Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Pitfalls of Pride (Habakkuk 2:4-6a)


Habakkuk 2:4-6a
The Pitfalls of Pride

Is pride a virtue, or is it a vice? I suppose it depends on who you ask, or how the term is used. We use the term in a variety of ways. A person can say that he or she is proud of something that has been accomplished, or proud of something that another person has done, and mean nothing improper by it. But there is another sense in which this kind of pride can lead to boasting, or an over-inflated estimation of oneself, which is inappropriate. A relatively recent song by the folk-rock group The Avett Brothers uses an interesting contrast to distinguish between these two meanings. They sing, “I want to have pride like my mother had, and not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad.”

Traditionally, Christians have viewed pride as a sin – in fact, as one of the so-called “seven deadly sins.” Indeed, it is very difficult to find a positive reference to pride in the Bible, though there are a scant handful of such uses. Most of those would refer to the excellence of God’s character. More often, in sixty-one passages of Scripture, pride is spoken of in its negative connotation.[1] Pride was the sin of Satan which caused his downfall. Pride is found at the root of almost every human sin, for pride insists that one should be able to do as one pleases, apart from any rules or consequences. Pride is often contrasted in Scripture with positive virtues like humility, obedience, and servanthood. In the Old Testament, pride is said to go before destruction (Prov 16:18). It does not seek God (Psa 10:4). It brings disgrace (Prov 11:2). It breeds quarrels (Prov 13:10). It deceives (Jer 49:16), brings one low (Prov 29:23); and ultimately humiliates (Isa 2:17). In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of pride as an evil thing that proceeds from within a man to defile him (Mk 7:22). Both James and Peter quote from Proverbs 3:34, saying that God opposes the proud (Jas 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5).[2]

Therefore the Bible is filled with stern warnings against pride and examples of the destructive nature of pride. We find one such warning and example here in our text. In verse 4, “the proud one” is contrasted with the righteous, who lives by his faith. The word translated as “proud” means “puffed up,” “bloated,” even “tumorous.” This person is swollen, infected if you will, with a spiritual cancer that results in the diagnosis here that “his soul is not right within him.” The phrase means “crooked” or “twisted.” The proud one has a crooked soul. In verse 5, a synonym is used. The “proud one” is called “the haughty man.” The only other occurrence of this Hebrew word translated “haughty” here is found in Proverbs 21:24 – “24  “‘Proud,’ ‘Haughty,’ ‘Scoffer,’ are his names, who acts with insolent pride.” Other Hebrew words are translated as “haughty” throughout the Old Testament, and in one case the word is found in a list of things that the Lord hates. Haughtiness has to with arrogance and disdain for others. A haughty person is one who looks down on others as being inferior to himself or herself.

Who is this proud and haughty one that the Lord addresses through Habakkuk here? Most specifically, these words are a denouncement of the prideful ruler of Babylon. Depending on the exact timeframe in which this book was written, it could be Nabopolasser, or it could be his more famous son, Nebuchadnezzar. Both are guilty of the same sins of pride and arrogance. More generally, the nation of Babylon as a whole is condemned in these words, for they are all guilty of carrying out the militant expansionism of their ruler’s voracious desires. But then universally, we can apply these words to all who are sinfully proud and haughty, who are puffed up with their own sense of self-importance, infected with the tumor of a crookedly arrogant soul. What we must make most certain of is that at the end of the day, these words do not apply to ourselves! If they do, and our condition goes unremedied by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, then we will have no better fate than those of whom these words were originally written. And so we must understand from the words of this text the pitfalls of pride, that we might avoid them, and that we might pray for and help others to do so as well.

I. The proud one is deluded in his discontentment (v5a).

Ancient historians note that drunkenness and addiction to alcohol were common among the Babylonians.[3] The destructiveness of alcohol is well noted throughout the Scriptures. Nowhere is it more vividly stated than in Proverbs 23:29-35. There we read:

29  Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?
30  Those who linger long over wine, Those who go to taste mixed wine.
·         Notice, they have problems caused by their drunkenness, woe, sorrow, contention, complaining. They have wounds but don’t remember what caused them. Their eyes are red. Therefore, the Proverb says …
31  Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly;
32  At the last it bites like a serpent And stings like a viper.
·         So, it looks appealing, and it goes down easy, but it strikes like a poisonous snake. He goes on to describe what it does to a person …
33  Your eyes will see strange things And your mind will utter perverse things.
34  And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast.
·         In other words, it is like the room is spinning or moving back and forth like you are in a rough sea in a boat.
35  "They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it.
·         The drunken person was beaten up in a fight, but he didn’t feel any pain from it because he was numb from intoxication. And what does he say the next day?
 When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.

As Wiersbe says so well, “First the man takes the drink; then the drink takes the drink; then the drink takes the man.”[4] As Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Thus the writer of the Proverbs will say later, in Proverbs 31:4-5, “It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” People with great responsibility cannot afford to have their senses and faculties dulled with alcohol or drugs. It is destructive to all who fall prey to it, but when a person of power and responsibility is carried away with it, it affects many others as well. And yet, the rulers of Babylon were known to be heavy drinkers.

The Lord says to Habakkuk, “wine betrays the haughty man.” The idea here is one of deception. Wine has deceived this individual of his own sense of self-importance and fueled his pride and vainglory. Therefore, “he does not stay at home,” the Lord says. He is deluded by his wine into a state of perpetual discontentment. He is never at rest. This Hebrew expression for “staying at home” is related to the idea that is expressed in Psalm 23 in those familiar words, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” The drunken, proud man knows nothing of that comfort and security. He is always on the go, moving from one thing to the next.

Of course, alcohol is not the only thing that has this effect on a person. A person can become deluded and discontented by any number of things. Success can be as intoxicating as a drug. One can be inflated by his or her own sense of ego. But often the two go hand-in-hand. Whether intoxication fuels the pride, or pride fuels the intoxication, or pride itself is the intoxication, there is a delusion at work that leads to discontentment. In the end, the drunken pride that drove Babylon to conquer many lands and peoples would result in the nation’s downfall.

In Daniel 5, we read about the feast of the Nebuchadnezzar’s son and successor as king, Belshazzar. They were drinking it up, even giving orders to bring the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged from the Jerusalem temple so they could drink from them. And as they did, they “praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.” Suddenly there appeared “the fingers of a man’s hand” writing upon the wall the words, “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.” Neither Belshazzar nor any of his men knew what to make of it, so they brought in Daniel to interpret it for him. The message, Daniel said, was this: “God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it … you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient … your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and the Persians.” And the Bible says “that same night, Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom.” The kingdom that his grandfather, the ambitious Nabopolassar, had established, and his father, the arrogant Nebuchadnezzar, had expanded, was lost by the intoxicated Belshazzar.

Be well warned, the proud are deluded in their discontentment. Now secondly, we find another pitfall of pride here …

II. The proud one is dissatisfied in his desires (v5b).

In the history of the world, there has perhaps never been a mightier conqueror than Alexander the Great. There is hardly a society of the world today that does not bear the lasting imprint of the Greek culture as a result of Alexander’s imperialism. The story is told that Alexander wept when he discovered that there were no more lands to conquer. In a writing from Plutarch, the first-century Greek historian, it is said of Alexander that he heard someone say that there were an infinite number of worlds. This brought Alexander to tears, and when his friends asked why, he said, “Is it not worthy of tears, that, when the number of worlds is infinite, we have not yet become lords of a single one?”[5]

That kind of insatiable, voracious lust for power and prestige is what the Lord is denouncing in the proud Babylonians here. He says that Babylon “enlarges his appetite like Sheol, and he is like death, never satisfied.” The word Sheol is used often in the Old Testament, and just as often misunderstood it seems. A survey of the major English translations reveals just how wide the variation of interpretations is. The NIV renders the word “grave,” while the KJV has “death,” and the NKJV has “hell.” The Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament use words that are best understood as “the underworld.” At the very least, we know that the word is used to describe the place of the dead. The point here in our text is that Sheol and death are insatiable. You’d think we’ve been to enough funerals, wouldn’t you? And yet there will be more. Death is never satisfied. The grave is never full. They are always eager for more. And the Lord says that the proud are this way. They are like Sheol and like death – never satisfied, always hungry for more.

The Babylonians, no matter how many lands they conquered, always wanted more. Their swiftness and effectiveness in conquest made them suitable for the Lord’s use to bring judgment upon Judah. The sin of God’s own people had made them ripe for judgment, and in keeping with His unbreakable promise, He would bring in a foreign power to trample them underfoot. The Babylonians were His chosen instrument. This puzzled Habakkuk, because he wondered why God would use a nation that was even more corrupt than Judah to judge Judah. But here God is telling the prophet that Babylon will not be exempt from judgment themselves. They will answer for their own sins in God’s perfect time, because they are dissatisfied in their desire to always possess more and more.

In our lives, this very same sin manifests itself sometimes as greed, sometimes as gluttony, sometimes as covetousness or consumerism. But underlying all these manifestations is pride. Pride says, “You never have enough.” Advertisers market their products to this consuming desire. You need this thing, and then life will be complete. But it isn’t. So then you need this other thing. And on and on it goes forever. Pride says, “You deserve more, so go and get it, no matter what it takes.” For the Babylonians, it was nations, people, and plunder. Verse 5 says, “He also gathers to himself all nations and collects to himself all peoples.” But it isn’t enough. So they go after more. For you and me, it might be money, possessions, titles, or something else. Satisfaction is promised but never delivered. As the Rolling Stones said, “I can’t get no satisfaction, but I tried, and I tried, and I tried, and I tried.” The reason why that song still gets airtime a half-century after it was first recorded is because it resonates with human nature and experience. Our pride is always saying, “You need more,” but more never satisfies.

There is a spiritual reason for this. Whatever else the image of God in which human beings were created entails, it certainly includes a longing to have a personal relationship with God. Whether a person recognizes it or not, this longing exists at the core of every person’s being. We try to silence it and explain it away. We try to fill the void with any number of pursuits and possessions. We try to satisfy it with any number of experiences and exploits. But satisfaction always remains just beyond our grasp. The fact is that God loves us too much to let us find satisfaction with anything or anyone else other than Himself. He has put within us a spiritual homing device that is always beeping and blinking to drive us home to Him. As Augustine said so well, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” The proud never recognize this, or at least never admit it. To admit it is to confess there is a need that cannot be met by one’s own efforts and accomplishments. But pride is there whispering to us, “You can be satisfied. Just get more.” But experience tells us something different, does it not?

The proud are dissatisfied in their desires, because they are always looking for satisfaction everywhere except the one place that it can truly be found: in God and in Him alone.

This brings us then to the third and final pitfall of pride here in this text …

III. The proud one is derided is his destruction (v6a).

In Chapter 1, the prophet likened humanity to the fish of the sea, and the Babylonian Empire to a great fisherman. “The Chaldeans pull them all up with a hook, catch them in their dragnet, and gather them in their fishing net.” Ancient artwork depicts that these are not merely metaphors. The Babylonians actually put hooks into the lips and noses of their victims to drag them into captivity, and carried some away in nets. But, let’s stick to the metaphor for a moment. Picture, if you will, a fisherman, carrying nets full of fish and a stringer loaded with more. Now, imagine for a moment that something terrible happens to the fisherman – maybe he is struck by lightning and killed. And what if, there in that moment, all the fish that he had gathered in his nets and impaled on his string began to laugh at him and make fun of him? Well, this is exactly what the Lord says is going to take place when His judgment finally comes upon Babylon.

The proud and haughty Babylonians had gathered up nations and peoples in their conquests. But a day of destruction was coming for Babylon, and it was coming rather soon. The nation had burst onto the scene rather suddenly a decade or two before Habakkuk’s book was written. Within less than a century, it would be decimated. And when that day would finally come, the Lord says, “Will not all these” – that is, these nations and peoples that Babylon has captured – “Will  not all these take up a taunt-song against him, even mockery and insinuations against him …?”

Three distinct Hebrew words are used here, translated as “taunt-song,” “mockery,” and “insinuations.” As one commentator notes, “All three indicate that the Chaldean’s … victims will one day cast the Chaldean’s once-proud boasts and claims back in their teeth with cleverly devised words intended to mock them.”[6] In short, the Babylonians will become a laughing-stock among the very peoples whom they had conquered only a brief time before.

A few years ago, I read an interview with Mel Brooks about the making of his 1967 movie, The Producers. If you are unfamiliar with it, the story is about a producer who decides that he can make more money off of a Broadway flop than he can with a hit, so he finds the worst script he can find, and hires the worst director and actors he can find. The script was a musical tribute to Adolf Hitler entitled, “Springtime for Hitler.” Brooks, who himself is Jewish, says that he received a lot of hate mail for the film from fellow-Jews who couldn’t understand how he could make a comedy about Hitler. Remember, this was just a little more than two decades after World War II ended! Brooks’ response to that was that by laughing at Hitler, you cut him down to size. He said, “by using the medium of comedy, we … rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths.” At one point in the film, Brooks even voices Hitler in one of the showtunes, and played Hitler in a subsequent film. Asked about this, Brooks said, “It is an inverted seizure of power. For many years Hitler was the most powerful man in the world and almost destroyed us. To possess this power and turn it against him – it is simply alluring.”[7]

Almost certainly without intending to, Mel Brooks gives us the perfect illustration of what the Lord says He will do to the Babylonians. The people whom the Babylonians nearly destroyed end up lampooning them and making sport of them, deriding them in their destruction. Their sin was very public, humiliating multitudes on the global scene. And so, in God’s justice, their shame would be just as public, being humiliated by the very same multitudes and becoming a byword and a punch-line on the public scene.

The warning here applies to all who are proud. By their own efforts and power, they have climbed to the top of the tower. Soon enough they will find that the top of that tower is greased and sure footing cannot be found. As surely as they ascended, they will descend, and all those that have been trampled by them on the way up will laugh at them and deride them on the way back down. There is a general principle in Scripture that is as certain as any other: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matt 23:12). Even the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who was responsible for the conquest of Judah, would come to recognize that God is “able to humble those walk in pride” (Dan 4:37).

So, then, what is the conclusion? In light of these pitfalls of pride, what is the alternative? In verse 4, the alternative to this bloated sense of pride is the righteousness that God bestows to those who live by faith in Him. When we are humbled in the awareness of our sin to the extent that we have nowhere to look for help or hope but to the Lord alone, we come to Him spiritually naked and needy with the outstretched hands of a beggar asking Him to rescue us and deliver us from sin and its destructiveness. In Jesus Christ, the rightful Lord of Glory humbled Himself to bear the weight of our sin and the full measure of its penalty in the shameful death of the cross, that He might raise up those who are humble enough to cast themselves upon His mercy and grace by faith. It is by such faith that we are saved, and by such faith that we live, awaiting the Lord’s promises to come to pass.

As Lloyd-Jones says, “Read in your secular history books about the godless imperial nations that have risen, and how they seemed to have the whole world at their feet—Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome! … Nation after nation has risen only to fall. … They may have great temporary success, and we must be prepared for that; they may apparently bestride the universe, but as certainly as their star arose it will go down.”[8] And what is true for nations is true as well of individuals. Pride has its pitfalls, and they are inescapable. Therefore, we are admonished by the Word of God, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet 5:6). The day will come when the righteous will be vindicated and the proud will be shamed and humiliated. In humility, faith, and patient endurance, we wait on the Lord in the sure and certain hope that all of God’s promises will come to pass exactly as He has given them, and exactly when He has intended for them. The proud will be laid low. And the righteous will live by his faith.

[1] Walter Dunnett, “Pride,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (ed. Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 630.
[2] Ibid., 630-631.
[3] A fact that is noted in many commentaries, including David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah, and Habakkuk (The Bible Speaks Today; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 241.
[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, From Worry to Worship: Studies in Habakkuk (Lincoln, Neb.: Back to the Bible, 1983), 59.
[5] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/De_tranquillitate_animi*.html
[6] Richard Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary; Chicago: Moody, 1991), 183.
[7] http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/spiegel-interview-with-mel-brooks-with-comedy-we-can-rob-hitler-of-his-posthumous-power-a-406268.html.
[8] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, From Fear to Faith (Nottingham: InterVarsity, 1953), 52-53. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Page from Immanuel's History

On my desk, in a bright yellow folder, I keep a copy of the following address that was written and delivered by Dr. Paul Early, Immanuel's late pastor-emeritus, at the 1968 annual meeting of the Piedmont Baptist Association. Every now and then, I pull it out to remind myself of the great history of this church, and the legacy of gospel-centered ministry that I have the privilege of carrying on here.

The following article, penned by Dr. Paul Early, appeared in the annual Book of Reports of the Piedmont Baptist Association in 1968, when he served as Moderator of the Association.

Moderator’s Statement
October 24, 1968

Baptists have always found their primary reason-for-being in evangelism. Through revivals, through earnest invitations in all services, through personal witness, we have sought to preach the Word, and to win people to Christ.

Two primary and foundational beliefs have given strength and power to evangelism: these are trust in the inerrant Word of God, the Bible, and the missionary imperative. We declare that “the Bible is the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” We exhort preachers, young and old, to preach the Bible. And we take as marching order, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

We thus have held in our hearts from the beginning the answers to all the problems that divide us, that cause us to fear, and make us almost hate. The Southern Baptist Convention came on the scene just over 128 years ago, and God has used us. My prayer is that He will today. I believe God is now deciding if He can further use us or not, based on our response to His need, today. And what a day it is!

Fear and distrust have so gripped our nation, that positive or negative, Christian or unchristian, liberal or conservative attitudes about race relations have become the most potent force in the campaigns of nearly all candidates for office today. What a man says or does not say about race relations seems to be the magic key to hoped-for election.

For Jesus’ sake, let Baptists go back to the foundations, the Bible and missions, and evangelize. Evangelize whom? The Bible has the answer: “Love thy neighbor AS THYSELF.” Who is the neighbor? Read on in Luke 10 and see Jesus said the neighbor was the SEGREGATED man of His day, the Samaritan. And when James quoted this commandment to love, he added, “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin.” Whom do we evangelize, and love as ourselves, if we obey Jesus? Every human being, especially the segregated ones, those one is humanly inclined to look down upon.

The Holy Spirit straightened Peter out on his race prejudice, in Acts 10, in showing God’s requirement to forget about race when building His church and reaching people for Him. Although God had told the Jews through Isaiah centuries before, “For Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people,” the Jews had been defiantly exclusive, and so Peter could say truthfully, Acts 10:28, “It is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, come unto one of another nation.” No, they didn’t associate with or visit people of another race. So fear and hatred grew. But after the Holy Spirit’s ministry to Peter, he knew the truth: “But God hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.” So he went witnessing across the racial barrier, saying, “Therefore came I unto you … of a truth I perceive that God is no respector of persons” (Acts 10:29, 34). Paul had to reprimand Peter later when he stopped eating with Gentiles, as Paul put it; Gal. 2:11,12, “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing ….”

It really is as simple as that! We believe that God loves all people, and that being children of God makes us all brothers. There is absolutely no scriptural basis for separation of peoples in Christian worship, no basis at all for a group of people calling themselves a church not offering God’s love to all in full fellowship. Scripturally, it must be a sin against the Holy Spirit’s message to do less than this. How else is it true, Gal. 3:28? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Speaking about all of us, black, white, pink, or purple, God declares in Ephesians 2:13, 19, “In Christ … now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” So in Colossians 3:8-11, whatever person is in Christ must put off all anger, wrath, and malice, for he is a new creature: “Ye … have put on the new man … where there is neither Greek nor Jew, … barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free; But Christ is all, and in all.”

That kind of plain teaching makes so much more sense than a condemnation spoken, not by God, but by Noah getting over a drunk, condemning not Ham, the offender, but Canaan, whose descendants are recognized in just a cursory study to be inhabitants of the land of Canaan, Gen. 10:15-19: “Jebusites, Amorites, Girgasites, Hivites,” with borders clearly described in Palestine, not Africa.

What causes riots, fear, looting, wars, occupations, racial strife, international suicide? The absence of faith in Jesus Christ, the absence of His gospel of God’s love and forgiveness, the absence of Christian loving each neighbor as self. What does the Bible say? “Preach the gospel to every creature.” “Love your neighbor.” Jesus Christ never drew ANY lines between people, except between the lost and the saved. The New Testament declares that all the middle walls of partition are torn down.

There are signs in the Piedmont that God’s children and churches here are going to provide this kind of answer to the South’s, the nation’s, and the world’s problems. May God hasten the day! Christian brother and Christian brother, with no barrier between, mutually accepting, receiving, loving, and honoring each other, do not war against each other, or dare one another to move across a street. “Little children, let us love one another.” Amen.

Paul D. Early
Pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church

Moderator, Piedmont Baptist Association

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Righteous Will Live by Faith (Habakkuk 2:4)

As a young man, Martin Luther recognized that he had a serious problem. He took the Bible seriously, and knew that he did not live up to the righteous standard of the holy God who was revealed in the Bible. He knew that all the commands of Scripture stood written as an indictment of a well-deserved condemnation over his life. Desperate to find some way to placate God and rid himself of the burden of his sin-guilt, Luther decided to become a monk. Surely renouncing all worldly pleasures and possessions and devoting oneself fully to the service of the Lord would earn him God’s approval. Or so he thought. In the monastery, he was shepherded by a faithful mentor to devote himself to the study of Scripture. And that Luther did with all his heart and with his mind. In his study, he came upon this verse of Scripture, Habakkuk 2:4, and it lit a fire within him. As Boice writes, “He recognized that somewhere in these words was a revelation of a different way of pleasing God than by fastings, self-immolations, prayers, charity, and good works.”[1]

Not yet sure of the answer to all of the longings and questions of his soul, Luther set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. There at the church of St. John’s Lateran, a staircase can be found purporting to be from Pilate’s hall of judgment in Jerusalem. Plates of glass cover stains which are said to be from the blood of Christ. And there pilgrims come from all over the world, still to this day, to climb those steps on their knees, reciting prayers at each step, pausing to kiss the glass-covered stains. This is done as a means of receiving an indulgence – a minimizing of the penalty of sins. The most recent pope to issue such a promise of indulgence at the Lateran Stairs was Pius X in 1908. And it was for this reason that Luther went to visit the Lateran Stairs. But something happened midway up those stairs.

A handwritten letter from Luther’s son Paul is displayed in the Library of Rudolstadt today in which the following account is given: “my late, dearest father, in … his journey to Rome … had come to the knowledge of the truth of the everlasting gospel. It happened in this way. As he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of Habakkuk the prophet came suddenly to his mind: “The just shall live by faith.” Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenburg, and took this as the chief foundation for all his doctrine.” [2] Later, as Luther meditated on Paul’s quotation of this verse in Romans 1:17, he said, “although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. … Night and day I pondered … the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning.”[3]
The words which are translated in the New American Standard as “the righteous will live by his faith” are just three words in the Hebrew Bible. In these three words, Walt Kaiser says, “one of the most triumphant notes of biblical revelation is sounded.” The fact that this short portion of a short verse in a short book of the Old Testament in quoted in three separate books of the New Testament gives us a hint of the significance of these words. Before we investigate the meaning of these words and their application to us, let us set them in their original context in Habakkuk.

Again, I will remind you that Habakkuk was staring at an unprecedented national crisis. Judah was infested with immorality, injustice, and idolatry. Habakkuk had cried out to God to do something about the problem, and God answered by saying that He was sending the Chaldeans – better known as the Babylonians – to overtake the nation as an expression of His judgment. To Habakkuk, this was hardly a solution, for he could not fathom how God could endorse or employ a nation which was (by human standards) more unrighteous than Judah to do His work. As if it were not bad enough that the righteous in Judah were being oppressed by the rampant wickedness within their own nation, now the message is that all of Judah – the righteous and unrighteous alike – are going to suffer an invasion, a conquest, and a deportation from their homeland at the hand of the vicious Babylonians. It was more than the prophet could bear. As Chapter 2 opens, the prophet withdraws to a place of isolation to wait for the Lord to speak further to him, and the Lord did just that. In verses 2 and 3, the Lord told Habakkuk to record the vision he was about to receive and inscribe it on tablets. What was Habakkuk to record and inscribe? At a minimum, it was the words of verse 4. Perhaps the first part of the verse would be recorded on one tablet, and the second part of the verse would be recorded on another. And these words would serve as a warning to the unrighteous and an encouragement to the righteous. The wicked would perish under God’s judgment, be they Jewish or Babylonian, or of any other ethnicity. But the righteous would not perish with them. The righteous would live by persevering in confident trust of God’s promises that He had made to them.

But the message that God gave to Habakkuk was not for that generation only. The Lord told Habakkuk to preserve these words because they were for an appointed time. Habakkuk lived to see part of it fulfilled. Others of his generation saw more of it fulfilled. But other portions of this message awaited fulfillment at a later time. The Apostle Paul said, “Now these things happened as examples for us” (1 Cor 10:6). And the three passages of the New Testament which quote Habakkuk 2:4 each sheds unique light on the three Hebrew words that formulate the primary thrust of this verse. So, as we seek understanding and application of Habakkuk 2:4 to our lives, we are helped by the New Testament and we should allow those verses to guide us in our study of this one. If the righteous will live by his faith, then we will answer three questions: (1) Who are the righteous? (2) How are they made righteous? (3) What does it mean to really live?

I. Who are the righteous?

By what standard do we determine if a person is righteous? Often we make comparisons of one person to another, and say (for example), “I am not as bad as this person is,” or “this person is a better person than that one.” We might say that Hitler would represent the worst of humanity, and say, perhaps, that Billy Graham or Mother Teresa would represent the best of humanity. And if that is the standard, then we might all say of ourselves that we rank somewhere in between. But this is not how God views righteousness. According to the Bible, God Himself is the standard of righteousness. He says that we are to be holy, as He is holy.

How are we to understand what it means to be holy according to God’s standards? God has given humanity a moral law which is a reflection of His own righteousness. According to Hebrew tradition, there are 613 moral laws or commandments in the Law. God seemed content to codify these commandments into a more concise list of ten commandments, recorded for us in Exodus 20. All 613 commandments (if that is actually the number) are contained within the framework of those ten. When Jesus was asked in Matthew 22:36 which was the greatest commandment, He stated that the greatest and foremost commandment is that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (22:37-38). He was not quoting from the ten commandments, but from Deuteronomy 6:5. Moreover, Jesus said that the second greatest was to love your neighbor as yourself. This is also not from the ten commandments, but from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (22:39). In other words, if a person can perfectly love God above all else with their entire being, and selflessly and unconditionally love their fellow man perfectly, they will never run afoul of any of the other commandments of God. One who loves the Lord in this way will not worship or serve idols, will not violate the holiness of God’s name or nature, and will always honor the Lord’s creative order of work and rest, caring for creation and the human body which bears the image of God. If one loves his or her neighbor as the Lord requires, then he or she will not dishonor parents, will not murder, will not commit adultery, steal, bear false witness or covet another’s belongings. In the keeping of these two commandments, all the rest will be kept as well.

So, it is somewhat good news that we do not have to maintain a list of hundreds of rules to keep. If we are to live up to God’s standard of righteousness, there are only two commandments with which we need to concern ourselves: loving God and loving our neighbor. I say that is somewhat good news, but there is also bad news in this, because none of us have ever been able to obey these two commandments perfectly. Stringing together an impressive collection of Old Testament scriptures, Paul says of the entire human race in Romans 3, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (3:10-12). In short, he says in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

The opposite of righteousness is set in contrast to it in the first portion of Habakkuk 2:4 – “Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him.” Pride is at the root of all unrighteousness, for pride says, “I do not have to obey anyone else’s rules. I can do whatever I want to do and I do not have to answer to anyone for it.” The Hebrew word for proud here is literally “puffed up,” or “bloated.” We can see the proud person, sticking his chest out and boasting of his or her own goodness and accomplishments. We can see that person so vividly because that person stares at us in the mirror every day. He or she says to us, “You’re pretty good. After all, look at all that you have done. And at least you are not as bad as some other people you know.” Interestingly, this same Hebrew word that means “puffed up, bloated, and proud,” can also mean “tumorous.” Pride is like a cancer of the soul that is deadly. It results in a serious condition that is simply described here as “his soul is not right within him.” This proud person is not right with God, and not right within himself. Their soul is, quite literally in the Hebrew, crooked, unable to reach God’s standard of righteousness.

So, if there is none righteous, then how is it helpful for us to know that the righteous will live by faith? It seems to be a promise made to no one who actually exists, does it not? It is like saying that Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound. That would be good news if there actually was a person such as Superman, but there isn’t, so what’s the point? Well, the point is that there is a righteousness which has been revealed. In fact, Paul bases the entire book of Romans on this truth, and the place where he gets this point is from Habakkuk 2:4. In Romans 1:16-17, he says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it (in the gospel of Jesus Christ) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

The word “Gospel” means “good news,” and Paul says he is not ashamed of this good news because it makes known to us that there is a righteousness that can be ours. Our righteousness, as the prophet Isaiah said, is but “filthy rags” (Isa 64:6) before God, but God is making His own righteousness known to us and available to us in the Gospel. So, the answer to our question, “Who are the righteous?”, is this: The righteous are not those who are better than others, not those who are good in their own proud estimation, but those who are as righteous as God is. And though none of us are able to attain that righteousness on our own efforts, God is making that righteousness available to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this brings us to the second question.

II. How do sinful people become righteous?

The United States Constitution grants the President the authority to pronounce a pardon on a person convicted of a crime. George Washington issued 16 of them. Franklin Roosevelt issued over 3,500 of them. Pardons are not a means of reversing a wrongful conviction in which an innocent person has been declared guilty. There are other judicial avenues for that. Pardons do the opposite. Pardons declare guilty people who have been rightfully convicted to be innocent, and ensure that they must never be treated as though they were guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. The presidential pardon is really the only way for a person who has been proven guilty before the law of the land to be declared not guilty.

But what about those who are guilty before the law of the Lord? How can one who is justly condemned as a sinner become righteous before a holy God? Paul said in Romans 1 that the righteousness of God has been revealed in the Gospel from faith to faith, in accordance with what Habakkuk has said here: the righteous will live by his faith. To understand this better, we turn to the second quotation of Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament, which is found in Galatians 3:11.

Paul’s point in this passage is that a sinner cannot be made righteous by keeping the Law, for the Law has already been broken. The Law, Paul will say, never existed to make a person righteous, but to show us that we are unrighteous because we have fallen short of God’s standard. He says that the Law has become our tutor, to lead us to Christ (Gal 3:24). Let me illustrate. When we wake up in the morning, we look in the mirror to discover that we have a condition known as “bed head.” Our hair is standing on end in some places, pressed flat in others, and is all messed up. We know this because we have looked into the mirror. The mirror shows us that our hair needs to be fixed. But no one then proceeds to rub their head on the mirror in order to fix their hair. The mirror cannot fix the hair, but shows us that the hair needs fixing. So it is with the Law. The Law cannot make us righteous, but it shows us that we are unrighteous, and in need of a remedy for our condition. And that remedy is found in Jesus Christ.

The Law is a condemnation of us, for it says, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.” In Galatians 3:10, Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 27:26. That condemnation stands written over all of us, because none of us have performed or abided by everything in the Law. So the Law, Paul says in Galatians 3:22, “has shut up everyone under sin.” That is, the Law silences our boasting of our own righteousness, because it shows us that we have none. So what can be done about this curse? Jesus Christ is the remedy for our condition because He bore our curse for us as our substitute under the judgment of God in His death on the cross. Paul says, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (3:13). So, righteousness cannot be earned by good works of keeping the Law, but rather by faith alone in Christ alone. And it is to this point that Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, saying, “Now, that no one is justified (or made righteous) by the Law before God is evident; for “the righteous man shall live by faith.”

As an evidence of this, Paul points to Abraham. In Genesis 15:6, it is written of Abraham that he “believed God, and it was reckoned to Him as righteousness.” In other words, on the basis of faith in the saving promises God had made, God declared Abraham to be not guilty of sin, to be righteous before Him, and actually imputed righteousness to him. Abraham received this blessing and this promise before the coming of Christ by looking forward to what God would do to fulfill His promises. We who live on this side of the cross of Christ look back on how God has fulfilled His saving purposes in Christ. Nonetheless, for us and for Abraham and those of the Old Covenant, salvation from sin and righteousness before God is granted as a gift of God’s grace and received by us by faith – that is by believing God’s word and placing our faith in His promise, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

The same case is made in Romans, as Paul points repeatedly to the gift of righteousness being received by faith. In Romans (as in Galatians) Paul likewise points to Abraham as an example of this. Romans 3:24-26 makes the matter as plain as it can be: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood.” That word propitiation means that Jesus is the satisfactory sacrifice which atones for our sin. God is pleased with the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf – the righteous taking the penalty of the unrighteous upon Himself. And this is received “through faith.” So in the giving of Christ for our sins, God demonstrates Himself to be “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” That is, God shows Himself to be just in that He has rendered the full and final penalty for sin. Sin has received what it deserved in His justice, but in His mercy and grace, God allowed the substitute to take the penalty for us. Jesus did this in His death on the cross, which prompted Him to say as He died, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He was undergoing the full outpouring of the wrath that we deserve for our sins. And He did this so that God may not only be just in punishing sin fully, but also the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. That is, the one who has faith in Jesus is declared not guilty before God, in fact is declared to be righteous, and actually imputed with the righteousness of Christ. It is as though all of our sin debts have been wiped clear from our account, and we have been credited with the full righteousness of God Himself.

Elsewhere, Paul says that his desire is that he may be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God which comes through faith” (Php 3:9). This is what makes the Christian message so countercultural to the thinking of this world. If you ask the average person what their problem is and where their remedy can be found, they will likely say that they are victims of what others have done to them, and the answer or solution to the problem is to be found within themselves. The Christian gospel is the opposite of this, for it says that our primary problem comes from within us – the inherent sinful nature with which we are born; and the solution to the problem comes from the outside – the righteousness of Jesus Christ which can be applied to us judicially by God Himself on the basis of our faith in Christ. The theologians call this an “alien righteousness,” meaning that it comes from outside of ourselves. It comes only by Christ, and as Paul says in Galatians 2:21, if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. In other words, if there were another way for us to be made righteous besides through faith in Christ, then the death of Christ was a great waste of time in the plan and purpose of God, for it was not necessary for Him to die to save us.

So, who are the righteous? They are those whom God has declared righteous and imputed with the sinless, perfect, righteousness of Himself that is manifested in the life of Christ. And how is that righteousness received or obtained? It is received by no other way than by faith in Him as our substitute sin bearer. We trust His promise to take our sins to the full measure of their just penalty in His death, and to give us His righteousness in exchange. So this righteousness is received by faith. This is not a new way of thinking, which would have been foreign to Habakkuk. Abraham himself, the patriarch of the Jewish people, was made righteous before God on the basis of faith alone, long before there was ever a law given by God through Moses. When Habakkuk speaks of the righteous, he is speaking of those whom God declares and makes righteous on the basis of faith in His saving promises which have been now fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

This brings us to the third and final question:
III. What does it mean to really live?

In the movie Braveheart, we hear those unforgettable words of William Wallace: “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” The Bible says that it is appointed unto all men to die (Heb 9:27). Death is inescapable, and it has come into the world and into human experience because it is the just wages of human sin. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death,” and we see it happening from the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden to the present day. In fact, because of our sinful nature with which we are born, we are essentially born dead. Spiritually, we are dead before God in our sins. That is how Paul describes the natural human condition in Ephesians 2. So, how then shall we live? The righteous will live by faith.

To understand this, we turn to Hebrews 10. There, the writer of Hebrews takes up our verse, Habakkuk 2:4 and says, “you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul” (Heb 10:36-39).

You see, the writer of Hebrews is telling us that saving faith is not something that is employed once and then discarded. It is not that we are saved by faith and then go on living by our own effort and our own attempts to be good. If we begin by faith, then we have to continue by faith. This was the error of the Galatians. After hearing the preaching of the Gospel that promised them that they could become righteous before God by faith, they fell under false teaching that said that they had to keep themselves right before God by law-keeping. Paul’s words to them were as strong as any words in the Bible. He said, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3). No, as Romans 1:17 says, this righteousness of God which is made known to us in the Gospel is revealed from faith to faith. That is, it is received by faith initially, and then it continues in our lives by faith. We are justified by faith as God declares us to be righteous positionally. We are sanctified as we continue in faith as God shapes us into that righteousness practically.

Hebrews 10 is admonishing us that faith is not something that we look to the past for in our lives. It is something that endures and perseveres if it is genuine. As a pastor for almost twenty years, one of the most heartbreaking things I observe on a regular basis is the efforts of parents and grandparents to assuage the guilty consciences of their children and grandchildren who are living in sin that they are right with God because of a decision that they made when they were six years old in Vacation Bible School. Don’t get me wrong, many souls are born into the kingdom at a young age through things like VBS. But, when that saving faith is exercised genuinely, it perseveres to the very end of life. It is not without its peaks and valleys, but faith always triumphs in the life of the believer because it is God who is upholding and preserving them to the end. So, it is a very dangerous thing to offer empty promises of assurance to those who are not persevering in faith. If someone does not live by faith presently, it is futile to assure them that their past profession of faith was genuine and will save them eternally. Rather, we must challenge that one to examine himself or herself to see whether or not they are genuinely in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). If they have genuinely trusted in Christ in the past, that faith will be evident in their lives in the present.

After quoting Habakkuk 2:4, the writer of Hebrews goes on to describe many of those in the Old Testament who lived by faith. They were not made righteous by what they did, but they demonstrated the righteousness that they had been granted by faith through the things that they did as they lived in that same faith that brought them to God. Jesus said that He came into the world that we might have life, and life abundant. We only really live when we live by faith in Him. And it is only as we live by faith in Him that we can have the confidence of dying by faith in Him. The promise of life that Jesus offers us is not merely for the present time. It is everlasting life with Him beyond this world. He said, “He who believes in me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). We have that life because of the righteousness that He gives to us, which is received by faith.

Habakkuk’s words to his fellow countrymen were simple. Things are bad. They are getting worse. But we will not die. We have been promised life. And those who have received that promise by faith have been declared righteous before God and can face life without guilt and death without fear, and truly live abundantly and eternally by faith. The same promise avails to all of us. Though we are all sinners, God has made a way for us to be granted His own righteousness so that we have assurance of life everlasting with Him when this fallen world has done its dead level worst to us. That gift of righteousness is received by faith, and that faith perseveres to the end as we live abundantly by faith in the Lord Jesus. By His death, He takes away the guilt of our sins, bearing the full penalty that our sins deserve in Himself as our substitute. In exchange He gives us His own sinless righteousness as a covering before God. We receive it by faith alone in Him alone. And having received Him by faith, we go on living – through dark and difficult days full of sorrow and suffering – because we live by that same faith day in and day out. It is life abundant. And it will be life eternal. Because the righteous will live by his faith.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: Volume 2, Micah-Malachi (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 408.
[2] Robert J. Morgan, From This Verse (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998). The book is a daily devotional, and rather than page numbers, each page is marked with a date. This page is the entry for June 17.
[3] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1950), 65.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Necessity of God's Word (Habakkuk 2:1-3)

If you watch the political campaign ads, the debates, the roundtable talk shows, you will repeatedly hear it said, “What our country needs now is ….” Fill in the blank. Immigration reform, healthcare reform, healthcare reform-reform, a new tax plan. A leader who can help bolster our economy, a stronger defense, better foreign policy. We could go on and on with what people think we need. And of course, everyone has an idea about how to best bring about what they think we need, or which candidate can deliver on it.

Habakkuk’s day, as we have seen repeatedly, was not that much different than ours. I imagine in his day, there were many who could be heard saying, “What our country needs now is ….” They had terrible leadership. The political, judicial, and religious systems were corrupt. Violence was rampant in the land. Injustice was the order of the day. And a foreign, militant force of terror threatened to overtake the nation at any given moment. God had declared it, and so it was sure to happen. And while everyone in the land offered his or her own opinion of what the nation needed the most at a time like that, Habakkuk pulled aside from it all. He knew that his only hope, and the only hope for his country, was for God to speak.

Habakkuk says in verse 1, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart and I will keep watch.” He takes up the position of the watchman. In ancient Israel, the watchman was very important. He would stand on the tower of the city wall keeping a sharp eye out for the approach of the enemy. The watchman had to keep himself attentive, vigilant, undistracted, and alert at all times. And that is the position that Habakkuk says that he has taken. But he is not on the lookout for the enemy. God has already declared that the enemy is coming – the Chaldeans, or Babylonians. No, Habakkuk is keeping watch for something entirely different. He is keeping watch “to see what He will speak to me,” that is what God will say. Habakkuk knows that in the dark days in which he lives, when things are moving rapidly from bad to worse, only a word from God can bring any help or hope. So he climbs the tower (whether literally or figuratively we do not know) to wait for that word. He also knows that when God speaks, He will correct the prophet on some of the faulty thinking he has had about God’s governance of the world. He says he is watching to see what God will speak to him, and how he will reply when he is reproved. Habakkuk needs God’s word to straighten out his fuzzy thinking about what is going on in the world and how God is acting, or not acting (as the case may be) in the midst of it. He expects a reproof from the Lord, and he desires it. But it will only happen if God speaks His word.

We do not know how long the prophet waited for God to speak, but verse two tells us that He did. “The Lord answered me.” Our God is a speaking God. As Schaeffer said, “God is there, but … he is not silent; that changes the whole world.”[1] The very fact that God speaks means that the situation is not hopeless. He spoke to Habakkuk about the events of His day, and He has a word for us in our day. So, when people start pondering what our nation needs most in these difficult days, the answer is that we need a word from God. That word is found in the Bible. Now, let me tell you what the world doesn’t need. It doesn’t need people jumping up and down talking about how much we need the Bible. The world needs the Bible! And that means that we who have it and believe it must live it and proclaim it. The desperate need of our day, and of every day, is for the Word of God. Why is this so? I want to suggest three reasons that can be found here in our text.

I. We need the Bible because the Bible is the written revelation of God’s word (v2a)

At the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando in June of 2000, the adoption of the revised Baptist Faith and Message, our confession of faith, was on the floor. I can remember it like it was yesterday – this one man stood up to speak against the statement because, in his opinion, we put too much emphasis on the Bible. He said something to the effect that we should not call it “the Word of God,” but rather say that it “contains” the Word of God, and then he said that we must remember, after all, that the Bible is just a book.

Well, let’s think about that man’s statement for a moment. Is the Bible just a book? Well, if we mean one individual copy of the Bible, we might say that it meets all the qualifications. It has a cover, a table of contents, and a lot of pages in it. But, if we look at how this book has been used over the centuries, and all that it has endured and accomplished, we must conclude that it is not just a book. There is something unique and special about this book. Does it contain the Word of God? Certainly it does. There are plain statements throughout the Bible which say, “God said,” or “Thus saith the Lord.” But to say that the Bible merely contains the Word of God is to say that those words of God come alongside of other words which are not His. Instead, we affirm that every word of Scripture comes from God Himself so that the Bible IS the Word of God. It is the written revelation of His Word.

Notice how the Lord spoke to Habakkuk in verse 2. He said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets.” The message that Habakkuk is inscribing does not originate in his own mind. He is receiving it from the Lord, and writing it down for the benefit of others.
 So, God spoke, and Habakkuk wrote. And it was all God’s Word. This is what is meant by the “inspiration of Scripture.” The New International Version renders 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” That is, it has God as its primary source and author. How this process of inspiration takes place has been the subject of debate among theologians and biblical scholars for centuries. If you look at any theological textbook to find what is meant by inspiration, you will find far more written about what it does not mean than what it does mean. We do not mean to imply that in every case, the human writer was taking dictation from God like a secretary might take the boss’s dictation word for word. In some cases, like here in Habakkuk, that is what is happening, but not in all cases. But in every case, the process of writing has been superintended by the Holy Spirit so that what the writer writes is what God would have him write. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was every made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” That’s as good a definition of the inspiration of Scripture as we are going to get.

So, we have the spoken Word of God, which becomes the written Word of God as it is recorded. God tells the prophet to “record the vision.” That is, write it exactly as you receive it. So it is written accurately. The Holy Spirit, who inspires the words of Scripture ensures that it is so. Then the Lord says, “inscribe it on tablets.” In many of our English translations, the Hebrew word rendered “inscribe” in the New American Standard is translated as “make it plain.” This speaks to the clarity of the Word. It does us no good to have a word from God if we cannot understand that word. It must be a clear word if it is to be of any benefit to us. Are there things in Scripture which are not clear? Yes, there are. The Bible even says this of itself. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter says that some of the things which Paul has written in his epistles are hard to understand. But, while certain words, phrases, and sentences in the Bible are hard to understand, the whole of it is not. Anyone of average intelligence can read the Scriptures for himself or herself – and if they are not literate, they can hear it read by another – and understand the general thrust of its message. It is a clear word, made plain for us to easily understand.

Then notice that Habakkuk is to record the word that He receives from God on tablets. Because this word is being inscribed on tablets, it has a permanence to it. It is not being recorded on paper that will wear out and become illegible over time. It is not being recorded in pencil that can be erased or ink that can be smeared. The message is being inscribed in such a way that it will stand forever – it will never be altered or become obsolete. What God has inspired stands written for all ages. It does not change with the times, for God Himself does not change. Because He is timeless, His word is timeless, and just as relevant in our day as when it was first delivered.

When God speaks, what He says is important! That is why it had to be recorded, had to be made plain, and had to be made permanent. For Habakkuk, that meant taking down all that God was about to say to him. But the Bible contains 66 separate books which come into being in the very same way. By divine inspiration, God spoke, and men wrote. What has been written is the Word of God, every single word of it. That is why Jesus said that the Scripture cannot be broken (Jn 10:35), and that not one jot or tittle would pass away from it (Mt 5:18). It stands written for all ages, because the Bible is the Word of God, and that is what we need.

II. We need the Bible because it is a trustworthy message (v3)

In times like the ones in which we live, everyone seems to have an opinion on what our greatest problems are, and what the solutions to those problems are. Undoubtedly it is true in every age, even in Habakkuk’s time. But how do we know who we can trust? Whose opinion is most well-informed? Whose answers are the right ones? In any circumstance, in any generation or era, the most accurate information we can find is the Word of God. Because it comes from God, it must be true since God cannot lie and will not deceive us. In verse 3, the Lord says that His word “will not fail.” Thus we say that the Bible is infallible. It will not and cannot be anything other than truth because it comes from God.

Now, because it cannot fail, then all that it says about the future must come to pass exactly as it has been written. Think about that for a moment. When the Bible speaks about the past, we can study the past to find out if what it said was true. And, in every case where we can corroborate what the Bible said about the past, we find it happened exactly as the Bible said it did. And when the Bible speaks about the present (that is, the present time of those who wrote it and originally received), the original audience could test the word to see if it was accurate in that day. But, the Bible tells us much about the future. We cannot look forward in time to determine if those things will happen exactly as they are written, but we do not have to. We know that they will happen the way the Bible says they will because it is God who has spoken and His word is trustworthy.

So, the Lord tells Habakkuk that “the vision is yet for the appointed time.” In other words, though God had already addressed much of what was going on in the present for Habakkuk, He was about to disclose things that were yet to come. Some of those things would happen very soon for Habakkuk, such as the Babylonian invasion. Others would happen a little later, such as the downfall of Babylon. But other things would be further out in the future beyond that. Some of the things that the Lord would speak to Habakkuk would come to pass, for example, with the coming of Christ into the world. And some of what God speaks to Habakkuk deals with matters that are yet future, and await the end of the age. And, God tells the prophet here to record His word, and to inscribe it on tablets, so that it will be preserved until that day. When those things begin to take place in the world, people will have the Word of God to look back upon and say, “These things are happening just as God foretold.” The Word of God “hastens toward the goal,” the Lord says in verse 3. Literally the word translated “hastens” can also mean “to pant.” The Word itself is anxiously longing for its own fulfillment; it is leaning forward in expectation and anticipation of the appointed time when all that it has proclaimed will at last come to fruition.

Well, now, how long will that be? Remember that was Habakkuk’s first question to the Lord in the opening verses of the book, “How long, O Lord?” And here is the answer. “Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.” Now, is this a contradiction? “Though it tarries, … it will not delay.” Well, is it or is it not going to be delayed? What God is saying to Habakkuk is that although it may seem from his vantage point that the word God has spoken is tarrying, it is not being delayed. These things will happen precisely at the appointed time which God Himself has set. Seldom will the things that God has decreed happen when we think they should; but they will never be late. God is an on-time God, and He sets the schedule. All that He has spoken will take place exactly when He has determined for them to take place. Remember, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day to Him (2 Peter 3:8). So, what do we do in the meantime? We wait for it, because we know that it will certainly come.

In 1 Peter 1, the apostle writes, “the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He  predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow” (1:10-11). So there were certain things that they knew. They knew that the Christ would come, that He would suffer, and that glory would follow the suffering. But there were also things that they did not know. Peter says that they were “seeking to know the person or time.” This is really not the best way to handle the Greek terms that Peter uses there. It would be better to understand him to say that they were “seeking to know the times and manners of time.” In other words, they did not know when or under what specific circumstances that Christ would come. Those matters were known only to God and were set in His appointed time. And now, we know that Christ has come, exactly as prophesied, at the exact moment – the fullness of time, as Paul says in Galatians 4:4. But there are promises that remain unfulfilled. Have those prophecies failed? No, they cannot fail, as God says here to Habakkuk. They hasten toward the goal.

We know that Jesus said that He was coming again at the end of the age. Throughout the New Testament there is a repeated emphasis that the people of faith must wait for this blessed hope of Christ’s return (Titus 2:13, et al.). That is why the writer of Hebrews takes this very passage of Habakkuk up to admonish us to wait for the coming of the Lord. He takes the passage and personifies it, following the translators of the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, which was completed 200 years before Christ), making the “it” (for which Habakkuk is told to wait) a “HE.” Hebrews 10:36-37 says, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay.” Just as Habakkuk was told to wait for all that the Lord had promised to transpire, so we ourselves must wait in patient faith for the appointed time that the Lord has set when all of His promises will finally come to pass with the return of the Lord Jesus at the end of the age. And we can wait with that patient endurance of faith because we know that the Bible is the written revelation of God’s word, and as such is a trustworthy message. And we desperately need a trustworthy word. That’s why we need the Bible!

Now we come to the final reason that we desperately need the Word of God, the Bible.

III. We need the Bible because the Bible sets our feet to run (v2b).

I find myself at the present time training for a half-marathon that is coming up in less than three months – 13.1 miles! Me, of all people! I’m the guy who famously said, “I will only run if something is chasing me!” But, after going to the doctor last year and stepping on the scales and seeing a mind-boggling number pop up, I knew I had to do something different. So, I started running. I saw a warning sign that indicated that the time was right to get moving! I am a firm believer that I cannot add a single day to my life, but I believe that I can add some life to my days by taking better care of myself, and I want to be in as good of shape as I can be so that I can live out my days serving King Jesus with all I have!

Just as my “warning sign” told me it was time to run, so Habakkuk is told to make a sign that will set the feet of those who read it to running! The Lord said in verse 2, “Record the vision, and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.” Having seen with our eyes and heard with our ears what God has spoken, we must move with our feet and run.

What does it mean to run with this word? There are two senses in which the Bible uses this metaphor of running. First, and perhaps most often, it is how we are to live in obedience to the Lord. You’ve been exposed to the Word of God, now run in obedience to it! Do not delay! Delay is disobedience. God has spoken, now do what He said. Thus the Psalmist says, “I shall run the way of Your commandments” (119:32). Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Run in such a way that you may win.” That is, “Live your life in full obedience to the Lord!” He can say to the Galatians, who have fallen into disobedience, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” And the writer of Hebrews can admonish us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1). We are to finish the race of this life strong, persevering in obedience to God’s Word.

But there is another sense in which the idea of “running” is used in Scripture, and that is to go forth and proclaim the message to others. When the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines and the ark of God was captured, 1 Samuel 4:12 says that a certain Benjamite ran to make the news known. After the death of Absalom in 2 Samuel 18, Ahimaaz said, “Please let me run and bring the king news” (18:19). Jeremiah uses the phrase in this way, as the Lord says of false prophets, “I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied.” So there is a sense in which God may be telling Habakkuk to make His word known so that those who read it and hear it can run and tell others.

So which is it? Well, we don’t really have to decide between the two because they are inseparably connected. If we are going to proclaim what God has said, then we must live lives of obedience; otherwise our words lack integrity. And if we are going to obey all that God has said, that would include proclaiming it, for Jesus has commanded His church to go and preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations. So proclamation requires obedience, and obedience requires proclamation. Richard Patterson writes, “Everyone who reads or hears these words is to consider himself a herald of a significant communication intended for all people everywhere.”[2] How will we do that? We must run!

The prophet Amos said, “A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8). Habakkuk had climbed the watchtower and determined that he would not move until God spoke. And now God has spoken, so he and all who read and hear what God has said must run! We must run in obedience to this word of God, and we must run to proclaim this word of God to others, warning them of what is to come, calling them to repent, and inviting them to respond to the saving grace of God that has been supremely manifested in Jesus Christ. The world must know that a Savior has come to rescue them from sin! He has lived for us, He has died for us, and He has conquered sin and death for us. He will save all who turn to Him in repentance and faith! How will they know? We who have read His Word must run to tell them!

Habakkuk lived in the darkest days of Jewish history until that time. What was he to do to confront the idolatry, immorality, and injustice of his day? He was to wait until he had a sure word from the Lord, and then he was to make that word known. We ourselves live in the midst of dark days – perhaps the darkest our nation has ever known. What are we to do about it? Paul told Timothy, “Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Tim 3:1-5). He said, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3-4). What was Timothy to do in the midst of such days? What are we to do now that we find ourselves in times that can be described in these exact words? Paul told Timothy, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. … preach the word … do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (3:14-4:5).

God has spoken. We do not need to wait for Him to say more. We have the Bible, and it is God’s Word. It stands written for all generations to read and to hear. And we have read it, and we have heard it. And so we must run – we must run in obedience, and we must run to proclaim it. That’s what Habakkuk did. That’s what Paul told Timothy to do. And that is what we must all do. We need the Bible! It is God’s word, and therefore it is trustworthy, and therefore we must run!

[1] Francis Schaeffer, He is There and He is Not Silent (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1972), x.
[2] Richard Patterson, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary; Chicago: Moody, 1991), 172.

Monday, July 25, 2016

God is ... (Habakkuk 1:12-13a)

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That’s the old saying. But where do the tough go when the going gets tough? If we take Scripture seriously, as well we should, then we know that we go to the Lord in prayer when the going gets tough. The Bible does not sugar coat life in this fallen world. The people of faith whose lives are described in these pages were real people who lived real lives in the real world. They endured hardships and difficulties as great as, or greater than, any that we have experienced. Though their circumstances and specific struggles varied, one thing they have in common is that each one found prayer to be a refuge in the storm.

The prophet Habakkuk is but one of many examples to whom we could point. His nation was filled with violence, corruption, and injustice. The righteous were oppressed by the wicked, and immorality was rampant. Habakkuk had prayed for a long time, with no answer, but then God spoke. His answer was not what Habakkuk wanted to hear. Things were about to get worse, as God had revealed to Habakkuk that He was raising up the Chaldeans (the Babylonians) to come in as agents of divine judgment in the land. The going had gotten tough and was about to get tougher. But these things did not drive Habakkuk away from the Lord. He returned repeatedly to the Lord in prayer in the face of these troubles.

Why did he do that? What is it about the Lord that keeps us coming back to Him in prayer when the going gets tough? We come to Him time and time again because of who we know Him to be. Because of who He is, we can entrust to Him the concerns and burdens of our hearts and souls. So, who is He? As we examine this portion of Habakkuk’s prayer, we find a vivid description of who God is and what He is like.

Habakkuk addresses his prayer to God in a specific and personal way. He is not crying out to some indistinct deity with agnostic desperation. He calls upon the Lord by name. In verse 12, he addresses Him as “Lord,” and when English versions use all capital letters for “Lord,” it is an indication that the Hebrew word underlying this translation is the divine name YHWH. This is the name by which the Lord revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush, saying, “I Am that I Am.” The name is related to the Hebrew verb “to be,” and speaks of God’s self-existence. He was not created by anyone or anything else, nor is He dependent upon anyone or anything else. The very mention of His name tells us that He alone is the only God who is. Habakkuk called Him by that name which testifies to His existence and His attributes.

The attributes of God are not like pearls on a string, which may be removed from one another and examined in isolation. Rather, they are like facets of a diamond, which can only be appreciated fully when seen in relationship to the other attributes. God’s attributes are revealed to us in Scripture, and seldom do we find a single attribute stated in isolation. They cannot be separated. As Tozer noted, “almost every heresy … has arisen from believing about God things that are not true, or from overemphasizing certain true things so as to obscure other things equally true. … We can hold a correct view of truth only by daring to believe everything that God has said about Himself.”[1] In Habakkuk’s prayer, he shows us that he dares to do just such a thing. He believes what God has said about Himself – all of it! And, as he calls out to Him in prayer, he reminds us of who this God is and what He is like. He is YHWH, the eternal, omnipotent, holy, faithful, sovereign, and steadfast One. And that is good news for us when the going gets tough, because we can get going to Him in prayer.

I. YHWH is the eternal God.

Whenever we sing John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace,” we sing a stanza that is not original to the song. It says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.” We don’t know who wrote those words, or when they first began to be sung with the hymn. [2] But these words express how we typically think of the concept of “eternity.” Yet, this is really not what we mean when we speak of God’s eternal nature. It does not mean that He has existed for an infinite succession of days past, and will for an infinite succession of days future.

We have to measure life in days and weeks, months and years, and in terms of past, present, and future, because it is all we know from our experience. But, there is no such passage of time with God. God created time, but He is neither contained within it nor confined by it. Before He created time, He existed in a dimension where there is no time or passage of time. That dimension is eternity. The events we perceive as past, present, and future, are all present before Him in one eternal “now.” Thus, Jesus can say, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58). God can say of Himself, “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done” (Isa 46:10). Peter says of Him, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Pe 3:8).

If you and I watch a Christmas parade from the curb, we would see the participants go by one at a time: marching band, then the civic club float, then the military unit, and then Santa Claus at the very end. This is very much how we perceive the passage of time: one thing happening, followed by another. But, if we could watch from a hot-air balloon, we would see the beginning and the end of it, and everything in between, in one glance. In a very limited analogy, we can say this is how God exists. He is above and beyond time. He is eternal. He had no beginning, He will have no end. So, we can come to Him and cry out to Him, knowing that the end is already well known to Him and well established in His divine plan. We might fret about the present, but God does not. He knows how we got here, and He knows how it will all end. So Habakkuk cries out in the midst of his crises, and we should too, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord?”

II. YHWH is the omnipotent God.

The third commandment says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex 20:7). It has to do with referring to God in a meaningless and empty way. So, if one were to exclaim, “Oh my God!,” would that be a violation of this commandment? In many cases, yes. It is a meaningless exclamation, where any or every word might as well be used. But, there are times in this fallen world when the expression “Oh my God!” is not a meaningless exclamation but a desperate plea for the help of Almighty God. When we watch events unfold such as we have seen in our nation and our world over the last few weeks and months, it is entirely appropriate for the people of God to cry out in brokenness, “Oh my God!”

Habakkuk does that here in verse 12. “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord, my God.” He is not taking the Lord’s name in vain; He is calling on that name in a cry for divine deliverance and help! And the word translated “God” in our text is the Hebrew word Elohim. It is the third word of the Hebrew Bible, occurring in Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth. The case could be made that all we need to understand about the Trinity is bound up within that name, but time does not permit us to do so today. Instead, we must focus on how Habakkuk casts himself upon God as the all-powerful One, the One who created and sustains this world and for whom nothing is impossible.

When things were dark and difficult in his day, Habakkuk could turn to the God who created this world and all that is within and around it by merely speaking a word of His power. When we say that God is omnipotent, we mean that God has the power to do all that He wills to do, and more. Tozer says, “All His acts are done without effort. He expends no energy that needs to be replenished.”[3] Genesis 18:14 asks, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” Jeremiah said, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jer 32:17). The angel said to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37), and Jesus said, “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). So, when we are perplexed, we can turn to this omnipotent God with the confidence that there is nothing that He cannot do.

III. YHWH is the holy God.

To say that God is holy is to say that He is entirely different from anything and everything else. There is nothing like Him. We cannot merely think of something good, and then multiply it exponentially and say that is what God is like. He is infinitely beyond even the best that we can imagine. He is separate and distinct from all that He has made, and is “exalted above them in infinite majesty.”[4] Angels surround Him in heaven, crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8). If there is one attribute of God that is central and supreme, it is His holiness. Every other attribute of God is saturated with holiness.

Holiness also encompasses God’s perfect moral character. A moment ago, I said there is nothing God cannot do. I need to clarify that, because the Bible actually says there are several things that are impossible for Him to do. He cannot lie (Num 23:19; Heb 6:18) or change His mind (1 Sam 15:29); He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13); He cannot sin or be tempted to sin (Jas 1:13); and He cannot change (Jas 1:17). He cannot be anything other than perfectly pure and righteous at all times.

Habakkuk calls out to God as the Holy One, and says, “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and You cannot look on wickedness with favor.” Knowing that God is holy emboldens us as we come to Him in prayer, because we know that He do all things well. He will act rightly on behalf of His own. He will oppose sin and uphold righteousness in His own way and in His own time. He cannot let evil win the day, and will execute perfect judgment and justice. In times when evil and terror seem to be running rampant, like they were in Habakkuk’s day, like they are in our day, it helps us to know that we can cry out to a holy God who can not only do anything, but will do everything in perfect righteousness.

IV. YHWH is the faithful God.

Because Habakkuk knows that God is omnipotent and holy, he knows that God cannot lie, change His mind, or go back on His word. He will keep every promise He has ever made. That is why Habakkuk can say in verse 12, “We will not die.” All outward signs indicate that the nation of Judah is on the brink of destruction and annihilation. They are inwardly self-destructing, and on the verge of being overrun by the Babylonians and carried away in captivity. Things do not look good from Habakkuk’s vantage point. But he knows that God has made certain and specific promises to Israel that He will keep because He is faithful.

We have this same assurance as we approach the Lord in prayer in difficult days. Are there promises that He has made to us in His word? Surely there are! He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He has promised us a way of escape in temptation and the indwelling strength to withstand it. He has promised to work in and through us to will and to do His good purpose. He has promised that He will complete the work He has begun in us, until we are glorified in His presence. Jesus has promised that He will not lose a single one that the Father has given to Him, and He will raise us up on the last day. He has promised heavenly glories beyond the ability of human language to express. He has not promised that our lives in this world will be easy, but He has promised that our lives will not come to an end in this world, for a better one awaits us. So we cast ourselves upon Him and recite before Him in prayer every single one of His promises in the faith that He will certainly deliver on each and every one of them. People will lie to us, and will break their promises to us. They will betray us and disappoint us. But God will never do this because He is faithful to His word. We can say with Habakkuk, “We will not die!” We have been promised a life that continues on eternally through faith in Jesus!

V. YHWH is the sovereign God.

The American government, thankfully, was established with a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch from having unlimited authority. The president can only do so much without the approval of congress. The congress can only pass such laws as the courts deem constitutional, and so on. There is no individual or body within our government that is sovereign. But God is sovereign. That means that He is not subject to anyone or anything else. He can do whatsoever He wills to do, and does not require permission or approval to do it. He doesn’t answer to anyone but Himself. He cannot be hindered, compelled or stopped from doing what He pleases “always, everywhere, forever.”[5]

This is why Habakkuk can say, upon hearing that God is raising up the Babylonians to come against Judah, “You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge; and You, O Rock, have established them to correct.” God does not need the prophet’s permission to use any nation or individual of His own choosing to accomplish His purposes. Nothing happens in the world without His knowledge, apart from His divine decree, and outside of His purposes. This does not mean that God is responsible for evil or unjust suffering in the world. There are things that He allows, or that He does not prevent, of which He does not approve, but all of them fall within His ability to use them for His good purposes. Some terrible thing may come upon you in life (and will if you live long enough), but this does not mean that God did it to you, or that God needed it to happen to accomplish His purposes. Because of sin’s corruption in the human race and in this world, evil and suffering can and often do happen for no reason whatsoever. But they do not take God by surprise, they occur within the realm of His permissive will, and they can be used by God for good, even if they did not occur for that reason. He answers to no one, but everyone and everything ultimately answers to Him.

I do not know if I could ever get a decent night’s sleep if I were not completely convinced of the sovereignty of God. When things are at their worst, what a comfort it is to us to cry out to a God who knows what has happened, who can do something about it, do something with it, and do something for us in the midst of it. That is what Habakkuk is doing here in his prayer, and it is what we must do as well. Call out to this sovereign God.

VI. YHWH is the steadfast God.

Habakkuk calls upon God as a “Rock.” The image is one of stability, strength, and steadfastness. Everything in this world is shifting and changing, even ourselves. The only thing that seems to never change in life is that change is always happening. Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, famously said that no man can ever step into the same river twice, because the man has changed, and the river has changed. Everything is always changing around us and within us. The world seems to change daily. Our nation has changed dramatically within our lifetimes. We are always changing, getting better or worse, growing and declining in various ways at all times. It is as if we are sinking in quicksand, desperately seeking some immovable object upon which we can rest our weight for leverage. And the unchangeable, immovable One is God Himself, the Rock.

Habakkuk looks out upon a changing nation and a changing world, and he reposes Himself in the Rock that never changes. God says in Malachi 3:16, “I, the Lord, do not change.” With Him, James says, “there is no variation or shifting shadow” (1:17). He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). And so we can call out to Him in prayer in difficult days and find in Him sure footing on which to stand when all around us and within us is shifting and sinking. He is a Rock!

But the best news of all is this …

VII. YHWH is my God!

It would be tempting to read Habakkuk’s words here as a dry, academic theology lesson. That would miss the point greatly! He is not merely telling us what God is like; he is calling out to this God in the confidence that he will be heard and answered because of the personal relationship that he has with God. He calls Him “my God, my Holy One” in verse 12. In a special sense, Habakkuk can say that this God belongs to him, because in an even greater sense, he belongs to this God. And friends, the most important attribute of God for you to cling to in your time of desperate need is this – all that He is in His divine nature, is yours if you belong to Him by faith. And He has done all that is necessary to make that relationship possible.

This eternal God has stepped into time. The omnipotent God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. The holy God has dealt with sin fully and finally while demonstrating his perfect love and mercy to us, offering to us His own holiness in exchange for our sins. The faithful God has upheld every promise of His word. The sovereign God has called us out of sin and death into a personal relationship with Him. The Rock has become the stone that the builders rejected, and the chief cornerstone of the true temple of God that He is building for Himself. Of course, He has done all of this in Jesus Christ. The God whom we have described in these magnificent terms has become one of us. He became a man in the person of Jesus Christ, and lived the life of perfect holiness that He has required of us all. He lived that life for us, and then He died for us the death that we all deserve because of our sins. In His death, our sins receive the full measure of divine judgment as Christ bears them in our place. By His resurrection, He ever lives to save those who will call upon Him by faith and trust Him as Lord and Savior. If you never have, you can do so today! And if you have, then you can say that this majestic and awesome God is yours by faith, and you are His. You can call out to Him as a child calling out to a loving Father, because that is what He has promised to be to you, and to treat you as His own sons and daughters. Whatever comes our way in life, those who belong to God in this way are never alone, never forsaken, and never without hope. We have a God upon whom we can call. His name is YHWH. He is eternal. He is omnipotent. He is holy. He is faithful. He is sovereign. He is steadfast. He is Jesus, and He is mine.

[1] A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 79-80.
[2] We first find this stanza attached to “Amazing Grace” in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. See Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 142.
[3] Tozer, 67.
[4] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 73.
[5] Tozer, 109.