O LORD, How Long?
What do you do when you cannot make sense of the bad things that are happening in the world? Pastor Oliver exhorts us to learn from the prophet Habakkuk.
We are facing the health epidemic of a generation due to Covid-19 and the concurrent inadequate responses in many countries. There is an ongoing trade war due to unstable geopolitics and national self-interest. And we are still seeing the repercussions of social injustice due to racial inequality. As a result, social upheaval is advancing throughout the world, and Singapore is not spared—we are facing both a health crisis and unprecedented financial challenges. The economy is in bad shape—on Tuesday, we received news that Singapore is in a technical recession. Some of us are losing our jobs, there is both a financial and emotional strain on families causing relational tensions, and the immediate future looks bleak. What do you do when you cannot make sense of the bad things that are happening in the world? We cry out, "O LORD, how long?"
The book of Habakkuk addresses and answers our question: the prophet Habakkuk cried out the very same thing in Habakkuk 1:2. At this point in the prophet's ministry, the nation of Judah was overrun by sin, iniquity and injustice. The wicked surround and swallows up the righteous. Bad people triumph and all that is wrong pervades the land (Hab 1:2-4). And what is the first thing the prophet did? He brought his complaints and questions to God. In fact, the book of Habakkuk can be structured as such: the prophet's first question and complaint (Hab 1:1-4) and God's first answer (Hab 1:5-11); the prophet's second question and complaint (Hab 1:12-2:1) and God's second answer (Hab 2:2-20); and finally Habakkuk's response in the form of prayer in song (Hab 3:1-19). What this means for us is that when we face uncertainty or troubles because of bad people and bad things happening, we go to God in prayer. We bring our complaints to our personal, covenantal God who hears us.
Habakkuk observed the wickedness happening in his times in his country and complained that God seemed to not care and let wrong prevail (Hab 1:3). And God replied. God was about to do something altogether unexpected. God would raise the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to bring judgement on the nation of Judah (Hab 1:5-11). To the prophet, the Chaldeans was an evil and cruel people, how could God use them to bring justice to his people? So Habakkuk again went before God with a second complaint: "God, you are holy and just. How can you use people more evil and wicked than the Israelites to judge their sins?" (Hab 1:12-2:1). And God answered his prophet yet again—write down what God has revealed; what God has said he will do. God knew the evil the Chaldeans would do, and He would in turn bring judgement upon them in due time (Hab 2:2-20). But for now "the righteous shall live by his faith." In contrast to the arrogant Chaldeans, the people of God are to live by faith in the Word of God.
Author Eric Redmond writes,
The unrighteous will die by their arrogance, but the righteous will live by faith. Isaiah 26:2, which is a song celebrating the salvation of Judah, contains similar language: "Open the gates so a righteous nation can come in—one that remains faithful." The prophet Isaiah equates righteousness with the nation that remains faithful to the Lord. In other words, those who are righteous keep the faith. This is the meaning of Habakkuk's declaration here in verse 4b. Habakkuk 2:4b is also referenced in the New Testament in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38.
In Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, "the righteous shall live by his faith" is used to mean that a sinner is counted righteous because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:38 (which draws on Habakkuk 2:4 and Isaiah 26:2), on the other hand, encouraged believers to live a life of faith. The author of Hebrews encouraged despairing Christians to live trusting that God's promised rescue will surely come at its appropriate time. When Jesus Christ comes back again, all wrongs will be made right.
The prophet Habakkuk finally broke into a prayer in the form of a song. He had seen the vision God revealed (now written down as scripture in our Bible). The prophet in his song recalled how God had many times worked on behalf of his people. He remembered the great redemptive event of the Exodus, in which God had rescued His people (Hab 3:1-16). Now the prophet will wait quietly for the day of trouble, living by faith, trusting in the goodness, wisdom and sovereignty of God. God can use troubles for the good of His people. What this means for us my friends, is that when we face the difficult challenges of these unusual times, we go back to God's Word.
We rehearse the even great redemptive event of the New Testament. We remember the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We recall that Jesus died on the cross in our place for the forgiveness of our sins. He was raised to life for our eternal life. The is the good news of Jesus Christ: that those who trust in this gospel of Jesus Christ will be counted righteous. He will receive this assured eternal life—"the righteous shall live by his faith in Jesus Christ." And then we live by faith, trusting that God would act on behalf of His people fully when Christ comes back again. When Jesus Christ returns, evil will be punished, bad things will be made right, and God's people will be rescued. This is the beautiful promise of the gospel. In the meantime, we wait patiently but joyously.
My friends, once we comprehend and have confidence in this, no troubles: not Covid-19, nor financial crisis, nor the challenges of a generation, can take away the joy we have in Jesus Christ. We will then sing with the prophet Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Amen! We will take joy in the God of our salvation.
1. Scripture calls Christians to join with other believers in a local church. Church membership is good for our spiritual health. To find out more about becoming a member of GBC, please contact Pastor Eugene (firstname.lastname@example.org). Our membership class, Church Matters, starts this Sunday (Jul 19) from 11am to 1230pm. It will run over three consecutive Sundays until Aug 2 (https://tinyurl.com/church-matters).
2. Our Monthly Prayer Meeting will be held on Friday, Jul 31 at 8pm (Link: https://tinyurl.com/prayermeeting-jul). Do come and join us as we bring our thanksgivings and prayer requests together as a church before God.
3. We are doing a membership details update. Members of Grace Baptist Church, please update your personal information here: https://tinyurl.com/member-update or you can use the QR code below. Please send in your updated photos for the membership directory!
4. Do join us for this Sunday Service at 9am, Jul 19, as we livestream on YouTube. We will be returning to our sermon series in the Gospel of Luke. We will be looking at Luke 9:51-62 “To death and glory”. Do invite your friends to join us. Please pray that our hearts would be ready to receive God’s Word.