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Lament, Listen, and Trust | Habakkuk 1-3

As preached by Zach Thompson.

Call to Worship: Psalm 73

Middle Reading: Hebrews 10:32-39

Habakkuk 1-3

Good morning Christ Fellowship. This morning, we’ll be continuing our series through the minor prophets.

This week we’ll look at the book of Habakkuk. If you are using one of our provided Bibles, you’ll find that on page 737.

The book of Habakkuk has a really clear structure to it. You can probably glace through the book and see the structure in the headings. Habakkuk laments to God, then God responds to Habakkuk. Then, again, Habakkuk complains to God a second time, and after that, God responds to Habakkuk’s second complaint. Then after the Lord responds to him twice, Habakkuk closes the book with a poetic prayer that is meant to be sung.

Our public reading this morning will enter at the beginning of Habakkuk’s second complaint and into God’s second response.

If you are able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s word. We’ll read from Habakkuk 1:12–2:4.

“12 Are you not from everlasting,

O Lord my God, my Holy One?

We shall not die.

O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,

and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.

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?

14 You make mankind like the fish of the sea,

like crawling things that have no ruler.

15 He brings all of them up with a hook;

he drags them out with his net;

he gathers them in his dragnet;

so he rejoices and is glad.

16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net

and makes offerings to his dragnet;

for by them he lives in luxury,

and his food is rich.

17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net

and mercilessly killing nations forever?

2:1 I will take my stand at my watchpost

and station myself on the tower,

and look out to see what he will say to me,

and what I will answer concerning my complaint.

2 And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;

make it plain on tablets,

so he may run who reads it.

3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;

it hastens to the end—it will not lie.

If it seems slow, wait for it;

it will surely come; it will not delay.

4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Let’s Pray.

I want to start today by stating three truths. They are the foundation of everything we’ll explore today, and I would argue that they are the major assumptions behind everything that is said in the book of Habakkuk.

Here they are

God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. And God’s promises are true.

God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. And God’s promises are true.

Maybe you know the name of William Carey. He moved to India in 1793 as a missionary. At the time, India was still a place where babies were ritually sacrificed and widows would be burned on the funeral pyres of their recently deceased husbands. It was a place of pervasive lostness and rebellion against God. In India, there are between 780 and 900 languages spoken. And at the time of William Carey, almost none of these languages, if any, had their own translation of the Bible.

This was one of the great emphases of William’s labor in India. He arrived in 1793. By 1800, he was able to begin focusing on translation work in earnest. As modern American Christians, we don’t have a point of reference for how difficult this was. He didn’t have google translate. Most of these languages didn’t have resources of any kind for english speakers, and even if they did, they were incredibly expensive. He had to write dictionaries.

But Carey was a linguistic genius. And he began working to translate the Bible into more than a dozen languages. He began this work of translation in 1800.

Twelve years later, they had built a printing press inside of a 10,000 SF building. All of Carey’s resources for translation were housed here. Ever thing he had compiled and built.

In early March, Carey was called away to teach in Calcutta, and while he was gone, the printing house caught fire. And it burned all night without any means of actually putting out the fire.

Carey’s “entire library, his completed Sanskrit dictionary, part of his Bengal dictionary, two grammar books, and ten translations of the Bible were lost. Gone also were the type sets for printing fourteen different languages. Vast quantities of English paper, priceless dictionaries, deeds, and account books were all gone.”

William Carey rushed back as soon as he heard, and as he looked over the rubble, tears filled his eyes, and he said, “In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God.”

This is a man whose children had died from disease in the course of pursuing the kingdom of God. His wife went mad and died of fever as he worked toward these translations. And here was more than a decade of dedicated labor so that the word of God would be available to people for whom there was literally not a single Bible in their language. And all of it went up in flames in a single night.

What is it in your life that would cause you to look at your course and say, “How unsearchable are the ways of God?”

Lord, what I want is good. Why are you withholding it? I want to be married to a godly spouse. I want children. I want health. I want parents who care for me and protect me. I want wealth so that I can be generous. Or maybe you had these things, and it was taken away from you.

When we were in the book of Nahum, we saw that God is perfect in His justice and omnipotent in His power. We saw that his people should be comforted by his justice and power while His enemies should be terrified.

But in Habakkuk, we see a prophet who knows the truths of God. He knows who God has revealed himself to be, and yet, he sees the wicked prospering while he sees the righteous oppressed.

And instead of seething in bitterness and turning away from God, he turns to God.

This is the beginning of biblical lamenting. And it’s our next point.

God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. And God’s promises are true.

  • So we can approach Him in lament

Look in 1:2.

“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?

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.

4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.

For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

Notice in this that the beginning of his lament is characterized by questions. When you see injustice and when you come into trial, you can ask questions to God, it’s a consistent characteristic of lament. That’s what James 1:2-8 is really about when it says that “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James is talking about lamenting to God during our trials.

But in the first verses of Habakkuk, do you hear the assumptions here? Behind these verses, he trusts that God is good. Verse 2, he is still crying for help. But he looks around and he can see that God isn’t doing what he asks. God, do you really hear me? Will you not save the innocent? Will you be idle in the face of wickedness? The law is paralyzed, the righteous are surrounded. And justice is perverted.

How can this be so? God why are you letting this happen?

Habakkuk lived in Judah. At this point, the northern kingdom of Israel has already been shipped off to who knows where in the Assyrian exile. And Habakkuk is looking around him in this nation that claims to know the one true God, and he sees wickedness ruling the day.

Maybe it brings similar questions to mind.

How is it that my God-hating friend has a husband who loves her when I am denied that? God, there are almost a million abortions per year in America, why would you give babies to them and deny me? Why am I stuck at a dead end job while the average executive at Planned parenthood makes more than $214,000 per year? God, why are you giving energy to false teachers who will profane your name when I can barely leave the house?

But the process of lamenting isn’t just recognizing your deepest sadness and confusions.

Lamenting is not just feeling sad.

Lament is when we take our anger and our confusion and our sorrow and we move toward God with it rather than away from him.

Do you do this?

Really. Take a moment and answer this for yourself.

Do you actually go to God with your heartaches and confusion and sorrow?

Is your first stop to complain to a friend who is powerless to do anything about it?

Do you try to numb it with a pill? Or with a book? Or with an online image or video? Do you try to distract yourself with busy-ness or something else while all the while bitterness grows in your heart?

There has probably been a time in recent history when you were like Habakkuk. You were not okay.

And listen, it’s okay to not be okay.

But don’t act like there isn’t anything for you to do except curl up in a blanket and eat cheetos while you generally avoid the world.

When you have consternation in your soul– When you see injustice that you are powerless to address– when that good thing is withheld from you…

There is a biblical path forward.

Lament to God. Ask him the questions of your heart.

Go to the living God who is just and powerful to respond. Go to God who hears you because you are his.

And when you come to God in lament, expect an answer. This is our next point.

God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. And God’s promises are true.

So we can approach Him in lament

  • And expect an answer

After Habakkuk’s initial complaint, God answers in 1:5-11. Then after his second complaint, Habakkuk expects an answer in 2:1 Look there. “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”

Habakkuk is bringing his lament to God, and he is waiting with anticipation for God’s answer. When you pray to God in any capacity, do you actually expect him to answer? Or do you treat prayer as a time to speak to the people around you while God happens to hear?

Praying in faith means expecting God to answer. And this is true for lament. When we lament to God–when we ask questions to God about the deepest troubles in our soul– we should expect answers.

But listen.

When I say that you should expect an answer, don’t hear that as if it’s sugar coated medicine.

God will answer. And you should expect him to answer. But that doesn’t mean that you will like the answer or that you’ll even see the fulfillment of his answer.

Habakkuk didn’t like one answer, and he didn’t see the fulfillment for the other answer.

You may not like the answer

In verses 5-11, God responds to Habakkuk’s cry for justice. He tells Habakkuk that he is going to send the Chaldeans. Look in verse 6. “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.”

But Habakkuk didn’t like this answer. In fact, it brought up an entirely different issue for him.

The Chaldeans were the Babylonians. They are an archetype of wicked cities. And it was them that God would use to judge his people?

This threw Habakkuk into even deeper confusion. Why would God judge his own people by another people who are more wicked?

That’s what drives Habakkuk into his second prayer that we read for our public reading.

Habakkuk hears that God is raising up the Chaldeans, and he knows them. He is saying something like, “God, I wanted you to deal with this whole issue, but really? Them? God, if these people have their way, they are so violent, there won’t be anything left of Judah! And not only that, after they defeat Judah, they’ll turn around and worship idols rather than the Living God.”

That’s essentially what he is saying in 2:13. “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 a man more righteous than he?”

Habakkuk wanted an answer to his prayer, but it seems like he wanted it on his own terms. It seems like he was hoping for an answer that was more palatable for him.

The sovereign will of God is not a buffet where you get to choose the dainties that tickle your appetite.

God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. And God’s promises are true.

Has God already answered your prayers? But you just didn’t like the answer? So you act like he didn’t answer?

It’s like the prayer I’m asked to pray whenever I talk to a Mormon missionary. If God has already told me that this is false, why would I ask again?

Not liking his answer doesn’t mean that he didn’t answer.

Will God really judge all those who are not in Christ? Is homosexuality really a sin? Is abortion ever the right answer? All of these, God very clearly answers in his Word.

You may not like the answer. But you also may not see it’s fulfillment.

You may not see its fulfillment.

For the rest of chapter 2, the Lord responds to Habakkuk’s second complaint.

We won’t read all of it, but let me summarize it. God’s answer in chapter 2 is essentially this. They won’t escape justice either. The wicked in Judah will face the justice of God and the Babylonians will face the justice of God. Look halfway through 2:6, “woe to him who heaps up what is not his own.” Verse 9. “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house.” Look in 2:12, “Woe to him who builds a town with blood.” Verse 15, “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink–you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedeness.”

For all of these the justice will fit the crime. The plunderer will be plundered. The one who shames will be ashamed. The one who builds unjustly will be found to lose everything. The one who caused others to drink wrath will themselves drink the cup of God’s wrath.

But do you know what?

The end of the book comes, and Habakkuk hasn’t seen anything of this.

But God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. God’s promises are true.

Just because you haven’t seen it happen yet, doesn’t mean that he hasn’t answered. This is what we call a promise. The Bible is filled with them.

When God gives an answer that hasn’t happened yet, it’s a promise. And that brings us to our final point.

God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. God’s promises are true. So we can approach Him in lament and expect an answer,

  • Then wait with determined hope

This is the right ending to every lament–waiting with hope.

God commands this, and Habakkuk responds with it.

God commands it in chapter 2:3-4 Look there. We read it at the beginning, but it’s really important, so let’s read it again. This is God responding to the second complaint.

“For still the vision awaits its appointed time;

it hastens to the end—it will not lie.

If it seems slow, wait for it;

it will surely come; it will not delay.

4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Friends, these verses alone could have taken all of our time today.

If it seems slow, wait for it. It will surely come. It will not delay. God is patient. Justice delayed is not justice abandoned. The righteous shall live by his faith.

Brother and sister, God doesn’t promise that he will preserve you from trials. He promises that he will preserve you in your trials. So consider your own heart. Is there a circumstance that has come to mind throughout our time today?

What enemy are you facing? What brokenness are you facing? What would you lament today? Singleness? Childlessness? Sickness? Hard heartedness in your neighbors? Poverty? Continued temptation? Strife with a brother or sister?

Whatever it is. Lament and listen and trust. Wait for the Lord! He has made the promise. Life forevermore. Justice enacted. No more fear. No more pain. No more sickness. No more sin. No more death. Peace and life forever with the eternal family of God- all of the saints from all of the ages together.

This is what we dwelt on last week as we pondered the resurrection of Jesus and the promised resurrection for all of the saints. Whatever your lament–whatever the injustice– Jesus came to restore the image of God. He came to live the life we couldn’t live. He came to die a death for us and be raised to eternal life so that all who trust him and confess him as Lord will have eternal life.

The righteous shall live by faith.

God was calling Habakkuk to wait with trust. He was essentially saying, “I’ve given you the promise, now what will you do?”

Maybe you feel that in your soul right now. You’ve come up to lament. And you’ve heard the answer of God, and now you are at a point of decision. Will you ignore his answer and embrace bitterness? Or will you listen with trust, then hope.

Habakkuk’s final response is in chapter 3. He writes a song about the power and majesty of the Lord. He writes about the how the Lord has executed wrath against his enemies and saved his people.

And do you know what’s extraordinary about this entire song that Habakkuk writes? It’s in the past tense. Almost the entire song is looking backward, not forward. Look at a sample.

Look in 3:12-13. “You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. 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.”

Do you hear that? He is speaking as if it already happened, but it hadn’t happened yet!

We know this because of 3:16. “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver a the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.”

He just wrote this song, then he said he is still waiting for the day when it happens. He wrote a song so that the people of God could sing it after God delivered them!

This is like someone ordering their superbowl ring before they are in the playoffs.

In all of this, what hasn’t changed? Habakkuk’s circumstance! He can still look around to see that the wicked prosper and the righteous are oppressed. The only difference is that Habakkuk took his lament to God and when God answered, he listened with trust and responded with hope.

This is what it means to wait for the Lord with determined hope. It means listening to the Lord and responding with hope.

It means that when we come into trials that are worthy of real sorrow, we can look ahead to a victory that is already promised. And wait for it.

Look at 3:17-19. “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

This list isn’t a list of inconveniences. He is talking about when the harvest fails, and when they have no food, and when they can see starvation in the future.

Are you in a season where you can’t see any fruit? Do you feel like you are going to spiritually starve?

Wait for the Lord.

And follow Habakkuk’s lead on this. Waiting for the Lord is active. Don’t just close yourself in your bathroom and navel gaze until your life is spent. Get your eyes up look at how the Lord would have you live while you wait.

Waiting for the Lord doesn’t mean barring the gate of the keep and waiting to be overwhelmed. Waiting for the Lord means riding out to meet the enemy with your sword drawn.

Sing. Preach. Hope. Anticipate. And in the course of time, it might just be that you’ll get to see some of God’s purpose.

William Carey didn’t go home after the print shop burned down where he lost about 2 decades worth of work. As he walked through the ashes of his life’s work, he didn’t know that this very fire would be the thing that the Lord used to capture the attention of people all over Europe, America, and India. In less than 2 months, they had raised 10,000 pounds to rebuild the printing house. So much money came that they had to tell people to stop contributing. The increased knowledge of the need resulted in more missionaries moving to India to help with the work, and by 1832 they had published complete Bibles or portions of the Bible in 44 languages. About 4 times what was lost in the fire.

You may not see the full purpose of the Lord. But in every circumstance, God’s wisdom is inscrutable. God’s ways are good. And God’s promises are true.

So remember what we read for our middle reading earlier in the service.

Hebrews 10:32-39. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

“Yet a little while,

and the coming one will come and will not delay;

38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,

and if he shrinks back,

my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

Look to the promise of God and endure. Because we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”

This is is the promise we cling to every week as we come to the table.

Questions for further thought?

  • What is something that you have lamented to God in the past? Did you follow this pattern? Were there any pieces missing from your past lament?

  • We should expect God to answer us when we lament. What are ways that God might answer you? How can you know that God has actually answered?

  • What has it looked like for you to wait for the Lord in your laments? Are there any specific promises of God that you tend to cling to?

  • Habakkuk’s prayer is a public complaint against God followed by a public song of trust. How should we implement this in public settings like our prayer gatherings? How should we fast together? How should we listen for God’s answers together? How should we wait together?


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