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.

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