The Just Trust (Habakkuk 2)

You talked back, and we heard.
  • Why does God create people with mental illnesses?
  • Why do so many people do good with bad results or do bad and are constantly blessed?
  • If God is love, and God is good, then why does a good God allow suffering?
You talked back, and God heard you.  Before you even asked the questions, almost a year ago, God led our worship planners to plan a series on the Minor Prophets.  Somehow,God led us to the book of Habakkuk, which answers your questions directly.  
Habakkuk has the same kinds of questions.  Adam introduced them last week.  
  • Why is there so much injustice in the world?
  • How can God allow evil people to prosper while good people suffer?
  • Where is the God who is supposed to protect us and to take care of us?
  • Where is the justice in this messed up world?
Even a prophet has doubts and questions.  Perhaps, it’s the prophets especially who voice the questions and doubts.  Maybe they are the honest ones who say what everyone is thinking and feeling.

It’s time for you to get a little prophetic.  In your bulletin, you’ll find a piece of black paper.  On this paper, write down your biggest doubts and questions about our world.  How is our world unjust?  What bothers you the most about our world?  When you think abou the global situation or your personal life situation, what makes you really angry?  Write it down.  I’m not going to ask you to read it to anyone or to talk to anyone.  The paper is black so that even your neighbor or your spouse can’t read what you’re writing.  Be completely honest.  Use all caps and explanation points and curse words if you want.  No one will see it.
OK, go ahead and write.

Now, hold on to that paper and that doubt for a few minutes as we turn to Habakkuk.  He asked God his questions.  He shouted at God, and then God answered.  Today, we’re going to read Habakkuk 2, which gives us God’s longest answer to Habakkuk.  We’ll start where Adam left off last week.

1 I will climb up to my watchtower  and stand at my guardpost.
There I will wait to see what the Lord says
    and how he will answer my complaint.
Then the Lord said to me,“Write my answer plainly on tablets,
    so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
This vision is for a future time.    It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
    for it will surely take place.    It will not be delayed. 
4 “Look at the proud!  They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked.
    But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.
Wealth is treacherous,   and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave, and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
    and swallowed many peoples.
“But soon their captives will taunt them.   They will mock them, saying,
‘What sorrow awaits you thieves!
   Now you will get what you deserve!
You’ve become rich by extortion, but how much longer can this go on?’
Suddenly, your debtors will take action.
   They will turn on you and take all you have,    while you stand trembling and helpless.
Because you have plundered many nations,  now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
  and filled the towns with violence.
9 “What sorrow awaits you who build big houses with money gained dishonestly!
You believe your wealth will buy security,
    putting your family’s nest beyond the reach of danger. 
10 But by the murders you committed,you have shamed your name and forfeited your lives. 
11 The very stones in the walls cry out against you,  and the beams in the ceilings echo the complaint.
12 “What sorrow awaits you who build cities  with money gained through murder and corruption!
13 Has not the Lord of Heaven’s Armies promised    that the wealth of nations will turn to ashes?
They work so hard,
 but all in vain!
14 For as the waters fill the sea,   the earth will be filled with an awareness    of the glory of the Lord. 
15 “What sorrow awaits you who make your neighbors drunk!    You force your cup on them
    so you can gloat over their shameful nakedness.
16 But soon it will be your turn to be disgraced.    Come, drink and be exposed!
Drink from the cup of the Lord’s judgment,and all your glory will be turned to shame. 
17 You cut down the forests of Lebanon. Now you will be cut down.
You destroyed the wild animals, so now their terror will be yours.
You committed murder throughout the countryside and filled the towns with violence.
18 “What good is an idol carved by man, or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—
    a god that can’t even talk!
19 What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols,    ‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say,
  ‘Rise up and teach us!‘  Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
    but they are lifeless inside.
20 But the Lord is in his holy Temple.  Let all the earth be silent before him.”

We all have questions and doubts.  There is no way around that.  Life is confusing and difficult and wonderful, and our world is broken and bruised and beautiful.  In Habakkuk 2, God answers Habakkuk’s questions, but right from the beginning God tells Habakkuk that his answer isn’t just for him personally.  Habakkuk is supposed to write it down so that he can tell others (2:2).  We are some of those others who are hearing God’s answers because Habakkuk wrote it down.  In Habakkuk 2, I think God is telling us three things about our doubts and frustrations: (1) Trust that God is just.  (2) Why we should trust that God is just.  (3) What difference it makes to trust that God is just.
Let’s start with the first one: Trust that God is just.  How can a good and loving God allow so much injustice in the world?  God’s first answer is, look toward the end.
“This vision is for a future time.  It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled” (2:3).  The Hebrew here is more like: “This vision pants toward the end.”  God’s vision and God’s plan is steadily jogging forward, panting, breathing quickly, moving to the finish line, and you can be sure God will get there.  God will accomplish his plans for the universe.  That is a guarantee.
Then, God says, “If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.  It will not delay” (2:3).  God may seem slow.  We may wonder what on earth is taking so long!  But God is not late.  It may not be our timing.  It may not match our understanding.  It may not be when or how we would do it.  But God is not late.  His timing is perfect.
Next, God explains that the only alternative to trusting God is trusting ourselves, and that just messes us up.  “Look at the proud!  They trust in themselves, and they are crooked” (2:4).  When we turn our hope to our own strength, it bends us the wrong way.  “Wealth is treacherous ... and they are never satisfied” (2:5).  If we trust in money and power, our lives become crooked distortions.  We get all bent in on ourselves in this black hole of emptiness.  We keep trying to get bigger to fill the hole of meaning in our lives, and we just get emptier and emptier.  
Finally, we get one of the most famous verses of the Bible: “But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” (2:4).  Many of us may remember it in an older version: “But the just shall live by faith.”  Paul quoted this verse as the summary of the gospel in his letter to the Romans: “This Good News tells how God makes us right in his sight.  This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.  As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Romans 1:17).  
But what does this so important verse mean?  The just shall live by faith.  
  • First the subject: the just, the righteous, those who do right, those who live right, those who get life right.    
  • Next, the modifier at the end: “by faith” actually has the meaning of by steadfast trust.  This word for faith here isn’t a set of beliefs that we can check off, “I believe in the Trinity, check.  I believe in salvation by grace through faith, check.”  This is a heart-level trust that is steadfast or steady in the midst of storm and trouble.  Even when the wind is blowing the leaves and branches like crazy, the roots hold firm.  This is steadfast trust.
  • And last the verb: “will live.”  If you want to get life right, then live with steadfast trust.  Steady trust in God straightens our our life.  Steady trust in God keeps us rooted in truth and goodness.  Steady trust in God keeps us connected to the source of life.  

In the midst of all the frustations and struggles and injustices of life, trust that God is going to bring justice in the end.  Trust that God is just.  God will not let evil go unpunished or good go without reward.  God is just.  Trust him.  Trust that God is just and will make everything right in the end.  First big point: Trust that God is just.

OK, God’s next big point in chapter two is why we should trust that God is just.  And the answer is pretty simple: what comes around, goes around.  
Alright, let me ask you a question.  Have you ever tried to translate poetry?  What about a joke?  It’s really hard, right.  What works in one language doesn’t necessarily work in another language.  That seems to be what is happening here.  Apparently, Habakkuk was one of the greatest Hebrew poets ever.  Seriously.  There are poetic devices all over the place in chapter two.  His three favorite techniques are rhyming, parallelism, and wordplay.  You know rhyming; that’s basic poetry.  Parallelism is basically saying the same thing in a different way on the next line.  Word play is really hard to translate, though.  For example, in verse 18, Habakkuk says idols are “speechless nothings.”  In Hebrew this is elelim illemim.  In English we get close to the meaning by saying idols are dumb dummies, but in Hebrew there’s an extra wordplay because the Hebrew word for God is elohim.   So idols sound like God, and may even look like what we hope for in a God, but they are really just dumb dummy nothings.  
In verse 6 God says the poor people will turn on the rich and revolt and mock them with “sayings.”  And then Habakkuk 2 gives five of these proverbs of justice that will come back to haunt those who live by injustice.  I’m going to try to make a rough translation of these into English proverbs so that we can get close to feeling what the Israelites would have felt.
  • Verses 6-8: Live by the sword, die by the sword.   Do evil, get evil.  Just you wait.
  • Verses 9-11: The bigger they are, the harder they fall.  You think your big house will protect you?  Wait until it comes crashing down on your head.
  • Verses 12-13:  Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders build in vain.  This one is actually from Psalm 127:1.  Do it without God, and you’re just building an empty shell.
  • Verses 15:17: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  Do unto others and it will be done unto you.  
  • Verses 18-19: This one’s my own invention.  See how you like it:  Idols are all bling and no being.  All flash and glitter, but no substance.  Idols are gold plated nothings.

Basically, God is saying, “Look, Habakkuk.  Look, Israel.  Look, people of all time.  I know you can’t always see how things work out.  I know that in the short-term this world can look really unjust.  I know.  I get it.  I understand.  But what you’ve got to remember is what comes around goes around.  Everyone is going to get their just deserts in the end.”  
No, that doesn’t mean everyone is going to get desserts like ice cream in the end.  It means, everyone is going to get what they deserve.  It means at the end of time, we will all agree that God is fair.  Sometimes justice comes rolling down like a river in this lifetime, and we see some dictator like Saddam or Ghadafi drug through the streets.  But other times, justice takes generations, or it happens in the end time.  All God is asking is that we believe that God is just and that God will make justice happen eventually.  God’s timing may not be our timing, but it works.  It works - better than our timing.  What comes around goes around because God is just.

Lastly, there are two little verses that are almost hidden that give us a picture of what happens when we trust that God is just.  
The first one is verse 14: For as the waters fill the sea, the earth will be filled with an awareness of the glory of the LORD.  Now that may seem pretty but not so impressive at first.  But remember what God just said about the idols.  They may be overlaid with gold or silver, but they are lifeless inside (2:19).  They are empty.  There is nothing inside.  And think back to how God described the people addicted to money.  They open their mouths as wide as the grave, and like death, they are never satisfied (2:5).  They never get full.  They keep putting more and more in, but they are just black holes.  They are always empty.  And the people who build cities through violence and corruption, their wealth will turn to ashes.  They work so hard, but all in vain (2:13).  Their lives are empty.  Their wealth is empty.  Their work is empty.  It’s all empty.
But the time will come when God’s glory will FILL the earth like waters fill the sea.  How much do waters fill the sea?  They saturate it.  Every inch, every nanometer of the sea is drenched in water.  One day everyone and everything everywhere will be FILLED with awareness of God’s amazing glory.  
John gives us a picture of this in the Revelation in his vision of heaven or the redeemed earth: And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.  The nations will walk in its light (Revelation 21:22-23).  God’s glory will be so thick and obvious that it will just light up everything, and we’ll walk around like we’re inside the sun.  God’s glory will FILL every empty place in our lives.  Every place where we feel like God is absent.  Every place where there is a lack.  God will eliminate all the injustices, all the sadness, all the suffering, all the longing, all the desperate dissatisfaction that pushes us for more more more.  We will all be FULL of God’s glory and goodness.
The last verse I want to talk about is the last verse: But the Lord is in his holy Temple.   Let all the earth be silent before him (2:20).  Habakkuk started out shouting.  Why, God?!  How long, God?!  It’s not fair, God!  How can you do this God?!   And God was OK with that.  God was OK with all the shouting and venting and accusations.  
Think about Job, the most famous sufferer of all.  Job spent something like thirty chapters arguing with God and his friends.  Job famously rails against God:
  • What did I ever do to you, God?  (7:20)
  • God might kill me, but ... I’m going to argue my case with him. (13:15).
  • God hates me (16:9).
  • God has wronged me (19:6).  
  • My complaint is with God (21:6)
And yet, he continues shouting and screaming, believing that somehow God must hear him.  Somehow the good God must eventually prove himself good.  And finally, God answers Job from inside a “whirlwind”, “Job, you’re right about some of that, and you have a good heart, but also, you don’t know everything.  Did you make the world?  Did you put the stars in place?  Did you design DNA or engineer gravity?  No?  Then, shut up!” (Job 39-41).  And overwhelmed by God’s glory and power, Job says, “I will cover my mouth with my hand ... for I was talking about ... things far too wonderful for me” (Job 40:4 and 42:2).  
Habakkuk comes to a similar place.  Overwhelmed with the glory of God that will fill the earth, Habakkuk echos God’s voice: “Let all the earth be silent before him.”  Habakkuk moves from shouting to silence, from anger to awe, from wrestling to resting in mystery.  God is God, not us.  God is God, and God is just.  If we really believe that, then we can shout all we want to, but eventually we need to come to a place of silent worship before the Awesome Creator and Master of the Universe, trusting that God knows how to be God.
Imagine that you are riding in a jeep with an experienced guide as you travel through jungle covered mountains.  It is raining so hard that the dirt roads are little more than muddy rivers.  You can see almost nothing, but you can feel every bump and ever turn deep inside your gut.  Every so often, your view clears enough to see a bank of trees coming right at you, but somehow the guide turns away at the last minute.  Once or twice, when you were going around a turn, you looked out and saw nothing but miles and miles of air, and you thought you were certainly going over the edge of the mountain.  But somehow the driver managed to keep a few wheels on the road, and you kept going.  
You can shout “Look out!  Slow down!  Be careful!  Do you even know where we’re going?  We’re all going to die!”  But eventually, you have to face a choice.  Do you trust the driver more than yourself?  If you don’t want to get out and walk, then the best thing you can do is to shut up and trust the driver.
When our life’s journey has bumps and jungles and rainstorms, we face the same situation.  We can be really frustrated about the it all.  It may not feel safe or fair or necessary.  But in the end, we face a basic question.  Do we trust the Driver?  Do we trust that God is just?  Do we trust that God will bring our world where it is supposed to go?  Do we trust that God will eventually be fair with everyone and everything?  Because, unless we want to be our own God, eventually our only choice is to sit in worshipful silent trust that God is just.
OK, now get out that black paper again.  We’re going to pray, and then we’re going to take communion.  When we celebrate communion, we’re going to do something different.  We’ll take our biggest, blackest doubts and hand them over to God.  Roll up your paper, or fold it, or make it into a crumpled ball, and put it in the wires on the cross.  We’ll give him our doubt.  He may not answer our questions today or tomorrow or in twenty-five years, but we’ll trust that God is just and that God is bigger and better than our questions.  Trust that God is just, and experience more of God’s life.