ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER
Listen: Click to listen
(to save a file simply right click the link and select 'Save Target As...' or 'Save Link As...')
How do we live in the meantime? This is the question that we’re looking at over these three weeks of our journey through Habakkuk. Habakkuk and the people to whom he prophesied lived in a sort of in-between time as they waited for the promises of God. The promise to Israel is that it would be made a nation through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. That the salvation of the world would come through this nation. Israel had been divided. The northern Kingdom had been conquered by the Assyrians. The Assyrians were then in turn conquered by the rising Babylonian or Chaldean empire. We read last week about the injustice that Habakkuk saw as he looked around at Judah. We read of the Chaldeans who it turned out practiced a brand of injustice that could be considered worse than what was already going on in Judah. We talked about how this book was written by a man of faith for a people of faith. What does it mean to live by this faith in the middle of the meantime – in the middle of waiting for promises to be fulfilled, God’s divine dream to be realized. We talked about how this book gives us permission to ask questions, to give voice to our complaints even.
As we move into the second chapter, what we hear from the prophet is a call to steadfastness. It’s a call to remain vigilant together. It’s a call that I think speaks very plainly to people of faith in what I see as the biggest danger for us. I think that the biggest danger for us is not that one day we are going to say “You know what, all this Christ stuff is not really for me.” Kind of like a reverse epiphany. I think the bigger danger for us is that we being to drift. That we begin to drift away from the practices that have held us fast to Christ. That we begin to let cultural currents take us away from the thing that matters most in this life. That we begin to see the problems of our world – the problems of our life – less and less through the lens of Christ and his birth and death and resurrection and promised return and more and more through the lens of.
Well through our own lens. I suppose. The autonomous lens. The lens if self-sufficiency. The lens of “I got this” or “We got this.” So how are we doing with our self-sufficiency? The problem with this lens is that, through it, the problems of the world and the problems of little people like us in the world tend to either overwhelm us or cause rampant indifference within us.
So what do we do? The prophet spells it out in this wonderful image – “I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart.” He taught me how to watch and pray, is how the old hymn goes. There’s got to be some kind of way out of here, there is so much confusion, I can’t get no relief, is how Bob Dylan described the state of the world, the state of ourselves. All along the watchtower, princes kept the view. I will stand at my watchpost and station myself at the rampart. I will keep watch. Vigilance is the order of the day. Constancy. Of course in the ancient world, people who manned watchposts were generally looking for danger. What this watcher is watching for is actually something that’s heard rather than seen – “I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.” Outside of a word from God, outside of the living Word of God, there is confusion and no relief. One writer puts it like this – “If we search only nature’s workings or history’s lesson for proof of divine activity, apart from their interpretation by the word of God, we will end up despairing of God’s interest in us and in his world…or we will become cynically convinced that God does nothing at all. Worse yet, we may end up worshipping the creation rather than the creator.” French reformer Jean Calvin put it this way – “As long….as we judge according to our own perceptions, we walk on the earth, and while we do so, many clouds arise, and Satan scatters ashes in our eyes, and wholly darkens our judgement, and thus it happens, that we lie down altogether confounded. It is hence wholly necessary…that we should tread our reason underfoot, and come nigh to God himself… let the word of God become our ladder…”
Let the word of God become our ladder. Stand at our watchposts and watch to hear what God will say to us. In this way to remain steadfast. To hold fast. The image here is of a solitary watcher, but if we consider this in the context of a faith community, we can consider many people standing along the rampart, watching and waiting, looking above. Letting the word of God become our ladder.
So how are we doing with that? This is the invitation that the prophet puts forth here. This watching is not just for OT prophets. It’s for all of us. Are we searching the word of God often and meaningfully to hear what God has to say to us? We do this together of course. We do this in our small groups. We’re called to do this on our own too. Have you ever turned to the Bible and found God speaking directly to a situation in which you’ve found yourself? Found yourself reminded of a promise of God that you needed to be reminded of just at that moment? It can be enough to bring us to tears, can’t it? How is this searching God’s word going for you? Are you in a routine that puts you in the word of God on a daily basis? We need this help daily! If you’re not and you’d like to be, speak to Pastor Abby or me. The figure of the watchful prophet here is an example for all of us. There’s no doubt as to God’s ability to bring God’s promises about. There’s no turning away from God in despair.
There is simply resolute watchfulness. I will keep watch to see what he will answer me, concerning my complaint. The word comes from God. “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision; make it plain of tablets, so that a runner may read it.’” What is the vision? The Divine Dream. The prophet Isaiah described it like this. Isaiah 11. Isaiah 2:4. Rev 21. Keep these promises in front of us all the time. Remember together how God’s promises have come about in the person of Christ. Remember how God’s promises have come about in our lives. Write the vision. Make it plain in tablets so that a runner may read it. Keep it in front of us all the time. This vision does not lie. This is a statement of faith. This is a statement of our faith. Of God’s faithfulness. It speaks to the end. It hastens toward the end. Literally, it puffs or pants toward the end like a runner.
As we wait, we wait actively. One writer puts it like this – “To wait for the fulfillment of God’s purposes for his world is not a passive resignation, however – not a clenched-teeth stoic acceptance of whatever comes along. The end of human history is already foreseen by God, but the route by which the goal is reached, the decision as to who will inherit its abundant life, and the multitudinous events that will work together to bring in the Kingdom are still undecided in the on-going dialogue between God and his creatures.”
The story of the Bible is a story of God in dialogue with people – inviting them into his saving work – from the call of Abraham to the long discussion Moses has with God as to why he’s in no way qualified to do what God’s asking him to do. From the promise made to David that God would establish his throne forever, to the echo of that promise made by the angel Gabriel to young Mary. To the dialogue that Jesus has with his Father which ends with “Not my will but yours be done.” This is our invitation as we wait – the invitation to ask God to use us in bringing the Divine Dream about.
As we wait.
We’re invited to let God use us to bring his purposes about. The saving purposes we talked about throughout Lent. To show in us and through us that self-denying love saves the world.
That the Kingdom of God is built on self-sacrificing love.
Of course, as someone has said, while the Kingdom of God is open to all, it’s not for all. Which brings us to the verse that’s been described as one of the central affirmations of Biblical faith. The first thing described is what faith is not – Look at the proud! Those who rely on self. Where we are depending on things like smarts, wealth, charm, ability to figure things out. We are puffed up. Our spirit is not right in us. Something is crooked within us when we are not living in harmony with our creator. We see the results all around us.
But. You always need to pay attention to what comes after the but. But the righteous shall live by faith. Someone has said that the word righteous throughout the Bible describes what it means to fulfill the demands of a relationship. To fulfill the demands of the relationship which God initiated with the people of Israel – this relationship that has been extended to all in the person and in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is to live by faith. The idea of faithfulness here is one of trust in God. Holding on to God in dependence on God. As one author puts it – “Faithfulness means placing one’s whole life in God’s hands, and trusting him to fulfill it, despite all outward and inward circumstances… Faithfulness is life by God’s power rather than one’s own, and therefore it is truly life because it draws its vitality from the living God who is the source of all life.” And so we can talk in faith about dying to self and in so doing finding life because in dying to self we are coming ever more to live in connection with the creator of all life.
Who is faithful. This is the thing about our own faith, our own trust in God. It’s based on God’s faithfulness. Part of God’s nature is to keep promises.
God will bring about his promises. Evil, oppression, injustice will not be allowed to stand forever. We cry out “How long?” in the meantime knowing this. We have what’s known as “woe oracles” here. These speak of the future and they speak out about what’s going in the present. “Alas for you who heap up what is not your own. How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge? Will not your own creditors suddenly rise, and those who make you tremble wake up? Then you will be booty for them.” Injustice will not be allowed to stand forever. Empires come and go. Those who worship created things will find that the things they worship teach lies. “Alas for you who say to the wood ‘Wake up!’ To silent stone ‘Rouse yourself!’ Can it teach? See, it is gold and silver plated, and there is no breath in it at all.”
Through it all, we watch and wait. Through it, all the prophet reminds us of this truth – “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” We dream the Divine Dream along with our Creator. We dream it wide awake as we watch and wait, and pray. We’ll talk more of that next week. May God continue to plant and nurture this dream that we see with eyes of faith within each of our hearts.