Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

06/01/14 Sermon - Justice is a Joke

Habakkuk 1

The Message (MSG)


How many of us have ever said, “That’s not fair!”

Only to hear someone respond, “Life’s not fair.”

Okay, I’ll give you that, life isn’t fair.

But when it comes to God and what God is like, isn’t He supposed to be “fair”? Isn’t God supposed to treat us fairly?

Thank God, He doesn’t. You see there is a difference between being “fair” and being “just”. Fairness has to do with rules and standards and justice has to do with what is morally right. You can be just and not follow the rules. For example,

Do you punish someone for stealing bread when they haven’t had anything to eat in a month?

In the Bible God is described as “just”. In the Old Testament it is written in 2 Chronicles 12:6 and in the New Testament we find it written in 2 Thessalonians 1:6,         “God is just”.

 

Were God to be only fair, then we would have to only follow the rules and standards. This means, because we sin, we would need to pay for our sins and ……..the payment is “death”. But because God is also just, we have a Savior, and if we accept his death on the cross, we are justified and God sees us “just as if we had never sinned” and our sins are forgiven and we begin having a relationship with the creator of the universe.

But for now we live in a fallen world, and there are times we look around us and question what is going on.

Have you ever wondered why God permits evil to exist unpunished?

What about the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

These questions have been around since the beginning of time and back in 600 B.C. Habakkuk was one of the prophets who dared enough to come right out and ask God about them. In fact, the name Habakkuk means “embrace” or “wrestle”.

And Habakkuk seems to be wrestling with the idea, “If God is good, then why is there evil in the world?”

And if there has to be evil, then why do the evil prosper?

And why would a holy God use evil people to punish His children when they have done wrong?

I don’t know about you, but I have certainly thought these questions or something like them. Habakkuk dares to ask God and God responds. This minor prophet gives some great insight. More than just insight, this book reveals the secret of survival when national or personal troubles arrive.

For the next three weeks we are going to explore these questions and more,  

by reading through the book of Habakkuk, together. Habakkuk is one of the twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament. And you can find the book on page #980 in the red pew Bible.

As with any understanding of God’s Word it helps to know the context in which it was written. So with some assistance from our Lay Readers today, we are going to present God’s Word, dramatically.

I will be the Narrator, and there will be Habakkuk and God.

The book of Habakkuk is written in Hebrew, the language of the Jewish nation. One of the aspects of Hebrew is that it is a picture language. What I mean by this is for the Jewish reader the words would bring about a picture because the language uses graphic descriptions. The words may be easily translated, but they may not be able to transcribe the same image to us today as they did to those who would have read it or heard it, in the author’s time. In order to enhance the words of Scripture that will be read today, I am going to interject, as narrator, and try to explain what would have been understood, were we to be hearing it during the days 600 years before Christ.


Here we have Habakkuk. A Levite, devoted to God’s service. Habakkuk is a temple worship leader during the time of King Josiah’s reign, 639 – 597 B.C. Josiah had come to the throne at the age of 8. By the age of 16 he began to seek the Lord. At age 20 he decided to purge idolatry from Jerusalem. He ordered God’s Temple to be repaired. While this was going on, Hilkiah, a priest, discovered a copy of the Book of the Law – the actual book which God had given Israel through Moses. This Book had been lost during the rule of a series of evil kings. When the book was found and read, it was immediately taken to Josiah. Josiah was amazed and enlightened. You see not only did the book contain the history of the Jews being called by God, it also gave explicit instructions on how God wanted them to live. And when you got to the end of the book, the part we call Deuteronomy, God had given a list of curses that He was ready to call down on the Israelites if His people did not follow Him and His Law.

As you can imagine, the king was terror stricken. There wasn’t a person alive that could remember a day when the Jewish nation had known, let alone, obeyed the commands found in this book! It had been missing for a long time.

Josiah immediately humbled himself before God and prayed for mercy.

At that moment he made a solemn vow to God to keep His commands and laws with all his heart.

He also had the words published and required everyone to read or hear what was written. He re-instituted the Feast of the Passover. There was a major revival!

You would think that a revival would have made everyone rejoice. But you see, as Habakkuk began reading more and understanding just how exalted God was he also began to see just how sinful the people were. It was as if they had been walking in darkness and the sins of the people were not exposed. But now that the light of God was shining on them, and even though Josiah had removed all the idols from the country, and a religious reformation had occurred. It was obvious to Habakkuk that the all of the religious stuff was superficial. The men and women who came to the temple may now know the Law, but that knowledge did not produce holy people. God’s people were not worshipping idols, but they were not obeying God’s commands either. Habakkuk experienced this on a daily basis and for him it was intolerable. How could God’s people come to the temple and say one thing and leave the temple and do the exact opposite? On the Sabbath they knew what to say and how to act, but every other day of the week they twisted and perverted the Law, and even did violence against those who tried to walk by it.

Have we not heard such a thing today?

“Oh the church is full of hypocrites. They say one thing on Sunday and do another thing on Friday and Saturday night.”

This is Habakkuk’s burden as we turn to the first chapter of Habakkuk. He reveals the question that is on his heart, day and night.

HABAKKUK 

“God, how long do I have to cry out for help
    before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!”
    before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil,
    stare trouble in the face day after day?
Anarchy and violence break out,
    quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces.
    Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung
    and stand justice on its head.”


There you have it. Habakkuk looks around and sees hypocrisy. Sure, the king and his court and those within the capital of Jerusalem may be righteous. But when it came to the people outside the capital, administrating justice was a local affair. Each city had its own local set of elders who sat at the city gate. They managed the cases and the plaintiff and defendant each brought their own witnesses and pled their own case. The system was anything but Godly.

Men were easily bribed to say what the person with highest payment wanted. There were more men lying and cheating so that those who even wanted to be honest were overwhelmed and taken over by the wickedness around them.

We must take note here. Habakkuk isn’t asking God this because of an anger towards the nature of the men around him. He is concerned with the glory of God.

How can God just allow the men of Judah to go on like this and dishonor God?

Shouldn’t God be doing something to remedy this situation?

Why isn’t he moving the hearts of all the men of Judah, not just Josiah’s, so His people will all come to love and serve Him?

 

Let me interject some more history so we can completely understand what is about to happen. You see, Habakkuk did not know ……..that just a few years before the problem began to torment him, Nabopolassar, a Chaldean prince, lead a rebellion and defeated the Assyrians outside the city of Babylon. He took the city and established the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

Six years later, Nabopolassar would form an alliance with the Medes, a fierce people on the northern border of Assyria. This alliance allowed the Babylonian Empire to take over such cities as the capital, Asshur and Ninevah, which was known as the impenetrable city.

Fifteen years later, Nebuchadnezzar, Nabopolassar’s elder son, began a series of deportation that by 586 B.C. ,a short time after Habakkuk’s lament, would leave the city of Jerusalem a smoking and crumbling ruin. Many of you may recall the stories of Shadrach, Mischach, Abendigo and Daniel.

Even though Habakkuk didn’t know….God knew. God was not going to permit His people to keep on sinning. God was even preparing the very army that would bring them down to their knees and chastise them.

 

GOD

 “Look around at the godless nations.
    Look long and hard. Brace yourself for a shock.
Something’s about to take place
    and you’re going to find it hard to believe.
I’m about to raise up Babylonians to punish you,
    Babylonians, fierce and ferocious—
World-conquering Babylon,
    grabbing up nations right and left,
A dreadful and terrible people,
    making up its own rules as it goes.
Their horses run like the wind,
    attack like bloodthirsty wolves.
A stampede of galloping horses
    thunders out of nowhere.
They descend like vultures
    circling in on carrion.
They’re out to kill. Death is on their minds.
    They collect victims like squirrels gathering nuts.
They mock kings,
    poke fun at generals,
Spit on forts,
    and leave them in the dust.
They’ll all be blown away by the wind.
    Brazen in sin, they call strength their god.”

 


Habakkuk understood God’s love for His people. He also recognized the cancerous sin that now lived in the body of God’s chosen people. It was this sin that had led Habakkuk to complain in the first place. Habakkuk knew that the divine Physician was acting in love – by his disciplinary actions.

HABAKKUK 

 God, you’re from eternity, aren’t you?
    Holy God, we aren’t going to die, are we?
God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work?
    Rock-Solid God, you gave them the job of discipline?


Even though Habakkuk accepted the rightness of the punishment, he was now perplexed with an even greater question. He expresses his puzzlement in his next words.

HABAKKUK 
But you can’t be serious!
    You can’t condone evil!
So why don’t you do something about this?
    Why are you silent now?
This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous
    and you stand around and watch

You’re treating men and women
    as so many fish in the ocean,
Swimming without direction,
    swimming but not getting anywhere.
Then this evil Babylonian arrives and goes fishing.
    He pulls in a good catch.
He catches his limit and fills his creel—
    a good day of fishing! He’s happy!
He praises his rod and reel,
    piles his fishing gear on an altar and worships it!
It’s made his day,
    and he’s going to eat well tonight!

17 Are you going to let this go on and on?
    Will you let this Babylonian fisherman
Fish like a weekend angler,
    killing people as if they’re nothing but fish?


Surely God would respond to His troubled servant again. So Habakkuk chose a place to watch and wait:

Habakkuk

 What’s God going to say to my questions? I’m braced for the worst.
    I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon.
I’ll wait to see what God says,
    how he’ll answer my complaint.

 

God does indeed answer Habakkuk.

I encourage you to read for yourself what He says and we will continue with this saga next week. In the meantime, I want to offer encouragement to those who are in the midst of the questions, or have had these questions and had difficulty finding the answers.

Habakkuk came to know God. And it was in the knowing God, what He is like and comprehending not only His holiness but the depth of His love that Habakkuk felt save enough to approach God with his questions, even when it meant questioning God.

We are going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and there is no better example of God’s love then what is represented here at this table. Remembering God’s sacrifice demonstrates that God can handle any question we throw at Him. And that every answer he gives, though it may not look like it on the human side, from God’s perspective will always be answered “in love”.