October 27th 2019: Chris Benbow

chris benbow Oct19Have you ever wondered, ‘God, what are doing?’ We all live our lives and sometimes things go spectacularly wrong. We wonder why everything is a mess. Where is God then? We ask, ‘God, what are you doing?’ We see on the news wall to wall coverage of news which confuses us. Brexit. What is going on! Perhaps, it’s another situation in the Middle East. We may look at Syria and exclaim, ‘Where is God in that?’ Maybe it is not so much an international situation but a personal one. We have all experienced crunch points. We have all been through them, are going through them or will go through them. So often we wonder, ‘What are you doing God? Why is this happening?’ If you’ve ever wondered this question, you’re not the first to wonder that.

Let me re-introduce you to a man named Habakkuk. He was a minor prophet. The book of Habakkuk is only three chapters long. May be our spiritual pride boasts how quick we can find Habakkuk. He is a ‘minor’ prophet because of the length of the book, not the prophet himself. The book is equally rich in teaching.

Who is the man, Habakkuk? He was an Israelite, a prophet. Habakkuk was living in Israel in the waning years of the Syrian empire. The Assyrians were a nasty bunch.  The Israelite nation is ruined by Assyrian oppression. Good news is mocked, evil is celebrated. Habakkuk is saying, ‘God, what are you doing?’

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?”
Habakkuk 1:2

Habakkuk has been calling on God but nothing is happening. The good guys are losing and the bad guys are winning. If sin bothers you, it bothers the Lord a whole lot more. Habakkuk stands in ruins, seeing his leaders take bribes, seeing destruction around him. The law is paralysed. He wants justice. He asks what the Lord will do. The Lord Almighty answers, saying, ‘You don’t even know the half of it! There are plans in motion you have no idea about,

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told.”
Habakkuk 1:5

Habakkuk thought things were bad but God says, ‘Just wait till the Chaldeans come!’

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
    their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Habakkuk 1:6-7

You can almost see Habakkuk thinking, ‘I wish I hadn’t asked now!’ In the ancient world the king was the most powerful person, yet these strong, reckless Chaldeans laughed at kings (Habakkuk 1:10). That’s not the answer Habakkuk wanted to his prayers – more evil, pagan conquerors. How can a good God send a bad thing? Hurting can be unpleasant but for a greater good. The Israelite corruption caused a lot of pain. The scalpel was the Chaldeans. Habakkuk doesn’t like what he is hearing.

We read of Habakkuk’s second appeal to God (verses 12-13). Habakkuk’s argument is why punish a less wicked nation, Israel, with a worse kind, the Chaldeans? Why is mankind left to his own wickedness? The Chaldeans prided is their strength. Habakkuk wants to know how long the judgement will last for. He finishes his appeal by awaiting God’s reply. He goes to the watch tower (Habakkuk 2:1). His argument is this: why punish the evil of Israel with a greater evil, the Chaldeans? The Lord answers. “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4). We don’t know what God is always doing but we trust God. God sees everything perfectly and we cannot understand that picture from the bit we have.

The Lord continues by proclaiming a judgement – five woes. That’s a lot of trouble! The Lord is in His holy temple. Israel has sinned. God had judged this by using the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans have sinned. God will judge them too. Israel will answer to God for its sin, the Chaldeans will answer to God for their sin too. We all stand before God to give an account.

How does Habakkuk respond? He reveres the Lord. He pours out his praise, his adoration for who God is (Habakkuk 3:2-6). Isn’t our God a great God! Habakkuk’s problems haven’t gone away. He still has questions but he’s beginning to realise a little more about who God is. He finishes his book by saying, ‘God, I don’t know what you’re doing but I know you are good, righteous and holy.’ (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Ultimately, everyone will give an account. We know, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). We know, “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4).

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