“Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” When are we going to get there? That’s the chorus on every long car trip for families with young kids. The PARENTS know the trip will take ten hours. The KIDS don’t understand “ten hours.” So half an hour in, the questions begin. “Are we there yet? When can we stop? He’s on MY side of the seat. She’s TOUCHING me.”
And depending how far away you are, parents have a few strategies: REALISM. “We’ll be driving ALL DAY. Until DINNER TIME. Get USED TO IT”. Or there’s the BLUFF. “We’re nearly there. Almost.” But that loses its impact if you use it TOO early. And then, as the trip gets close to the end, DESPERATION sets in. “Just around the next corner. Just after the next McDonalds. We’ll be there by the time the Colin Buchanan CD finishes again.”
The problem is kids can’t UNDERSTAND distances and times. Parents have a better perspective. And the struggle is how to COMMUNICATE that perspective to kids.
And that’s the sort of thing we’ve got here in Habakkuk Ch 2. God has a MUCH CLEARER PERSPECTIVE on good and evil, on time and patience, and on justice. And Habakkuk needs to LEARN some of that.
Back in Ch 1, he sees the wickedness and injustice all around him. And he wants to know HOW LONG until God sets things right. And God’s told him that he’s raising up wicked and cruel Babylon as his instrument (v6). But Habakkuk can’t understand (v13). Not just how LONG, but HOW. How can God, whose eyes are too pure to look at evil, tolerate the wicked? And how he can just sit back while they swallow up those more righteous than themselves.
It’s the age-old question of why bad things happen to good people. About how and why the all-powerful, all-loving God would LET such evil happen. And, Ch 2 v1, Habakkuk’s going to sit and wait for God’s answer.
Now and not yet
And, interestingly, ironically, God’s answer is, pretty much, “Sit and wait. You want to know how long? My answer is, ‘LONGER’” Look at v2. The LORD replied, “Write down the revelation, for it AWAITS AN APPOINTED TIME.” V3. “It speaks of THE END. And it won’t prove FALSE. Though it LINGER, WAIT for it; It will CERTAINLY come and will NOT delay.” In other words, here’s what’s going to happen. It’s TRUE – you can TRUST it. Just NOT YET! So WAIT a little longer. I’m KING, but you’re just not seeing EVERYTHING yet.
Just like that holiday trip. When do holidays begin? You’re on holidays when you leave your house. The journey is part of your holidays. But it’s also NOT YET holidays. Because you haven’t ARRIVED. And so the kids, and the parents, have to WAIT A LITTLE LONGER for the FULL holiday experience. Are you on holidays? Well, YES and NO.
And it’s the same with God’s kingdom. Is it fully here yet? Well, YES and NO. It’s a consistent theme through the Bible. That God’s kingdom is both NOW. And NOT YET. God IS king. NOW. But he’s also NOT YET king in a way that everyone RECOGNISES. There’s justice still to be brought. Wrongs to be righted. There’s still sin and sickness and death and pain. There’s more to be REVEALED of what it means that God is king. And we have to WAIT FOR IT. That’s the way he’s chosen to EXERT his RULE. Remember what we saw last week in ch 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith? God has freely and unchangeably planned, from all eternity, everything that comes to pass. And he brings it to pass. He is KING!
But he DOES it in such a way that he’s NOT THE AUTHOR OF SIN. And he doesn’t FORCE people to do what they don’t want to do. In other words, there are some aspects about God’s kingly rule he doesn’t enforce. At least NOT YET.
And much of it is to do with the way he’s made us as human being. Made in his image. Unique in his creation. WE FREELY CHOOSE. And God holds us ACCOUNTABLE for that. And that’s PART of the answer to the question of suffering. Of why God allows evil to continue. Because MUCH of the suffering we see is the result of human greed and sin. Wars, pollution, murder, injustice. The blame is firmly with US, rather than God. And God has his loving, wise reasons for why he’s WAITING to put an end to it. We’ll see more of THAT later.
So, v3, God tells Habakkuk to write down the revelation. Because this is what’s going to happen. It won’t be QUICK. But it will CERTAINLY COME. God can PREDICT it because He’s BRINGING IT TO PASS.
And from v4, we see the revelation. What the FUTURE will look like. The time when God’s JUST RULE is finally seen. AT THE MOMENT, v4, we see the wicked, puffed up, his desires won’t stand. He’s greedy, and like death, never satisfied. But HERE’S WHAT’S COMING, says God. From v6. A series of WOES. Pronounced on the wicked. Probably Babylon. By his victims. The ones who’ve been on THE RECEIVING end. All the people he’s taken captive will TAUNT him with RIDICULE and SCORN. They’ll be in the prime seats to see JUSTICE COME.
God has RAISED UP wicked Babylon to execute his purposes. He’s the KING who CONTROLS. But he’s also going to PUNISH them for the way they’ve freely chosen to DO that. He’s the JUDGE who holds people ACCOUNTABLE.
And THIS chapter is about JUDGMENT. And what we notice about these woes, and about God’s justice, is that the PUNISHMENT WILL FIT THE CRIME. Have a look with me. V6. Woe to him who steals and extorts. Because the time is coming when THOSE YOU PLUNDERED will plunder YOU. That’s fair! And v9. Woe to him who builds an empire with unjust gain. With bribes and tricks. V11. The city he built will cry out against him. It won’t testify to his SUCCESS, rather his OPPRESSION AND VICE. And v12. Woe to him who builds by VIOLENCE. Because what he’s built will be violently destroyed by FIRE. V13. In the END, all men’s labour – building SOMETHING – comes to NOTHING. And V15. Woe to him who sexually degrades others with WINE. Because he’ll be forced to drink the cup of God’s wrath. Now it’s HIS turn. That’s just and fair! And the victims REJOICE to see justice. And finally, v19. Woe to him who worships idols. Voiceless, lifeless, silent lumps of wood. Because, v20, he’ll be FORCED TO BE SILENT before the LORD in his holy temple. Just like his idols.
And it’s THIS IDOLATRY that’s at the CORE of all the wickedness. Replacing the TRUE God with SOMETHING ELSE means you replace HIS rules with YOUR OWN rules. Or to turn it around the other way. You SHOW that you worship the true God by LIVING HIS WAY. That’s the way the ten commandments are set up. First commandment. One God. Everything else flows from that. No idols, don’t misuse his name, keep the Sabbath. And SO on. So, breaking the FIRST commandment means that everything else is up for grabs.
And, if you THINK about it, this idolatry is a consequence of the now and not yet character of God’s kingdom. It’s BECAUSE there’s a delay in God’s kingdom coming FULLY. Let me explain. God is the supreme king – he raises up and appoints nations. Yet he EXERTS that rule WITHOUT CONSTRAINING OUR WILL. (Now, and not yet). What that means PRACTICALLY is that people go through life making decisions, both good and bad. And the result is/ people think THEY RULE, rather than God. Or the idols they’ve INVENTED rule. And God, generally, doesn’t exert his kingship to prove them WRONG. At least NOT YET.
Look back in Ch 1 v14. Another example of how it works. How man’s INDEPENDENCE leads to IDOLATRY. God’s MADE people like fish. The wicked comes along, and pulls them out with hooks and nets. And then he REJOICES at how CLEVER and POWERFUL he is. Then, v16, he SACRIFICES to his NET, and burns INCENSE to his dragnet. He makes IDOLS out of the things he USES. Nepalese TODAY offer sacrifices to their tractors and ploughs and barns. Because they’re the things that BRING the WEALTH.
It seems ridiculous to us. But the reality is it’s no different to what we see in Sydney TODAY. EVERYWHERE WE LOOK people have success in life. Happiness in relationships. Satisfaction in career, or family. They have possessions, and health, and influence. And they wrongly credit that success to their education, or their looks, or their fitness, or their bank balance. And they WORSHIP those gods. They devote EVERYTHING to them. They PURSUE them, and ELEVATE them to number one priority. That’s WORSHIP! But, ultimately, all those gods are POWERLESS. They’ll always fail. Nothing’s guaranteed. It’s a lesson people have learned this week. With the tragic death of Phillip Hughes. No amount of planning or hard work or privilege can guarantee ANYTHING. EVERYTHING that comes from us, ultimately, is POWERLESS. That’s the point over at the end of Ch 2. V18. An idol someone carves is HELPLESS. Voiceless and life-less and breath-less. It can’t guide or do ANYTHING.
To give AN IDOL credit for the events of life is RIDICULOUS. It comes from a false view of the world. A view where God ISN’T king. But the reality is/ He IS king, but his kingdom isn’t FULLY REVEALED yet.
Not YET. But we get a glimpse of what that glorious future will look like there in the middle of the chapter. Verse 14. The nations exhaust themselves for nothing, building their idolatrous empires. 14 For the earth WILL be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
ONE DAY. EVERYONE will know the glory of the LORD. The glory of JUDGMENT. And the glory of SALVATION. From the least to the greatest. From the east to the west. And God will completely be king of his kingdom. No more now and not yet.
And that’s the goal God is WORKING TOWARDS. And it’s part of the answer for why God delays. He wants MANY to RECOGNISE him before they’re JUDGED. And he’s actively WORKING at drawing people to repentance through the gospel. 2 Peter Ch 3. Peter’s answering scoffers who say that because God’s DELAYED, he’s not coming AT ALL. And Peter replies, v8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
First thing he says. What would WE know about time? What’s 3000 years compared to ETERNITY? Nothing!
The SECOND thing he says is that God’s delay is because he’s PATIENT. And because he wants AS MANY AS POSSIBLE to escape judgment and repent. He longs for JUSTICE. But he also longs for REPENTANCE. And so he WAITS. DELAYING JUDGMENT.
And so WE’RE called to DO THE SAME. That’s the FIRST application. OBEDIENTLY WAIT. Just like God commands in v3. “Though it LINGER, WAIT.” We may pray for JUSTICE. But we should ALSO be praying for MERCY. Because GOD wants none to perish, but all to come to repentance. So that’s the way we should be PRAYING. We may not see justice NOW. But if we wait PATIENTLY, we will SEE it.
And it’s not just a wait that happens HERE ON EARTH. There’s a longing for justice and a waiting IN HEAVEN TOO. Revelation 6 describes the souls of Christian martyrs. They’re protected in heaven, safe under the altar. And v10, they call out in a loud voice “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
They’ve been the victims of injustice. Even to death. And they want to see things put right. And they address God as SOVEREIGN LORD. King Master. He’s King NOW, but he’s also not king ULTIMATELY and COMPLETELY. NOT YET. The day of JUDGMENT is still to come. And they want to know how long.
And listen to God’s answer. 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to WAIT A LITTLE LONGER, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. God has ordained MORE martyrs to come. And the number’s not complete yet. Which is confusing and heart-breaking.
But there’s comfort, too, in that message. Because it’s all in God’s sovereign control. The number is completely pre-ordained by God. And, while death is terrible and terrifying. It’s the worst they can suffer. Death is a moment. And then the suffering’s OVER. And there’s comfort FOR US that our brothers and sisters in heaven are crying out WITH US. There’s a partnership and a solidarity that’s reassuring.
Another way of describing that obedient waiting is there in Habakkuk 2:4. The righteous live by FAITH. The wicked is puffed up. And his desires won’t ENDURE. But, on the OTHER HAND, the righteous will LIVE BY HIS FAITH. And, although there’s a few ideas about what that means, one of the key ideas is about TRUSTING GOD IN THE GAP. Between the NOW and the NOT YET. Relying on his faithfulness and his kingly authority EVEN WHEN YOU CAN’T SEE it.
You WAIT. But it’s not impatiently, or grumbling. It’s not fuming that you’d do things differently. It’s in quiet submission. Just like 2:20. In contrast to silent, dumb, powerless idols. 20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; LET ALL THE EARTH BE SILENT before him.” God IS on the throne. We’re called to quietly, reverently, trustingly SUBMIT to him. That’s living by faith.
And when we struggle to SEE that. When we’re tempted to impatiently seek our OWN revenge. Or doubt that God really WILL bring in his kingdom completely. We just need to look at the cross. Because the cross is God’s ultimate statement in history that he’s acted justly. That he WON’T let evil flourish. He cares about his own name and about justice SO MUCH that he poured it out on his own Son. Lest he be accused, in his PATIENCE, of EXCUSING or OVERLOOKING sin. Romans 3:25 puts it like this. 25 God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to DEMONSTRATE HIS JUSTICE, because in his FORBEARANCE he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be JUST and the ONE WHO JUSTIFIES those who have faith in Jesus.
Habakkuk wasn’t around to see it. But the cross was a demonstration to him that God WASN’T overlooking injustice. He was PATIENTLY WAITING, looking on at evil. Until JUST THE RIGHT TIME. And then, in the most significant event in the history of the world, taking out all his righteous anger for the sins of the world. On his own son. All the sins of Habakkuk. And of Babylon and Assyria and Judah and Australia. Completely satisfying his justice. PAID IN FULL. So that anyone who TRUSTS the work of Jesus can be MADE RIGHT. JUSTIFIED.
And, while there’s still LONGER for US to wait. We have the promise of God’s future kingdom MADE MORE CERTAIN. Because of the demonstration of his commitment and love and justice and faithfulness to us in the cross IN THE PAST.
And so the same message God had for HABAKKUK is the one he has for US. TRUST ME. Live by faith. Live, in the gap between the NOW and the NOT YET, confidently and obediently WAITING. Reverently SILENT before him. Because we’re confident that ONE DAY, the earth will be FILLED with the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.