Injustice. Oppression. Violence. These words seem to name the themes of most of the evening news nowadays, but it’s nothing new, by any means. In fact, these sad realities have been the norm for much of this world’s history. But time does not make a wrong right, and today’s generation of young people want more than ever to see an end to wrong.
I really became aware of this when I enrolled in community college some years ago. Being the shy “nerdy” kid that I was, I never hung out much with the groups of college students, but I did enjoy talking tech with the computer lab manager, and began to follow some of the popular “nerdy” tech sites and discussions on the Internet. I was a big Linux and Open Source fan, and was soon immersed in a culture of techies and gamers. I was never into movies and video games, but I loved the technical discussions. As a group, we were keen to see the big companies as an “Evil Empire” allied with governments to retard technical and social progress. We were keen to call out oppression and injustice. In fact, many of those involved in the Open Source movement saw themselves as social reformers. Although ironically, many within the same subculture turned a blind eye to violence and sexual exploitation of every kind if it happened on a computer screen.
While I don’t have time to follow these nearly so much as I used to, I find it interesting how the same sentiments—the same desire for justice and equity—have given rise to movements such as “Occupy Wall Street” and more recently the “Me Too” movement.
People are crying out for justice in a world where justice has been turned on its head. But it’s not the first time.
Turn to the little book of Habakkuk—one of the minor prophets. Habakkuk 1:1-2:
The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry,
And You will not hear?
Even cry out to You, “Violence!”
And You will not save.
We don’t know much about Habakkuk. His name doesn’t appear elsewhere in the Old Testament, but we do know from the Hebrew comes from a word that means “To Embrace.” His name literally means “one who embraces.”
From the context, we can assume that he lived and prophesied sometime during the later part of the reign of Manasseh, Amon, and possibly during Josiah’s reign. Manasseh was the worst king Judah had had, to date—his idolatry was compared to that of Ahab, the infamous king of the northern tribes of Israel. It was one of the darkest chapters in Israel’s history—the king himself was leading out in idolatry, and every form of evil and vice.
It was a time when Israel had forgotten God, and it would seem that God had forgotten, too. It seemed as though God didn’t care. It seemed as though He did not see the injustice. It seemed as though he could not hear their cry.
So Habakkuk, one of the few faithful prophets of God, lifts his voice to God in prayer: “How long shall I cry, and You will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
God could have said to Judah, “How long shall I cry and YOU will not hear?” Yes, Habakkuk, you hear me—but these people don’t hear me. Don’t think I haven’t tried to get their attention.
But Habakkuk is praying, demanding of God, and this is where I’ve taken the title of this message: “Will You Not Hear?”
Habakkuk continues (v. 3): Why do You show me iniquity,
And cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me;
There is strife, and contention arises.
Yes, evil things are happening. Bad things happen even in a good society, but not like this.
(v. 4) Therefore the law is powerless,
And justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
Yes, bad things are happening, and the law is powerless to stop it. Justice has been perverted—corrupted by bribery—and the wicked surround the righteous. The righteous are about to be overwhelmed and defeated by the sheer volume of wickedness that abounds. And this—among God’s professed people.
You know, as a pastor, one of my pet peeves is to have people come to me and blast the church organization that I love and believe in, for their supposed “apostasy” and corruption. I dislike it even more when preachers speak from the pulpit of our churches about the supposed “them” who are corrupting the church that “we” are trying to preserve. No, I do believe in God’s church, or I wouldn’t be here—but at the same time, how often do we see injustice perpetrated in the name of God? How often do we see leaders—yes I’m including myself—who fail to lead, or worse, who lead God’s people away from the principles of God’s word? Just recently, I heard a disturbing first-hand account from a woman who had been assaulted while doing God’s work, and when she came to her church family for help, her church family utterly failed her—and in fact used her story to perpetrate further abuse against her. I’ll confess it made me really upset—it still make me upset!
And if we look within the broad spectrum of Christendom, over the past two thousand year, how many wars have been fought between and among Christians? How many times have God’s true followers been persecuted by nominal Christians who thought they were doing God’s work?
“For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.” This was the cry of Habakkuk from the very beginning: “How long shall I cry and YOU will not hear?”
But God is not deaf. To his surprise and amazement, God answers Habakkuk’s prayer:
(v. 5) “Look among the nations and watch—
Be utterly astounded!
For I will work a work in your days
Which you would not believe, though it were told you.”
It sounds eerily similar to 2 Kings 21:12 “Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle.”
God is about to bring Judah into judgment:
6 For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans,
A bitter and hasty nation
Which marches through the breadth of the earth,
To possess dwelling places that are not theirs.
7 They are terrible and dreadful;
Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
The Babylonians were infamous for their cruelty. It seems that the heathen nations took some kind of evil pleasure in inventing ways to torture their victims. When Jerusalem was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, they took king Zedekiah, killed his sons in front of him, and then blinded his eyes, locked him in fetters and carried him away to Babylon. Such was the judgment that God was bringing upon Judah for their rebellion.
Even though Habakkuk is crying out for justice and judgment, when God reveals to him what is about to happen, Habakkuk is taken back. Never would he have thought that it would come to this!
(v. 12) Are You not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
What does that mean the God is “from everlasting”? It’s hard for the human mind to imagine. Think back to the earliest time you can imagine—to the very beginning of the universe. God was there. Now think back to the furthest time you can imagine before that—God was still there. He has always been. There was never a time when He was not.
Are You not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
Listen to the confidence that Habakkuk has in God. Just as surly as God has been here, since time “everlasting,” so, too, Habakkuk knows this: that God is love. God’s character is to be longsuffering—full of tenderness and mercy. And God has promised—and because of God’s promise, Habakkuk knows, whatever judgments may befall: “We shall not die.”
Friends, are you going through fiery trials? Do you feel that this world and yes, even God’s people sometimes are being punished for our unfaithfulness. Friends–”We shall not die.” Because we know who God is—and He will see us through!
(v. 12-13) O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment;
O Rock, You have marked them for correction.
13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,
And cannot look on wickedness.
Habakkuk submits—He knows that God is right to bring justice to his countrymen. But then he begins, almost, to argue with God.
(v. 13 continued) Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
A person more righteous than he?
God, why are you allowing an even worse nation to come and conquer Judah and Jerusalem? The Babylonians are ruthless warriors and idolaters, and when they are victorious, they will burn sacrifices to their idols and give credit to false gods.
I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
Habakkuk has made his case. He feels like he has a valid argument—It wouldn’t be in God’s character to let the Babylonians conquer Judah. So, he stands, as it were, in a watchtower, waiting for God’s response. And God responds:
(v. 2) Then the Lord answered me and said:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
God has been calling and calling for Judah to repent. God says, Write down the message I’ve given you—the warning that the Babylonians are coming to destroy Jerusalem. Write it down and make it very plain. The last line is quite interesting, because it could have the meaning of “running,” as if a runner or a messenger would take the message quickly, or it could mean to write it so it can be read quickly, or smoothly. Either way, God is saying, “This is an important message—I’m not changing my mind, so you need to warn my people. Nebuchadnezzar is coming!”
(v. 3) For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
I spoke about this principle recently when we talked about Noah’s ark—whenever God gives a warning of Judgment—mixed in that warning is a message of mercy. The vision is sure—but the judgment will tarry. This “Tarrying Time” before the judgment is a window of mercy. God gives as much mercy as He can—but the judgment will “surely come. It will not tarry.”
v. 3 has a special significance in Adventist history. After the Great Disappointment on October 22, 1844, when those who were expecting Jesus to come were weeping and mourning, and many were giving up their faith, they came across this passage in Habakkuk, and took great comfort in knowing that the prophecies of Jesus’ soon coming would “surely come.”
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
Perhaps you are wondering, “Why should we be studying an ancient Old Testament book, about a judgment message from God that has long ago taken place?” Well, let me ask you: why do you think this book is in the Bible? Just to satisfy our curiosity? Or is there a message for us in this book, as well.
Let’s review the main points we’ve covered so far in Habakkuk. The book opens with the prophet’s cry—a cry for help—a cry against the prevailing oppression and abuse. A cry against wickedness, perpetrated by God’s own special people. The prophet feels powerless—as though God does not see, nor hear.
But immediately, he receives a response from God. Not words of comfort, but a stern warning of a coming judgment—a warning that identifies Babylon as the enemy of God’s people, and yet God would use the sword of Babylon for a time to purge the dross from the nation of Israel—although a remnant would be saved.
Thirdly, this warning is to be heralded throughout the land, in bold letters and by fast runners—as an urgent warning message that prepares the faithful for the coming judgment of Babylon.
Where else in the Bible do we find this?
- A Cry for Help among a Backslidden People
- A Warning of a Coming Judgment
- An Urgent Message that Prepares the Faithful
For centuries, God’s people have suffered under persecution—crying out to God: “Will You Not Hear?” For centuries, God’s people have been praying to him: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10)
Habakkuk had cried out, “How long?” The saints of the middle ages had cried out, “How long?” Soon, God would bring a message of deliverance—a message to be proclaimed to the world. Yet the message of deliverance would also be a message of fearful warning.
In Revelation chapter 14, we read about this message of judgment that will be proclaimed to the world, by God’s people, in the very last days.
(Revelation 14:6-7) Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—
7 saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
Friends, the hour of God’s last-day judgment has come upon this world.
But now, the message of God’s judgment is proclaimed with a loud voice, as of a mighty angel flying in the midst of heaven: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.”
But God’s message to Habakkuk isn’t done. Starting in verse 5, and continuing for the rest of chapter 2, God speaks woe against Babylon—this great city whom he has used to bring punishment against Judah. They aren’t off the hook. God brings them to judgment. Notice the sins of Babylon: pride, oppression, violence, drunkenness, immorality and idolatry. Notice the judgments Babylon faces: Destruction by popular revolt, and a drinking of the cup of God’s wrath.
Do you see the uncanny resemblance to Revelation 17 & 18? Revelation 17 pictures an apostate system of religion as a woman, riding a beast, whose name is Babylon.
Notice the judgment against her in Revelation 14:8: Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
v. 5 “he transgresses by wine… He gathers to himself all nations.” v. 8 Because you have plundered many nations, All the remnant of the people shall plunder you.”
In fact, this same list of of the characteristics of Babylon, with her judgments, appears again in Revelation
You see here oppression, violence, drunkenness, fornication, and idolatry—a fitting description of ancient Babylon, and a fitting description of the systems of corrupt religion found in this world in these last days.
And through it all, God still has a people on this earth, who remain faithful to Him. Look back for a moment at a verse we skipped over—verse 4. God has just assured Habakkuk that this vision of judgment will come—it will not tarry. Habakkuk has tried to argue with God—to avert the coming judgment, but God gently reproves him:
(v. 4) Behold the
His soul is not upright in him.
Habakkuk, you won’t get through this time of crisis by arguing. You won’t make it by depending on yourself. Habakkuk begins to despair. ‘Lord, if you send such terrible judgments upon us, how can anyone make it through? Lord, I know you are merciful. Lord, I know we have been crying to you for justice. But how can anyone be saved?’
And you know, I meet a lot of people, even Adventists, who are fearful of the end times. We read the book of Revelation, and when we hear of the fearful time of judgment, it’s natural to be afraid. But we need not fear. Listen to the message of God, to Habakkuk:
(v. 4b) But the just shall live by his faith.
It’s as if God is saying, ‘Habakkuk! Habakkuk! What does your name mean?’
The name ‘Habakkuk’ means ‘To embrace.’
‘Habakkuk, that’s the only way you will make it through—let me hug you tight. Hold on by faith and you will make it through!’
Today, there is so much oppression in our society. Unrest. Unjustice. War. Poverty, and Famine. An unrest that is fueled by greed for gain. But judgment is coming. Judgment is coming, and it won’t be a pretty picture. But in the end, God will make everything wrong, right.
“The only remedy for the sins and sorrows of men is Christ. The gospel of His grace alone can cure the evils that curse society. The injustice of the rich toward the poor, the hatred of the poor toward the rich, alike have their root in selfishness, and this can be eradicated only through submission to Christ. He alone, for the selfish heart of sin, gives the new heart of love. Let the servants of Christ preach the gospel with the Spirit sent down from heaven, and work as He did for the benefit of men. Then such results will be manifest in the blessing and uplifting of mankind as are wholly impossible of accomplishment by human power.” Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons p 254
Jesus is the answer, my friends. Oppression and injustice will not last forever.
The just shall live by his faith. By whose faith? Well it’s actually quite interesting. The ancient Hebrew text reads “his faith,” but the Greek Septuagint reads “my” faith, meaning God’s faith or faithfulness. When Paul quotes this passage in the New Testament, he simply says “The just shall live by faith.” Whose faith? I believe it is both. It is only because of God’s faithfulness—His unfailing mercy and kindness—that we have hope in this hour of judgment. Yet it is by our faith—rather a faith that is implanted in our hearts by God—that we respond to His goodness, and grasp hold of His mercies.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Titus 3:5
In the time of Habakkuk, the ones who would come through this time of judgment would be those who lived “by faith.” Men like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—who stood firm in faith, and depending on the faithful mercies of God.
In Revelation 14:12, we read of a similar group of people, who stand against a world gone wrong. How do they do it? By faith: Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
What kind of faith? Faith in Jesus, or faith of Jesus? It’s both.
The message of Habakkuk, and the message of Revelation, are one and the same: Above it all, God sits enthroned in the Heavens. Though for a time he allows sin, suffering, and oppression to go on, yet He is in control, and one day soon, He will make it right. One day soon:
(v. 14) For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
As the waters cover the sea.
Though men worship their false gods—the idols of wood and stone—the beast and his image, and receive his mark—yet God still rules in the heavens.
(v. 20) But the Lord is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
How does Revelation tell the end of the story?
Revelation 21:23-24 The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. 24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.
Brothers and sisters, have you, like faithful Habakkuk, been crying out to God because of abuse, oppression, and injustice in this world? Have you read the fearful warnings of judgment found in God’s word? Do you believe that Jesus is coming soon, and that He has given us a warning message to be given to this world? How will you live? We only have two options—to live in our own pride and self-conceit, or to live like Habakkuk. To cling to Christ—to embrace Him, and allow Him to embrace us moment by moment—following God’s will and trusting in the faithfulness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Which will it be? God is calling you—Will you not hear?