We begin to explore the theme of Exile and Return in a new book of the Bible. Habakkuk is a minor prophet who makes a plea to God for justice, and he gets a confusing response. There is a lot for us to learn in the conversation between God and Habakkuk, a crucial distinction between destruction and refinement, and a vital connection to the message of The New Testament.
We’ve been in this series on Exile and Return. We’ve discussed that exile and return is one of the meta-narratives of scripture, one of the overarching themes. The first physical death that Adam and Eve experienced was exile from the Garden of Eden, and one of the grand restorations that’s awaiting us at the end of the era of human history is return to the Garden of Eden.
We’ve seen the description of the new earth and how it has the Tree of Life in the center of it and all the things that we’re missing because the Garden of Eden was off-limits to us because of the fall.
And within that, you have a number of exiles and returns, one of which is this Babylonian captivity of Judah and its deportation for 70 years and then return back at 70 years.
And we’ve been going through, discussing the various prophets, both the major prophets and minor prophets, most of which deal with this era of exile and return.
Last episode—and actually the last several episodes—we’ve talked about Ezekiel. And one of the things you noticed in Ezekiel is the prophet Ezekiel decrying the violence that’s happened in the land, the injustice that’s taken place in the land, the idolatry that’s taken place in the land, the untruthfulness that’s taken place in the land. All these things always go together, and they have the same root.
Habakkuk asks God for justice
What we’re going to do now is take one of the minor prophets, actually two minor prophets, that deal with the root problem; and we’re going to look at the book of Habakkuk.
Most of these minor prophets deal with this era of exile and return, and Habakkuk is no exception. The book of Habakkuk is just a few books before Matthew, if you want to turn to it.
The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O Lord, how long shall I cry,
And You will not hear?
Even cry out to You, “Violence!”
And You will not save.
Why do You show me iniquity,
And cause me to see trouble?
For plundering and violence are before me;
There is strife, and contention arises.
Therefore the law is powerless—These people are lawless. Lawlessness, violence, they always go together.
And justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
Verse 5. “Look among the nations and watch—
Be utterly astounded!
This is God answering now.
Habakkuk says, God, look. There’s violence. There’s injustice. There’s twisted judgments. People are not getting fairness. The law is not being followed. And you’re not doing anything! And you’ve caused me to see and understand this, and you’re not doing anything! Why aren’t you doing something?
Now God answers:
“Look among the nations and watch—
Be utterly astounded!
For I will work a work in your days
Which you would not believe, though it were told you.
For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans,
A bitter and hasty nation
Which marches through the breadth of the earth,
To possess dwelling places that are not theirs.
They don’t have something that they want, they just go take it.
They are terrible and dreadful;
Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses also are swifter than leopards,
And more fierce than evening wolves.
Their chargers charge ahead;
Their cavalry comes from afar;
They fly as the eagle that hastens to eat.
“They all come for violence;
Their faces are set like the east wind.
They gather captives like sand.
They scoff at kings,
And princes are scorned by them.
They deride every stronghold,
For they heap up earthen mounds and seize it.
Earthen mounds. This would be referring to the procedure that they would use to besiege a walled city. You just heap up the mound and just go over it.
Habakkuk 1:11. Then his mind changes, and he transgresses;
He commits offense,
Ascribing this power to his god.”
So Habakkuk says, God, why aren’t you doing something? Israel’s full of violence. It’s full of injustice. It’s full of iniquity. It’s full of lawlessness. Why aren’t you going to do anything?
God says you just wait. In your day, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, are going to come in and they’re just going to wash over this city, and you’re going to see something that’s going to be completely astonishing; and I’m going to take care of violence with another form of violence.
Habakkuk then resumes in verse 12.
Are You not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment;
O Rock, You have marked them for correction.
You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,
And cannot look on wickedness.
Why do You look on those who deal treacherously,
And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours
A person more righteous than he?
Why do You make men like fish of the sea,
Like creeping things that have no ruler over them?
They take up all of them with a hook,
They catch them in their net,
And gather them in their dragnet.
Therefore they rejoice and are glad.
Therefore they sacrifice to their net,
And burn incense to their dragnet;
Because by them their share is sumptuous
And their food plentiful.
Shall they therefore empty their net,
And continue to slay nations without pity?
I will stand my watch
And set myself on the rampart,
And watch to see what He will say to me,
And what I will answer when I am corrected.
Habakkuk says, God, the land’s full of violence! It’s full of lawlessness! It’s full of injustice! And you’re not doing anything, God!
And God says I’m about to bring in the Chaldeans. They’re fierce, and they’re violent; and they’re going to come in, and they’re going to wipe all this out.
And Habakkuk says, okay. That’s awesome. That’s amazing that you’re really righteous, but I have a problem with that. They’re even worse. So how is it just that you take someone that’s even more violent, even more vile, even more lawless, even more idolatrous, and use them to take care of your own people? How’s that just?
And then he says I’m sure I’m about to get corrected. I’ll just listen to hear what the correction is.
In Habakkuk 2:2, the Lord answers and he says this:
“Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets,
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.
“Behold the proud,
His soul is not upright in him;
But the just shall live by his faith.
Here’s what I think is happening. Habakkuk says, the land’s full of violence! It’s full of injustice! It’s full of lawlessness! God, why aren’t you doing something?
God says, “I’m going to do something. I’m going to use the Babylonians to take care of that.”
“God, that’s awesome. Really glad to hear that. The Babylonians are even worse. How is that just?”
And God answers and says here’s the deal. All of this kind of behavior stems from one thing.
Verse 4. It all stems from pride. And the consequences of pride are always the same. It doesn’t matter whether it’s my people or somebody else’s people. If someone’s going to live out of pride, then their soul’s not upright; and they’re going to get the consequences of that action. The wages of sin is death; the root of sin is pride.
But the just, the righteous, shall live by faith.
Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament
Now this verse Habakkuk 2:4 shows up three times in the New Testament, all very prominently. What I want to do is take that link, and I want to take these lessons from this exile period where the people of God, the elect of God, the elect nation of God, experiences the wrath of God. It experiences the wrath of God through a people who are not righteous and holy. They’re a corrupt people.
And those corrupt people experience the same kind of result for their pride, because as you know, the Babylonians were overtaken by the Persians; and we see that in the book of Daniel. Handwriting on the wall. That very night, the Persians come in and wipe out the Babylonians and take over. Now Darius is king, and that’ll be an integral part of the return story.
The wages of sin is death, and it’s the same wages irrespective of whether someone’s elect or not.
Judgment for destruction versus refinement
Now the purpose of the judgments differs. God has been clear as we’ve gone through Jeremiah, for example, where he says I’m taking you out of this land. I’m knocking the temple down. I’m knocking the walls down. And the reason I’m doing it is because I have your best interest at heart. I’ve got something really big for you, something really important for you, and you need this in order to get the blessing that you should have. Because you wouldn’t go through the path of obedience, I’m going to take you through another path to get you to the same place.
And the Babylonians, they’re knocked down, and they never return.
So there is a difference in the purpose of the judgment, but judgment is judgment, and wages are wages, and sin brings death. And the consequence of pride is destruction.
Habakkuk 2:4 in Hebrews 10
Let’s go to Hebrews 10 where we see this verse again.
Now we went through this in our series on Hebrews, but I don’t think it hurts to go through it again, especially in light of our study in exile and return.
Let’s look at 10:30. Let’s start in verse 30. We’ll go back and pick up the preamble to this in a little bit.
Jewish believers persecuted for Christ
For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.”
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But recall the former days—
This is—I think—Paul talking to this group of Hebrew believers, and he’s saying think back to the former days.
after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings:
These are Jewish believers. And Jewish believers, when they expressed Jesus as Messiah, many of them went through great tribulation as a result of it, as we read in the book of Acts, Paul being one of them.
Verse 33. Partly—part of your struggle was—you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, —that was part of it. —and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated;
So part of it was you actually got reproached, probably by the Jewish leaders. You actually had tribulation. Perhaps you’re thrown out of the synagogue. Perhaps you lost your job. Perhaps you were threatened with violence.
And part of it is you’re part of a community where others are experiencing the same kind of thing.
These people understood Jesus is Messiah. They accepted him as Messiah. And then they began to experience substantial persecution as a result of it.
Verse 34. for you had compassion on me—I think this is Paul. If not, then certainly one of the people in his company—in my chains—
Paul, as you know, was put in chains as a result of his testimony for Jesus. And here was their reaction to all this. They had tribulation, they had reproach, they had their community reproached, they were part of this ministry of someone who is in chains, and they had their possessions taken away, and here’s their reaction: and they joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
They understood Jesus is the Messiah. They went through this tribulation. They had all these other people that were in tribulation, the writer of Hebrews (Paul, I think), goes through this tribulation. They actually had their possessions plundered from them. And their reaction was, this is awesome! This is laying up treasure in heaven! This is following what the Messiah told us to do! This is great! It gave them great joy. Remember that.
Verse 35. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. This is all talking about reward, not election.
For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
And here comes Habakkuk:
For yet a little while,
And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.
Now the just shall live by faith;
But if anyone draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.”
This is actually a quote of Habakkuk 2:4 from the Septuagint. The Septuagint is a Greek interpretation of the Hebrew. And it says—this is from the LXX Septuagint: If he draws back, my life does not find pleasure in it. And the righteous one will live by my faith.
That’s basically the LXX version of Habakkuk 2:4.
But if anyone draws back,
My soul has no pleasure in him.”
Verse 39. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, destruction, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul, life, psuche. Anytime you see soul, you can substitute life.
Israelites would not acknowledge God
And the Hebrews would have understood that this verse is bringing with it that entire Babylonian period to understand the context of the verse because the people of Israel were tremendously blessed. They left Egypt. They saw the miracles. They endured the Promised Land. They crossed the river and possessed the land. They got houses that they didn’t build, and farms that they didn’t plant. And they had a tremendous blessing that came upon them.
But they forgot God, as God warned them against. And they said, “Eh, you know, we did all this ourselves. This is all about us.” And they began to live from their own hearts. And they began to follow their own passions. And they began to do things their way. The root of pride set in.
And what they got was destruction, perdition, because the wages of sin is death.
Let me just do the preamble to this because it’s a very controversial verse, but it’s all part of the same concept.
He says in verse 30, For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” That’s from Deuteronomy, and it’s talking about the same basic idea. When Israel disobeys, God is going to repay them.
But this next verse, “The Lord will judge His people,” the context of that is God will give mercy to them and restore them. Because all of this judgment and all of this wrath, while part of the wages of sin, is also part of the chastisement to bring the people of God back. The wrath of God consumes the adversaries of God, but it chastises, disciplines, and restores the people of God.
Look at 10:19. Therefore, brethren—and these are all believers. We saw that in the “remember the former days.” —having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us—you, me—draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
You don’t say this kind of thing to an unbeliever. An unbeliever, you ask them to believe in Jesus. What he’s asking these people to do is approach the throne of grace to have their hearts cleansed from an evil conscience so they can do good works.
Don’t forsake God
Verse 23. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Don’t stop believing in God because the just, the righteous, live by faith. Faith is not just a starting place. Faith is an everyday place. And if you start trusting self, you’re going to follow the roots of pride, and the roots of pride bring destruction, wrath, condemnation. You’ve been delivered from all that.
Keep believing that God’s way is the best way. Don’t forsake that. You had a good start. Don’t lose your confidence because that confidence has great reward.
Verse 24. You need help doing this. This is a team sport. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
The judgment day is coming, and it’s easy to stray away. The cares of the world, they come in. The temptations of the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, they all come. And in order to prevent that from becoming our dominant thing and having the root of pride take over and us start following our own way, we need each other to remind ourselves, let’s keep going! Let’s don’t fall back! Let’s don’t go into destruction!