We can persevere because we have confidence that God will ultimately win. Dr. Richard Belcher preaches on Habbakuk 2 and taunts in the Bible at RTS Charlotte.
You may be seated. If you have your Bibles, turn over to Habakkuk 2.
There are two complaints in Habakkuk. One is laid out in verses 2–4 where Habakkuk looks at the situation around him and sees that there is no justice, that the wicked surround the righteous, and he wonders, “Why is God allowing this to happen within the nation of Judah at this particular time? Why aren’t you doing something?”
Well, God answers Habakkuk and says, “I am doing something. I’m doing something that is hard to believe. Look among the nations, I’m raising up the Babylonians, that will be the instrument of my judgment against my wicked people.”
That doesn’t solve Habakkuk’s problem. He has a second complaint: “How can you, who are a righteous God, use such a wicked nation to be an instrument of judgment against your people when the righteous will be swept up in this judgment?”
God’s answer to Habakkuk comes in 2:4, and it has two parts where God talks about the response of the righteous: they are to persevere in faithfulness. But then God talks about the wicked, and it’s that angle, God talking about the wicked, that we are going to emphasize this morning.
We begin reading our text in 2:4, and then the rest of the chapter will develop the concept of the demise of the wicked. So 2:4,
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him [talking about the wicked], but the righteous shall live by his faith [or shall live in his faithfulness].”
Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death, he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.
Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!” Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.
Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.
Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, it is not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of men and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.
What prophet is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone; Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath in it. But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.
Father, we thank you for your Word. We pray that your Spirit would work in our lives and our hearts during this hour, that you would take your Word and use it as we need it. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.
Humans Taunt Because We Love to Win
Many people would be surprised to learn that there are taunts in Scripture. One dictionary has defined a taunt as a cruel remark that is intended to make someone angry or upset. A taunt is meant to provoke with mockery, contempt, and criticism. Taunts are a part of our culture. They’re commonly used on the playground. They reflect what is important in the culture. When I was growing up, a common taunt was, “Your mama wears army boots.” Forty years ago, that worked; it doesn’t work today. Culture changes.
But if taunts are so negative, why are there taunts in the Bible? Why are there taunts in the mouth of God spoken against his enemies? What is behind the use of taunts in Scripture? Well, there’s something built into human beings that explain taunts. We love to win. Even young children, you have to teach them to lose well. It’s okay to lose. And in those sports leagues where they don’t want to keep score, they know who’s winning.
Winning feels so good. Taunts are an expression of victory over an opponent. A taunt is an expression of superiority, an expression, “I just beat you.” And so a football player stands over someone he has just leveled. A basketball player stares or jaws at someone he has just dunked on. A taunt is an expression of victory, and we all love to win. Winning is a part of the human DNA. It fuels the rivalries of Duke and UNC and Clemson and South Carolina.
The Bible Is a Story of God and His People Winning in the End
Winning is a microcosm of the grand narrative taking place in this world where there is a battle taking place. You go all the way back to Genesis 3:15, we see there’s hostility between the two sides, between the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan. There is a war taking place in the heavenly realms. There is a war taking place between Christ’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom, and this war affects us as his people, reflected in Ephesians 6 and Revelation 12. And this war is of such epic proportions that the side that wins will receive everything. Everything is at stake in this battle.
There is a war taking place in the heavenly realms. There is a war taking place between Christ’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom.At times, it may look like the good side, the side representing the seed of the woman, is losing. Sometimes we appear to be weak. It looks like the enemy is strong, and sometimes the enemy even taunts God’s people, even taunting Yahweh himself. If you have time some time read Isaiah 36:18, where the commander of the Assyrian army comes to Jerusalem and taunts King Ahaz and taunts Yahweh, the God of Israel. He says this: “Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? . . . Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Israel out of my hand?” You think Yahweh is going to save you?
Of course, you know the story, God does deliver his people, sends the Angel of the Lord, destroys 85,000 of the soldiers in the camp of Assyria, and then Isaiah jumps ahead in that text to 20 some years later when the king of Assyria is assassinated. And you know what he’s doing when he’s assassinated? He’s worshiping his God in his temple, in the very temple of his God. These false gods are nothing.
God wins. The people of God win. And that’s the point of Habakkuk 2 and God’s response to Habakkuk’s complaint: because the wicked will receive their just punishment, we who are God’s people should persevere in faithfulness. That’s the point of our text. Understanding the end of the wicked and their demise will help us know how to live our lives today. And so in the short time that we have, I want to point out several things.
The Wicked Are Proud and Seem Powerful but They Lack Peace
The first thing that we learned about the wicked is the basic attitude or foundation out of which they live their lives. Chapter 2, verse 4: “His soul is puffed up. It is not upright within him.” The present ongoing attitude of the wicked, the present condition of the wicked, the one thing that defines the wicked is pride. A puffed up soul is full of pride. Pride is to think that you’re better than others. And in a relationship to God it’s to think that you know better than what God knows. You know better how to live your life. You know better what is good for you than God does. You can run your life fine. You don’t really need God.
Pride leads you to think that you have your life under control, but in reality, the soul of the wicked is not upright. Things are not okay with the wicked. They have a major spiritual problem. They don’t live their life under control. Verse five makes that point, whether your translation translates “wine” or “wealth.” Pride leads to a restless life: wine or wealth, something that looks like it satisfies leaves one restless. Nothing in this life truly satisfies. Greed leaves one restless because it never satisfied. This verse talks about death and Sheol, the place of the wicked—never satisfied. Death is never satisfied. Death doesn’t say, “OK, I’ve had enough. No more death.” It keeps coming. Greed leaves one restless.
Pride leads you to think that you have your life under control, but in reality, the soul of the wicked is not upright.And so the end of 2:5 may come back to reflect on Babylon. A lot of this passage may reflect on Babylon, but it has implications, broader implications, for the wicked, those who are in rebellion against God. Babylon is not satisfied with one nation but gathers as many nations as it can. Pride leads to an insatiable greed that has never satisfied. It leaves one restless for more and more and more and more. There is no peace for the wicked is what Habakkuk is saying.
And yet sometimes the wicked seem unstoppable. The proud have the places of authority and are able to wreak their havoc on others. They seem impregnable. They seem to have all the cards. They seem to have all the advantages. They seem to have all the means to be victorious in anything they seek to do. Dr. Anderson, in his chapel message several weeks ago, talked about a tsunami that has been unleashed in our culture and it certainly seems like we are under assault for what we believe. It seems like we’re on the defensive. It seems like we’re on the run, it seems like the other side has the power, the momentum. They have victory in sight. It seems like we’re going to lose again. It would be easy to lose hope.
But our ultimate hope is not found in the culture of this world. The wicked don’t have it all together. They’re not at peace. Habakkuk does not judge the future by the appearances of the present and neither should we. He goes on to assert the future demise of the wicked.
The Wicked Will Lose and What They’ve Done to Others Will Be Done to Them
That’s the second thing we learned about the wicked, and that’s what he spends the rest of chapter 2 developing: the future demise of the wicked. There’s a basic principle that comes out in chapter 2, expressed in five different woes. You can point them out as you go through this chapter. And these woes express this principle in the form of taunts and riddles. That’s what it says in verse 6, “Shall not all these take up their taunt against him with scoffing and riddles for him?”
Here’s the principle expressed in all of these woes. The principle is this: what the wicked have done to others will be done to them. That’s the principle. You see it worked out in several of these woes. We can’t go through all of them. But in the first woe, which comes in verses 6–8, this woe is against those who gather what is not theirs by forcefully taking it from others. The wicked plunder what others have; they forcefully or dishonestly acquire what belongs to others. Ahab seized Naboth’s vineyard. Governments seize property without reason. Persecuted Christians have their goods taken. The principle is that those who have plundered others will themselves be plundered. The plunderer will be plundered.
In the second woe, the security of the wicked comes into view. The security of the wicked in verse 9 is expressed: setting his nest on high, he looks to be secure from harm. He looks to have it made. But it’s a false security. The secure will become insecure, unsecure. However you want to put it.
In the third woe, verses 12–14, the wicked are not only committed to wickedness in their personal lives, but they use wicked tactics in the public arena. They build cities and towns through the use of blood and iniquity. They misuse people to accomplish their own purposes. Habakkuk says those who build on the backs of others will be built upon. That’s the principle. Those who build on the backs of others will be built upon.
We see by faith that God will be victorious, that God will get the last word.The fourth woe, verses 15–17. Personal morality seems to be in view, for the wicked make others partake of their wickedness. They use their power to force others to sin. And they will reap shame instead of glory. The principle: the shameless will one day be shamed.
And then the fifth woe: idolatry is condemned.
These principles are elaborated by Habakkuk to give God’s people hope. This is why we must persevere in faithfulness, even though it appears that the wicked are winning, even though it seems like they always win, they never lose. Even though it’s hard to believe that they will be stopped. You look at the Middle East today and you look at the the devastation that is being caused in there by certain Islamic groups, and you see how the church is just being wrecked and disappearing in places. And you wonder, “How long, oh Lord?” You are like Habakkuk and you cry out to God, “Do something about this situation.”
But we see by faith that God will be victorious, that God will get the last word.
The Wicked Will Be Destroyed to the Glory of God and He Will Ultimately Win
And so the third thing that we understand from this text is that the wicked will be destroyed, but even more it resounds to the glory of the Lord. This is expressed in two statements in this chapter that show that God will win. This is why we must persevere, because we have the confidence that God will ultimately win.
This is why we must persevere, because we have the confidence that God will ultimately win.The first statement is in 2:14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The knowledge of the Lord will not be confined to one geographic location as it was in the Old Testament. Israel was to be a light to the nations, drawing the nations to her as she lived in obedience to God, and God poured out his blessings upon her. But you know the story of Israel. Israel failed in that mission. The servant of God failed. God had to raise up another servant.
And now we are sent out into the world to preach the message of the gospel. We’re not confined to one geographic location. We are fulfilling Habakkuk 2:14 as the knowledge of the glory of the Lord is going out to every nation and language and tongue. And we will be victorious. We will accomplish our mission because we had been commissioned by the one who has all authority in heaven and earth: Jesus Christ himself. God’s glory will prevail one day.
And then notice how chapter 2 ends: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” This is sort of a closing statement of the first two chapters of Habakkuk. Chapter 3 is a separate psalm of Habakkuk. And even though Habakkuk had these legitimate questions, and even though it was okay for Habakkuk to bring these questions to God, at some point our questions have to stop and we have to submit ourselves to the purposes of God and the sovereignty of God and the glory of God. And we have to be silent before God himself because we trust him. We don’t understand his purposes, but we trust his purposes. And we know that this silence before God is an indication of his Majesty and his glory and his holiness and that one day all the earth will bow before him.
God Will Share His Victory with His People
This gives us a reason to persevere. This gives us hope that God will establish his justice and one day make all things right. There are winners and losers. Human taunts may be cruel because of the purpose behind them to belittle someone or make them feel low. Biblical taunts are true to reality and are meant to make someone face the reality of their situation and that they must come to realize that they are dealing with the God of this universe. The truth at times can seem cruel, but when someone is defiant against God, that one needs to be humbled. And some day that one will be humbled before the throne of God.
With human beings, there may be malice involved in a taunt, but with God there’s no malice, only a just and true rendering of their situation before a holy God. The point of Habakkuk basically is God wins; the wicked will get what’s coming to them. And because God wins, we win.
We in some way are going to participate in the victory of Christ, not because of what we have done, but because he has won the victory for us.Now, the application of this is not for you to go out and begin taunting the enemy. We are to go out and preach the gospel. We are to pray that our enemies become brothers and sisters in Christ. And so we are willing to give up our lives, not take the lives of those who don’t believe. However, I do believe that one day, we will participate in the victory of Christ. It’s interesting the way the New Testament sometimes talks about this victory. We don’t have time to talk about Revelation 2:26, how it uses Psalm 2, that the one who conquers will rule the world, rule the nations. But in Romans 16:20, Paul says, “The god of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Talking to that church, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
We in some way are going to participate in the victory of Christ, not because of what we have done, but because he has won the victory for us. He has crushed the head of Satan, and in some way we’ll stomp on the head of Satan. Is it out of the picture to think that as we do that we’ll taunt our greatest enemy, Satan himself? We are exhorted by Habakkuk to persevere. The wicked will be stopped. The victory will be ours because Christ has won the victory for us. Amen.
We’re going to sing Hymn 545. I would like to sing all the verses. We’re going to sing this hymn to the new tune of “Rock of Ages.” This is an amazing hymn because it talks about the coming future when we stand before the throne of God and we are accepted by God because of Jesus Christ. But this hymn also talks about the wicked and their demise. So let’s stand and sing 545 to the tune of “Rock of Ages,” the new version.