"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sermon text: Habakkuk's Two Complaints

Two Complaints or The Gospel according to Habakkuk.

(BTW - Thanks to Jay Bennett for some revision help)

[TEXT: Habakkuk 2:4]

We just sang:

Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

Open your pew Bibles to the book of Habakkuk and let us see see how Habakkuk responds to such grand thoughts of God's justice:

Hab 1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Hab 1:3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. Hab 1:4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.

You may have read our text from Habakkuk 2:4 on the front cover, one of the most quoted OT verses in the New Testament. But Habakkuk, believe it or not, does not start in chapter two, but begins with Habakkuk, registering a complaint with God. In fact, Habakkuk has two complaints before we get to 2:4. We are looking at these two complaints together tonight, as we take a quick journey through the whole book of Habakkuk.

Habakkuk begins his prayer, skipping any formalities, naming of grand attributes of God, or praising of God's name and goes straight to “Why are you not listening?!” I cry “violence” and why will you not save. Habakkuk lives near the end of the time of the kingdom of Judah. Israel has been conquered and taken into exile, and Judah alone remains. Judah had been known as the good kingdom compared to Northern Israel, but at this time Judah is worshiping Baal and Mannassah, King of Judah, had even sacrificed his own son by fire to foreign gods! It's a horrible situation in Judah. Habakkuk cries out to God, if you are Holy and Just, why do you not save us from this evil?!

We find ourselves among much evil. The scary part is when it comes from within the people of God, within the church. The recent approval of sexual perversion by multiple denominations in their own clergy. We saw a so-called revival meeting last year in Florida that ended with money stolen from participants and an affair by the main pastor leading it. We see sex abuse scandals involving clergy and children. We think of the middle ages when there was dishonest theft from the poor by the church to build a building in Rome.

Are we not tempted to shout with Habakkuk: “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.” What good is the law with all this evil?!

It may seem impious and irreverent to say such things. We like to critique the attitude of Biblical characters. But that's what makes Old Testament characters like Job and Habakkuk so interesting and relevant is they shock us with their honesty. They haven't learned to hide their doubts and even anger at God as well as we have. The words shock us, but they do not shock God. God is not at a loss for words.

In response to Habakkuk's complaint, crying to be saved from human evil, God assures him that His Justice is coming, in verse 6, he says He is raising up the Chaldeans, a tribe of the Babylonians, to violently seize their nation from them in God's Justice. God's wrath against sin and human evil will be shown in His Justice.

The end. Habakkuk's happy now, right?

Of course not! Habakkuk then files a second complaint and says:

1:13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?

Basically he says: “The Chaldeans will judge us?! That's not the answer I wanted! They are worse than we are!” What's the problem now? Habakkuk is realizing he's targeting the very ship he is standing on! Habakkuk is a member of the nation of Judah. And as a part of Judah, how can God allow a less righteous people come to punish a more righteous nation?!

Let's look at this dialog: First Habakkuk cried for salvation from human evil. Then, God's Justice acts and promises swift justice and wrath. Then, Habakkuk needs salvation from God's Justice.

Habakkuk appeals for deliverance. But, on what grounds? What grounds does Habakkuk appeal to God from, that God would spare Judah? “We're better than those guys.” We are more righteousness than them. Sure, I just admitted we are really evil. But we're not THAT BAD.

The guy who killed someone in the paper, he deserves justice. But us? We only kill my boss in my mind everyday when we see that idiot. We're not actually going to do it! The guys in the papers that had a string of bank robberies, they deserve to go to prison. We may just under-report my assets to the IRS. It's different. We are relatively more righteous than those other horrible people! I should live on account of my righteousness! Can't you grade on a curve, God!? It's only fair.

Habakkuk sits back and thinks he has God in a corner (2:1). God answers the second complaint, letting Habakkuk know the Chaldeans will have to answer His justice, but this is where we get the answer of 2:4, our text. This is the problem 2:4 comes to answer. God must explain to more-righteous-than-them Habakkuk what sort of righteousness God is looking for in man. Not a puffed up pride, as better-than-the-next-guy righteousness, but

Hab 2:4 "Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
Notice what God did not say. The righteous do not live by man's righteousness. They do not live by being better than the next guy. He lives by faith.

Jesus has a nack for taking a hard teaching and making it offensive. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector going to the Temple to pray, the Pharisee prays: Thank you that I am not like this man, who openly steal from his people. The tax collector merely beat his chest and said, have mercy on me, a sinner. Luke's account tells us that Jesus has the audacity to say the one known to steal from his people openly, the tax collector, "went home justified." But the Pharisee lived better! In comparison, he was more righteous! How can a less righteous acting man be justified? Only the tax collector had pleaded for God's mercy in faith, rather than pleading his own righteousness.

God's Justice does not grade on a curve. You see the man who pleads his own righteousness does have a sort of faith. But where is that faith? In himself and his righteousness. “his soul is puffed up.” The righteousness God speaks of is different. It is marked by the righteousness of the object of faith, not the person believing.

When Habakkuk gets his third time to speak, well, the third time's a charm. Habakkuk first wanted God to save them from human evil because God is Holy. When God's Holy Justice answers with wrath against sin, Habakkuk needs salvation from God's wrath. But when God takes away the ground of Habakkuk's righteousness, Habakkuk finally gets it in chapter 3. In 3:2. He asks the Lord in fear:

Hab 3:2 in wrath, remember mercy.
Finally, Habakkuk asks for salvation from God's wrathful justice against human sin by appealing to God's mercy, rather than Habakkuk's righteousness. What that faith ultimately looks like is that faith does not plead one's own righteousness, but faith pleads the righteousness of Another, which Habakkuk is going to do. Isaac Watts wrote in a hymn: “The best obedience of my hands, dares not appear before Thy Throne, but Faith can answer Thy Demands, by pleading what my Lord has done.” Is it our obedience or Christ's we trust? Is it what we have done or Christ has done?

I argue that Habakkuk had faith in Christ's work. How can I say that, since Habakkuk lived before Christ? Indeed, but the God had covenanted with his people in order that mercy and grace might be shown, from Genesis 3:15 on, where the seed of the woman would “crush the head of the serpent,” the source of evil. This is what Habakkuk is appeals to in 3:13 where he expectantly says

Hab 3:13 You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.

Habakkuk has turned from himself to God's promise. As God has done before with defeating Pharaoh and will do with the Chaldeans and again definitively in the Promised Messiah. The ground of appeal had to be moved from a false righteousness to the promise of the seed crushing the head of evil. The ground of faith is the Righteous One and His promises. Habakkuk ends his prayer in 3:18, appealing to “the God of my salvation, The Lord is my strength” or the word can also be translated resources or wealth, or treasure. The grounds of Habakkuk's appeal have fully moved from his own power and treasure of righteousness to God's righteousness and mercy.

The Ancient Jew had to rest on God and His promises in faith alone, that He would save him. We are no different in essence on this side of the coming of Jesus. Where is Habakkuk's ultimate hope? “The God of my salvation” (3:18)

Where is our hope? In Jesus. In Yeshua. In the name that literally means: “The Lord saves.” Habakkuk trusts the “God of my salvation” just as we trust Jesus “The Lord saves.” Will God answer the problem of evil? Yes in Holy Justice. How can we be saved then from God's wrath in justice? How can God “in wrath, remember mercy?” being both Just and merciful? By God Himself taking on the wrath of God. Only by God Himself being the one that fulfills all righteousness under the law. Only in the God of our salvation. Only in Yeshua, the Lord saves.

From human sin, from the wrath of God's Justice, we fly to no other source when we come to the table. We do not trust our flesh to fulfill all righteousness under the law, but trust Christ's truly righteous flesh. We do not pay our penalty with our tainted blood, but plead Christ' truly righteous blood as payment. We come to exchange. Our righteousness, which at best is filthy rages, for true righteousness.

Come to the table to plead with our God with the words of the prophet: “in wrath, remember mercy, oh God of my salvation.” Amen.


M. Jay Bennett said...

Good stuff Jared! How did the sermon presentation go?

Anders Branderud said...

There is a difference between the historical Ribi Yehoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) and J… desribed in the “gospels”.

A logical analysis (found in www.netzarim.co.il (Netzarim.co.il is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) (including the logical implications of the research by Ben-Gurion Univ. Prof. of Linguistics Elisha Qimron of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT) of all extant source documents of “the gospel of Matthew” and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.
It is important to distinguish the two polar-opposites - the authentic, historical, PRO-Torah 1st-century Ribi from Nazareth and the 4th-century (post-135 C.E.), arch-antithesis ANTI-Torah apostasy developed by the Hellenists (namely the Sadducees and Roman pagans who conspired to kill Ribi YÓ™hoshua ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah), displaced his original followers Netzarim and redacted the NT). (Source: www.netzairm.co.il)

Study the Netzarim-website thourougly and find out the difference between the historical Ribi Yehoshua, and the antithesis J….. of Christianity.

Anders Branderud