POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Figs, Flocks and 401ks – A Meditation on God’s Provision for Joy

As we come to the close of the ancient prophecy of Habakkuk we arrive at one of the most beautiful and poetic passages in Scripture. Habakkuk has seen the coming judgment upon Judah and wrestled with his God about the coming days. He has been reassured both of the righteousness and justice of God’s plan which will in no way clear the guilty Chaldeans of their treachery and God’s faithful preservation of a people for himself who will come out on the other side of the coming disaster. His questions have been asked, his concerns raised, his passion poured out and he has heard a great reassurance from the living God. What is left to do? Should he go buy bullets and shotguns to prepare for the end times of Judah? Should he rally the army and try to protect his nation? An interesting thing happens here at the end of the book. Habakkuk contemplates the coming reality and welcomes it in with worship. Lets look at his beautiful poetry in chapter 3, verses 17-19.

17Though 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, 18yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

For us this requires a little reflection to grasp fully as we are a people who find their daily provision from the Publix or Kroger grocery store (or in the case of some of the single guys, frequent trips thinking outside of the bun at Taco Bell). So journey with me back into ancient Judah for a moment and feel the force of this poem. The people of Jerusalem lived in a city, but their lives were coupled more closely to land and livestock than we think we are today. In this poem Habakkuk progresses through various aspects of life coming unglued, a progressive desolation of all of life from its joyful delicacies down to the very things without which we would die. Let me write a poem for us that describes in modern terms what the ancient reader would hear.

Though Baskin Robbins should close, there be no wine at the party and nothing safe to drink, there be no gas in the car, no job, no medicine for our illnesses, no clothes for our children and no food left anywhere for us to eat...yet I will rejoice in the LORD I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Do you feel that? He is saying that if everything in life becomes chaos, all comforts, all joy, all things are wrecked and ruined...he will rejoice. What has happened to this prophet during this vision he received from God. He begins with questions and complaints before God and he ends in worship. I think there is something profound that happened in him which we need to understand.

The Uncertainty of Circumstances

All of our lives are a series of choices and events, relationships and changes. As much as we like to think we can control it all we just can’t. We do have a huge part to play in the way things go in our lives and our choices do shape our reality. Yet we must remember we do not control all things–in fact attempting to do so is a great burden and usually ends up jacking up people around you. Even in light of this truth we are so prone to try and find our deepest joys in our circumstances. Now don’t get me wrong, I love certain circumstances in my life and consider them deep blessings from God. I love what I do, I love my family, I like having decent health, I love laughing with friends at Cross Corner Bar and Grill, and I really enjoy listening to podcasts on my iPod. Yet all of these things are not guarantees in life. It all will some day pass away. The great Christian philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo1 once wrestled with where we could find our supreme good, our greatest joy in life. His line of thought was that our hope, our greatest good, cannot be found in this shipwrecked world of suffering. If we place our hope in the good of our health, it can be lost. If our greatest hope is in our wealth, the value of our 401k, this too can be easily lost. If our hope is placed in the good of home and family, loved ones too can be lost and even taken from us. If our hope is placed in safety and security, our world is one where people are conquered and stuff is plundered. Our supreme good would have to be found in another place than in this current shipwrecked and fallen age. Indeed, desire and attachment placed in temporal things and circumstances is an unsure love which can lead to despair and suffering. Ephesians teaches me that deceitful desires are part of our sinful nature and 1 John is very clear that the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–are not from the Father but are from the world. In placing our ultimate hope in the things of this world we could never write the poem which flowed out from Habakkuk’s walk with God. He had an anchor for his soul’s joy which was of a different sort and it was based in the constancy of God.

The Constancy of Jesus

In James Montgomery Boice’s excellent commentary on the prophecy of Habakkuk, he reminds us of the great promises of God. In reflecting on God’s promises he wrote the following:

God’s mighty past acts in history [and I would add, our stories] amply demonstrate that he is able to save those who look to him infaith. But he has promised to save his people and therefore will save them. The God who makes promises stands by his promises. The God who makes oaths keeps them.2

He then goes on to quote some of the great promises of Jesus to each of his followers–I’ll share them here as well for your own meditation:

Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV) 25“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
John 14:1-3 (ESV) 1“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
John 14:25-27 (ESV) 25“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV) 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV) 5Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

I would be amiss if we did not transition away from God’s promises to us, to the very treasure of the gospel…namely God himself. Habakkuk could have no expectations of coming temporal blessing – of figs, flocks or 401ks. Yet he tells us he will take joy in the God of his Salvation. Too many times we get caught loving the gifts more than the giver. Too many times when the gifts are not present we forget that we still have Jesus himself with us. John Piper in his recent book, God is the Gospel brings us a great reminder of that wonderful treasure for unsinkable joy.

When I say that God is the Gospel I mean that the highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment.3

Habakkuk ends the entire book by sending his song and poetry to the musicians for he knew that it was time to sing. God had spoken, God had revealed himself in sovereign, faithful glory. Habakkuk would live by faith and demonstrate that with a song in his heart. Even in sorrow, the soul that gazes upon the beauty of God will be able to sing. Inversion–as we continue to seek our lives and satisfaction in the goodness and greatness of God we will be ever more free to serve others in his name. To enjoy telling others about the Jesus that saves our butts from sin, death and hell, to enjoy loving kids and families in need, to enjoy serving on Thursday night Gathering teams, to welcome strangers, to be in and lead community groups, to give some of our vacation time to take the gospel to other countries, to walk obediently with God in the midst of a flood of temptations, and to become men and women who change the world. Yes, only with Jesus as our treasure will we be able to live upside down lives which overcome evil with good. Jesus has a mission before us, it is costly, it is wonderful, it requires our lives. Yet in the middle of it all we will never lose the greatest treasure which is eternal – our reconciled relationship with God who purchased us through the death, burial and resurrection of his own Son. This God, the Father who ordained us to be rescued by Jesus, the Son who enacted and obediently took the cup of God’s wrath on himself for our sins, the indwelling Spirit who comforts us and gives us power to serve….this God, never forsakes his kids. So with our good friend Habakkuk, I call on you to scream out: YET I WILL REJOICE! And then put your hands to some kingdom work alongside your friends.

Never forget the lessons he has taught us in the Old School–we will need them as we journey in the way of Jesus on mission with him in this world.

Reid

Notes:
1. Richard N. Bosley and Martin Tweedale, eds., Basic Issues in Medieval Philosophy, 1999 Reprint ed. (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1997).512-518.
2. James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, 2 vols., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006). 432–Emphasis in original.
3. John Piper, God is the Gospel, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005) 13. Emphasis in original

Material Things, Monotheism, Pride and Idolatry

The following were notes given as supplementary essays along with the message Idolatry! - Habakkuk 2:18-20 given at the Inversion Fellowship on April 12th 2007. 

The Role of Things in Our Lives

American Christians can get caught into thinking that idolatry is something that happened in the ancient past or perhaps today in far away lands. After all, the religious landscape of our lives is not littered by gold statues dedicated to the gods nor are we silly enough to believe a creation of our own hands can really helps us. Or are we? AW Tozer rightly observed something about idolatry:

Let us beware lest we in our pride accept the erroneous notion that idolatry consists only in kneeling before visible objects of adoration, and that civilized peoples are therefore free from it. The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place. 1

Additionally, a revealing passage of Scripture that sheds light on our own hearts is found in a shocking passage in Ephesians chapter 5.

4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

If we are covetous, are we idolaters? Yes. Coveting is an interesting sin found in Scripture. Before defining it I would just note that it is one of the Ten Commandments and therefore central to the moral law of God. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s—Exodus 20:17. Wanting stuff that other folks have is coveting—it is a movement in our hearts towards being captivated with people and things we do not have. The apostle Paul equates coveting with idolatry and nails us American folk right between the eyes. Our culture is built around consumerism and the creation of needs and wants that we must fulfill by having more and more and more. The advertising industry prays on the covetous nature of our hearts by showing us things that we don’t have and how our lives are impoverished because we lack them. This builds in us until we feel we must have something—many times building up piles of debt as our badge of honor in our consumerist pursuits. So, should we all live on the ground under an oak tree possessing nothing but the clothes on our backs? Is it an evil to have things in our lives? Of course not—but if we do not examine our hearts regularly and fill them with other loves, the materialistic urge in America will sweep us into twisted idolatry which leaves our souls parched, empty and spiritually bankrupt.

There are no easy rules to give that will solve this issue for us. We must be guiding by biblical principles that we value and guarding the loves of our own hearts. I believe that if we have to sin in order to have something or if we would sin if something was taken from us, we are looking into the face of an idol. I love a quote from the ancient theologian Augustine of Hippo when reflecting on the role of things in our lives. He uses a great illustration of an engaged couple to illustrate:

Suppose brethren, a man should make a ring for his betrothed, and she should love the ring more wholeheartedly than the betrothed who made it for her….Certainly, let her love his gift: but, if she should say, “The ring is enough. I do not want to see his face again” what would we say of her?...The pledge is given her by the betrothed just that, in his pledge, he himself may be loved. God, then, has given you all these things. Love him who made them.2

All things may be received in thanksgiving and not worshipped and loved to the point of stealing our love for God. We live in a world of personal hoarding and lifestyle building which amputates generosity and treasuring Christ above all. Jesus teaches us that where your treasure is, there is your heart also (Matthew 6:21) and I believe far too many of us in America treasure our comfort, our security, our social status, our homes, our cars and our stuff at too high a degree. Our treasure must be Jesus, for he is the only person we can love unreservedly with no fear of idolatry. For he is God—and we can recklessly give ourselves to him. Any thing can become an idol and all things may be used for the glory of God. It is a matter of the heart that must be examined. My fear is that we far too often skip the examination and just swipe the credit card.

On Idolatry — Pluralism, Monotheism and Jesus Christ

Idolatry can be defined in a simple fashion: Idolatry is ultimate devotion, trust, or allegiance to anything that is not God, it is the worship of someone or something other than God. One of the central claims of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths is that there is but one God. The sixth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, in what is known as the shema, bellows forth this truth: 4“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And the shahada, the first pillar of Islam forthrightly states: Ashhadu an la ilaha illa 'llah; ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasulu 'llah" : "I witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. All of the great monotheistic religions claim that there is but one creator God. From the very definition of monotheism, any other god that is not God is an idol—something falsely worshipped by human beings. In a world that wants us to believe that all religions are equally valid, or even equally true, Jesus Christ stepped on to planet earth claiming to be the incarnation of the one true God. This was divisive in Jesus’ times, so much so that it got him killed. It remains divisive in our world today—as the worship of Jesus as God seems narrow to many secular minds and blasphemous to religious ones. For instance, thinking Jesus is the unique way to the Father (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) brings charges of intolerance and bigotry from the crowd which teaches all religions are valid ways to “the divine.” Additionally, Muslim believers call the Christian worship of Jesus shirk, which is defined as an unforgivable sin of associating anything [partners, helpers, other gods] with Allah. The Qur'an accuses Christians for their belief that Jesus is Lord and God, calling them unbelievers (kafiroon) and idolaters (mushrikoon), or those people who are committing shirk.3 So idolatry is real and worshipping anyone other than the triune God of the Bible is called idolatry in Scripture. Yet we realize that the gospel is for all people and all idolaters. All who will come humbly by faith to lay down idols will be accepted by God. Hindus, Muslims, materialists, the greedy, the secular, the hypocrite, the church person. All the needy may come. Jesus is an open door for all that the Father draws to him and any that come he will in no way cast out (See John 6:35:51).

Self-Esteem, Pride and God-Centeredness

Pride and Idolatry are intricately related to one another in the human heart. It is pride that says to God “I do not need you, I can do it on my own.” Out of this posture flows the creation of “new gods” which the person may worship. Be they the gods of religion, materialism, or self-exaltation, the heart of pride will create new objects of worship. In this short essay I want to explore the relationship between self-esteem, pride, and a God-centered view of life.

Our culture has been on a decades long crusade to increase the “self-esteem” of young people. In fact, for many years we have stated this to be one of the most important aspects of growing up, having good self-esteem. A recent study was completed by a group of scholars that attempted to take a state of the union, so to speak, of the self-esteem culture of young Americans. This study’s results were recently published in an article on the Boston Globe website.4 In the study, Jean Twenge, author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before," said we have raised a generation of self-centered young people who can “tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism, and favor self-promotion over helping others.”5 The Scriptures however have a very different view of things. We are never told to be self-oriented or to esteem ourselves more and more highly but rather to look to the interest of others.

I think we need balance in thinking about self-esteem. On one hand, we are made with built in value due to our creation in the image of God. Each one of us is a unique, wonderfully knitted, tapestry and design of God. I like the way some of my friends used to say it: “God don’t make no junk.” Yet the reality is the modern self-esteem movement is really a cloaked version of an old enemy—the sin of human pride. It exalts humanity and says “look at me, look how wonderful I am.” This is far from the teaching of Scripture which teaches that each of us is fallen, depraved, and marred by sin. The biblical view of humanity is both lofty and lowly; it depicts man as the beautiful crown and pinnacle of God’s handiwork, yet fallen and rebellious and deeply flawed. The cure for the pride that comes from making self the center of things is the gospel, the good news which places God at the center of all things.

Let’s look very briefly at the god-centeredness of all things in Scripture:

  • God is self-sufficient in that he needs nothing—not even you and me—The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,? nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. Acts 17:24, 25
  • God is the creator of all things—In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1
  • All things were made by him and for him—For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16
  • All things belong fully to God—The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1
  • All things have been put under the authority of Jesus, the Son of God—For “God? has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:27, 28
  • All glory, honor and power should be given to God—To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen—Jude 25

For our pride to be defeated we do not need to think more of ourselves, we need to see ourselves as we really are. We need to see ourselves as finite and created beings owing our existence to someone else. We do not even exist “by ourselves” but only because God wanted us to. We need to see our sin in light of the perfect law of God which exposes the sickness of our hearts. Then we need to see the utter hopelessness of saving ourselves through good works, through religion, through any sort of self created, self help, morality. As we see this we need to see that God has done everything to save us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the wonderful story that God the Father, through the work of God the Son on an executioner’s cross, applied to sinful creatures by the work of the Holy Spirit has fully saved us, bought us out of slavery to sin and death, reconciled us with God, and is currently transforming us. In doing so he forever removed self from the center of the universe so that all glory and praise and honor go to God. Not to us, not to us, but to your name be glory! (Psalm 115:1) When this happens, we can see God slay our pride in the shadow of a cross. A cross that is not a testimony to how great we are or how wonderful we are, but that God was wonderful and gracious enough to pour out love and grace upon the undeserving. And we respond in praise, in the worship of God rather than idols, and receive a joy and peace that transcends all understanding. I will close with some words that the apostle John used to end his first epistle. Words that are addressed to the humble, not the proud; some very loving and gracious words that I will echo here for me and you:

Little children, keep yourselves from idols...

Reid S. Monaghan

Notes:

1. A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: HaperCollins, 1961), 3-4.
2. Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1969) p. 326 (Tractate on the Epistle of John, 2:11) - Emphasis added.
3. See Shirk at the Index of Islam at http://www.answering-islam.org/Index/index.html accessed April 11 2007.
4. See David Cary, Study finds students narcissistic — Says trend among college youths can harm society, Associated Press, February 27, 2007 http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/02/27/study_finds_students_narcissistic/ - accessed April 11th 2007.

Karma, Divine Judgment, Mocking and Responsibility

The following were notes given along with the message Woe to Him! - Habakkuk 2:6-17 given at the Inversion Fellowship on March 29th 2007. 

A Comparison of Karma and Divine Judgment

There are several views of the world which populate the human landscape each of them wrestling with the various questions we face in our existence. One of the most perplexing issues is that of our own mortality. In fact, death has been said to be the great equalizer, the fate of the rich and powerful and the poor and destitute alike. One of the great mysteries is what happens when we die. Various beliefs have been held throughout time regarding life after death, but none greater than the big two. The eastern philosophy of karma/reincarnation and the widely believed philosophy of divine judgment. People in our culture today are fixated with the idea of Karma. You see it in the obsession of a regular guy named Earl on television, in the writings of Oprah Winfrey show superstar Gary Zukov, and it even appears in a line of Ben and Jerry’s low carb ice-cream.1 In our culture Karma has become kool and divine judgment is well, too judgmental for many. In this little essay, I want to compare the two and actually show that judgment is much more humane and coherent, though the consequences perhaps more severe.

Karma 101

Karma is one of the main tenants interwoven in the diversity of philosophical views from the east. Eastern philosophy is a literal smorgasbord of ideas, practices, and religious concepts, but there are a few ideas which are universal in the various systems. The Law of Karma, the endless cycle of reincarnation, and the oneness of all things are common threads throughout the various genres of eastern thought. The law of Karma will sound familiar in part to people in the west. At its most basic level it is a teaching that says that all our actions, whether good or bad, have consequences. These consequences form a chain creating your reality into the future. What you do, the choices you make literally “create” your future. The idea of Karma goes beyond a mere understanding that “whatever a man sows, he also reaps” for Karma extends between subsequent lives and existences. Each person builds up positive or negative Karma over the course of this life which then determines their subsequent lives after being reincarnated. A person moves “up” through a succession of being in the lives they live with the hope of escaping the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, which is known by the term samsara. If you have bad Karma you may come back as a dung beetle, good karma may have you return as an upper class Brahman Hindu. So judgment is seen in the movement “upward” and “downward” in this chain of existence. Many western people fail to see that reincarnation is not a good thing to the eastern mind, but a cycle from which the soul desires to escape, to be absolved into the oneness of the universe finally eliminating the illusion of individual existence. I find the karmic view offers true insights on several fronts. First, it acknowledges that we do indeed reap what we sow and our actions do have consequences. Second, it realizes that our actions and choices are moral in nature. Though the eastern view sees good and evil as two sides of the same coin, part of one reality, it is in the view of Karma that eastern philosophy is a bit more honest. Good is good and bad is bad and you better work towards the good or your Karma gauges will be spinning in the wrong direction. Though many put forth the view of Karma as a pathway towards moral living without any view of judgment, Karma has some serious bad Karma of its own.

Problems with Karma

There are several major philosophical and theological problems with Karma but I will only elaborate here on a very short list. First, Karma is a sort of score card for your life, where your good and bad tally up against each other. The problem I see in this is that there is literally “no one” there to keep score. Who is watching your life? Usually the answer is that the universe has a built in law that regulates these things, but there is no discussion on how this could be the case. If your good and bad “add up” it seems that somewhere this reality must be “known” by someone. This makes sense in a world in which God himself is taking our lives into account. Second, the law of Karma knows absolutely no grace. It is an unforgiving brutal taskmaster by which your life is determined by your previous lives. If you have a bad run now, it could be the result of previous incarnations where you were a real jerk. The problem is you know nothing of your former lives and are sort of screwed by them. There is no grace extended to sinners by Karma, sin becomes a millstone around your neck forever and ever through perhaps infinite reincarnations. Finally, there is an unexpected, but inevitable unjust result of Karmic thinking. You would think that this view only holds one responsible for our actions, but in fact it has unbelievably unjust societal consequences. Think about it. Who are the good guys in this life? The ones who had good Karma in previous lives. Who are these people? The upper classes, the “successful” people, the wealthy and the rulers are in their stations in life because they were good in past lives. So it is no coincidence that the Hindu system of caste, where the poor and low caste “deserve” their station in life and should not aspire better, arose from a Karmic philosophical tradition. They are working out bad Karma; these are the views that made the high caste Brahman in India, oppose the work of Mother Teresa with Indian low caste untouchables. She was interfering with them paying for their karma by serving them and helping them. The god of Karma, is the god of caste, which is a system of long term systemic oppression of those who were bad in previous lives nobody knows anything about.

Judgment 101

The biblical view of life after death is a bit different. Like the view of Karma, our actions, both good and evil have consequences, but in our view God is the observer and judge of our lives. He treats us as responsible moral agents in relationship to Him, creation, and other people. We are responsible to God and others for our actions and their consequences. All persons, rich or poor, “successful” or not, powerful or not are all completely equal and responsible for their lives. We live this life before God and when we die our lives will be judged by God and his appointed one, his own Son Jesus Christ. He does not show favoritism in that he will take our sins into account and does not turn a blind eye towards the wrong done on the earth. Wonderfully, the God who is our judge chose to take our place and receive the judgment we deserve for our sins. It is in the gospel that God extends to us the hand of mercy and grace, the very one who will judge our wrongful deeds, against whom we have committed sin, is the one who pays our debt and freely forgives. This is the view of the Bible. God treats us as responsible human beings but willingly provides payment for our sins, atonement is the biblical word, so that we can be reconciled with God and be judged as righteous because of the work of Christ. The book of Hebrews teaches us that it is appointed for a man to live and die and then face judgment. We either face God in our sin or with an advocate and substitute for our sin. Jesus is the one who delivers us from just wrath and judgment of God and all glory and honor goes to him.

The path of Karma makes you the one who receives glory for your good and blames everything bad on the sinner. In the gospel we see that God works by the law of the Spirit of life to set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. You might even say he sets us free from the tyranny of the taskmaster of Karma. 2

Would God Sing a Mocking Song?

In this chapter a strange thing occurs. The prophet Habakkuk is given a vision from God. This prophecy is ultimately from God through the prophet. In this vision the nations of the world which had fallen to the Chaldeans rise up in concert to mock the Chaldeans proclaiming the judgment of God upon them in a series of poetic Woes. This is a bit strange because the literary genre of the passage is in the form on an ancient near eastern taunting song. Sort of a poetic, grown up nanny, nanny, boo-boo kind of deal. So at first glance it appears that God is actually mocking the Chaldeans through this song from the nations. This has made some a bit uncomfortable.. Is this a cool thing for God to do? Mock people? After all, he is a loving God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (See Exodus 34:6 Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2). In studying this passage I even found a diverse opinion on the matter in the commentary. Yet it is clear from both the literary genre and the rest of Scripture that though God is merciful and loving, he also will in no way clear the wicked. The prophet Nahum reminds us of this as he opens his prophecy: The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. (Nahum 1:3a). O. Palmer Robertson has some good words for us on what God is doing here:

It might appear beneath the dignity of God to embarrass the proud before the watching world. But a part of his reality as the God of history includes his public vindication of the righteous and his public shaming of the wicked. His glory before all his creation is magnified by the establishment of honor for the humble and disgrace for the arrogant. In this case, the shame of Babylon shall be as extensive as its conquests. All of them, all those nations conquered by Babylon, shall join the mockery. Even the tiniest of nations shall rehearse these sayings without fear of reprisal.3

Lest we become arrogant and proud reading this, we must not forget the devastating reality that we ourselves have no moral high ground to mock anyone. We ourselves are not better than the Chaldeans; if not for the grace of God in Christ, we ourselves would not arrive at any sure fate. David Prior gives a great reminder here:

The heart of God is broken both by the suffering of the violated and by the sinfulness of the violator. The woes are torn from that broken heart in holy indignation. It is our job, not to take the moral high ground, but to express the holy heart of God…That is the tone and thrust of these five woes in Habakkuk.4

Before we go pronouncing our own woes and singing our own mocking songs, we should be humbled by the gospel and compelled to share Jesus with those around us. For us and our friends our prayer is to humble ourselves before the foot of the cross and allow God to be the only one who publically humiliates the wicked in his time.

A Tough Question of Responsibility Before God

An objection can be made at this point in the book of Habakkuk. God has raised up the Chaldeans to do his will in the earth. Namely, to bring disaster and judgment upon the wayward people of Judah. God then holds the Chaldeans responsible for their sinful actions, which he used to accomplish his purpose. Do you feel the tension? How can God blame them when he sovereignly used them for his purposes? At this point we must remember a few things. First, the Chaldeans, though raised up on the world scene by God, were human beings and not puppets. Second, in conquering the nations around them, including Judah, they were doing exactly what they wanted to do. They did what their hearts desired most—namely to exalt themselves and brutally conquer others. So we must see that there are two levels of willing and acting at play, that of God and that of human beings. God allowed them to continue in their desires to conquer and destroy. His hand did not hold them back, but his hand in no way forced them to do something other than what they wanted to do. So the Chaldeans are guilty, even though their guilty actions were used, in a larger framework, to fulfill the purposes of God.

For both the will of God and will/desires of people to be connected, theologians have puzzled for years on how this works. The Scriptures are very clear on two points here. God is sovereign over all things, using both good and evil for his good purposes. Second, human beings are responsible for their actions before a completely just and holy God. If God is in Sovereign control over people and nations, then he wills all things for his purposes. If God holds us accountable our actions are very much “ours” and will be judged accordingly. This has led many theologians and thinkers to suggest the kind of “free will” that humans posses to be “freedom of desire” or “freedom of inclination.”5

Simply put, our hearts always do just what we desire most , and our decisions are not random and without causes. In this view, a human being, without the work of God in her life, would persist in sin and rebellion (See Romans 3). It is only when God’s grace changes us in the gospel that we now desire God and his ways and are set free to live for him. Understanding that we have the freedom to do our deepest desires demonstrates that God is right in judging the Chaldeans’ sins and it also shows us how God is still Sovereign. He in no way is caught off guard by the “free will decisions” of people who some say are spinning his world hopelessly out of control. The Bible presents a God who is big enough to use the evil of people in his purposes, but in no way relieves us of our responsibility for our sins. Yet there is the offer of full pardon in the work of Christ. Take it! Then thank God every day for him.

Notes:

  • See Karb Karma at http://www.benjerry.com/our_company/press_center/press/bfyfactsheet.html
  • For more on Eastern philosophy you can read the sections by LT Jeyachandran in Norman Geisler and Ravi Zacharias, Who Made God? And Answers to Over 100 Tough Questions on Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003). Additionally, though I heartily disagree with his views of election and predestination, Paul Copan’s Chapter Why Not Believe in Reincarnation from That’s Just Your Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) is an excellent treatment of the problems in Eastern philosophy.
  • O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 185. Emphasis Added.
  • David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk: Listening to the Voice of God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999), 244.
  • For more on this kind of freedom see Bruce Ware’s God’s Greater Glory—The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005) for the best treatment of God’s providence and evil as well as a treatment of the shortcomings of Libertarian/Contra Causal understanding of free will. For those who are bold you can take up Jonathan Edwards Freedom of the Will—very difficult reading, but worth it for those who wade in.

God's Attributes and Our Struggles with Evil

The following were notes given along with the message God...Are Your God? given at the Inversion Fellowship on February 22nd 2007.

The Self-Revealed Creator God

Habakkuk introduces his second question to God by reflecting briefly on the nature and character of his Lord. In verses 12 and 13 he reflects back to God what he believes about God’s identity and attributes. The language he uses reflects God as he truly is, God as he reveals himself to us in the Bible. I will briefly comment on each of the ways Habakkuk describes our great creator God and the significance each attributes holds for our lives.

The Eternal God–From Everlasting

Habakkuk uses an interesting word in reflecting on God’s nature. He says that God is “qādam” which literally means to be “before or to go in front of all things.”1 It is derived from the word which means “from the east or the direction of the sun at the dawn”2 and figuratively says that God is before or in front of even the place where the day begins. To say God is from everlasting is to say that he existed before space and time and will never cease to be. Many times people will get into a discussion about creation and ask the following question. If God created all things, who then created God. Although polytheists and Mormons3 might be tempted to answer this question, Christians will give no answer because one does not exist. When we say “GOD” we mean the being that has no beginning, is uncreated, uncaused, and necessary for anything to exist at all. Nobody created God, he is from everlasting, he is eternal without beginning and without end.

Our Holy God

The Scriptures frequently refer to God as holy, completely set apart from sin and devoted to his own honor. The concept of holiness throughout the Bible is something set apart for the use and worship of God. This world is stained with sin, imperfections, and is quite broken. God is not. When we cry “holy, holy, holy” in worship, we are affirming that God is unlike anything in this world. He is unique in his being and as Habakkuk says here, God is of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong. Part of God’s holiness means that he purely understands who he is and offers himself to his creatures for worship. He seeks his own glory and honor because of his radiant goodness. The very best thing for us is to be in relationship with and to be made like the holy God.4

God, My God

One of the fascinating truths about God is that he is a personal God. This is unique to the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Eastern religions have a concept of deity which is largely impersonal. God simply is the all encompassing reality that we are all part of– all is divine and all is one. Classical Sunni Islam presents Allah as a God who is completely separated from us such that the only way we relate is through submission and obedience to his will. The God of the Bible however is a God of personal love, grace and interaction with his creatures. He is Immanuel, God with us. Habakkuk calls God, “my God” - what a privilege to know the God who cares about us intimately and is not distant in our darkest hours.

YHWH–Our Faithful Covenant Keeping Lord

Habakkuk uses the name YHWH (Yahweh) for God in this passage. This is the unique name God reveals to his own people as their covenant keeping Lord. In Deuteronomy 7:9 Moses tells the people of Israel “Know therefore that the Lord (Yahweh) your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” It is the unique name of the God of the Bible–he is the one who is the absolute unchangeable one, the existing, ever-living, God.5

Our Just God–He is Intolerant of Evil

Contrary to some popular notions of God today, God is not the great therapist sky fairy, who approves of all the actions of human beings and just feels sorry for us. The God of whom Habakkuk speaks does not like human evil. In fact, his eyes are so pure he cannot even look at it. What Habakkuk’s metaphor is teaching us is this. Far from being tolerant of evil doing, God is profoundly the opposite. He is highly intolerant of evil, so much so that he will hold us accountable us for our sins. This of course is only part of the story – the rest is what gives us hope and relationship with this holy and just God.

Our Saving God–We Shall Not Die

Though not as explicit in Habakkuk 1, the message of this book, and of the whole of Scripture, is that God is a god of grace and mercy and has provided the way to life and forgiveness. Habakkuk states here “we will not die.” What he is acknowledging is that God’s people will be ultimately saved because of God’s promises and faithfulness to save repentant sinners. In fact, Jesus promised life, even to those who die yet trust and follow him. In John 11:25 Jesus said to a woman grieving the death of her brother, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Good question, no?

Sovereign–He establishes, He ordains

We touched on this last week, so no need to go on and on about Sovereignty again. But Habakkuk’s language here is that God ordains and establishes people and nations for his purposes. I know we like to think we are in charge of things, but the Scriptures remind us that it is God, well, who is God.

Our Struggles with Evil

With God’s attributes on display in Habakkuk, I want us to see how this actually contributes to his second question. I want it to be clear why he (and us) goes on to ask God “can you really raise up a wicked people and allow them to do evil for your purposes.” Let me start by giving an example. Suppose for a moment we thought God’s character to be “Unknown” that we do not know that he is good, loving, and just. When we see the evil that is in the world, we may be right to conclude that the creator of the world is a demon. Or even worse, if we thought that God was evil, there would be no questions in our souls when we see all the junk going down in us and around us. It is precisely because God is good, loving, and sovereign that the evils of the world perplex us as much as they do. Human struggles with the world being broken, shipwrecked, and containing evils are universal affecting us all. In other words, when you see a child dying of inoperable cancer, the ache is not reserved to certain kinds of human beings. No, we all wrestle with these issues and seek to find an answer. There are many answers flying around in the world, and equally as many questions. For our brief purposes here I want to look at how different people seek to provide an answer to the problem of suffering. These are not comprehensive,6 as I only have about a page of tiny font text to treat this subject–smile, but I do think that these are some of the most common explanations offered to our questions. 

Some Answers Given to the Question of Evil

  • The Pantheist Answer–See past the question, evil is an illusion Pantheism is a common worldview that flows out of eastern philosophies such as Hinduism, Taoism and some flavors of Buddhism. It is a philosophy that all of reality is “one” and that all is divine. Rocks, trees, birds, bumblebees, human beings, and stars are all part of one mysteriously divine reality that we experience together. The goal many times in pantheistic views is to become enlightened to remember that you are indeed divine and at harmony with the larger cosmos. The problem is we don’t realize this and persist in believing in illusions such as individuality and the existence of good and evil. Pantheists solve the problem of evil by denying it–evil and good are mere maya or illusion which keeps us from seeing that all is just part of the same whole. The yin-yang symbol is the most familiar signifier of this teaching. Darkness and light, good and evil are two intertwined sides of the same coin. Evil isn’t really “real” so don’t ask the question, only see past the illusion. The problem I see here is that evil and suffering are quite real. A child in Chechnya whose Mom was just destroyed by a terrorist bomb does not think it to be an illusion. Evil is far too real, to deny it in order to escape from painful truths
  • The Atheist Answer–There is nobody to ask, God does not exist On the opposite extreme is the answer of the atheist. In this view, the reality and existence of evil should tell us that there is no God in existence. It is just wishful thinking to posit a good God behind this evil cosmos. There are major problems with this view which go beyond the scope of these notes. To put it simply, to declare something “evil” the atheist betrays himself in that he knows both good and evil. If there is such a thing as evil, then there must be good, if there is true and real goodness, there must be a way to discern the difference. If atheism is true, then the cosmos is a random, a-moral occurrence, where there is no real good and evil. There is just stuff we like and don’t like. We are left in a bog of relativism with the atheist having nobody to be angry at for all the evil in the world, nobody to question, no real definition what “evil” even is. We are all just random blips of energy in this worldview–but we know we want to ask the question. To whom shall we bring our complaints?
  • The Christian Answer – We wrestle with God and live in hope7 The Christian believer understands the world to be in a temporary fallen state where a good God is active in achieving his purposes for the world. He is saving people who are themselves evildoers while holding back his hand of judgment until his appointed time. He will then judge all evil fully and eliminate it forever. While we may not know the ultimate “WHY” for everything that happens, we trust the character of God amidst our suffering. At the same time there are many reasons given in Scripture as to why evil currently exists. The moral choices of human beings cause much of it, the design of the physical world which operates according to natural laws teaches us responsibility for our actions and has resulting dangers, and the truth that our present suffering has a transforming power in our lives which drives our loves and allegiances towards God and away from temporary things. It is precisely this last answer we see in the book of James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Should we ask the questions we feel when confronted with evil? Yes, it is more than an illusion, evil is a display that something is wrong with the world, there is a good that is missing in things.
Should we deny the existence of God because we do not understand his purposes for a world that contains both good and evil? No, we should come to him in repentance of our own evil and for his comfort and grace to live in a shipwrecked world. Should we live in the tension? I think yes. From Habakkuk’s wrestling with God we see both a good and just God and a very gritty world full of his goodness and our evil doing. At times this world causes us to scream, but we do have the company of one who weeps with us (see John chapter 11). He sees and knows our pain – he subjected himself to it with the sacrifice of his own beloved Son. For our evildoing and by our evildoing he was slain. For our salvation and his glory he redeems and will judge. We will do well to close with the words of the apostle Peter: He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Trusting Him With You,
Reid

Notes:

1. Ludwig Köhler William Lee Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 313.
2. James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), HGK7710.
3. Mormons believe that the god of this world was once like a human being in this world. The god of this world, according to Mormon theology, has a creator. For more see Frank Beckwith, The Mormon Concept of God, available online http://www.equip.org/free/DM410.htm, accessed February 22, 2007.
4. For more on God’s holiness in relation to God seeking his own honor/glory see Chapter 12, Section 9–Holiness in Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) or John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006)
5. Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, Strong's, TWOT, and GK References Copyright 2000 by Logos Research Systems, Inc., electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), xiii.
6. For more on the Problem of Evil see the following resources. Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith– see Objection 1, CS Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, Ron Nash’s Faith and Reason , and for answers from more of a Reformed perspective see John S. Feinburg’s Chapter Why I Still Believe in Christ in Spite of Evil and Suffering in Geisler and Hoffman’s Why I Am a Christian, Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe and John Piper’s restating of Jonathan Edwards thought, Is God Less Glorious Because He Ordained that Evil Be which is available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/
7. Other theistic faiths like Judaism and Islam also see God as having good purposes for permitting evil. However, the cross gives the Christian story a unique view of God’s relationship to evil. He does not conquer in spite of evil and suffering, he conquers through the suffering of his own Son at the hands of evil people.

Chaldeans, Sovereignty, and Providence

The following were notes given along with the message "More Sovereign Than We Believe" given at the Inversion Fellowship on February 8th 2007.

Who are the Chaldeans?

The people mentioned as the coming judgment upon Judah were known to the Hebrew people as the Kasdim which is translated “The Chaldeans” or at times “The Babylonians.” They came from an area known as Chaldea which was southeast from modern day Baghdad. The empire rose very quickly to power and prominence in the ancient near east conquering the vast Assyrian empire by 612 BC. The Chaldeans are sometimes called the Neo-Babylonian empire which was founded under a dude named Nabopolassar (626-605). The empire grew and found its high point under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar (605-562), a person many are familiar with from history. The first part of the book of Daniel is set in Babylon under the rule of this great Babylonian king. R.L. Smith wrote the following about the Chaldeans:

Kaldo was a country situated along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers between the Persian Gulf and the southernmost cities of Babylonia. It was a region of swamps, canebrakes and lakes with few urban areas. The inhabits seem to have relied on fishing, hunting, small-scale agriculture and some cattle-breeding for their livelihood. The region was divided into tribal areas. The people lived in loosely organized tribal groups and were fiercely independent of each other and especially of the major cities of the north, such as Babylon and Nineveh.1

They would just raid, pillage, and destroy all that got in their way. Then as a result of their “success” they became that which they despised. Then almost as fast as they grew to prominence on the near eastern stage, they exited being conquered and over run by the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus in 539 BC. Both the fast ascent to power and the subsequent decline of the Babylonians achieved God’s purposes. First, to bring judgment on the nation of Judah which was in a state of chaos. Second, to fulfill the words of Jeremiah who prophesied that Judah would return to the land a mere 70 years after its exile (Jeremiah 29:10). The Persians were to issue the decrees to repopulate and rebuild Jerusalem and send the people of God back to the land.

Sovereignty and Providence

You may have heard the words Sovereignty and Providence thrown around from time to time and wondered what the terms mean. To be honest sometimes the two ideas get a bit jumbled together. Though the terms are certainly related they actually refer to slightly different emphases in the teachings of Scripture. Let’s look at both ideas and see how they are related. When we speak of the Sovereignty of God we are referring to the Bible’s basic teaching that God’s dominion or rule in the world is total: he wills as he chooses and carries out all that he wills, and none can stay his hand or thwart his plans.2 In other words when we speak of God as Sovereign, we declare that there is no other power or authority higher than his. He is the supreme ruler extending over human governments, spiritual beings, and each individual life. In looking at Providence, Dr. Bruce Ware provides a concise and helpful definition for the concept that captures the Bible’s teaching.

God continually oversees and directs all things pertaining to the created order in such a way that 1) he preserves in existence and provides for the creation he has brought into being, and 2) he governs and reigns supremely over the entirety of the whole creation in order to fulfill all of his intoned purposes in and through it. 3

The two concepts to keep in mind are preservation and governance—Providences involves God’s sustaining and governing all things. When we speak of God’s providence we think of the ways in which God is involved with creation, in directing all things to accomplish his purposes for the world. Now lets put these two together. In the Bible we see that God is the supreme sovereign authority in the world who works things out in and through creation through providence. Sovereignty tells us who is in charge, providence describes the ways in which God does his thing in the world. Many, many scriptures describe God’s sovereign providence, I will list some here for your further study.

  • God’s rule in the actions of people and nations history (Daniel 2:20-23, Isaiah 46:8-11)
  • God’s rule in our lives (Acts 14:16-18; 17:24-28 Matthew 6:25-34; 10:26-33)
  • God’s rule over both good and evil – each with its own purpose (Story of Joseph Genesis 48-50; specifically Gen 50:18-21; Isaiah 45:5-7; Acts 2:22-23. I will expound on these in a second on the following page.
One of the great struggles we have as human beings is perceiving God’s work in the mundane of every day life. It just looks to us that sometimes this world is out of God’s control and that evil is triumphing amidst the silence of God. This is in fact what provoked Habakkuk's first question of God. As human beings we forget how narrow a view we have on life and history. We only see right before our faces. God is not like us in this regard. He sees end from beginning and wisely knows how to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes we need blessing and joy in our lives, other times we may need sorrow and suffering in order to see life properly. God is merciful and gracious to do whatever it takes to lead us to that which is life. We are not puppets of God, but we must remember that we are indeed creatures, not sovereigns. God is not the co-pilot of the world, he is the pilot and also the builder of the plane. He is not a passive God who waits to see what you tell him to do. He is God, high and exalted God. Yet the beauty of the gospel teaches us that God is not distant and aloof from us directing the affairs of his world from afar. On the contrary he calls us friends, leads us as his very own children, loves us enough to discipline us, and desires intimate relationship with us. In the Cross of Christ we see God himself dying for our sins. It is a statement of love in that God wants us to have himself and did all that was necessary to reconcile us to him.

Yet sovereignty and providence can also have a bitter edge for some of us. For indeed it places God right in the midst of our suffering. It also provokes questions: If God is all good and all loving, how does he use evil things as part of his plan? To this complex question we now turn.

God’s Sovereignty over Good and Evil

 If God is Sovereign, why do bad things happen? How Can God be good if he permits heinous evils to occur? Maybe God is only in control of the good things and not the bad? Maybe God is not in control at all? Maybe we are?

The questions pour out when thinking of the complex realities of good and evil in our world. Philosophers have discussed these issues for ages. Believers and unbelievers see the very same circumstances in very different lights. One man suffers immensely and meets God right there, while another curses God for the pain that he sees all around him. This week I am not going to answer what many have termed the “Problem of Evil” — perhaps we will touch this next week in the Lesson Notes. This week I am concerned with a different question, based on a conclusion. If we concluded that the Scriptures teach that God is sovereign and providentially “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) how does God use evil without being evil himself. I find the teaching of the Bible to be that God indeed is sovereign over both good and evil. We see this in the classic statement ending the narrative of Joseph’s life in Genesis 50.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people? should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Additionally in Isaiah 45:5-7 the prophet tells us that God makes both “well-being” and “calamity” (Hebrew word—Ra-which can be translated evil). Finally and most persuasively there are striking truths in the book of Acts describing God’s using the sin of people to accomplish the most glorious act in all of human history—the crucifixion of the Son of God. The following is an excerpt of a sermon from Peter, one of Jesus’ first followers.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Why was Jesus crucified? It was the definite plan and foreknowledge of God! Shocking. How was this accomplished? He was murdered by the hands of lawless men. So my conclusion is that God uses both human good and human evil to accomplish his will in the world. Yet if this is so, how does God control evil without being the source of it? This is an important question. For it is clear that God is completely good and has in him no darkness at all. If this be the case, he cannot be the cause of evil even if he uses it for his ends. To help with our closing thoughts, I want to give a very brief (and no doubt insufficient) definition of what I mean by evil. As God is the source of all goodness, all that is a direct turning away from God and his will would be deemed evil. All that reflects or accords with his nature is seen as good.

Many see the following as helpful to understanding God’s providential relationship to good and evil.4

  • Direct Causative — God has a direct causative relationship to all things good. God brings about all good things in the world and everything that is good reflects something of who he is and what he desires for the world. James teaches us that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (James 1:17).
  • Indirect Permissive — God has an indirect permissive relationship to evil. The evil that we do comes from the inclination of our desires to live apart from and turn away from God and his commands. God is not the direct cause of this, we are. Yet God guides human sin to his greater ends in order to accomplish his purposes. He is not the source of the sin, but he chooses in some cases to allow it.

These questions are perhaps some of the deepest in all of Scripture, but let me close on a more personal note. Many would say that God has no control, no say, no active role in our pain. I think those who say this want to make it easier for us to approach God, that we know it is not his fault. As I think about all the wrongs I have done and all the wrong which has been done to me is it better to think “God had nothing to do with it?” I know these are immensely painful questions. Over the years as I have watched the suffering in the world—both mine and those close to me—I have slowly begun to believe that it is all ordered by a loving God. I have embraced that I do not understand everything, but I cherish his presence in my pain. I have realized that it just might be the case that redemption is seen in a world with both great good and great evils. That it just might be the case that God is transforming situations that begin hellish and tragic to bring people into joy, hope and peace with him. Adoniram Judson, the first missionary from the United States once said something about his own immense suffering5 which offers me perpetual hope. He once recounted “If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings." God indeed is near to the broken-hearted and he has not abandoned his children. All suffering will one day have served its purpose and it too will end. We live in hope, we live under his loving care, and we embrace the path of Jesus, even suffering for others in his name.

The Lord be with you, Reid S. Monaghan

Notes:

1. Quoted in David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah, and Habakkuk (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1998) 215
2. J. I. Packer, Concise Theology : A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1995, c1993).
3. Bruce Ware, God’s Greater Glory—The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway Books 2004) 17.
4. The best work today on God’s Providence is the aforementioned work God’s Greater Glory by Dr. Bruce Ware. These concepts are expanded on in this work on pages 105-109. The book is a bit technical but I recommend it highly for all struggling with the ideas of Sovereignty and Providence.
5. Judson buried three wives, 7 of his children, and underwent unspeakable physical pain living in foreign lands.
6. Quoted in Giants of the Missionary Trail, (Chicago: Scripture Press Foundation, 1954), 73.

Shipwrecked Earth and the Sovereignty of God

The following were handed out along with the message "Shipwrecked Earth and the Sovereignty of God" given for the Inversion Fellowship on February 1st 2007.

Is Our World Shipwrecked?

The book of Habakkuk begins with a prophet reflecting on the chaos of his world and questioning God as to how long this state of affairs will continue without God intervening. His world was a world of violence, injustice, strife and contention. In short, his world is our world, a world that is fallen and broken with sin. Some today would debate the reality that we live in a shipwrecked world, that this world is fractured and not the way it is supposed to be. Some say that humans are by nature nice and good people, that we just have bad education and we can fix all our problems given time. While I do find reasons in this age for optimism (not in education, but in the work of God) I am also a realist in relation to the condition of the world. The world is indeed full of goodness but it is also deeply marred by sin. GK Chesterton, a prolific writer in the early 20th century, once poignantly wrote about the current state of affairs which is our world. He describes it as the aftermath of a shipwreck and his language is insightful

And my haunting instinct that somehow good was not merely a tool to be used, but a relic to be guarded, like the goods from Crusoe's ship - even that had been the wild whisper of something originally wise, for, according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.1

There are many things one could point to as “evidence” for the world indeed being a shipwreck, being fallen from a good state. I will briefly list a few and make some comments.

The history and actions of human beings — The history of the human race is one littered with war, oppression, murder, and mayhem. Many would have us believe fanciful narratives about the grandness and goodness of people, but the evidence is shockingly to the contrary. The British Journalist Steve Turner once wrote the following satirical lines in his poem entitled Creed

We believe that man is essentially good. It's only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.2

Of course this is a satirical take on the modern mindset revealing an evident contradiction. Societies are nothing but relationships of human beings. So let it be clear—the reason why things go bad in human communities and relationships is because of us. The history and actions of human beings repeatedly shows us that we are not the way we should be.

The mingling of good and evil in the world — Life is a mingled reality of many good things haunted with many evils. Our own lives, the cycles of nature, the realities of disease and sickness, and the eventuality of the great enemy of death all point to a world which is a mixture of good and bad. My life—some days it is full of great joys, others...not so much. The weather—we cannot live without rain, wind, etc. but these same forces can destroy and rack our lives with grief. Disease—anyone who has suffered or watched loved ones suffer with cancer and the myriad of other perplexing conditions knows that something is wrong. Life itself ends with the shocking and abrupt finality of death. Death is universal, it should be seen as the most normal thing in the world. Yet it is not. Every funeral is indeed a testimony that something is wrong, that death is as the Scriptures teach—the last enemy which needs defeat.

The moral training of children - If you ask any parent, they will quickly tell you that no one has to teach them how to be selfish, how to take stuff from other kids, how to lie, how to pull hair, or punch another kid in the nose. To the contrary, everyone knows that we have to consistently teach kids what is good, right and true. This must be constantly and consistently reinforced in order to teach kids to behave. Yet even when the good is known, we do not always do it, for there is a problem with the will. In the book of Romans we see the great struggle that happens in us when we know the good and fail to do it. It is a condition from which we need rescue.

There are many ways that the fall is evidenced around us even when it is denied by many, these are but a few. So what is the biblical view of the world? Is it just a pessimistic, this world sucks, type of attitude. By no means! For the fall and the shipwreck are but part of the story. For we are radically optimistic because this is God’s world and he is at work in redeeming it! Permit me if you will to quote Chesterton one more time at length as his imagery is so powerful.

I know this feeling fills our epoch, and I think it freezes our epoch. For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening. No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself. 3

The story of the gospel, the narrative of the gospel is one in which all of creation is redeemed by the work of Christ. Human communities will be made right, evil has been and will be finally thwarted in every form, and the last enemy of death is also a defeated foe. In fact, the apostle Paul does something very interesting when reflecting upon the death and resurrection of Jesus. He proclaims Jesus the victor over our sin, death, and the powers of hell—and he even talks junk to the great enemy of the grave. A selection for your meditation:

51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 ESV

It is not wishful thinking—it is Old School gospel truth...remember the work of Jesus and rejoice—even amidst a world that is indeed a shipwreck, and then join him in the revolution to turn the world upside down redeeming it in a revolution of love, grace, and forgiveness. Live as an irrational optimist in the midst of wars, terror, disease, and death...even in light of your own besetting sins. Choose to live upside down—it is the more excellent way.

Questioning God 

If you ever wondered about the appropriateness of questioning God Habakkuk can put that to rest for you. In this book we see a prophet, who we assume was a righteous man, openly questioning God about the condition of the world and where he found his life. As one author has put it: Habakkuk raises openly the kind of questions any thinking and believing person ought to ask.4 We see him questioning, this is not surprising, but we also see God answer him twice. But what are we to do with the overwhelming biblical evidence that we are to have faith and not doubts? Let me put forward the suggestion that one can question God in faith. Let me explain.

If we come to God with questions, we may come in several different postures. First, we can come in a doubt that is not in faith accusing God of wrong doing, speaking arrogantly about things which we are ignorant, effectively putting God on trial as a guilty criminal. This does not honor him. I call this coming to God with a clinched fist. Secondly we can come to God out of spite, declaring our independence of him, effectively denying him and choosing to go our own way. I call this coming to God with our middle finger. Personally, I have interacted with some atheist types who are literally hacked off at the God which they deny even exists. It is a strange phenomena but very real. Finally, there is a way to question God in faith. By this I mean we come to God confused, in pain, yes even angry at him. We come to him because we are in need, we are perplexed at life and cry out to him seeking an answer. I call this coming to God with the open hand. We need not put on a fake, happy-clappy Christian mask in our lives. We desire all the real, authentic, messiness of our souls to be poured out before our Father. We come like the man in Mark’s gospel5 who says to Jesus—”I do believe, help me in my unbelief” Such questions honor God, they come because we truth him and know him; we believe he is good and that he cares for us. So Habakkuk the prophet comes to God and says “What the heck is going on!!? and “God, why don’t you do anything about this evil!!?” and God answers him with truth. Then Habakkuk asks another question about God’s answer, and the dialogue continues. This is our dance, to honor and trust a Sovereign God who rules our lives while relating to him in honesty, authenticity, and the gritty real of life in the shipwrecked world. We walk that road together—in our sins and yet in the grace of God.

Notes:

  1. GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: NY, Image books, 1959) 80.  Originally published: New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908.
  2. Steve Turner, (English journalist), "Creed," his satirical poem on the modern mind. Quoted in from Ravi Zacharias’, Can Man live Without God?  (Nashville: Word, 1992) 42-44.
  3. Chesterton, 71.
  4. David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk: Listening to the Voice of God. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1999, 212.
  5. See Mark 9:14-29. In this passage a man brings a demonized boy to Jesus for healing. Jesus tells him that all things are possible for him who believes. The man responds in human frailness and trepidation. “I believe! Help me in my unbelief” - I think this is life with God—passion and faith! Yet we doubt and need his help to believe...

Introduction to the Prophecy of Habakkuk

Text of the Complete Paper for Download

Major Themes in Habakkuk

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. 28
Timeless 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 ESV
Yet 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

Notes:

25.Boice, 389.
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

The Minor Prophets and the Book of Habakkuk

As mentioned in our discussion of the Mosaic covenant, an important theme in the Old Testament is that of the land. Whereas Moses and Joshua guided the people of Israel into the Promised Land, the Minor Prophets had the great task of pronouncing God's judgment upon the people for their disobedience and helping them understand God's work in exiling them from the land.14 The Minor Prophets is the representative name for twelve books of the Old Testament. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are called "minor" prophets simply for the brevity of each of the writings. In fact, all the Minor Prophets appear together as just one book in the Hebrew Bible which is simply entitled the twelve. The other Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel produced much longer works and are sometimes known as the Major Prophets.

In general, a prophet in the Old Testament was a person called upon to speak to the people on behalf of God. They were called to be his direct messengers to the people. Now before you start thinking "Wow, what a great job!" remember that many times the message they were to carry was something like this: "You guys all suck, and you are going to be destroyed if you don't repent. SO REPENT!" So these guys were not always the popular kids on American Idol. No, many times they were despised by their own people simply because they told them the truth. They also dressed weird and at times did and said all kinds of crazy things.

There are many themes found in the Minor Prophets but there are some commonalities throughout these books. James Montgomery Boice observed the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, and the love of God to call people to repentance as common themes in the Minor Prophets.15 O. Palmer Robertson makes note of the justice and judgment of God16 as well as the faithful salvation of God17 in these books. I find them both helpful in unifying the themes of these prophecies which were given in dire times for the people of God. More than anything the people needed to know that the coming judgment was from God.18 Yet God had not forsaken his promises to them as his people if they would repent and return to him, and as a consequence, a faithful remnant of Israel would be preserved and saved in the end.

We will now close by looking particularly at the prophecy of Habakkuk, ancient words given long ago to a prophet standing on the eve the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and the final defeat of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

The Book of Habakkuk

Authorship

We know very little about this person Habakkuk other than what is in the text of his prophecy. We know he would have likely lived through the reforms and righteous kingship of Josiah19 (see 2 Chronicles 34 for Josiah’s reforms) as well as seeing the sharp decline under his successors. This decline culminated with the wicked leadership of Jehoiakim20 most likely the king at the fall of the Kingdom of Judah. For those interested in the full decline of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, it is described in the works of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Time and Place of Writing

There are many important bits of information which help us to date Habakkuk’s prophecy. Each of them serves to narrow the time frame so that we have a very good approximation of the time of writing. First, we see from Habakkuk chapter 1 that the Chaldeans or Neo-Babylonians21 were already a known power which was on a conquering path. We know that the Chaldeans conquered Ninevah in 612 BC so our date for the book is likely to be after this event. Second, we see from the description in Habakkuk 1:2-4 that the Kingdom of Judah is in decline not in a state of reform or revival. This must mean it is some time after the death of the godly king Josiah which is dated to 609 BC, likely during the reign of the wicked king Jehoiakim.22 Two other dates can be brought to bear at this point. It seems the Chaldeans had not yet made their inroads into Jerusalem so this puts Habakkuk’s writing before the final fall of Judah in 587 BC. Additionally, the coming of the Chaldeans was still in the future during Habakkuk’s writings so we must place it even before the first victory they had over a combined Egyptian-Assyrian force in Syro-Palestine in 605 BC.23 So this puts the date between the first defeat in 605 BC and the death of the king Josiah in 609 BC. So by inference, a date somewhere around 605-608 BC is likely. The following table shows the dates of the relevant events:

Table 1: Events surrounding the writing of Habakkuk
Date Event
612 BC Fall of Nineveh
609BC Death of Judean King Josiah
608-605 BC Writing of Habakkuk
605 BC Defeat of Egyptian/Assyrian army in Palestine
597 BC First Exiles to Babylon
587 BC Final Conquering of Jerusalem

One interesting note of history about the king Jehoiakim is warranted. This king’s evil doings became notorious. His reputation was so evil in the eyes of God and people that Jeremiah said the following of him at his death:

18 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Ah, my brother!’ or ‘Ah, sister!’ They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Ah, lord!’ or ‘Ah, his majesty!’ 19 With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 22:18,19 ESV

As the old King James translation puts it, this king received the burial of an ass. You can guess what kind of guy he was. You must be a real donkey if God has his prophet promise you the burial of a donkey.

Form and Purpose for the Prophecy Literary Form

Habakkuk's prophecy is unique in that it records the prophet's personal interactions with God. This is a word given to the prophet about the people, but not directly to them. The book takes the form of a series of questions from Habakkuk and subsequent answers from God. It is sort of like getting to live in Habakkuk's head for a bit. I know some of the interactions I have with God in the privacy of my own soul; this book is a great look into such a dialogue. So this divine Q and A is the main literary structure of the book. Additionally there are two other literary styles of note. First, there is a taunting or mocking song given24 by God in chapter two (yes, God does talk smack in the Bible…not in arrogance, but in truth) towards the evil Chaldean empire. Yes, he was allowing their success in conquering Judah, but they would in no way be excused for all their evil doing and excess. Finally, chapter three includes a psalm of worship by the prophet which sets up the culminating message of the book.

Purpose of the Prophecy

The purpose of the prophecy was to prepare a people to live faithfully amidst an unexpected downturn of events. Judah was in a state of internal sin and chaos where both justice and religion were being perverted. As a consequence they were about to be conquered as discipline from God. God wanted his people to know several things during this time of discipline and turmoil. First, the righteous would live by faith in the midst of the discipline. They would trust God in the middle of the storm. Secondly, he wanted them to know that their hope was in Him, not simply their temporal circumstances. This prophecy was also to steady the people of God through one of their darkest hours of exile from the Promised Land. They were not to lose hope; they were to persevere in faith. I believe the same purposes are eternally relevant for the people of God for we all travel through many troubles and trials in life and we too must persevere. The many themes found in this book establish our faith, trust, and hope in God which transcends our circumstances. We will close our discussion with a brief look at the themes found in Habakkuk.

Notes:

14. O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 1.
15. See the preface to James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, 2 vols., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).
16. Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 21, 22.
17. Ibid., 24.
18. Assyria was the conquering power for the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Babylonians for the Southern Kingdom of Judah
19. Boice, 391.
20. Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 13.
21. The word used for these people in the Old Testament is Kasdim
22. J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 83.
23. There is an excellent timeline of events from the 7th century BC in Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 29, 30.
24. Frank Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor's Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 495.

 

Up Next - Final Part of the Paper - The Major Themes of Habakkuk  

Introduction to the Old Testament - The Covenants

As God worked to redeem a people throughout history, he has done so by making promises, establishing covenants with people. Seeing the whole of redemptive history, particularly the Old Testament, through the grid of the unfolding of the covenants is very helpful. The idea of a covenant was prominent in many cultures that existed in the time of the Old Testament. A covenant was usually seen as a treaty or contract between two parties binding them to certain benefits and consequences should one party prove unfaithful to the deal. In his book Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson defines a covenant with firm sobriety: A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death, sovereignty administered.9 In other words a covenant is a bond between two parties in relationship that is not casual in nature but has commitments of a life and death nature.10 As such this relationship and its terms are conveyed to us and established by the Sovereign God of the universe. It is both a privilege and a responsibility before God to be his people by covenant.

A complete discussion of the nature of the covenants God has established with people is well beyond the scope of this paper. I will refer the reader to the aforementioned work by Robertson for that treatment. For our purposes here I simply want to present the work of God in the Old Testament as an unfolding of relationship with us through various covenants he established. Seeing the people associated with each covenant displays God’s working at various times and places to call a people back into relationship. As we walk through each of the major biblical covenants, we will be able to locate the Minor Prophets, specifically that of Habakkuk, in its proper redemptive historical context.

The Covenant with Adam

The first covenant with man takes place in the Garden of Eden in the first chapters of Genesis. God created a man (Hebrew for “man” is adam) and told the man he may eat of whatever he wishes except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If man obeys, he will live. If he transgresses the command he will die. Sometimes people get hung up on the “the fruit tree” part of the story and fail to see the significance of God’s work with the first humans. He did not desire to withhold from them, he was providing the best of relationship with himself. God wants them to trust his word, heed his voice and receive thereby the promise of his blessing. If the man uses his god-given capacity of choice to turn from God, he will be necessarily choosing evil. As we read in the Bible, the man and his wife do indeed ignore the voice of God and reap the consequences of their sin and the breaking of covenant with God. Death will now visit the human race until the end of the age. The prophet Hosea recounts this sin specifically as a transgression of covenant:

4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Hosea 6:4-7 ESV

In addition, God makes promises to the first man and woman after they sinned and broke covenant. This involved consequences for their sin and a promise to crush the serpent through the offspring of the woman. In Genesis 3 we see the initial promise of redemption, through a human being, who would smash the enemy rather than succumb to his temptation. This was the first promise of the gospel (which some have called the proto evangelion or first gospel); one day God would reverse the curse now upon the world through a human being, born of a woman, who would crush the head of the serpent. Now when you see Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, one of the first scenes depicts the head of a snake being crushed by the foot of Jesus. Now you will understand the imagery in this scene.

The Covenant with Noah

Many will remember Noah due to his Ark full of animals that was displayed throughout their childhood. Others may recount him as the man acting like a guy pledging a frat, getting drunk and naked after the flood. But what many fail to see is that God specifically describes his relationship with Noah as covenantal. At the beginning of the narrative of Noah and the flood, God utters the following words:

17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. Genesis 6:17-18 ESV

God’s covenant with Noah was one of protection and provision. God would protect and then reestablish the human race through Noah’s family and their descendents. After the flood God does several things. First, he established the sanctity of life and the consequences for taking it in Genesis 9:6. Second, God assigns meaning to a common occurrence after the rains. The rainbow, the dividing of the spectrum of light into its beautiful array of colors, would be a reminder for all time of God’s covenant promise to protect and to sustain the earth and human beings.

The Covenant with Abraham

Think for a moment. What makes the people of Israel distinct? Is it ethnicity, is it language, or is it merely geographical location? It is not so simple. In fact it can be argued that Israel is defined as the people related to God by covenant. Quite frankly one cannot speak of the history of Israel without speaking of God. The origin of this people can be traced to a lone nomadic figure in the Old Testament whom God called to himself and made covenant with. God promises this man that he would be the father of nations with innumerable descendents. His promise is that through his offspring the whole world would be blessed. This man was named Abraham and it is through the promise that he believed God and was counted righteous. God’s faithfulness would be expressed to this man and his offspring as it would be from the people of Israel that salvation would come for the whole world. Jesus the savior would come; he would come from the seed of Abraham.

The Covenant with Moses

The next major event in the Old Testament is the Exodus. From Abraham until the Exodus many events had taken place. God had brought his people into Egypt through the faithful leadership of a person named Joseph. That story is a great place to do some reading. You can find it in Genesis chapters 37-50. The people had greatly prospered and became numerous while in Egypt. Due to this population explosion, the Egyptian leadership had made slaves of the Jews and had kept them in a cruel state of oppression and servitude. From this point God raises up perhaps the greatest of the Jewish prophets, a man by the name of Moses. Through Moses’ direction, the people of Israel are taken from slavery in Egypt and set free by many miraculous and providential acts of God. The two things which took place in this time which are of great importance were the promise of a land11 and the giving of the law. The land would be the place of provision and blessing from God and the law would teach them of the holiness and right ways of God and ultimately point to their need of forgiveness. These two themes, land and law are huge throughout the Old Testament. The covenant made with Moses was simple. If the people of God walked in his ways and kept his laws there would be covenant blessing. If the people turned away from God and broke his laws there would be covenant curses upon them (see Deuteronomy 28). It is at this time that God also gave the people the priesthood and covenant mediation through a blood sacrifice and worship at the tabernacle. The blood of animals would be offered for sin; not simply to appease God but as his gracious gift to temporarily cover the sins of the people.

The land represented provision, protection and blessing to the people of Israel. The law would be their guide for faithful living in the land before God. These themes will be important when looking at the Minor Prophets. For as Moses and Joshua guided the people to the land, the voice of the prophets were to guide them into exile from the land under God’s discipline for their rebellion and law breaking.12 We will come to that in a moment.

The Covenant with David

After the Exodus, the conquest of the promised land (see the book of Joshua), and a time of chaos, (see the book of Judges) God creates a monarchy in Israel. After the people ask God for a king to be “like the other nations” God finally gives them their wishes despite his warnings. God in his wisdom knew that an unrighteous king will bring them great burdens and trouble (see 1 Samuel 8). The first King of Israel was a guy named Saul. He turns out to be a loser so God chooses another King named David who would be called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). It is to this king that God makes an additional covenant promise. In 2 Samuel 7 God promises David that his throne, his lineage of rule would be established and one of his offspring would sit on his throne forever. An eternal king would come and take his place on the very throne of David. This King will bring an eternal and righteous rule to the world and the age of crooked human politicians and governments will finally end.

After David things just fall apart for Israel. They undergo a bitter split into a Northern (Israel) and Southern Kingdom (Judah). Their kings and priests become corrupt and wicked to the point where God brings foreign nations to conquer them and thereby bring his judgment upon them. It is in the latter days of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms that God sends some of the Minor Prophets to speak both judgment and hope to the disobedient people.

The Organic Nature of the Covenants

At this point in redemptive history God had promised Adam to crush the head of the serpent through the offspring of a woman, he had promised to protect and maintain the human race to Noah, he had made a great nation through Abraham through which his blessing would flow to the world, he had given his people a land and a law through Moses, and promised an eternal, good, covenant King to his man David. These covenants were in no way arbitrary, they were building, one after the other towards the covenant which would fulfill and bring them all into fullness. The following diagram is helpful in seeing the connection between the covenants.

Figure 1: Unfolding of the Covenants – Modified and adapted from diagram in O. Palmer Robertson, Christ of the Covenants, 62
 

God, before creating the world had decreed or purposed that he would redeem a people for his very own possession. For his glory and their joy he had created the world. This decree had to be worked out in time and through history with a building from one covenant to the next. Like a large wave gaining momentum as it moves closer to the shoreline, the plans of God would crest and find their ultimate fullness in what Scripture calls the New Covenant. To this final covenant we turn.

The New Covenant in Jesus Christ

History marched forward under the direction of God until the arrival of what the Scriptures describe as the fullness of time. Of this time, the book of Galatians tells us a beautiful truth:

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
  • Fulfilling the covenant with Adam, the Son of God would be born of a woman, the seed promised in Genesis 3, the second Adam (see Romans 5) whose victory secures our destiny.
  • Fulfilling the covenant with Noah, God had protected humanity for this very purpose.
  • Fulfilling the covenant with Abraham, a great nation had now given birth to the Savior of the World.
  • Fulfilling the covenant with Moses, this person would be born under the law and he would fully obey all its demands, himself becoming the blood sacrifice for the people’s sins.
  • Fulfilling the covenant with David, this person was from the royal line of David and would be crowned by God as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Yes, the fullness of time had come. God the Father had sent God the Son into the world as a fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises over the ages. His coming was foretold by prophets, his work unfolded in the covenants, and his love would fulfill the hearts of his people. It is no wonder that Nehemiah, when the people were retuning from exile from the land, described God in his prayer as follows:

O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments Nehemiah 1:5 ESV

So when we come to the New Testament, the Old Testament is the only backdrop by which we can understand the identity and work of Jesus. He is the promised 2nd Adam and seed of the woman, he is fully human protected from the time of Noah, he is the descendant of Abraham, a fully obedient servant of God following all his commandments, he is the King descended from David, he is the sacrificial lamb provided by God to take away the sins of the world. He is the final and greatest prophet who brought us the word of God, he is the great high priest whose ministry mediates the New Covenant, he is our covenant King who will govern the nations in righteousness when the fullness of his Kingdom comes at the end of time.

The New Covenant is the culmination of the works of God to redeem a people for himself. It was decreed from eternity, set in motion throughout history, culminated in Jesus, lived today through his church. One enters this covenant by grace through faith – fully trusting in the person and work of Jesus. The entry into the covenant is signified by baptism and God’s faithful maintaining of the covenant is celebrated at the Lord’s Table. For Jesus said of this celebration: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20)

So now we return full circle. The Old Testament is a story about the work of God the Father to bring glory to himself through God the Son by the ministry of God the Spirit in redeeming a people to be his own. If you are interested in getting a great overview of each book in the Bible, I highly recommend Mark Dever’s new volumes Promises Made the Message of the Old Testament and Promises Kept the Message of the New Testament.13 These volumes are tremendous in getting the big ideas of the two testaments and every individual book of Scripture. Now that we have flown the plane high over the Old Testament, it is time to zero in on the Minor Prophets, the group of writings in which the prophecy of Habakkuk finds its home.

Notes:

9.O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 4.
10.Ibid., 14, 15.
11.There are some who separate a covenant of the land or Palestinian covenant, from the Mosaic covenant. I am treating them as one here. The promises relating to the land are found in Deuteronomy 29 and 30.
12.The exceptions being Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are post-exilic Minor Prophets and they address the nation returning form exile to the land.
13.Dever. Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006) and Mark Dever, Promises Kept: The Message of the New Testament (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005).

 

Up Next - The Minor Prophets

Fall, Redemption, Restoration

Overview of the Old Testament - Worldview Categories Cont...Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration...

Fall – CS Lewis, in his classic work The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, describes the mythical world of Narnia as existing in a state where it is always winter, but never Christmas. Narnia was in a state of perpetual coldness, underneath the power of a great evil. The world was held in its wintry bondage until the time when Aslan, the great Lion, renewed and redeemed all things. Lewis’ Christian worldview soaks the pages of his story as he understood the reality of our world. Our world, like Narnia, is too in bondage to decay, cursed long ago as the result of a treasonous revolt of our ancient ancestor, one known to us by the Hebrew name for man…Adam. The Old Testament teaches us that the first human beings, in direct contradiction to their creator, disobeyed him and reaped the consequences on the world and the human race. The Christian doctrine of the fall of humanity is established in the Old Testament in the first three chapters of Genesis. As a result of our rebellion, God himself cursed creation and human beings. The results are devastating. All people die, though we presume that we will live forever. As a result, the world is not a paradise, but rather a war zone full of disease, human atrocities, natural disasters, and our own separation from God and each other. Yet God did this in hope, (Romans 8:18-30) for his plan was just beginning. Though we had sinned, in love God set about to forgive and restore. He would win back a people from the curse and vindicate his name which had been dishonored by the very creatures he had created.

Redemption – Therefore, God set about a course of redemption, by which he would pursue and reconnect with his creatures that had rebelled against him. The plan included many people and nations, many hundreds of years and a complex matrix of events and signposts. His plan would find its fullness when God himself, incarnate as the second Adam, the person of Jesus of Nazareth, would pay the final price for sin and bring us back into relationship with God. This drama unfolded throughout the Old Testament and was ultimately fulfilled in the New Testament. It unfolds on various continents, centered in the Promised Land, through various covenants (more on that in a moment) by which God invited people back into relationship with himself. This was all extended by grace, a free gift from God who offers peace to those who now live at war with him.

Restoration – We now live at a time where God is at work redeeming a people to be his very own children. God is giving new birth to people today around the world from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. His work is on going through the church which relates to God by a new arrangement – one sealed in the blood of his own Son. An engagement ring has been given; a promise has been made in the first coming or advent8 of Jesus. We now wait for the time when Jesus will return in power to claim his bride and fully realize the Kingdom which began at his first coming. At the end of all history, when the scroll of the plan of God is fully revealed, there will be a great wedding feast with Christ. At this time the eternal, joyful, and fully realized, restored and re-created world will begin. What is spoken in the Old Testament by the prophet Jeremiah (see chapter 31) will be completed in the description found in Revelation 21:1-4:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

To be honest, I can’t wait.

All of these important truths, creation, fall, redemption, restoration find their beginning and backdrop in the Old Testament. The Old Testament once again gives the big picture we need in order to see clearly. Yet the Old Testament also unfolds a relationship between a loving God and his people. He initiates with us over and over with the highest level of faithfulness and commitment. The word used to describe this relationship is covenant; a committed, until death, faithfully promised bond of love. This is the second way we can garner an overview of the Old Testament, through God initiated covenants with his beloved people. To this we turn.

Notes

8. The word advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming.

 

Up Next - An Overview of the Old Testament through the Covenants

Beginning an OT Overview

Many use different ways to describe the story of the Old Testament. Some focus on dividing the work of God into dispensations of divine activity6, others have focused on the unfolding of the covenant of redemption initiated by God the Father, carried out by God the Son. Others focus on the story of major characters or the narrative of Israel. Yet one thing is clear; the story of the Bible contains an account of the ongoing relationship between Creator and creation, God and his world. Even more specifically it unfolds the relationship of God with the creatures he has made in his image, those known collectively as the human race. In describing the story of the relationship of God to humanity I will do so in two fashions. First, I will do so through some major categories which describe the Biblical worldview: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Secondly, I will look at the story through the means of relationship God establishes with people throughout the Old Testament, that of covenants. First, let’s look at some big picture categories.

If we step back and see the big picture of the grand drama of the Bible, we see that it can be described in four acts with God the main actor. Each act we give a name, a category by which we understand what God has done and is doing. The categories we will use are creation, fall, redemption, restoration.

Creation – In the beginning God…so thunders the first words of the Old Testament. The book of Genesis, the book of beginnings, tells us what we know intuitively and by scientific investigation. The universe began to exist in the finite past; it became to be when before it simply was not. God in his wisdom created the universe with both purpose and design. The Scriptures of the Old Testament teach us that the world was created by God and created good. Yet God did not only create the universe, but he also created a unique species, specially fashioned in his own image and likeness.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26, 27 ESV

So at the outset of the Bible we see a creator, a good creation, and a unique creature with a great responsibility given to him by God. Humans would rule over the created earth, hand in hand in fellowship with God. Then the treasonous act which echoes even to this day took place in paradise. The foreknown path of man would be taken – they would sin and rebel and the results would be devastating then glorious. Before turning to the rebellion of humanity, let’s say one last thing about creation. I was once asked some very profound questions by an unbelieving friend. What he said went something like this: If God is perfect, if in himself he has no needs, has no imperfections, is not lacking anything, why did he create a world and little play friends to go with it? I thought…that is a great freakin question! But the answer is even better. First, my friend is right. God is perfect so he did not and could not create us and the world out of need. He was not lonely and he did not need anyone with which to watch the football game or go to the concert. He did not have to create anything, yet he did. Why? The answer is awesome. God created not out of lack or need, but out of a desire to display, to show off his glory, and to share his delight with others. He created to give himself to his creatures and thereby share his beauty, glory and joy with them. As Jonathan Edwards so aptly described long ago in the book The End For Which God Created the World: “It is fitting that God’s glory be delighted in as well as known”.7 God created the world for himself; we only exist by him and for him (Psalm 24:1, Colossians 1:15-17). We were made to worship, delight in, and have joy in God. Which makes what we will discuss next all the more tragic and treasonous.

Notes

6.See Greg Herrick, Dispensationalism and God's Glory (Bible.org, accessed December 28 2006); available from http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=535. There also is a fairly balance wiki on the subject of dispensational theology found at Dispensational Theology, (Wikipedia, accessed December 14 2006); available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalist_theology.
7. John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory : With the Complete Text From "The End for Which God Created the World" By Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), 149.

 

Up Next - Fall, Redemption, Restoration

The Importance of the Old Testament - HD Jesus

 
HD Jesus

Without the gracious gift of God which is the Old Testament, we would not see the extent of the beauty, majesty and glory of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our vision of him in the New Testament would be very accurate, but it would be small and the horizon incomplete. Let me give an example. My wife and I used to have a 13’’ Orion5 cathode ray tube television that we would watch in our bedroom. For those of you have not seen one of these sorts of ancient devices, it has a small screen and it is fat panel, not flat panel. If I were to watch a movie on this TV I would see it, I would get it and could honestly say I watched the movie. Now, think for a second if I got this same film on HDDVD and watched it on a 60 inch, 1080p HDTV along with theater surround sound. Same movie? Absolutely! Same vision and experience of the film? Well, those of you with the home theatre system know the answer to that. The same thing could be said of seeing Jesus in the Bible. If you only had the New Testament you might be asked who Jesus is and reply in a 13 inch TV fashion: Jesus is the Savior and the Son of God. This would be absolutely and beautifully true. Now if you looked at both Testaments you would get a full featured High Def Jesus. This Jesus is the promised one who would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15), who is the seed of Abraham through whom the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12), the long promised messiah of Israel who sits on the eternal throne of David as our covenant King (2 Samuel 7), who fulfilled the law of Moses perfectly (Matthew 5:17, 18) and lived without sin (Hebrews 4:15), the final priest of the tabernacle (Exodus 25-28) and sacrificial lamb foreshadowed in the book of Leviticus (Leviticus 16). He is our Savior, he is our God, and he is the suffering servant prophesied long ago by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53). He is our great high priest, our covenant mediator, and unique sacrificial Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world (Hebrews 8-10). The one whose cross reconciles all things to God and whose return will usher in a new Kingdom which will have no end. 60 inch HD Jesus, we have to study the whole book to see the difference.

The Old Testament is central to seeing the big picture of the history of redemption, understanding the character and attributes of God, and seeing Jesus, God the Son in all his glory. Now that we see a bit of the importance of the Old Testament, let’s go ahead and unroll the first part of the scroll and get an overview of this first section of Scripture.

Notes:

5. Orion is the brand of the TV, it seems it is a Japanese company who sells inexpensive TVs at places like Wal-Mart.

 

Up Next - A Brief Overview of the Old Testament...

Importance of the Old Testament - A Complete Vision of God

The New Testament letter known as the book of Hebrews begins in dramatic fashion:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke. That to me is interesting! God spoke to whom? How did he speak? What did he say!?!? The writer to the Hebrews tells us that he spoke to our fathers by the prophets. Did you know that we are able to see who these fathers were and what these prophets said to them? In the stories of women and men gone before us and their interaction with God we actually see a great story unfolding. The characters are fascinating, the circumstances profound, and the main actor revealed fully to us for our love and worship. The main actor of the Old Testament is God himself and by the Old Testament we know the Lord more fully in all the diverse wonders of his character. We see his mercy upon his enslaved people in the book of Exodus. In the same book we see his justice poured out upon the Egyptian oppressor. In the Psalms we see his beauty and holiness, in the Proverbs we find wisdom personified and displayed through the words of God. In the long story of Israel, the people of God, we see God’s faithfulness, his discipline of sin, and the redemption of his own. In the prophets we see God’s fierce wrath against spiritual idolatry and his weeping heart for those that turn from him to lesser things and ruin their lives. If you were to list the many biblical attributes of God (love, justice, holiness, unchangeableness, righteousness, truth, goodness, sovereignty, etc) we would be amazed at how much about God is revealed to us through the Old Testament. As we read, study, and contemplate the drama of the Old Testament we come to know God more in our own lives and learn how to walk in a way that is pleasing to him. The entirety of Scripture reveals to us both who God is and what he desires for the world. Neglect of the Old Testament will warp our vision of God and allows us to substitute the truth about God for our own ideas about who God “should be” in our own minds. In doing so we replace the living God with the idols of our imagination; the Old Testament revelation of God’s character keeps us from such sin. Finally, we see the importance of the Old Testament in revealing to us Jesus Christ. What?! Jesus revealed in the Old Testament? Oh yes, High Def Jesus at that. Let me explain.

 

Up Next - The Importance of the Old Testament - Reason 3 - HD Jesus 

The Importance of the Old Testament - Finding Our Redemptive Historical Context

The Importance of the Old Testament...Reason 1 - Finding Our Redemptive Historical Context

For Christians, the Old Testament provides a rich understanding of the historical context for our faith. It is a bit proverbial, but it is true that if we don’t know where we have come from, we will not know where we are going. Anyone in the real estate business will tell you that there are three things which matter: location, location, location. Likewise when we come to the Bible there are three things which are equally important: context, context, context. In other words, where something is found in the Bible is very important to understanding its meaning. There are many “contexts” that are discussed when coming to the Scriptures. Many will think first of literary context which is looking at where certain sentences are found in relationship to surrounding sentences, paragraphs, and divisions of a book. Although this is extremely important, right now I want us to look at a different context, namely the redemptive historical context of a portion of Scripture.

To illustrate what we mean by redemptive historical context let me give you a picture. For a moment, imagine the plans of God for the world as a tightly rolled scroll. It is written from beginning to end with all its contents established but it has not yet been read by those interested in its contents. Now for a second, think with me about the time before God created the world. God knew his plans from beginning to end perfectly in his mind. Yet his plans were still “rolled up” as it were, not yet revealed. In many ways his plans are like the scroll, not yet read by anyone on the earth. Yet slowly, over the course of time, God began to unfold his plans, in wisdom unrolling redemptive history bit by bit. God’s plans to redeem a people for himself were set in motion before the creation of the world (Read Ephesians 1:1-13) but continue to unfold up to the present day. It is important as we come to any section of biblical literature, for example an Old Testament prophecy like Habakkuk, that we ask when the people and events took place within the overall plan of redemption. This helps us understand what God is doing in the big picture scheme of things when we come to a certain book in the Bible. We’ll give a brief overview of the Old Testament narrative below so we can find Habakkuk in its redemptive historical context, but for now I simply want us to see the importance of reading both the Old and New Testaments. By reading the Old Testament we can understand the big picture of history and understand things in their proper context. Doing so will help us not only interpret Scripture better, but it will also help us understand our own place in the larger story. Indeed we are all part of his story that still unfolds today. Knowing the Old Testament teaches us our own history and it also shows us what to anticipate as the scroll continues to unfold until the end of time.

 

Up Next - Importance of the Old Testament - Reason 2 - A Full Vision of God 

 

The Importance of the Old Testament

The Old Testament. Yes, that big part of the Bible full of blood and sacrifices, kings and heroes, laws and regulations, worship and lament, clarity and mystery. Though it makes up close to two thirds of our Bibles the Old Testament remains a bit unknown or disconnected from the lives of many contemporary believers. I’m not so sure if it’s the strange laws of Leviticus regarding bodily emissions or seeing God wiping people out that tends to make people shy away. Yet one thing is certain, God in his wisdom has given us the Bible as a unified whole, made up of sixty six books.1 The story line is consistent from beginning until end; the creator God at work to redeem the world through the person and work of Jesus Christ. JI Packer says it well:

There is but one leading character (God the Creator), one historical perspective (world redemption), one focal figure (Jesus of Nazareth, who is both Son of God and Savior), and one solid body of harmonious teaching about God and godliness. Truly the inner unity of the Bible is miraculous; a sign and a wonder, challenging the unbelief of our skeptical age. 2

As Jesus is the local hero of the Bible, he is also the subject and view of the Old Testament. Though many people may not think “Jesus” when they think Old Testament, its pages indeed anticipate, prepare and foreshadow his coming. Mark Dever, in speaking of the unity of the Bible’s storyline and focus upon Jesus explains it this way:

The context for understanding the person and work of Christ is the Old Testament. God’s work of creation, humanities rebellion against him, sin’s consequence in death, God’s election of a particular people, his revelation of sin through the law, the history of his people, his work among other peoples—I could go on and on—all these form the setting for Christ’s coming. Christ came in history at a particular point in the story line. 3

The Old Testament places our gaze and expectation on the coming one who would fully deliver a world which is under the curse of sin and death. Getting a good overview of the purpose of the Old Testament and its unity can make it much more approachable for modern readers. So I do pray this paper will be of help to motivate study of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Yet before we look at some of the huge importance held by the Old Testament, I want to make one thing very clear. There is one God who created the world and this God does not change. He is who he is and has told us so: I am who I am and I am the Lord, I do not change (Exodus 3:14, Malachi 3:6). One of the unfortunate misunderstandings about the Old Testament is that it reveals a different God than that of the New. Or that God has grown up or evolved over the course of the Bible. I want to emphatically state that the God of the Old and New Testaments is one and the same. It is not like God was having a bad hair day, was going through puberty or forgot his Nicorette gum during the days of the Old Testament. The Old Testament does not reveal a 13 year old God throwing temper tantrums at divinity junior high. Likewise the God of the New Testament is not a fluffy nice bunny rabbit who was never offended by the sins of people. No, God is loving and merciful in the Old and wrathful and just in the New, just as he is wrathful and just in the Old and loving and merciful in the New. This is important and should not be missed. The God who created all things, called Israel out as a nation, brought forth the Messiah through this nation and lineage is the same God who will bring about the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of the age.

With that said, I want us to focus on three major areas of importance of the Old Testament. First, it gives us a proper historical context to understand the work of redemption. Second, it rounds out and gives us a complete vision of the person of God. And third, it actually gives us a fully developed picture of Jesus which is not seen if he is only observed through the New Testament. We’ll handle each of these now in turn.

Notes: 

1. For those interested in a brief treatment of how the sixty six books arrived in the Bible see Reid S. Monaghan, One Bible, Many Books (Power of Change, 2006, accessed December 31 2006); available from http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2006/11/one_bible_many_books.html.
2. JI Packer in the introduction to Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery - Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Philipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988), 8.
3. Mark Dever, Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), 27.

 

Up Next...The Old Testament gives us proper Redemptive Historical Conext

Entering the Old School

 

That’s Old School

At times we talk about the ways of past generations which get brought back to our day for our benefit. Call it going old school. We know that some of the old ways must pass away, but much that is ancient must never be lost. Wisdom and Truth once walked among the Old Testament prophets as they journeyed with the Lord in the midst of difficult and chaotic times. Theirs was a world swirling with armies, terror, political turmoil, and many times a faithless people who turned away from God. Yet many remained filled with hope that the purposes of God would once again triumph in the lives of the faithful. Our generation needs to hear from the ancients to tremble and rejoice at their vision of God. This semester we will take lessons from the old school and turn our hearts to the prophecy of Habakkuk; a word given by God on the eve of one of Jerusalem’s darkest hours.

As we start down this road together I want to take the time to give a substantial overview of the book of Habakkuk. Yet to do so we must lay some additional groundwork before we begin. Habakkuk is a minor prophet, a book which lives in that large and murky region of Scripture known as the Old Testament. For this reason, I want us to spend some time discussing this testament of the Holy Bible. So my goals with this paper are twofold: first, to give a high level overview of the importance and content of the Old Testament Scriptures and second, to provide an adequate overview for our journey through the ancient words of Habakkuk’s prophecy. With that said, lets jump right into that Old Testament Old School.

 
Up next...The Importance of the Old Testament 

One Paper, In Many Acts

I recently finished a paper for my teaching ministry with the Inversion Fellowship.  We are preparing to kick off a series entitled "Lessons From the Old School - The Prophecy of Habakkuk" so I have been hitting the books and banging away on my keyboard to give our folks a substantial overview of what we will be teaching verse by verse

The paper, lets say, has ended up a bit longer than I expected.  I knew I wanted to give a bit of an overview of the Old Testament, then the Minor Prophets, and finally Habakkuk's writing. I just got to having so much fun with it that it grew on me a bit. I mean, its not a book or anything - it is just 14 pages, single spaced, 10 pt font, 0.75 inch margins. 

I am really thankful for how it has developed so I figured I would share it here on the POC Blog.  Now, if I dropped it all up here in one post it would be a ridiculously long blog entry...so, I am going to post the paper in parts, one paper, rolled out in many acts.  At the end I will post an entire PDF of the deal for those interested in filing it away somewhere.

So for starters, my next post will contain the short intro paragraph, Entering the Old School...