visitor in their last hours together. Why, God, why was I laid off my job? Why do I have physical problems? Why do I have chronic pain? Why do I have an autoimmune issue? Why, maybe, am I facing dementia in my life? Why do I have a special needs child that You’ve given to me? And special needs children are indeed special. Why is my spouse or my child not walking with the Lord? Why did I have a miscarriage? Why have I been involved in a serious accident? Why is there emotional pain I have in my life, maybe being forced to move when I didn’t want to move? Maybe, having personal conflict with parents or with friends. Why was I not healed? Why did You not sell my house when it needed to sell? Why do You not stop sex trafficking? Why is there suffering and hardship in my life?

A number of years ago we did a series of messages from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. One of the things we pointed out in that study is, there is a common assumption that exists in our world today, a common assumption that goes this way,

  • Life should be reasonably easy
  • Innately fair and
  • Readily understandable

There are a lot of people who believe that in their life, in the interior, it should be reasonably easy, things shouldn’t be hard. It should be innately fair, there always should be justice. And, it should be readily understandable, in other words, I ought to be able to follow what is going on at all times.

But, see, that assumption is actually faulty and untrue. All we have to do is look at Biblical history, right? I mean, Abel was murdered. Job lost his whole family and his health. Joseph was sold into slavery by his family, he was falsely accused, he was unjustly treated. Ruth lost her husband. David was hunted like an animal. Elijah struggled with discouragement and depression. Stephen was stoned. Peter was imprisoned. Paul was beaten five times with thirty-nine lashes. You know, they said if you got forty you would have been beaten to death. John was exiled in his old age to a desolate island.

Yet, we have this assumption that exists. And part of the problem why we think that life should be reasonably easy and innately fair and readily understandable is that we forget that we live in a sinful and fallen world. Life on planet Earth includes hurts and heartaches, trials and troubles, difficulties and disappointment.

The Lord Jesus pointed this out to His disciples in John, chapter 16 and verse 33, where He said this very simply, “In the world you have tribulation.” You have tribulation. So, this assumption, you see, part of the problem is, we forget that we live in a sinful world. But also, we forget that God is bigger than us. That is a big part of the lesson of the book of Habakkuk.

Last week we started a brand-new series entitled, “Anchored,” and it is all about the book of Habakkuk. What is really interesting to me, I think, is to realize that the book of Habakkuk is very unique. It is unique among the major and the minor prophets. You will remember that it is called a Major Prophet because it was what? Longer. And, a Minor Prophet because it was shorter. But Habakkuk is very, very unique because, normally—whether it was a major or a minor prophet—what they would do is, declare God’s message to people. Habakkuk is unique in that it is a dialogue with God about people, including himself. What we get to do in the book of Habakkuk really is, to eavesdrop on a personal conversation with God.

Last time we set out the organization of the first couple of chapters. It divides, first of all, those first two chapters really focus on Habakkuk’s perplexity, he is talking about life’s problems and he has, first, a complaint to God in chapter 1:2-4. God answers that in chapter 1, verses 5-11, then there’s a second complaint or question that he has, we see that in verses 12-17. Then, there is a second answer from God that takes up all of chapter 2, which we will get to eventually.

So, what we want to do is, just review for a few moments what we’ve been covering. First of all, there was this first complaint that he had in verses 2-4 and that is, where are You, God? You seem to be inactive, You are silent.

We looked at the fact that the country of Judah was really slipping downward. I just want to give you a little feel for the background of all of that. You see, there was a king in Judah by the name of Josiah and Josiah was the reformer king of Judah. His theme was, make Judah great again. Yeah, that really is what his theme was, but it was in all the right ways. He sought to bring the nation back to God. We learned something interesting about Josiah in 2 Kings 23, verses 1-3. Here is what had happened actually in Judah at the time. The Scriptures had been completely lost and they were found again. So, Josiah, as king, gathers the leaders and the people together and he personally reads the Word of God to them and he commits the nation to heed it and to practice it, which led to a lot of spiritual reforms in Judah. But, by the time of the events of the book of Habakkuk, Jehoiakim was king and he was utterly godless. You can read about a similar situation to that of Josiah, in Jeremiah 36, verses 20-26.

Here is what happens there. There is a scroll that contains the Word of God that God gave to Jeremiah, who was by the way a contemporary of Habakkuk, and this scroll talked about the prospect of judgment coming on Judah. If you go there, you will see that Jehoiakim picks up that scroll, he reads three to four paragraphs in it, takes out a knife and he slices it up and he tosses it into the burning fireplace and immediately orders the arrest of Jeremiah. Do you see the contrast of change here?

As Habakkuk looked around him, he said, ‘Our culture with Jehoiakim as king, it is going downward,’ and he was experiencing things that sometimes I think we feel in our day. He says, ‘I look around our culture and there is surging immorality, there is ungodliness, there is selfishness.’ He said, ‘I look around and the national leaders are inept and corrupt. I see people flagrantly violating God’s truth, violence is exploding in our culture and ‘justice, as we saw last time, ‘is numbed and paralyzed.’

So, the first complaint that he had was, where are You, God? But that leads then to the answer that God gives back and that is simply, ‘Hey, I am at work. I am doing something. I am always at work, in fact.’ God says, ‘The master plan that I have will blow your mind.’ God says, ‘Here’s what I am doing to this disobedient culture and nation of Judah. I am sending the Chaldeans, that evil and ungodly and cruel people.’ They were far more ungodly and evil and violent than Judah by far. They were, if you would, the international terrorists of the day. They were going to bring dread on the nation of Judah. And they would have no sense of accountability to anyone, let alone God.

So, that second complaint that he begins to lodge, then, having heard that about the Chaldeans is, ‘Why, God, why? How could You do that? That seems so inconsistent with who You are.’ What he does, beginning with verse 12, is he does first a mini review of God’s character. Notice that. Then, he is going to do an extended complaint about the inconsistency he feels with God.

Here is what I want us to do. I want us to take a moment, we want to read from Habakkuk, chapter 1, verses 12-17. I invite you to follow along in your Bible as I am reading. Habakkuk says,

“Are you not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my Holy One? We will not die. You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; and You, O rock, have established them to correct. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler over them? The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook, drag them away with their net, and gather them together in their fishing net. Therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they offer a sacrifice to their net and burn incense to their fishing net; because through these things their catch is large, and their food is plentiful. Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?”

Here is what I want us to notice. I want you to note what Habakkuk does NOT do. He was feeling all of this adversity, he now finds out there’s going to be a further avalanche of adversity coming upon the nation. Notice what he does not do. He does not, having heard this news, thumb his nose [a gesture of contempt, derision, lack of respect] at God, saying to God, ‘Forget You, God, if that’s what you are going to do.’ He does not toss aside the Bible, saying, ‘Just forget that, if that is what is going to be happening.’ He does not refuse to attend the temple, ‘I’m not coming to church anymore if that is what God is going to allow to happen. Forget that.’ No, that is not what he does. He does not do those things. He, instead, runs to God in prayer.

But he is confused. He says, ‘I don’t fully understand all of this, how all of this works together.’ So, we have this mini review of God’s character and the first thing he says is, ‘You are an eternal, unchanging God, God.’ In verse 12, you will notice it says, “You are from everlasting.”  You are the author of all history.

Then, he describes the Lord there in verse 12 as the Rock. He says, “O Rock.” He was really saying to the Lord, ‘You are the real Prudential.’ Those of you who are a little older will remember that you have the Rock of Gibraltar, which is on the southern tip of Spain, and it just juts out and it’s always there, no matter the turmoil in the ocean around it. And the Prudential Insurance Company picked that up and they made that part of their emblem and part of their logo, saying, ‘What you need to do is, you need to get a piece of the rock. The idea was that the rock was so solid, it was so reliable. Prudential was saying, ‘You can always count on us.’ That is really what he is saying to God, ‘You are the Rock. Your character does not vacillate, it does not fluctuate.’

Well, then, the second thing, as he is doing this mini review of God’s character, he says, “You are a holy and a pure God.’ Notice in verse 12 he describes God as the Holy One. Then, in verse 13, he says, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil.” And, he says, “You cannot look on wickedness with favor.” I like the way the NET Bible translates that last phrase. They say, “You are unable to condone wrongdoing.”

 One thing we know about Habakkuk is he knew his Bible of the day. We know that Habakkuk had read the Psalms. For example, it says this in Psalm 5:4-6, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness.” (This is Your character, God.) “No evil dwells with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity…The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit.” He understood that from the Word of God, about the Lord.

The third thing he notes of God is, he says, ‘You are a personal and a faithful God.’ Two times there, in verse 12, we have the word, Lord, in all caps. That represents the word, Yahweh, in Hebrew. Yahweh is the personal promise keeping God.

He makes the short statement there in verse 12, “We will not die.” Now, he doesn’t mean by that, none of us are going to die from a disease or none of us are going to die when we are invaded. What he means by that is, You are never going to exterminate Your people, because, indeed, You are a personal and faithful God. You are going to keep Your promises to Israel.

Notice what Moses says in Deuteronomy 32:4, he says, “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” That is the God that we know.

So, we have, first of all, this mini review of God’s character, but then he moves into this complaint, thinking about what God is like, there is some inconsistency here that he wants to point out. Really, what he was saying is this, ‘I’m confused, God. I mean, this just doesn’t add up. This just doesn’t compute.’ He was implying, ‘You know, God, I think You need to take a closer look at Your plan. What You are allowing to happen to us, with the Chaldeans coming, is not fair.’ You will notice that perhaps the most asked question appears two times in verse 13. Why? Again, why? He, again, is thinking of his situation and these are some of the thoughts he is struggling with and maybe you can identify with those kinds of thoughts, where things happen to us and we say to God, ‘Hey, it’s not supposed to work this way. You’re not doing it right, Lord. I think I know what is best, God. I do. My plan is better than Your plan.’

You know, in Jeremiah, chapter 12, it says this, Righteous are You, O Lord, that I would plead my case with You.” In other words, he says, ‘I know the kind of character You have; I want to plead with You, “Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You.” There are some issues, God, that I want to point out to You.’

I really enjoy the next two phrases as they are translated in the NET Bible, it says, “Why are wicked people successful?” Have you ever thought that question? “Why do dishonest people have such easy lives?” I think he is implying, ‘God, you know, excuse me, but I think You might be missing something here, Lord.’

Notice, as we go on in Habakkuk, in verse 14 he says, “Why have You made men like the fish of the sea, like creeping things?” Creeping things refer to small water animals. What he is saying is, ‘Hey, we are just very vulnerable, like these fish and these creeping small water animals. We are helpless.’ So much of life we are just helpless, we can’t do anything about it.

Then, he talks about how, look at verse 15, “The Chaldeans bring all of them up with a hook.” That’s a very interesting thing, because here is what the Chaldeans would often do. They would often hook their captives through their lower lip and then they would put a string through their lower lip and then they would lead captives in a single march off, pulling them by their lower lips. This is a little allusion to all of that. Two times there in verse 15 it mentions their net and often the Babylonian deities would be portrayed as holding a net in which their enemies were caught and squirming. Notice in verse 15 Habakkuk says, ‘They are going to take advantage of all these creatures that are so helpless, just like we’re helpless and they rejoice and are glad. I mean, think about it, they are out to ravage people. They take pleasure in ravaging people. They gloat over their conquests.

An interesting phrase or two in verse 16. He says, “They offer a sacrifice to their net…and burn incense to their fishing net.” What is he really saying there? They worship their military prowess; they are so proud of it! I always get bothered, even in our country, when I hear them seemingly being so proud of our military saying it is the best in the world. We are in danger of kind of worshipping that when we do that. “They burn incense to their net.” They take personal credit; they think it’s all about them.

You know, we see later on, a few years later, this very thing happening in the book of Daniel, in chapter number 4. At that point Nebuchadnezzar is the leader of the Babylonians and he has even taken some of the people of Judah back into his capital city. You see there in Daniel, chapter 4, it is interesting, Nebuchadnezzar is out and he’s just strolling around his royal palace. In verse 30 of that chapter he says this, “Is this not Babylon the great, which,” notice this, “I myself have built…by the might of my power and for the glory of mymajesty?” Do you see it there? ‘I myself have done this! It has been my power and my majesty that has created all of that.’ And, when Nebuchadnezzar does that in Daniel, chapter 4 (you can go read about it later on) you know what God says in response to him? ‘I don’t think so, I don’t think so. Why don’t you just go graze with the cattle out in the field for seven years, Nebuchadnezzar?’ And that is exactly what happens in Daniel 4. See, that is the spirit that these people had.  And, if you go read the story you will know that after seven years he came back to his senses and Nebuchadnezzar stands up and he says this, ‘God is the one who is in charge.’

You see, the Babylonians had this tendency to worship their own abilities, to take personal credit for things. So, Habakkuk is saying to God here, ‘God, that’s not right. God, You’re not doing it right!’ He is implying again, Habakkuk is, ‘I know what is best.’

That leads us to the closing question in verse 17, “Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?” Basically, what he was asking here is, ‘Are they ever going to be held accountable? How long, God, is this going to continue on? How long are You going to let me suffer? Let us suffer?’ And, we might ask similar questions. How long is this Covid-19 thing going to go on? How long am I going to be experiencing trials and troubles and pain and difficulties and disappointment, God?

If you will look in chapter 2 and verse 1, Habakkuk, having lodged this second complaint with the Lord, this second major question, he says, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He (God) will speak to me.” At this point in the book, there is a shift, there is a shift from, ‘Where are You, God? Why, God?’ to the “who.” And, the most pivotal question for you and for me is not why did it happen or even how long is this going to last, but the most pivotal question we need to ask ourselves is, how will I respond?

Which really leads us then, to the life response that we want to talk about now. How can we respond to what we’ve looked at today? Well, I am going to suggest two things. The first one is, to remember that God still reigns. There is a lot happening around us right now and there is going to be a lot happening around us in the weeks to come and the years to come.

We have common responses as human beings. One of our responses, at least this is true in my life, is to panic a little bit. You know, to get anxious and to fret. Another common response we will often have is to grumble. Do you do that? I do that. To complain, to whine, sometimes even to accuse God.

Another common response we have when all this stuff is happening to us is to seek to escape it all. Maybe to dull what we are experiencing in our life with alcohol, or to attempt to dull it with drugs, or sometimes even escaping deeply into video games just to get away from what we are experiencing in our life.

Earlier we had quoted Jesus from John 16:33. Remember how He said, “In the world you have tribulation,” but He didn’t stop there, He goes on and He says, “But, take courage, I have overcome the world.” Translation: I still reign.

You might jot down Romans, chapter 8, verse 34. I always like this particular verse because it says, right now, right at this very moment—think about this—right at this very moment, Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us. No matter what you may be going through in your life, or I’m experiencing, right now; He is at the right hand of God, interceding for us.

Remember we talked about Prudential? Their phrase used to be “Get a Piece of the Rock.” Men and women, we’ve got the Rock. We’ve got the whole Rock!

So, the first thing we need to remember is that God still reigns. The second thing, by way of life response, is to Run to Him, not from Him. Run to Him, not from Him.

I want to share with you a couple of quotes that I think are very helpful here. The first one is a quote by J.I. Packer. Here is what he says, think about this, think deeply about this,

God exposes us to all these things so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy and to drive us to cling to Him more closely.

He goes on to say,

This is the ultimate reason why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities. Why? To ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast.

We need to be reminded of that and that is part of why adversity comes into our life.

The second quote I want us to note comes from Tom Constable. I love a lot of what he has written on the web about Scripture. Here is what he says,

The best place to take our questions is to God in prayer. The best place to find answers from God is in His Word.

So true, isn’t it?

As we get ready to close this morning, I want to close again this week with some lyrics from another well-sung hymn, which is the hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Now, here is what is interesting about songs that have been around for a long time, we often forget that these songs were written out of adversity and anguish. I want to tell you a little bit about the author of What a Friend We Have in Jesus. His name is Joseph Scriven and he lived in the 1800’s in Ireland. At the age of 25 he was anticipating his wedding day, but his fiancée tragically drowned the day before their wedding. Now, Scriven was heartbroken and he decided to leave Ireland and to go to Canada to start a new life there. When he was in Canada, he met Eliza. Oh, he was in love with Eliza, and they were anticipating getting married, but Eliza fell ill and she also died before their wedding. At about that same time, while living now in Canada, Scriven finds out that his mother, back in Ireland, is seriously ill. So, he decides to write a poem to his mother and to send it to her. That poem was What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Thirty years later, after having written that poem, it was published in a book of poems and a musician by the name of Charles Converse found it and put that poem to music. I think the words of this are very apropos, especially when we are facing adversity in our life. Let’s look at them. Here is what he wrote,

What a friend we have in Jesus

All our sins and griefs to bear

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit

Oh, what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer

It goes on to say,

Have we trials and temptation? (And, we would all go, ‘Yeah, we do!’)

Is there trouble everywhere? (We’re feeling it right now)

We should never be discouraged

Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful?

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness

Take it to the Lord in prayer

Then, he goes on to say this,

Are we weak and heavy-laden? (Maybe you feel that way right now)

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge

Take it to the Lord in prayer

Do your friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee

Thou will find a solace there

It is so incredibly true! Let’s pray together. Father, we just thank You so much. We are so, so grateful, Lord, for who You are and even with everything that goes on in our life, just as Habakkuk was experiencing, and things don’t make sense to us, You are still reigning. You are still in control. You are there for us. So, we would pray that You would continue to teach us, to train us, to develop us, that You allow these kinds of things into our life so that we might realize all the deeper that we need You. We so desperately need You, the one who is our Friend. We are grateful for Your presence, for the reality of who You are, that You are our Friend, that You are there to help us and all we need to do is approach You in prayer, just the same way that Habakkuk did. And, we know, even though we might not get all the answers we want, we will be reminded that You are our King, you are our Friend, and You are our God and we pray all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

Habakkuk 1:12-17
“Why God?”

1. We began by saying, maybe the most asked question in human history is, Why God?

Reflect back on a time when you clearly remember asking that question of God. What were some of the details of that situation?

2. Why is it that the common assumption life should be reasonably easy, innately fair, and readily understandable so widely held and assumed to be true?

3. List some parallels you see from our culture today that reflect similar situations in Judah during Habakkuk’s time.  Has God’s rule shifted in any way?  Elaborate.

4. Read again Psalm 5:4-6.  With that description of God, how do we explain His seeming lack of response to the wickedness and pridefulness of our day?

5. When life seems to unravel around us, why should we not respond like many do by either panicking, grumbling, or trying to escape in some way?

6. J.I. Packer said, God exposes us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely.  This is the ultimate reason…why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities…to ensure that we shall learn to hold him fast. Reflect and discuss what that means in our everyday life.

7. Take some time to “take it to the Lord in prayer.”

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