The sovereignty of God is our comfort, our hope, and our peace. Todd Boone preaches a sermon entitled “Seeing the Work of the Sovereign Lord” on Habakkuk 1 and 2 in chapel at RTS Orlando.
Well go ahead and turn in your Bibles to the book of Habakkuk—it is Habakkuk as far as I’m concerned, not Habakkuk—Habakkuk 1. And as you’re turning there, I do want to express my appreciation just for the opportunity to be able to share God’s Word with you this morning. It really is a great privilege and a great honor to be able to share with you from the riches that I have learned being a student here at RTS. I’m very thankful for the time that I’ve been able to be here and study, but also for what God is doing in my heart and in my soul and the privilege to be able to share that with you. I’m very thankful for that opportunity.
But Habakkuk 1, and our text this morning is going to be all of chapter 1 and the first verse of chapter 2. But for time’s sake, as I read it, we’ll read through verses 1–6, and then we’ll skip down to verse 1 of chapter 2. Please read along.
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
Oh, Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I’m doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. 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.
Verse 1, chapter 2:
“I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”
Gracious heavenly Father, we do thank you so much, Lord, for the privilege that it is to sit under the teaching authority of your Word. Lord, as we are confronted with your truth and even hard truth, Lord, we ask that your Holy Spirit would soften our hearts to receive your Word, that your Word would accomplish precisely what you have set it out to do. And we pray that you would receive all the glory for it. In Jesus’s name we ask, Amen.
God’s Sovereignty Comforts His People Because He Is in Control
Years ago, when I was a student at a large Christian university, I was attending a communications class. And in this communications class, we had an assignment of having to present a five-minute persuasive argument to try to persuade the class to our point of view. I was thankful that I was one of the last ones to go because I was having a hard time figuring out what I wanted to speak on.
Well, in the first group, the first week of students as they went, one of the students gave a gospel presentation. It was it was very clear; it was very articulate. But some of the things that I was picking up on as I was listening to him were statements like the importance of choosing to follow after Jesus, and how God has given us a free will whereby we might choose to follow after him in accordance with that free will, and that God’s love was so great that he sent his Son to die for the sins of the world, even if no one in the world would repent and follow after him. God’s love was so great.
I’m listening to that. I was a newer Christian, and I was also quite familiar with the doctrines of grace. I was really in full-blown “cage stage” mode at that point in my life. I had no restraints whatsoever. As I’m listening that I’m thinking, “All right. I know what I’m going to talk about when it’s my turn now.” So I did. I prepared a lesson where I was going to go through the doctrines of grace to my class. And I didn’t just walk through the five points of the TULIP acronym, but I even drew from some of the statements that my classmate had made the week prior and used them as an example of what is wrong. And he didn’t even know that I was going to be doing that.
Well, all that to say, if I’m being honest, my goal in my presentation wasn’t to persuade my classmates. It was probably really to humiliate my classmate. It was to show how much smarter I thought I was than him. I had a great deal to learn. God’s sovereignty is not some weapon that we can wield around a communications classroom. It’s not a bludgeon to hit over people’s heads in Sunday school classes or in church hallways, but it is a comfort to an uncertain people. It is an anchor of hope for the hospital room. It’s a solid rock for the prayer closet of the parent who has a wayward child. It’s hope for the one who is struggling with a hidden addiction. It’s peace for the one who does not know what life after seminary is going to look like.
It is God who controls his people. It is God who controls the nations. It is God who controls all things.Not only did I not fully know how to engage with God’s sovereignty, my understanding of it was so narrow as well: five points, to be exact. And the rule and reign of God, as we’ve been learning as well here at seminary, the rule and reign of God is so much, so much more than this. It shapes our prayers. It supports our hope. It feeds our faith. And it drives our worship.
A. W. Pink gives a really helpful description of the sovereignty of God by saying that it is the exercise of his supremacy. God does as he pleases, always as he pleases. This is the central point of the Book of Habakkuk, as well as our text this morning, that it is God who controls his people. It is God who controls the nations. It is God who controls all things. And God is going to accomplish what he sets out to do and how he is going to do it. Specifically, what we’ll notice is that because the Lord is sovereign, overall, we must trust in his wise rule.
God’s People Trust Him by Turning to Him with Their Complaints
The first way that this trusting in God’s rule is seen is that we must turn to him with our complaints. Because the Lord is sovereign over his people we must turn to him with our complaints.
We see that’s what Habakkuk does, he turns to the Lord. I want to frame this complaint that Habakkuk is here offering and what it means for us as well. Remember that Habakkuk is ministering to the southern kingdom of Judah in the early 600s B.C. during the reign of King Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim came to rule after the death of his father, Josiah. We know Josiah to be a a good king, a good ruler over the people of Judah. He led the reforms in Judah, reforming worship and giving the law and the Word of God its central place among the people. And Jehoiakim, his son, as he was really a vassal ruler of the Egyptian king, Neko, Jehoiakim reversed the social and religious policies of Josiah.
Even the prophet Jeremiah describes two horrific acts by Jehoiakim which really summarize his reign and his character. As Jehoiakim was confronted with God’s Word, the scroll given to him by Jeremiah, Jehoiakim shredded it and threw it into the fire. And then also the prophet Uriah, when Jehoiakim was confronted by him, he sought Uriah’s death. And in fact, as Uriah went and left to go to Egypt, Jehoiakim sent someone out to go hunt him down, capture him, bring him back to Judah, where he then had him killed.
That’s the reign, that’s the nation of Judah at the time that Habakkuk is writing. It’s in this context that Habakkuk cries out. It’s a complaint about the silence of God. He says there in verse 2, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.”
It really is a unique beginning to the book of Habakkuk especially when you contrast it with a lot of the other prophets. Think about Ezekiel: right away you have this vision that we’re just flung into. Or think maybe about an even more traditional opening to a prophetic book. The book of Joel starts out, “The word of Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel. Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers?”
We would maybe expect a prophetic book to open with a vision, with a prophecy, a word from the Lord. What do we see? “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” We’re not given a vision. We’re not given a prophecy from the Lord. But we are thrust into the inner turmoil, the inner cries of a man who is experiencing loss, who is experiencing confusion. It puts us face to face with a weary prophet and it invites us to expect something to happen here. Maybe something different.
He doesn’t just complain to the Lord about the Lord’s silence, but about the injustices that are taking place. He says in verse 4, “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” Habakkuk is asking a very similar question to many of the psalmists: “Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the righteous suffer?”
What is fair, what is just is the issue especially seen in light of Judah’s reforms under Jehoiakim’s father, Josiah, just a decade or so earlier. You can imagine the thinking behind this with Habakkuk, “Lord, we’ve repented. We turned to you and sat under the authority of your Word as we demolished idols, removed idolatrous practices, and reformed worship. Yet here we are again, you having allowed the wicked to surround the righteous.”
When God’s law is paralyzed and justice is perverted or crooked or bent, the righteous become hemmed in by the wicked. That’s what it says in the NIV, “hemmed in.” That is, they are engulfed. They are swallowed up. Idolatrous practices are resumed. Prophets are being silenced and killed. Genuine covenant community worship is being stifled, muzzled, and completely snuffed out. Any attempt to turn back to the Lord is not only met with opposition, but with violence. And it’s in this situation, Habakkuk is crying out, “God, where are you? Why won’t you hear me? Don’t you see what is happening to me? Don’t you see what is happening to your people?”
Habakkuk turns his complaint, his opportunity for grumbling and whining to others, and he brings it to the Lord in prayer.See Habakkuk knew his God. He knew him to be the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. What he was seeing with his eyes seemed to oppose who he knew God to be. God ought to do something. God ought to stop it. He can’t just let injustice go on.
Habakkuk is facing a dilemma that has confronted God’s people in every age. Whether it’s on a large scale with nations and society, but also on personal levels as well. Perhaps even there are some here that are feeling the cutting edge of God’s silence due to injustices which you have personally endured, being treated unfairly by your spouse, being treated unfairly by a loved one, by a coworker, by your boss. Belittled by someone that you trusted. Belittled by someone at your church. You’ve been given a diagnosis concerning your health, which has no reasoning, seemed so unjust and unfair. And you pray for peace, but there is only more war. You pray for healing, and there’s only more sickness and death. You look around for a Word from the Lord, look to see wrongs being righted by the mighty right hand of God. It’s what you anticipate. But yet there’s nothing. Just the continued down spiraling of the already unjust situation.
Habakkuk, even in such dire circumstances, points us toward a life-giving means of grace. Habakkuk turns his complaint, his opportunity for grumbling and whining to others, and he brings it to the Lord in prayer. When you feel those daggers of being treated unfairly, when you experience the sting of injustice, how do you respond? If you’re anything like me, maybe you feel tempted to want to find the nearest person, no matter who they are, and gripe and complain about the absolute audacity of your boss, the audacity of someone that you trusted, your family member, that they would dare to treat you that way.
Instead Habakkuk brings his complaint to the sovereign lord. This is not the clay asking the potter in unbelief why it was made. Rather, it is a faithful manifestation of allegiance and loyalty to his God. And so, too, are we commended to unburden ourselves before the Lord, trusting in his sovereignty, knowing our God, yet expressing our difficulties with what we are experiencing and what we are seeing.
Because the Lord is Sovereign Over All People, We Must Not Temper the Means of God
So when we consider the sovereignty of God over his people, we can know that we can turn to him with our complaints, but not only this. Secondly, because the Lord is sovereign over all people we must not temper the means of God Because the Lord is sovereign over all people, we must not temper the means of God.
Habakkuk is confronted here first with an unbelievable answer. Look at verse 5. Here’s the Lord’s response, “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.”
I have suffered from a condition called myopia. If you know what that is, you might be kind of chuckling to yourself. It just means nearsightedness, but myopia sounds of serious. It means I need glasses or contact lenses because I can’t see things all that well that are far away. And I remember when I first realized that this was something that I had, when my eyes were giving me trouble, is when I was in middle school. I would sit toward the back in my classes, and I would have a hard time making out what was on the chalkboard there, not whiteboards then, I still remember that. And I couldn’t make out all the teacher was writing on there. I would squint my eyes a lot and my grades were suffering and red flags were flown to where I got my eyes checked. I went to the optometrist, and I desperately needed glasses.
I remember that first day back at school when I had my new glasses, and it was amazing. Being able to see the chalkboard so clearly, I distinctly remember that feeling, and granted it didn’t help my grades, but now I knew what I was getting wrong as opposed to just guessing.
Habakkuk really is suffering from myopia, from nearsightedness. He could look around near him, and he could reach certain conclusions based on what he was seeing or he thought he could. Back up in verse 3 were he said, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” But he could not see what God could see. And the Lord put glasses on Habakkuk and he is astonished at what he beholds.
Not only Habakkuk, but the Lord actually is speaking here in the plural imperative, showing that this was a response really to the entire covenant community, saying, “Y’all look among the nations, see all of you, not only this, but then wonder and be astounded.” In this imperative to wonder, that’s the same word used in Genesis 43 that describes the response of Joseph’s brothers when they finally realized that it was Joseph all along, the second command in Egypt, that they were in wonder. They were dumbfounded. And that’s what the Lord is calling Habakkuk to do: wonder, be dumbfounded by this astonishing thing that I am doing.
God, in executing a sovereignty over all nations, is free to accomplish his purposes in an unbelievable and astounding way.God is not silent. He is not idle. He has been working, though, it could not be seen by the nearsighted Habakkuk. And it is not an answer that Habakkuk would have anticipated. But the Lord is not only the ruler over Israel, but over all nations. Amos 9:7, the Lord says, “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?”
The Lord is the one ruling the nations. God, in executing a sovereignty over all nations, is free to accomplish his purposes in an unbelievable and astounding way. It’s not just that it’s astonishing and unbelievable, but there’s irony here as well. It’s an ironic answer.
Again, our text, verse 6, “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. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
The Lord is not bound by the best human strategies and human tactics.The Lord is able and has the right to answer any matter, any issue, how he sees fit. The Lord is not bound by the best human strategies and human tactics. There are no 12 rules for life for God. No seven habits of highly effective people mapping for the Lord. He’s not constrained to such a system. It’s just as the psalmist says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”
This apparently includes dealing with his own chosen people, the daughter of Zion, the children of Abraham, the apple of his eye, dealing with their injustices by sending a nation filled with bitter plunderers, fearsome self-worshipers, an army swift and treacherous, eager to kill and shed blood and then slip away and enjoy its spoils, sending this wicked people as judge and executioner over Israel. It seems as if the cure for the problem is worse than the disease itself.
This is the irony of it all. That the issue with Judah that Habakkuk cries out, “Violence!” God is sending a people to judge their violence who are the epitome, who are the pinnacle of violence themselves. It’s like sending a tornado to judge the mess of a pig.
But perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising. The Lord made a great nation from a 100-year-old man and his 90-year-old wife. He calls the Israelite slaves to leave Egypt with Egyptian riches in tow. He fed a people for 40 years with manna from heaven and water from rocks. He chose the youngest of Jesse’s sons to slay the giant and deliver his people. He sent his one and only Son to take on flesh and dwell among us. Born in a stable, lived as a carpenter’s son, he was humiliated, beaten, mocked, and crucified. The king of glory, God in flesh, endured sin’s curse by suffering the wrath of the Father upon the cross, that the Creator of the universe would suffer and die for me.
And we think God ought to operate in a certain way. We think we have God perfectly figured out. Perhaps we wouldn’t outright say that, I hope we wouldn’t. But how do we respond when the Lord answers our petitions for healing with more sickness? When we pray for deliverance from some trial, some debilitating grip by the old man, and deliverance seems to never come? How do we respond when we plead for financial provision and security and all we think we receive is greater uncertainty and even less clarity?
Isaac Watts proposed a question I think we all have to answer: “Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?” Is the Lord not sovereign over his and all peoples?
God Is Sovereign Over All Things so We Must Trust in His Timing
God’s sovereignty does indeed direct us how we are to respond to the Lord, not only in turning to him with our complaints and not tempering with the means of God, but lastly because the Lord is sovereign over all things, we must trust in his timing. We must trust in his timing.
There again, in our text, verse 12, as you see Habakkuk’s complaint again, but based on God. He says, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof. You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”
There obviously is great similarity of content between verses 2–4 and this section here as well. But really, the differences is in form. In verses 2–4 it was a lament. And here it’s really confession, a confession of faith that Habakkuk is giving. He’s saying, “God, I know you are eternal. You are personal. You are holy. You are sovereign and unchanging. Lord, you are the creator.” So there’s this imagery, again, of what is seen or what is not seen, not only by Habakkuk but by the Lord, “You are of purer eyes then to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent?”
The heart of the problem is that the outside world contradicts the certainty of the nature of God himself in Habakkuk’s mind. A holy, righteous, sovereign God cannot endure the godless acts not only of Judah, but how much more so of Babylon, of a ruthless oppressor? He cannot endure that, can he? Habakkuk is facing the question which continues to be asked today: if God is loving and all-powerful, why is there suffering in the world?
This is not a new question which modern skeptics have cleverly devised, but it has been asked by God’s own people for thousands of years. Then Habakkuk asks that with this picture, this image of the injustice of bringing this treacherous nation of Babylon to judge Judah. There in verse 14 he says, “You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?”
The argument is this: God, you made us like helpless fish without a leader. The enemy Babylonians took advantage of the situation and will overcome us. The natural result is they’re rejoicing, they’re self-worshiping because he is so prosperous that then we must ask if he is allowed to keep this up forever.
It’s an appropriate analogy. Babylonians like fishermen, the Jews like the fish because there’s not really much of a fight when you go fishing. It’s not like hunting a bear or even an elk. Every once in a while you hear of some injuries that happened, some hunting accident. There’s not really a whole lot with fishing so much. With fishing, especially with a dragnet, you just kind of go up there, you scoop them up, and that’s the end of it. It’s like gathering them in his dragnet.
And he further describes the moral and religious condition of the Babylonians, noting how it is not even their idols and false gods whom they serve, but their own devices, their instruments of war and prosperity and death. Habakkuk’s comments seem to describe a situation where we are even further from the goal of the establishment of the right order of the world, and Habakkuk cannot understand that any more than we can.
See, we’re not walking away this morning with a whole lot of answers. What we see here with Habakkuk is facing the reality of the questions. These are real questions. We do have a response from Habakkuk. Chapter 2, verse 1 says, “I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”
Habakkuk really has two options at this point. He has his doubts about what he sees and how it relates to the God he knows. He can allow his doubts to either be destructive or helpful. He can use his doubt struggles and agonizing questions to turn from God and to renounce his faith. Or he can turn to the Lord, keep a hold on the Lord, and the Lord holding onto him, trusting him for an answer and growing in faith.
Habakkuk has the expectation of David in Psalm 5. He said, “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I direct my prayer to you and watch.”
The Lord is sovereign. He brings his answers in his perfect timing.This is where we leave Habakkuk, standing on the tower, looking out, watching, and waiting. This is a good place to be. It’s a really hard place to be. Standing on the tower, looking over the ridge, looking beyond the trees to see from where the answer might come. The Lord is sovereign. He brings his answers in his perfect timing.
When we’re faced with the injustices of this life, we are invited to bring our complaints to the Lord, to stand at the watch post and wait. And when the Lord’s answer comes, and we have been waiting and watching, will we obey? No matter the hardships, no matter that our God has called some to fight, to win the prize, to sail the bloody seas. Will we follow?
The sovereignty of God. It’s not a position to take, it is so much more than that. It is our comfort, it is our hope, it is our peace.
Gracious heavenly Father, Lord, even as we are confronted with these hard truths and seeing what you have done in Habakkuk and among the people of Judah, Lord, we trust in you. Lord, give us the heart of faith. Give us the heart to trust you even when it is seemingly silent, to trust that you are working and that you are good and loving and we can indeed rely upon you. For Christ’s sake, we ask you, Amen.