Pastor James Montgomery Boice recounts a conversation he had with someone when he was teaching a series of messages from the book of Habakkuk. The man explained to him that he had never heard one message from this book in all his years of attending church.25 Many of us probably resonate with this man; I personally have never heard a series of messages from this book. Many have likely never read its contents. This is indeed unfortunate as the book has an important message for our times. The vision of God found in the book, the questions it raises, the struggle it brings to our hearts are so needed today. Our own joy is at stake if we miss the message conveyed here and echoed in other parts of Scripture. The message is clear: steadfast joy can be found in spite of circumstances. Indeed, in preaching an overview of this book, Mark Dever entitled his series The Message of Habakkuk: How Can I Be Happy.26 By this he means that in this prophecy we discover the foundation and ground of true happiness; it is found in a steadfast faith and a hope that God in the end will triumph and save his people. Some of the themes in the book are difficult, at times perplexing, and provoke many questions. As we have noted, the very book itself is framed by the prophet's own questions. This is our first theme, that of questioning.
Questioning God - There are many who say that you should never question God. I disagree. I find questions to be a great way to seek truth, wrestle with God, open my mind to knowledge, and persevere in faith. However there are two ways in which we might question our God, neither being dispassionate. I will use a metaphor to describe. We can bring our questions in one of two ways. We either bring our questions to God with open hands or with clenched fists, and there is a world of difference. First, one can with great zeal press the heavens, but we do so with open hands. We do not accuse the almighty; we come as desperate sinners, angry at times, yet open to his voice and leading. The other way to come is to raise angry and clinched fists at God. I find this to be a great evil. Indeed, CS Lewis once remarked that we are quick to put God on trial, we are quick to put God in the dock.27 In doing so we become an accuser and treat God as one who is guilty of wrongdoing. I am a firm believer that we should come to God with all our emotions and all of our questions. Yet the Christian should come with open hands raised to the heavens, not the clinched first, nor the middle finger. We see a great example in the way questions are posed in this book by the prophet. David Prior summarizes the many questions Habakkuk raises in this book.
Beginning with his own situation, he found himself articulating timeless questions - about the problem of evil, about the character of God, about the apparent pointlessness of prayer and the impotence of God, about the oppressiveness of unrestrained violence and the silence of God. 28Timeless questions indeed. We will ask them together in this season of our life together at Inversion.
The Suffering of a Fallen World - If you are awake, you will realize that we live in a world of great blessings as well as great suffering. The reality of living in a world of human sin, natural disasters, diseases and famines weighs upon the soul as we travel life's roads. Yet there is also great goodness found in creation and in human beings. How are we to understand our present situation where life is mingled with both pain and blessing? Habakkuk guides us in wrestling with life outside of the garden in a fallen world.
The Sovereignty of God in Human History - Are we the director of our own destinies or are we part of a grander scheme of things which has greater captain? If God in control of all the good things in the world, does he have anything to do with the bad things? It is easy to sense that God has a purpose and plan for your life when you get a good job, get married, have kids, move forward in your career, win American Idol. Yet how do we view life when unemployed, after we get dumped, our nation is conquered, or we suffer deep personal loss of various kinds? Habakkuk confronts us with the resoundingly clear but difficult doctrine of the Sovereignty of God. God is in complete control of all things, or as Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones once taught in England after the horrors of World War II, history is under God's control.29
Faith in the Faithfulness of God - If God is in control of the best and worst of times, how should his people live in the middle of the darkest hours? Habakkuk gives a resounding answer which is echoed three times in the New Testament.30 The righteous shall live by faith for indeed the day will come when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.31
The Justice and Wrath of God - If there is a theme which is constant throughout the Scripture yet is woefully neglected in the churches of our time it is the justice and wrath of God. We simply do not want to believe that God is fiercely wrathful against sin and he is just in being so. Yet we see this theme repeated throughout the whole counsel of the word of God. God is utterly holy and separated from sin. Human beings transgressing his laws and disregarding him is a great offense before God and there is a reckoning which will visit the unrepentant. This is not just an Old Testament theme as it is found abundantly in the New Testament. Jesus himself burned with intense anger at those abusing the temple (Mark 11, Matthew 21). Paul writes of the coming justice of God (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10) as well as our judgment by him (2 Corinthians 5:10). Finally, the apostle John, in the final book of the Bible is frighteningly clear as he described the coming wrath of God:
11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:11-16 ESVYet the great news is that Jesus Christ is rescuing all who have faith in him from the wrath to come. He in no way turns away those who come to him for refuge and forgiveness. We can have great hope and courage reading the promises of the gospel:
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV
The Evil of Idolatry - The worship of created things, human inventions, gods of our imaginations, the worship of ourselves, our possessions, and anything that is not the creator God is a great sin which lives in the hearts of people. Idolatry is something Habakkuk speaks about with brutally honesty. Though we may not see ourselves worshipping statues of gold there are many substitute saviors that populate our hearts and lives.
The Source of True Rejoicing and Happiness - That which we all long for in our journeys on the earth can indeed be found. It is no pipe dream - we were made for joy, even when the darkness falls on our days. Habakkuk will help us believe this deeply.
All these themes and much more lie ahead of us in our lessons from the Old School. So as we look to this spring and our study of Habakkuk, I pray with great expectation, that the God of the Old School will visit us in a fresh way. May the eternal vision of these ancient words bring new lessons to our hearts and lives as we serve diligently and await the return of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. It is in his name that we begin our study together.
To my friends of Inversion and to our Lord I offer this work,
Yours for Going Old School,
Reid S. Monaghan
26.Dever, Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament, 835-860.
27.The "dock" is a phrase from a British courtroom, where the accused would be placed "in the dock" when he was on trial. Lewis has a series of essays published under this title. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock; Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids,: Eerdmans, 1994).
28.David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk: Listening to the Voice of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 204. emphasis added
29.James Montgomery Boice recounts his indebtedness to Lloyd Jones' teaching on Habbakuk following the anguish following the second world war in Boice, 393.
30.A phrase from Habakkuk 2:4 - the righteous shall live by faith, is quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38
31.See Habakkuk 2:4, 14