Does evil bother you? Turn to the book of Habakkuk – today I want to return to the rather extended series I have been doing on the minor prophets. They were all written thousands of years ago now, before Christ came to earth, before the new covenant and before salvation had been revealed. What relevance do they have to us today? What about now? Us? Our situation? The world we live in? Well what about the society we live in? What think ye of it? Are you content with it and the way things are? Does it ever bother you? Do you ever get bothered by what goes on around you? We live in a society where values have been systematically eroded, where morality has disappeared. Righteousness is not even a word used anymore. What society esteems is ambition, enterprise, success. We admire the one who gets ahead, who makes it, the self made man. Success is the measure – not righteousness or justice. Justice is downplayed in the place of expediency. Relativism rules – not whether something is right but whether other people do it? Consensus determines right. The consequence is a slide in morality that is rocket assisted! We live in this world, in this society, we are constantly in contact with it and its morality. It reminds me of Lot – we give him bad press as worldly, which he was, but the Bible calls him "righteous Lot" [2 Peter 2:5-10 God did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority.] God judges and punishes wickedness and rescues the righteous – a principle we will see in this book. But Lot, being righteous, was tormented by what he saw going on around him. We should be the same. Does evil bother you? [OHP] Do you get upset by evil all around? - Habakkuk did. Here is evil all around – does God not see it? Does He not care? If He is righteous and just how can He allow it to continue. Things have declined to such a state that surely God must intervene and do something! Don't you think so? Well that is exactly the situation Habakkuk was in – his message is vitally relevant to our own day. [Habakkuk 1:1-11 This is the message that יְהוָה revealed to the prophet Habakkuk. O יְהוָה, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence? Why do you make me see such trouble? How can you endure to look on such wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are all round me, and there is fighting and quarrelling everywhere. The law is weak and useless, and justice is never done. Evil people get the better of the righteous, and so justice is perverted. Then יְהוָה said to his people, “Keep watching the nations round you, and you will be astonished at what you see. I am going to do something that you will not believe when you hear about it. I am bringing the Babylonians to power, those fierce, restless people. They are marching out across the world to conquer other lands. 7They spread fear and terror, and in their pride they are a law to themselves.“Their horses are faster than leopards, fiercer than hungry wolves. Their horsemen come riding from distant lands; their horses paw the ground. They come swooping down like eagles attacking their prey. “Their armies advance in violent conquest, and everyone is terrified as they approach. Their captives are as numerous as grains of sand. They treat kings with contempt and laugh at high officials. No fortress can stop them — they pile up earth against it and capture it. Then they sweep on like the wind and are gone, these men whose power is their god.”]
Habakkuk's day – context Not much is known about Habakkuk. He was in a Levitcal choir and lived in Jerusalem around the same time as Jeremiah, perhaps a little earlier in the the latter part of Josiah 's reign. His prophecy is unusual – usually prophecies are יְהוָה's message delivered to the people but his work is different from that of the other prophets, in that it is entirely addressed to God, not to the people. Habakkuk had a problem, serious questions and he went to hwhy for an answer. The name Habakkuk may come from the Hebrew for ‘hug’ or ‘hang on tightly’. Certainly, he hangs onto God in this prophecy until he gets his answer – a lesson for us in the present day, perhaps. Habakkuk must have lived in the period of the rise of the neo-Babylonian Empire (c. 625 B.C.), for the Chaldean invasion of Judah was threatening (v.5-6) and the iniquity of Judah was mounting. Josiah turned to and led a great revival, turning the people back to God – but the nation was so corrupted that judgement was inevitable (2 Kings 22 Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did right in the sight of יְהוָה and walked in all the way of his father David, nor did he turn aside to the right or to the left.] He had the temple repaired and in doing so they rediscovered the book of the law. It was read to king Josiah who took it to heart and was disturbed by the punishments recorded in it [2 Kings 22:11-17 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, Go, inquire of יְהוָה for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of hwhy that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess. She said to them, “Thus says יְהוָה God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, thus says יְהוָה, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched.” ’ But to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of hwhy thus shall you say to him, ‘Thus says יְהוָה God of Israel, “Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before hwhy when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you,” declares יְהוָה . Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.” ’ ” So they brought back word to the king.]. Habakkuk prophesies at a time when the armies of Babylon are invading Palestine. Judah is a little nation, tossed on the waves of great empires. The empires rising and falling at this time are Assyria, Babylon and Egypt. As Habakkuk writes, Babylon is rising. Her armies are on the march. She has defeated the Assyrians — destroying Nineveh in 612 bc. A few years after this, in 608 bc, Judah is defeated by Egypt at the battle of Megiddo. Pharaoh Neco, the Egyptian king, kills Josiah the king of Judah and appoints his own rulers. But Babylon is far stronger than Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar defeats Pharaoh Neco at the battle of Carchemish in 605 bc. After twenty years of threat and fear, Babylon will also defeat Judah — and carry her population into captivity in 586 bc - within 50 years of this prophecy. Habakkuk was in touch with יְהוָה, [v.1] heard from Him, received revelation – he received revelation through a vision, he actually saw what he relates. It was like being there! Seeing and hearing God. But the message was weighty – it was an oracle, or a burden. It was heavy – because it concerned judgement. יְהוָה's revelation is weighty! How many of the supposed revelation from God are light and trivial – it is not the oracle of hwhy! It was a burden, it must be proclaimed in order to be released from the load. The vision had come in response to the earnest prayer of the prophet which he cried out to hwhy as he saw the unrestrained wickedness around him. What he knew of a righteous and just God told him that the nation of Judah deserved judgement. [v.3] Evil was all around – iniquity, wickedness, destruction, violence, strife contention. It was all around Habakkuk yet hwhy did nothing. Evil pervaded! Iniquity and wickedness, violence and oppression, disputes and strife. It is just the same today. I remember in my youth Arthur Allan Thomas, and the Crew murders – it was in the news for years because murder was such a rare event. Now there's one every week. We are a violent society – yet comparatively we have a good reputation – if its like this here, what is it like in Colombia?! Evil abounds, the fruits of each man pursuing his own desire to the utter disregard of everyone else. Every one want their own way, their way conflicts with someone else so there are disputes and contention. This in turn leads to violence – forcing your own way. Destruction – who on their way to church saw graffiti? Wanton destruction of others property just for the fun of it. יְהוָה was a God of justice and righteousness yet he allowed His prophet to see all this evil around him without doing anything. Habakkuk wanted answers! Why did יְהוָה allow him to see all this wickedness - it distressed his spirit – just as it did righteous Lot. [v.4] Because evil is the norm and everyone disregards the law, so pervasive is iniquity, that the law is weak - utterly ignored and ineffective. When a string of cars in front of you is doing 110 Kph, you tend to do the same. You ignore the law, consensus rules – it is difficult to hold the law (abuse for doing 30 kph in Tauranga road-works). Everyone lives together without getting married so we accept it (partners) – there was a time not so long ago that it was shocking. The law gets perverted – gives into accepted practice – wrong becomes acceptable – no longer sodomy but alternative sexuality – we legalise what the Bible rather indiscreetly calls abomination! The law no longer holds people’s behaviour in check and is a reign prompting their consciences. Another standard of man’s making (situation ethics) has taken its place - just as it is today (e.g. consider the attitude to sexual relationships outside marriage or single parenting has changed over the last 20 years). Justice is never upheld because the wicked rule, they dominate - so the righteous who would seek to maintain the law and its standards don’t stand a chance, don’t have a voice - they are surrounded and quashed, drowned out by the predominating swell of wickedness. When all business are fiddling their taxes you are disadvantaged if your remain upright. The justice that is carried out is a mockery - it is perverted - the legal system is controlled by the wicked to further their own ends and justify their own wicked practices - to declare themselves legally correct and to extort the property and wealth of others. God hates perverted justice. The situation was totally abhorrent and an offence to God - יְהוָה must act! Such was Habakkuk’s cry to Him. How accurately it portrays the slide into evil in our contemporary society. hwhy must act in judgement! The situation has become intolerable!
What should be our response? - crying out to יְהוָה. Habakkuk saw injustice and evil – what was his response – he cried out to יְהוָה [v.2] Cry out to God! God hears the cry of a sincere heart. Habakkuk was desperate in his prayer, earnestly imploring hwhy and crying for help, weeping over the wickedness, violence, oppression, wrong-doing, the unrighteous gain. Are we so moved by the evil around us? or do we just accept it, get accustomed to it, learn to live with it? Habakkuk continued to pray long and hard, yet there seemed to be no response. Have you ever prayed and not seemed to get any response! What do you do? - keep on crying out to God! It got to the stage where it seemed that hwhy wasn’t going to act. But all Habakkuk knew of hwhy’s nature told him that He must act in the face of such evil. He cried out on the basis of God's nature, His character – He is just, righteous, He cannot allow this situation! As you see evil increase – cry out to God – know your God and cry out to Him in accordance with His character, His nature – according to His justice and righteousness. The cry is not just the words that we verbalise in the prayer meeting – but the groan of the heart. Like the groaning of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt: "how long can this go on?!" God hears the heart cry – the cry of the righteous heart that is incensed by the pervading evil.
Do you ever want to cry out: "How long, LORD?" When will God intervene to punish oppression and expose idolatry? Why is he delaying his promised kingdom?  Habakkuk asks God his first big question: ‘How long must I call for help but you don’t listen?’[v.2] There is so much evil going on, with no one able to do anything to stop it. So why doesn’t God get involved? Why had יְהוָה not judged Judah's sin? Habakkuk takes hold of the Lord and raises the question of the Lord's just government of the world. How can a holy God tolerate the sin of His own people Judah ? When you see evil increasing all around do you ever say "How long?" How much longer can things go on?, surely the LORD's return must be soon. If you cried out like this, be encouraged, you are in good and godly company. Many have cried "how long?!" ...... but the LORD does answer, He has heard the earnest prayer of those who cry to Him (cf. Psalm 13:1,2 How long, O יְהוָה? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Psalm 6:3 And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O יְהוָה - how long? Psalm 35:17 Lord, how long will You look on? Rescue my soul from their ravages, my only life from the lions. Psalm 74:10 How long, O God, will the adversary revile, and the enemy spurn Your name forever? Psalm 79:5 How long, O יְהוָה? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire? Psalm 80:4 O יְהוָה God of hosts, how long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people? Psalm 89:46 How long, O יְהוָה? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire? Psalm 90:13 Do return, O יְהוָה; how long will it be? And be sorry for Your servants. Psalm 94:3 How long shall the wicked, O יְהוָה, how long shall the wicked exult?]. Sometimes it seems as if hwhy hasn’t heard, sometimes it seems so long waiting for His reply (cf. 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.). The LORD seems to allow evil to prosper and abound - doesn’t He see? Doesn’t He care? He does see and He is concerned, but He is patient, giving ample opportunity for repentance and mercy - He doesn’t want any to perish. Injustice, violence and evil abounded in Habakkuk’s day (much like our own) - his longing was for deliverance, for the LORD to save [v.2] out of this abhorrent society. Is that our longing and earnest prayer also? Even in my relatively short life time I have witness such a decline in the accepted norms of behaviour. The decline into evil is accelerating at a frantic pace! I think about Hannah growing up, what will the world be like then – then my reaction is "I hope the LORD returns before then." Things cannot go on the pace they are, surely Jesus must come back soon! How long!How long before Jesus comes back, how long before He intervenes, how long before He acts in judgement, how long before He saves us out of this evil generation? [Psalm 74:9 We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, nor is there any among us who knows how long. Psalm 6:3 And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O יְהוָה - how long?]
יְהוָה hears the genuine cry
This genuine cry from the heart "How long?" God answers – יְהוָה speaks. It is no vain thing to cry out to God. We will look at hwhy's answer next time. Suffice it to say that He answers! Hallelujah! but His answer may not be what we expect – in fact it seldom is. Habakkuk was perplexed with the silence and forbearance of God in permitting evil to continue and pours out his soul to God. God answers! He responds to the sincere cry. He is not indifferent to evil nor ignorant of it – He was about to bring punishment upon the sinful nation.