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Getting Things Straight!
Habakkuk is NOT a book about WHY God smashes things up, but why man is allowed to do so. It is as simple as that. Surely, God may create calamity, as He expressly declares in Isaiah 45:7, for what else is in store for a nation which acts as Israel is defined to have done in Isaiah 1! Only repentance in grief of heart and transformation in the mercies of God, learning to do good, and not evil, to be just and neither profligate (Isaiah 3) nor vicious (Isaiah 13), to be willing to reason together with the Lord and have scarlet splashing sins made white as snow, and receiving His sacrificial securing of such a cleansing, as in Isaiah 52-53, or the sacrificial symbols which point to this reality, can atone.
If there is an habitual, a conclusive, condign, a rampant and rigorous insistence on persistence in sin, then what but calamity is to be expected! Will formality remove putridity ? scarcely. Symbols do not substitute for reality, but are expressive of that reality which both faces the evil and provides for its removal. "Learn to do good." Yes and first WASH in the pardoning presentation of the Lord, which Isaiah goes on to exhibit with an awesome clarity and a precision concerning the labours of the Lord needed and given for such a result in Isaiah 40-55.
Sin must meet its end.
The Lord however is slow to anger and of great mercy, and does not willingly afflict the children of men (Lamentations 3:33). Psalm 103 expresses it grandly.
LORD executes righteousness
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
made known His ways to Moses,
His acts unto the children of Israel.
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always chide:
neither will he keep His anger for ever. 10\\
has not dealt with us after our sins;
nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
as the heaven is high above the earth,
so great is His mercy toward them that fear him. 1
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children,
so the LORD pities those who fear Him.
He knows our frame ..."
That is not His way, but mercy is. When the time of liberty's liability to lust is past, at least in principle, in the millenium, then indeed the earth "will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14 cf. Isaiah 11), and the premises of punishment will distance themselves. This will be seen in a peace which terminating the curse, invites comparison with the ways of men, which indeed, may need rebuke lest longsuffering merely engender a generation of corruption so rife that termination is a mercy! There is a time for discipline, and there is a time for devastation, even of the most arrogant with a surfeit of self-will, spoliation and devastation, who engineer huge loans for no good reason, and perform the naive works of self-sufficiency!
Indeed, in Habakkuk, we see the plea of the prophet for understanding of the baseness of many, the snaring, uncaring, unsolicitous, self-advancing grabbing and conniving of the debased, and his request for more information, for understanding. WHY permit this! What is one to do while this persists ?
Such is his approach to the Lord at the outset.
In reply it is shown that this is far from the fixture of principle presented by the Lord, for it is exactly the opposite. In fact, the right way is to have faith in God, see past provocation to purity, and to realise that what now appears as a vision of His goodness and rule over mankind, will in fact come (Habakkuk 2:2-4), as a simple matter of historical fact as in Isaiah 11, indeed; and the whole earth will heave with a very different cover, the Lord's own goodness (Habakkuk 2:14).
Meantime, one must wait for it BY FAITH (Habakkuk 2:4), not aggrandising oneself with vast loans or acceptances of what is not their own, till the creditors arise to crush , or pilloring other nations with bloodshed and vile force; for there is a way for faith, and there is a path for vision, and there is a divine provision for this opposite, this apposite opposite to snaring and not caring, to seeking to glory in financial, military or political power.
No, it is emphatically NOT of the Lord that these grindings and blinding storms of human passion bring shocking burdens to oppressed mankind, the instruments of darkness wallowing in sin as they bring whole populations into servility and endless labours. So far is it indeed from Him, that history will record His response, as faith anticipates it and lives in Him whose provision is trustworthy.
In fact, when He is done with allowing liberty its licence, amid of course such judgments as He elects to dispense, and implements that vision of which He has spoken, instituted the end-game of which He tells, that historical reality which is to be, radical indeed is the result.
The summary and criterion of His grace is to be such the earth will be absolutely and utterly FILLED with His goodness: the machinations of the self-serving, inveterately self-aggrandising proud, not prospering, the loud-mouthed financial contrivers and socially squalid oppressors gone with the wind of judgment, the whole earth awakened to what should be, could be and now is. Its time of advent comes. It is not yet. Faith acts in the interim, faith in what the Lord will do with His salvation and judgment alike to come.
No, it is NOT of the Lord "that the nations labour to feed the fire , and the nations weary themselves in vain." Such a thought is abhorrent. This is the way of pride and not of faith (Habakkuk 2:5-6), and its come-uppance is sure; it is nothing to do with the Lord that such tyros and tyrants rant and ruin.
HIS way is the opposite. Such is the thematic outcome in Habakkuk 2:12-13. You can turn it grammatically into a question with the opposite meaning, but that is like saying this: 2 plus 2 MUST equal 4, you will see, for it is of the mathematical nature of things that they don't! It adds up the wrong way. This is not confirmation but contrast, not yielding to Habakkuk's thematic charge, but showing that in the end it will be seen to be mere prelude to power, impurity before purge. Such things are not only abhorrent to the Lord, but will be SEEN to be so, when He acts, as it were, in Act V, Scene V, to put it in dramatic terms.
In micro-analysis, we find this, moreover, in Habakkuk 2:12, as prelude to this statement of divine principle in 2:13. It is this:
"WOE TO HIM WHO BUILDS A HOUSE WITH BLOODSHED."
Here the text lingers on the stout works of those whose ways of performing them are wrong. "WOE to the one who establishes a city by iniquity."
It is not the praise for wisdom but the WOE for WRONG of which He now speaks. Amplifying and characterising this waging of moral war on man by man, this erecting of citadels to evil by evil means and power, by murder and travail, as abominable, a matter eliciting the word "WOE!", the Lord at once exhibits what is in HIS heart. WOE to that style and spirit of thing, but BEHOLD JOY in this which IS of the Lord and thus IS TO BE.
What then is to be ? Where lies the answer to the Habakkuk problem ?
It is this, it is the opposite to what is being considered, what is occurring in this field. What God has in mind is indeed a profound blessedness, it is a world without site-squalor, without oppression. It is indeed a world free of such contamination. and one FILLED with His very goodness with just that overwhelming cover that the seas exhibit, as they are implanted over the entire surface of the land, huge, irreducible, vast in scope, glorious in containment. HIS will ? what is of HIS heart ? The contemporary flooding of evil ? Ludicrous. Not that cracked record of folly, WOE to that! It is not of the Lord. Let us see what IS of the Lord: for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea! There! that is it, and there is your principle. It is that which is of the Lord.
Did you imagine some limp, listless or barely perceptible result when such issues are raised ? some impotent explication ? Forget it. So far from condoning such things in any style, spirit or sense, the Lord announces to THEM, this divine response: "WOE!" Woe to them!
Proceeding to what does EXHIBIT what IS of the Lord, He then shows that it is not some tendency, some spiral staircase that probably, in a way, eventually gets somewhere different. It is not a matter of measure and degree.
When it comes to what the Lord wants, is and will do, it is spectacularly different, utterly diverse, thoroughly divergent, source of one of the most sweeping generalisations to be found in the Bible, like that of the chaff and the wheat in Matthew 3 and 13. Here is an empty bin, a woeful and cursed thing, of man's counter-faith and utterly unprincipled sin. NEVER imagine that the Lord is in the slightest measure involved with that as to His heart: it is a phase awaiting its entire cursed conflagration (as in II Peter 2-3). The Lord is not slack. There is purpose in the delay.
What is to come is a munificent marvel, a spectacular counterpoint, an utter contrast, one which the text goes on to show will purge with fire and devastation thoroughly, what had dared to raise its rottenness into national oppression, civic horror and international pride. Go! it will not merely be subdued, but given that degree of devastation that is right, as the Lord goes forth for the salvation of His people, laying waste to the wastrel, the waster, the builder of stout cities.
That! it is not of the Lord FOR...
WHY then is it not of the Lord in context ? It is because the fact is, if you have faith, a simple reality, what IS of Him is what will be the final show, the end of the matter, the exhibit of His quality in proceedings, of His spiritual reality. Different ? diverse ? It is a total, overwhelming difference, not only in contrast but in conquest at last, when judgment is apt, when His redemption made fast, comes to those to whom it is appointed, the Lord with His Messiah rescuing just as His overthrows the conspirators of iniquity, as in Psalm 2.
THAT, and not the thing that has been troubling Habakkuk, it is that which is OF THE LORD, and not this other thing which has so grieved Habakkuk, who rightly attributes to the Lord purer eyes than those which would look on such iniquity as he sees trying to swamp the very earth.
Such a thing IS NOT OF THE LORD, and invokes WOE!
THAT is their part. THIS, the goodness is His!
This then is in the THEME of the book, in the MICRO-TOPIC of the context, in the EXPRESS CONTRAST of woe and blessing, in the attribution of guilt and its nature and the contribution of the apposite opposite on the part of the Lord. Here for the time is the CONCEPT of faith with vision for what the Lord has in mind, as distinct from pride which does its own thing, follows its own urgings as if these had a certain stability and reality, when they are in fact mere stubble awaiting burning (Habakkuk 3:3-4).
In fact, the time is coming when such counter-contributions from man in his regal, his conquering, his investing power of borrowed finances, misuse of what in fact is the property of others, his utterly gross greed and terminally proud heart will be met by the Lord, surging with judgment (Habakkuk 3:11-12).
More than this, indeed, and better yet is the case.
Not only will this purging surging proceed, but in the prophetic past, that is seen with that graphic realisation of what is to come that is so sure that it is ALREADY envisaged as having happened. Accordingly, we find this addition of the wrathful scene of removing the very evils of which Habakkuk had spoken and which the Lord had shown to be the entire contrary to Himself, in due time ready for judgment, while HE institutes what IS in accord with Himself, over the whole earth.
We find that "You went forth for the salvation of Your people. for salvation with Your Messiah" (Habakkuk 3:13, paralleling Psalm 2:7-8). It is not that salvation is far off from the mind of God, but very near. Its day having come as in the latter part, precisely, of Psalm 2, there is the terminal proceeding against what would overturn it. There you see the raging of the nations against the Lord, there also, but with a precise flavour of seeking to subjugate the Messiah and remove His appointment, violate His anointment, despatch indeed His very life.
This same Messiah, we find in Habakkuk 3, will be in action, as in Psalm 2, 110; for It is He who comes to deliver His people (as in the day of Joshua - Habakkuk 3:11, or that of the Exodus - Micah 7:15ff.), He who delights in mercy (Micah 7:19ff.), whose way is NOT like that of the proud - portentous ornaments of self-will on the earth. As in Zechariah 1-14, the bringing back in Israel of a heart to love the Lord is linked closely in time, with the overthrow of her enemies, who dote on her destruction, as they have long delighted in the annulment of the Messiah's saving and gracious work.
At this, the Lord will LAUGH! (Psalm 2:4).Is He like that ? Accept that ? Are you dreaming! Judges of the earth, the Lord asseverates, consider, "Serve the Lord with fear!" In the end, these beginnings which might appear almost to beggar description in their evil, will meet their due end; for as to these populous pollutants, "You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel." Such is the will and will be the action of God in His own right, power and conclusion of the whole matter.
It is necessary to "serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling" Psalm 2:11.
There is nothing of enervating cynicism, self-glorying proud boasting here now, for the established powers-that-be whose day comes and whose purge awaits! It is NOT of the Lord that such things occur, things that in fact had to come to their culmination in direct human confrontation with God even in His SAVING work with His Messiah, one which led to the resurrection after judicial murder (Psalm 2:7, with Psalms 16, 22).
Accordingly, not only are those wicked judges to consider, and look to the end of their follies, of their rejection of the profound and incalculable goodness of the Lord made even more manifest in His saving work which once for all shows the engagement of His heart toward man. Not only must they consider, those infected with this arrogant effrontery, abusing that very liberty which is a creation grant from God to man, that love and mercy might be appreciated and sin depreciated justly. Not only are they to fear; they should also be of a different heart. They should themselves HAVE this salvation, and even REJOICE with trembling. Thus do we find in this pareallel to the message of Habakkuk, in Psalm 2.
Rejoicing is the fruit of receiving that salvation which the nations dared to seek to extirpate, just as the devil is seen in Revelation 12, waiting to consume the babe who is Saviour, at His very birth! But let even rejoicing for those who DO seek and find the Lord, let even this be done with that circumspection which avoids any relapse into pride, grasping, financial dealings and military excursions, social oppressions and seizures, aggrandisement of one's power in taking what is not one's own, in human exploitation and hateful horror.
Is not such now found of many workers in China, for example as in India and many lands, in steaming sweat shops and murderous mines ? In this world it may be seen in unholy sanctums and factories run like military camps, as it was in the USSR, where flesh was slowly stripped from the underfed, whose labours were still exacted in frozen lands; found in child labour and grotesqueries all but unspeakable! It is not invented now; it has been and it will be in this or that measure, for it flows from the corrupted heart of man, until judgment raps on the pane of the windows to the souls which crave and thrust their lust into the light of day.
Rejoice with trembling, therefore! Have purity both in hand and in heart! Of those who will not heed: "The cup of the Lord's right hand will be turned agianst you, and utter shame will be on your lgory, for the violence done..." (Habakkuk 2:16-17).
THAT is the message, where as in Psalm 2 and Habakkuk, there is the question of human power tilting at the very foundations of divine wisdom and His saving power. The question is not at this point, discipline; for this evil power is endemic, bred with freedom mated with foolishness, and to the heart is its tentacular grip! It is here in Habakkuk a very different question from that. It is one of PRINCIPLE. WILL the Lord at the end of the matter, accept this spoliation, so that it becomes the final characterisation for man before God, as Habakkuk is beginning to feel as an oppressive thought ? He will not accept this thought, and seeks answer.
What is to be DONE! It is, then, the same sort of thrust in view in Psalm 2 where the very work of God to annul evil is threatened as by a maelstrom of malice, by international power-groupings.
NOT SO. Have no such thought! Don't even think about it.
"It is NOT of the Lord of hosts
that the people labour to feed the fire,
and nations weary themselves in vain."
WHAT fire ? It is that just witnessed in 2:11 above, when the vast works required to build self-aggrandising cities for the lustful proud are in view. Not THIS, no, this is not the Lord's will and way: that is mere contravention wrought in terms of the liberty given to man while the greater fire builds, which will burn up the evil works of this world altogether (II Peter 3). Make NO mistake! for this is not of the Lord, but what IS of Him is in precisely that opposite avenue, culminating in irreducible goodness covering the whole earth, a magnificence in magnitude like the vast grandeur of its reality in His heart.
The guileful graspings of proud and imperious man, this has another end (Habakkuk 3), which is fitting for traffic going the wrong way, and while the preliminary time appointed lasts, REFUSING to read the notice. And what does this notice say ? It is this: "Go back! Wrong Way!"
By all means so act, as Habakkuk is protesting they DO act, and in the very preceding verse, 2:12, we find the evil power IS acting: but this is NOT of the Lord, whose wholly contrary program, principle and intention is to cover the earth with that goodness, to turn the principle into extraordinarily manifest practice, which IS of the Lord.
Nothing could be clearer once you move through the data to the design, and through the challenge to the contrasting ways, through the theme to the denial, through the prelude to the finale, through the means of waiting, by faith, to the outcome received by those of such faith, not ignoring the micro-context leading to the absolute clash of opposites, but rather realising that it is through the theme, the Lord moves to the resolution as requested.
IS HE like THAT ? It is NOT so, for what He does resemble is what will be, and it is to be received by faith, not by self-assertion, self-belief, the effronteries of grabbed power and territory, grasped principles of power and thrust. Faith must receive what God is like, what He will do, man must live in this faith in the Lord that rests on NOTHING that we do, but ALL that is in His heart and will be seen when with His Messiah He brings salvation, in its final phase, where the rooting out of the weeds proceeds, and an entirely different earth is seen.
Yes then will a power divine complement the grace sublime! The grossness will be smitten by Him whom it seeks to smite, and the goodness written will cover the earth as a glorious mantle. Wait for it! there is a test ahead, there is grace for the interim, wait for it!
Why wait ? "It will surely come."
In the meantime, therefore, 2:4, live by a receptive faith in the Lord, depending ONLY on Him, His power, His grace, His goodness, His provisions, looking to Him who is invisible, who made the visible, and be thankful for what HE has in store in the salvation through HIS Messiah. Therefore, cast out dark thoughts, as His light will cast out the darkness; for as to that, what is the word ? It is this: it is NOT, emphatically not, forever not, in principle, in practice to come, in essence, in spirit and in consummation, NOT of the Lord. From HIM is the source and resource of GOODNESS; and test done, it will envelop the whole earth, like a vast overcoat. For WHAT is contrary, there is devastation to come. In the end, this is the only way that cure rejected, curse can remove the ruin.
Well might the prophet Habakkuk sing in faith, that though all the works of his hands, the fruit of his labour be lost (Habakkuk 3:17), though step by step he should be stripped, YET in the Lord, he for his part, knowing the conditions of life, the goodness of the Lord, the necessity of faith, the folly of self-belief and arrogance, the coming of the Messiah, the final outcome and the essential nature of the Lord's own heart, he will not lounge in dismay.
No, even if the whole assembly of hoped for results should disperse, and he be left like a latter day Job, YET HE WILL REJOICE. Works do not save: God does. Woe is not the point: goodness is. Tests that meet one in life, these are not for aggravation: faith rejoices over their heads, and proceeds imperturbable.
LORD is my strength.
He will make my feet like hind's feet,
and He will make me to walk upon the high hills."
Indeed, to such, through faith, they come to this, that they sit in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6), equipped with faith, enabled with divine power, surrounded with celestial peace and sweetness, made immune in His majesty by faith in His heart and faithfulness. Thus can the people of God become more than conquerors (Romans 8:37), for the Lord knows His own: all are invited, and His faithfulness is to those who come.
What then of the evil, the corruption that would die before it would give up, the wickedness that sits upon itself and fashions its own way, not waiting, not by faith, without God in the world ? Yes, and what of oppression and guile, of what catches, oppresses, a scourge to the world, immersed in its way, oblivious of truth, catching as catch can ?
For all that other sort of thing, It is NOT of the Lord. What then is it that is of the Lord's heart ? It is incalculable goodness, available through faith and the power of the Messiah. Before the end comes, there was to be, as there now has been, a magnificent work of this Messiah, and this like a divine pause has given to might, the wonder of mercy, secured by the Lord, applied from the Lord. That is one of the results of waiting, that such wonder would come, that the Lord and His Messiah would show, as forecast in detail in the Psalms and Isaiah, in Zechariah and in Micah, in Ezekiel and in Hosea, something to wait for in the myriads of His mercy and His grace. This has come; His sufferings are past; the Gospel grace has culminated. It is judgment that remains; but beyond this, it is God who remains, and while time remains, it is time to transfer (II Corinthians 5:17ff.).
Possess then your possessions, and rejoice. If a Christian, you are ready with Habakkuk, so be encouraged in His comforts, which bring relish to the soul. If not yet with allied to His name, then gain the grace of the Lord through repentance and calling on His name in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, whose own anguish is the way to this goodness, which sin likes to discount where faith is lacking, which folly misses.
As Paul proceeds on this topic:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed form faith to faith, as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.' "
The WRATH of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, the inspired apostle proceeds to declare (1:18), but he comes to the grace thus:
the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed,
being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
even the righteousness of God
through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe."
Before casting out evil, the Messiah Himself, cast out and numbered among the transgressors, in the grandeur of persistent and insistent goodness, bearing sin for many, for everyone who believes, has made His grant. It is grace to freedom to have its fill of peace and pardon, to be released freely from the bondage with which it has been entangled; and so first, to face it.
We have waited and He has come, and He is before all.
Only then, does judgment ensue. To one as to all, the message is clear. Take heed and by faith receive Him who is faithful! for there is no other (Acts 4:11-12).