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Through these weeks in Habakkuk, we’ve been talking about what it means to live by faith. We’ve talked about how the prophet gives us permission to question. How the prophet gives us the language of lament. We’ve talked about what it means to live by faith. To watch and wait. To trust in God who has shown himself time and time again to be trustworthy. This morning we come to the final chapter.
As we do, we come to prayer and song and a statement of faith on the part of the prophet that we are invited to make our own. We come to praise.
The situation has not changed so much. We’ve spoken of the historical situation that this book addresses. Judah about to be invaded by the Babylonian Empire. We know the historical situation that we face. They’re essentially the same. One writer puts it like this: “Destruction and violence still mar his community, strife, and contention still arise. Nations still rage and devour those weaker than they. The arrogant still rule, the poor still suffer, the enslaved still labour for emptiness. And false gods are still worshipped in the earth.”
I don’t have to draw you a picture.
We’re all able to draw our own. We all live in the meantime. We also know the personal situations that we face.
Where do we begin? We begin with a prayer. A prayer that’s actually a song. We need song, I believe. We need to be doing things that keep the truths contained within the prophet’s message in front of us all the time. You’ll note that much of this chapter is set up like a psalm. Which are songs. Which are prayers. You can tell it’s a song from the way it’s set up – “…according to Shigionoth which we read in the Psalms. No one is 100% sure what it means, but it denotes a song. Same thing with “Selah”. It’s like a musical break. Again no one is sure of the exact meaning but it denotes a song. It denotes praise.
We’ve been talking about living a life of faith. Keeping the Easter feeling going, the celebratory feeling going, no matter what our circumstance. The prophet issues an invitation to prayer and praise. Not only the invitation but the means. To stand in awe of God. Recognize God’s “otherness”. Recognize the failure of our own self-sufficiency. The myth of our own self-sufficiency. It’s thought that this type of song would have been sung in the Temple. In the morning. Those lines about the sun in verses 3b and4. Imagine hearing them in the morning while the sun shines through the eastern windows of the Temple in Jerusalem. To begin each day with praise of God. “Your praise will ever be on my lips” is a song we sing here. You don’t have to be singing necessarily if that’s not your thing. You could say it. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. This daily reminder. Praise him all creatures here below. Ever in front of us. Praise him above ye heavenly host. The heavenly worship of our God that is ongoing. Let me join in with that praise. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Praise and prayer. Look at what the prophet prays. “I have heard of your renown.” I have heard about what you’ve done. I’ve heard that you’re a God who delivers. Then comes the plea. This is one of the meanings of the word used for prayer here in verse 1. Plea. This is the prophet’s plea. “I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work. In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known…” Another translation has it “In the midst of our years”. In the midst of our years, make your grace, your mercy, your love, your justice known.
This is our prayer too, because like the prophets of the OT we live in a time of waiting. We live in the “already/not yet” of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom that was announced by and brought about in the person of Jesus – in his life and death and resurrection. We await the fulfillment of this Kingdom when Jesus will come again. This means that our primary concern is not with our own ministry, our own service – note that Habakkuk’s plea is not that God makes him an ever more effective prophet – but that God’s purposes are fulfilled. One writer puts it like this:
“There is our focus – the Kingdom of God. What does it matter if some cause is defeated, if some nation totters, if some suffering is borne? The question in the midst of it all is, Has the time of the Kingdom drawn nearer? Has God’s purpose been advanced? Is his banner still on high? The church’s goal is every knee bent and every tongue confessing Christ’s lordship. The church’s concern is the glory of the Lord known over all the earth. The Church’s cause is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, in all and through all. And so the church’s prayer is and must ever be, “O Lord, in the midst of the years, renew thy work. Bring in thy Kingdom on this earth, even as it is in heaven.”
We heard last week that there was still a vision for the appointed time. We like to call it The Divine Dream around here. Martin Luther King Jr. made extensive use of its imagery when he spoke about having a dream. The prophet Isaiah described it like this – “The wolf shall live with the lamb.” “They shall beat their swords in to plowshares.” Isaiah 55:12, Isaiah 60:20
There is still a vision for the appointed time. At the appointed time the brightness of God will be like the sun, but even this light is merely a veil for God’s power – “The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden.” God’s deeds of deliverance in the past are cited – for the prophet the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. For us the delivering work of Christ. The prophet uses past tense, he uses the present continual tense because God’s saving work is for the ages past, for our age, and for the age to come. “Before him went pestilence, and plague followed close behind.” This recalls the Kingdom of Egypt in the time of Moses. A reminder that God will not allow oppression to go unchecked forever. “The eternal mountains were shattered along his ancient pathways, the everlasting hills sank low.” No matter how strong and impervious Empire might seem – and it may seem as impervious and eternal as mountains -it is no more impervious than those mountains to the will of God to bring justice and peace and in the midst of it all mercy. “In wrath remember mercy,” was the prophet’s prayer, and we should always pray for mercy even for those who oppress. “Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?” goes the song, not because God has anything against rivers or water in general. Water represented chaos at creation. We read of God subduing them. (Psalm 104). The vision becomes almost incomprehensible when we get to verse 9. A series of nouns that might be literally translated “Nakedness your bow was exposed, oaths staffs speech. Sela. Rivers you divided the land.”
We don’t know exactly what it is going to look like but the coming of Christ will mean the end of oppression and injustice. Does all this imagery seem frightening? If so we should be asking ourselves on what side of the oppression and injustice we’re on. This has come as welcome news to people through the years. I heard a Methodist minister tell a story of a mission trip he went on. It was to Costa Rica. To a people who had known much strife and oppression. One night they were sitting around the campfire with their hosts. Talk came around to favourite Bible verses. As this minister said, because they were Methodists and not that familiar with their Bibles, people came up with things like John 3:16. When it came time for a young Costa Rican woman to share, she said her favourite verse was Isaiah 42:14-17. The end of oppression and injustice held a special meaning you see.
This does not mean it’s easy. The meantime is still mean, after all. Verse 16 – “I hear, and I tremble within: my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us.” For you alone, O Lord, my soul waits in silence”, is how the Psalmist put it. Wait. In silence before God. How are we doing with this? Sit with the promises. Keep the promises in front of us every day. Serve in the promises. To follow Christ is to be caught up in God’s Kingdom Project. God’s Salvation Plan. God’s Delivering Plan. Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength is how another prophet puts it.
We end with this great statement of faith. A statement which affirms that no matter what our circumstances, we will praise. We will rejoice. We will find peace in our Lord. Let’s read it together.
Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the LORD, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a
and makes me tread upon the heights.”
The thing is, for the person of faith, we have seen the vision. We know how the story ends. Martin Luther King put it like this – “I’ve been to the mountain top.” Our hope as followers of Christ is that one day all will be put to right. In the meantime, we wait. We rejoice. We give thanks. We praise. The question needs to be asked – “Who or what is your master?” Is our master one of the gods of this world? Money? Consumption? Ourselves? Self-absorption? Possessions? Fame? Is our Master the living God of Jacob. The living Christ. The living Spirit. Do we say along with Paul, “God, to whom I belong…”
The book ends with this musical direction – “To the leader: with stringed instruments.” I like that. I like stringed instruments. I like the instruction though. Play it this way. Sing it out. Keep this message going. Hold fast to the faith. Hold fast to that for which Christ has taken hold of you. May we continue to live as people of faith friends, knowing in the midst of all the uncertainty that makes up our lives, how the story ends. May God make this ever more clear to our hearts.