August 30, 2014
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We have heard it said many times that our choices matter. We know this is true because all of life is shaped by the choices we make. We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us.
As I ponder the situation, I realize that at the age of 61, I am nothing more than the sum total of all the choices I have made over all the years of my life. I am what I am, where I am, doing what I do, as a result of thousands of choices made over a long period of time. For instance, I was a college junior in Chattanooga, Tennessee when I began to notice this pretty girl on campus who I thought I’d like to meet, but I couldn’t think of how to do it because she was the secretary to the chairman of the Music Department, and I rarely went in that building. I don’t exactly remember how we met or what I said. We had our first date to a Valentine’s Banquet, then we went on a picnic double-date with Tom and Fay Phillips (who were dating but not yet engaged at that point). One thing led to another, and not long ago we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary.
We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us
We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us.
Because our choices matter, the Bible speaks of them often. Near the end of his life Moses challenged his people this way:
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
As Joshua was an old man and nearing death, he reminded the people of Israel about what God had done for them. Then he exhorted them with these words:
“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
Many years later Elijah stood atop Mount Carmel and addressed the people of Israel this way:
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).
Psalm 1:6 shows us the end result of the ultimate choice:
“For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).
Then we have these familiar words from Solomon:
“There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12).
Finally we can add this solemn warning from the Lord Jesus Christ:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Every person is on a journey that leads to life or death. Jesus calls it a “way.”
One “way” is wide and easy.
The other “way” is narrow and hard.
Make sure you are on the right road
Many take the easy way.
Only a few take the hard way.
Jesus is saying to all of us today,
“Make sure you are on the right road. You don’t want to end up in a place you never wanted to be.”
That brings me back to where I began. Our choices really do matter. We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us. Never is this more important than when hard times come and life seems to move against us. When trouble comes, you find out very quickly what you really believe.
That’s what is happening to Habakkuk.
He is finding out what he really believes.
Now God is bringing him face to face with the choice he must make.
The little book of Habakkuk records a conversation between the prophet and God.
In chapter 1 they speak to each other.
In chapter 2 God speaks to Habakkuk.
In chapter 3 Habakkuk speaks to God.
When trouble comes, you find out very quickly what you really believe
As we pick up the story in chapter 2, Habakkuk is a man waiting for an answer. God gives him 3 instructions: write, wait, and remember.
“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it” (v. 2).
The Living Bible gives us this paraphrase: “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.” God wants to make his will clear. What he says to Habakkuk is not some secret, coded message only for the prophet. Instead it’s a message for the whole nation.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (v. 3).
God may seem slow but he’s never late. He never delays in order to hurt us. He’s an “on-time” God.
Have you ever noticed how when you are praying for something really big, the answer seems to take forever to come? When I’m really concerned about something, it seems like I have to wait and wait and wait. Finally I give up. Three days later, after I have slid into agnosticism and despair, and I’m saying to myself, “Where is God? He cannot hear me!” then suddenly the answer comes.
God wants his will made clear
Why does it happen like that? There are many answers, I suppose, but chief among them is this: God will not share his glory with anyone. Sometimes he delays his answers so that we cannot later say, “Well, it was my faith that made the difference.” He answers in his own time and in his own way so that we end up saying, “To God alone be the glory!”
God is saying to Habakkuk, “Not today. Not tomorrow. But the answer is on the way. Hold on. Wait for it.” He even says, “It will certainly come.” The Babylonians will be judged, and in the end they will be destroyed. God will balance the scales of justice. But he’s not working on our timetable. Though he seems to linger, he does not delay. Remember that the next time you feel like giving up when you pray.
“See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples” (vv. 4-5)
The “he” refers to Babylon as personified by Nebuchadnezzar the king. Historically Babylon was greedy as the grave. The empire spread itself in all directions, conquering cities, towns, provinces, and ultimately whole nations. Nothing satisfied Babylon’s hunger for conquest. There was always another nation to subdue, another city to overrun, another army to defeat.
God may seem slow but he’s never late
In the midst of this rampage of terror, what should the people of God do? The answer comes at the end of verse 4: “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness,” or more simply, “the just shall live by faith.”
What do you do when they are killing you? The just shall live by faith.
What do you do when the enemy destroys your home? The just shall live by faith.
What do you do when your loved are taken into captivity? The just shall live by faith.
What do you do when the Muslims falsely accuse you of adultery and apostasy, sentence you to death, and shackle you to the floor in a prison cell? If you are Dr. Meriam Ibrahim, you remember that “the just shall live by faith,” and you refuse to renounce Jesus.
This little phrase, tucked away at the end of verse 4, given almost as an aside, became for the Apostle Paul the hallmark of the Christian gospel. He quoted it in Romans 1 and again in Galatians 3 as proof that the gospel of Jesus had been predicted in the Old Testament. Fifteen hundred years after Paul, this verse became Martin Luther’s highway to heaven:
When by the Spirit of God, I understood these words—”The just shall live by faith”—then I felt born again like a new man. I entered through the open doors into the very paradise of God.
How much of this did Habakkuk understand? Only the part about living by faith while waiting for Babylon to be judged. The rest of it—the part that Paul and Luther understood—was hidden from his eyes.
Near the end of his life, Johnny Cash sang a song called God’s Gonna Cut You Down that catches the spirit of Habakkuk 2. Here is how it begins:
You can run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Run on a long time,
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down.
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down.
Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.
That song fits because the rest of chapter 2 describes how God is going to one day cut Babylon down. The mighty empire will be brought down and utterly destroyed. God conveys that message through 5 woes found in verses 6, 9, 12, 15, and 19. Taken together, they serve as a formal indictment against Babylon.
“Woe to him who piles up stolen goods” (v. 6).
That perfectly described the Babylonians. When they took a city, they plundered its silver and gold. They took the crops and the cattle, and they carried off anything else of value. Thus they grew rich through the misery of others. But God promised a day of judgment:
Babylon is going down!
“Then you will become their prey” (v. 7).
“Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you” (v. 8).
They got away with it for a long time because no one dared to stand against them. But God saw it all, and in due time he would even the scales of justice.
“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin” (v. 9).
This refers in part to the walls of Babylon, in some places 100 feet high, stretching at least 40 miles around the city. The Babylonians thought themselves invulnerable to attack. They believed no army could ever breach those fortifications.
But look at what verse 11 says:
“The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it” (v. 11).
Many years later Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, would give a grand banquet that turned into a drunken orgy that was interrupted by the sight of a finger writing on a wall (see Daniel 5 for details). Babylon had been weighed in the scales of justice and found wanting. Now the kingdom would be taken from Babylon and divided between the Medes and the Persians. That very night the king died and the kingdom collapsed. Mighty Babylon was no more.
“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice” (12).
God hates those who build an empire on bloodshed. Obviously this applies to nations that use military might to conquer the weak and defenseless. One wonders what God would say about a nation that murders its unborn. What does God think about the 55 million babies killed in America through legal abortion since 1973? Surely this woe applies as much to us as to ancient Babylon.
In the midst of these words of judgment comes a glimpse of a happier, better day:
“But the earth will be covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (14).
Here God pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of the world as it will be when Jesus comes back. There is coming a time when the “the earth will be filled.”
Jesus will return to the earth that rejected him
Not with the knowledge of bloodshed.
Not with the knowledge of pornography.
Not with the knowledge of immorality.
Not with the knowledge of injustice.
Not with the knowledge of greed.
God intends to fill the whole earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. It is very significant that he mentions “the earth.” When he says that, he means it quite literally. He’s talking about this ball of dirt that is the “third rock from the sun.” He means this earth we currently inhabit. This earth . . .
That had no room for the Son of God.
That mocked his words and doubted his character.
That refused to believe he was the Messiah.
That falsely accused him.
That preferred to let a guilty man go free.
That hated what he stood for.
That accused him of being in league with the devil.
That beat him without mercy.
That made him carry his own cross.
That crucified him between two thieves.
That watched him die in agony.
God intends to bring his Son back to this earth.
Back to the same world that rejected him the first time.
One day the glory of the Lord will fill the earth.
One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
One day the glory of the Lord will fill the earth
We are not there yet. It will be a day with . . .
Injustice gone, violence gone, terror gone, threats gone, abuse gone, pornography gone, divorce gone, abortion gone, perversion gone, liars gone, blasphemers gone.
A vision of a better day coming!
Not to some other world, but to this world!
Hard to believe this today because we live in a world filled with violence. We see the cruelty and the killing all around us, and we long for a better day. Someday this world will be pristine and beautiful again.
Please, God, make it soon.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
“Woe to him to who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies” (15).
This is indelicate, and it’s meant to be indelicate. Here is God’s condemnation of those who use alcohol as a tool of seduction for immoral purposes. We all know that alcohol changes behavior. A person under the influence of alcohol will say and do things they would not normally say or do.
Imagine Vegas without alcohol
Where would Las Vegas be without alcohol?
Where would frat parties be without alcohol?
Where would conventions be without alcohol?
God promises judgment on those who use alcohol as a tool to lead others into immorality. You may justify it in your own mind, but God will not be fooled. When you entice another person to drink so that they will lower their standards, you come up against Almighty God himself.
Years ago Ogden Nash gave us this little bit of doggerel: “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” That’s what this woe warns against.
God will not be fooled
Verse 16 gives us God’s response:
“You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed! The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.”
What goes around comes around. “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). Babylon used alcohol for illicit purposes, and that’s one reason God brought them down. Let all who think alcohol is not dangerous ponder these verses.
“Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’” (v. 19)
This speaks to the idiocy of idolatry. Who in their right mind would believe that praying to lifeless stone could make any difference? Pray to the stones all you want, bow down before the wooden altar. Work yourself up into a frenzy. Say all the incantations you like to your “god” of metal.
Idol worship is a complete waste of time!
It will do you no good.
Your prayers will go unanswered.
Your idols have no life.
The wood cannot hear.
The stone cannot speak.
Besides all the other obvious points against idol-worship, here’s the big one: it’s a complete waste of time.
God’s indictment of the Babylonians ends this way in verse 20:
“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
Some churches use this verse as a call to worship, but it is more like a call to judgment. The verb “be silent” really means something like, “Hush!” God looks at the nations in all their frantic clamor and says, “Be quiet now. I am about to judge the earth.” It is a fitting final word from the Lord, as if he is saying, “Habakkuk, do you get it now? I will judge Babylon in my own time and in my own way. Their downfall is certain because I have decreed it. So hush with your complaints. I have given you my answer. Will you believe it?”
In 605 BC Babylon looked invincible.
Less than a century later the Babylonian empire had disappeared.
Waiting is hard!
Waiting is hard!
Easy to despair!
Easy to lose equilibrium!
Easy to doubt what God is doing!
Don’t just do something. Stand there!
God says, “Will you wait for me?”
The world says, “Don’t just stand there. Do something!”
God says, “Don’t just do something. Stand there!”
Babylon looks good in all its glory.
Babylon always looks good . . . until it is no more.
The Wrong Side of History
We hear a lot these days about being “on the wrong side of history,” especially when it comes to redefining marriage. The tidal wave of support for gay marriage has become a tsunami, so much so that even some Christians have begun to lose confidence in what God’s Word says.
History is His Story
No one wants to be on the “wrong side of history.”
No one wants to be seen as a narrow-minded bigot.
No one wants to be singled out for ridicule.
I certainly don’t want to be on the “wrong side of history.” But I remind you that history is really His Story. It’s the outworking of God’s plan for the human race. The “right side” of history is always God’s side. It’s never determined by the latest Gallup Poll or by the latest decree from the Supreme Court.
Those who line up with the cultural forces of today will find themselves out of step with God tomorrow. That’s the whole point of Habakkuk 2. You can side with Babylon and win in the short run, or you can take sides with God and win eternally.
Whose side are you on?
Team Jesus or Team Babylon?
Whose side are you on?
Right now Team Babylon seems to be winning the big game. They largely control the media, the entertainment industry, the major universities, and the halls of power. Team Babylon holds sway over contemporary culture.
And get this: Team Babylon has a huge recruiting budget. They keep signing the Five-Star Recruits because they make such an attractive pitch. That’s why many of our young people flock to Team Babylon. That’s where the action seems to be. Even many Christians are drawn to the lights and the sounds and the bling that goes with being on Team Babylon.
The game isn’t over until it’s over
In football terms, it feels like we’re starting the 4th quarter and Team Babylon has a four-touchdown lead. Maybe so, but the game isn’t over until it’s over. The only score that matters is the final score. That score has already been predetermined by God.
Ponder these words from This is My Father’s World:
This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.
If you think this world will last forever, join Team Babylon and you’ll have a front-row seat when it all comes crashing down.
If you think God’s Word is true, then join Team Jesus and 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you did.
Time to make your choice.
Whose side are you on?
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Help us to choose you over the call of Babylon.
Help us to be on the right side of history—your side.
Give us faith to believe that in the end all your ways are right and you make no mistakes.
We pray for courage to choose rightly because no one who trusts in you will ever be put to shame.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.