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An Unbelievable Truth
1 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear! Even cry out to You of violence, and You will not save!
3 Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are [they] that raise up strife and contention [in the church]. 4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment does never go forth: for the wicked does compass about [surround] the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceeds [this is not right]."
5 Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which you will not believe, though it be told you [even though it is Me that says so!].
The prophet Habakkuk had a problem which is still with us today. What was in God's answer that Habakkuk would not believe?
Habakkuk’s problem was that there seemed to be nothing but wrongful authority and open sin in the church, and he was concerned that God was not doing anything about it. This predicament is never-ending for it repeats itself often. It is with us even today. There are many well-meaning Christians among us who would like to “clean up the church”, or leave it and start another one. Should they do that or should they leave it in God’s hands? That was the burden of Habakkuk.
So what did God intend to do about it?
What could He possibly do that even a prophet would not believe?
He told Habakkuk that He would bring one of the new nations against Israel and that that country would defeat the church! In fact, they would rule the whole of the then known world and that he and the loyal Christians must obey this new king!
[This was the same situation which faced Lucifer in heaven when he rebelled. He was told plainly that the other cherubim (Michael = Jesus) was the Servant of God and must be obeyed. It was THIS that he refused.]
6 “For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans [who were a part of Babylon], that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.
7 “They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves [yet they think they have a God-given right to conquer]. 8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: [this was spoken before Babylon had become a great empire and was therefore practically incomprehensible to Habakkuk. It was like a Christian today hearing that Islam is going to conquer the world and that he must obey them.]
"and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle [vulture] that hastens to eat.
9 “They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity [prisoners of war] as the sand. 10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn to them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust [make ramps to assault the walls], and take it [Jerusalem and then the world].”
This nation would not only be religious, but the great counterfeit of His truth! And yet it would prosper for a time. Although spoken of another period, this following verse describes the conditions in Habakkuk’s time too.
24 And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.
That was what Habakkuk would not believe. And today many professed Christians take the same attitude. “God would NEVER allow His people to be overrun by a false system,” they say. But in this they overreach themselves and deny what God has plainly said, and done, although not of His choice. (See also Daniel 7:21 and Revelation 13:7 for two other occasions.) Then consider the following verses.
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to Jerusalem, and besieged it [about 606BC]. 2 And the LORD gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house [temple] of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god. [Around that time the Israelite name was dropped and that of the Jews began. Ezra 4:12 etc.]
So how can we accept this? By looking to the principle behind it, for God always blames Himself for failure even though it is His church’s or Satan’s action!
God has said:
34 Righteousness [right-doing] exalts a nation [makes it prosperous]: but sin is a reproach to any people. 35 The King's favour is toward a wise servant: but His wrath [lack of protection] is against him that causes shame [by doing wrong things].
The following was the message sent to Judah around 750BC:
1 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. 2 Yet they seek Me daily [in prayer], and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God [yet they have turned away from Me]. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God [yet it’s all a sham].”
3 “Why have we fasted,” say they, “and You see not? Why have we afflicted our soul, and You take no knowledge?” [Consider also another time in Malachi 1:10, around 425BC. From that time God couldn’t even raise up a prophet to talk with His Laodicean-like people. See Revelation 3:14-22.]
“Behold, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exact [ask payment for] all your labours. 4 Behold, you fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: you shall not fast as you do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.” [That’s not a true fast – it won’t work.]
34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 but in every nation he that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him.”
Here we are told the secret. Every one, and every nation, that more nearly does the right thing will come out on top (no one’s perfect, yet!). And contrariwise, every one and every nation that does NOT do the right thing will sink to the bottom. It is NOT a matter of whom God blesses or curses, but it simply works because righteousness is the best way.
So, in Habukkuk’s time the nation of the Chaldeans (also known to us as the Babylonians, Daniel 2:1-2) were better in moral behaviour than the existing church in Judah, and this was going to show on the battlefield. God is no respecter of persons as Peter found out, and if there are enough right-doing people in any nation then that nation is strong.
Of course, if the majority of the right-doing ones are in the church, then the church is the strongest because they have righteousness and sanctification!
It is our problem that we often confuse the word “righteous” with “sanctified”. They are two separate and distinctly different words with different meanings.
The first, “righteousness”, describes the works of the person (as Peter said above, Acts 10:35), while the second, “sanctified”, describes the condition of the person. (Acts 26:18). And they don’t have to exist together although God would like that to happen. Let’s look at an example.
1 And Abraham journeyed from there toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister:” [thinking a heathen might kill him to get his wife] and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah [intending to make her his wife for she was very beautiful].
3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Behold, you are but a dead man, for the woman which you have taken; for she is a man's wife.”
4 But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, “LORD, will you slay also a righteous nation? [king and people were considered one.] 5 Said he not to me, ‘She is my sister?’ and she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.”
6 And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart; for I also withheld you from sinning against Me: therefore suffered [persuaded] I you not to touch her.”
7 “Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for you, and you shall live: and if you restore her not, know you that you shall surely die, you, and all that are yours.”
In this story the Christian, Abraham, goes into a foreign country, and in an effort to protect himself, tells a lie regarding his wife. It is a half lie, because she was his half-sister (Genesis 20:11-12), but it was said with intent to deceive. So the sanctified man sinned in this behaviour. The king of Gerar had every worldly legal right to do as he did (in fact he was bestowing a great honour on Abraham by intending to marry his sister) but the Son of God was able to restrain him until He had spoken with him.
Then, when Jesus laid the charge on the king, he argued back and claimed that he was acting righteously! And this defence was accepted! Accepted because he was acting within the law of the world, even though not in God’s law, while Abraham was acting outside of both. So Abimelech was the better moral man in that episode.
But Abraham was the follower of God, the sanctified one, even in his sinning condition, and he was still closer to God than the heathen king. So although the king gave him back his wife, it was Abraham who could approach God with a prayer of intercession.
And that is how it has always been.
God wants Christians to operate righteously, but if they do not that does not automatically cut them off from Him any more than a child who behaves badly is cut off from his family. See Matthew 12:31. What it does do is start them off on the slippery downhill road to that point where they will refuse to listen to God any more and will cut themselves off from Him. However, like the prodigal son they can return at any time while descending. Luke 15:18. Not until the point of total rejection is reached do they become what is known in the Bible as a “sinner”. However, all humans are originally born that way and remain like that until they are reborn as Christians, or “saints”, (i.e. sanctified ones). Acts 9:32.
3 And He spoke this parable to them, saying, 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing [and carries it home].
6 “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost’.”
7 “I say to you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety-nine just [sanctified] persons, which need no repentance.”
In our story, Abimelech is a “sinner” (one who has not yet accepted salvation) and Abraham is a sinning Christian.
So, in Habakkuk’s conversation he was receiving the message that in his time the king of Babylon was behaving better than the king of Judah, and the people of Babylon as a whole were also behaving better than the people of Judah. Therefore, the principle of natural law was that Nebuchadnezzar would win the battle. Because of this fact, and not because He wanted this outcome, the LORD stated that He would give Jerusalem to Babylon. When it is followed properly, the law is a good one, but when used in the wrong context it can cause some problems to Christians as Habakkuk found out.
This is the verse we should really concentrate on.
11 Then shall his [the Babylonian] mind change, and he shall pass over [an invisible boundary], and offend, imputing this his power to his god.
And that is what inevitably happens. The “sinner” must eventually give the praise to his god, and turn away from righteousness (unless he is converted). Then the people of God may ascend to their rightful place. Of course, should they sink lower on the scale in the meantime, then the “sinner” will still be above them!
12 “Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? [the self-existent One]. We shall not die [I don’t believe You]. O LORD, You have ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, you have established them for correction.
13 “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and can not look on iniquity: wherefore [why do You] look upon them that deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours the man that is more righteous than he? [That was Habakkuk’s opinion!]
14 “And make [the Christian] men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things [insects], that have no ruler over them? 15 They [the Babylonians] take up all of them with the angle [the fishhook], they catch them in their [hand] net [their military might], and gather them in their drag [net]: therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they sacrifice to [the god of] their net, and burn incense to their drag [make prayers to their gods]; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.
17 “Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations? [Shouldn’t You stop them?]"
In disgust Habakkuk, just as many still do today, then retreated into his “tower” of prayer [his watchtower] and waited for the answer. He expected to be told off, but was sure that he was right!
1 I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what He will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.
And again the answer he got was unexpected. He was not criticised, but asked to do something positive. And he has done!
2 And the LORD answered me, and said, “Write the vision [this exchange of opinions], and make it plain [large] upon tables [posters], that he may run that reads it.” [And so we have it today in a book.]
3 “For the vision is yet for an appointed time [this knowledge will be very much needed one day], but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it [it may be a long time before it is needed but have patience]; because it will surely come, it will not tarry [forever, because the principle will eventually be accepted, and lived through].”
4 “Behold, his soul which is lifted up [in pride] is not upright in him [he is NOT righteous, it’s a delusion]: but the just shall live [righteously] by his faith.”
Towards the end of this exchange of views, Habakkuk accepted the principle God was working under, and prayed a special prayer.
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. 2 “O LORD, I have heard Your speech [I understand now], and was afraid [for the people of that future time]: O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make [this truth] known; in wrath [in trouble teach them to] remember mercy.” [The essence of his prayer was, “What can I do to help You?” and that’s why he was asked to write down the conversation.]
Although God has told us that He sometimes uses wicked people (sinners) to accomplish His purposes this does not mean that he condones or causes their victories. He is totally opposed to the use of force, but He does not ever interfere to stop those who want to use it. But He does warn:
52 Then said Jesus to him [Peter], “Put up again your sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
He merely protects His own as much as He is allowed to within the parameters of the violence. Thus it is NOT the righteousness of the Christian which saves him or her, but their utter reliance on His protection. Then He tells the wicked:
9 Woe to him that covets an evil covetousness [illegal gain] to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil [disaster]! . . .
12 Woe to him that builds a town with blood, and establishes a city by iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire [is it not His wish that this should NOT happen], and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity [in vain]? 14 For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory [character] of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
He tells us what we should do in these kinds of circumstances.
15 And he [Jahaziel the prophet] said, “Hearken you, all Judah, and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you king Jehoshaphat, Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude;’ for the battle is not yours, but God's.”
16 “Tomorrow go you down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and you shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand you still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you.”
18 And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD.
Sometimes God uses the actions of heathen or even counterfeit Christian nations to fulfil His will. Sometimes it is with God’s approval that the king of the south or the king of the north can be in charge of the world. See Daniel 11:40 and Jeremiah 27:6. The problem is that even the best of kings (and nations) may start off being morally good, but “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, as the wise man said. So the time must come when the unsanctified nation or individual will turn from that path and begin to persecute unnecessarily. From that moment they cease to be of use to God. But in the meantime:
6 [God said] “And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. 7 And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son [three generations, 70 years, Jeremiah 25:11-12], until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him [will become free].”
8 “And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon [right now], and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish,” says the LORD, “with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. [Resistance will cause anguish.]
9 “Therefore hearken not you to your [false] prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak to you, saying, ‘You shall [should] not serve the king of Babylon’. 10 For they prophesy a lie to you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and you should perish. [“I will give you pastors according to My heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” 3:15.]
11 “But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, says the LORD; and they shall till it, and dwell therein.” [Jeremiah remained independent through all the troubles (he was jailed by his own people after his priestly family tried to kill him, 11:21 and 12:6) and when the fighting was over was given a choice by the Babylonians of what to do.]
12 I [Jeremiah] spoke also [directly] to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. 13 Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the LORD has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? 14 Therefore hearken not to the words of the prophets that speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon’: for they prophesy a lie to you. 15 For ‘I have not sent them,’ says the LORD, ‘yet they prophesy a lie in My name; that I might drive you out, and that you might perish, you, and the prophets that prophesy to you’.”
16 Also I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, “Thus says the LORD; Hearken not to the words of your prophets that prophesy to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the LORD'S house shall now shortly be brought again from Babylon:’ for they prophesy a lie to you.” [It will not happen soon for there is a set time period for that event.]
(Repetition is used in the Bible for emphasis. So take note!)
Those who did not understand God’s way regarded these as heretical words. So they naturally persecuted Jeremiah and those who believed his prophecy.
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2 For then the king of Babylon's army besieged Jerusalem: and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah's house.
3 For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, “Wherefore do you prophesy, and say, Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it; 4 and Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hand of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes; 5 and he shall lead Zedekiah to Babylon, and there shall he be until I visit him,’ says the LORD: ‘though you fight with the Chaldeans, you shall not prosper’.”
Then God’s word was fulfilled:
9 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the [Babylonian] guard carried away captive into Babylon the remnant of the people that remained in the city [the defenders], and those that fell away [deserted], that fell to him, with the rest of the people that remained [all those that had fought against or opposed him].
10 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the people, which had nothing [and had not fought], in the land of Judah, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time [so now they had something! See God’s promise in 27:11.]
11 Now Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon gave charge concerning Jeremiah [it was the king’s command] to Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, saying, 12 “Take him, and look well to him, and do him no harm; but do to him even as he shall say to you.” [It was to be his choice.]
13 So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent, and Nebushasban, Rabsaris, and Nergalsharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon's princes [a whole delegation of them]; 14 even they [were] sent, and took Jeremiah out of the court of the prison, and committed him to Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan, that he should carry him home: so he dwelt among the people.
What Habakkuk was being told, incredible though it sounded, was the truth. He accepted it, and so should we.
The Son of God sometimes uses “sinners” to accomplish His purpose, when His church refuses to do it!
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