Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)

Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ

Sunday, November 5, 2017

by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter

“The Prophet Who Embraced God”

Excerpts from Habakkuk

An elderly man was reclined on the operating room table awaiting his scheduled surgery.  He insisted that his son, a renown surgeon, perform the operation.  Moments before he was anesthetized, he asked to have a private word with his son.  “Yes, dad, what’s on your mind?”  The father looked up at his son, all prepped in his surgical garb, and said: “Son, as with all of your patients, just do the best you can.  But, if the surgery goes array, just remember this.  Think long and hard about the prospect of having your mother move in with you!”

We all want to be in control of our destiny!  We think we know what’s best for us and our family.  We even have the best of intentions for our community, and nation.  After all, we’re “one of the good guys!”  Well, Habakkuk was also one of “the good guys”!  He was a devout man of God.  He left the priesthood when he was called of God to prophesy.  In some respects, he was different from all the other prophets.  He’s also my favorite among the so-called, “Minor Prophets.”

What set Habakkuk apart from all other prophets was that he did not prophecy to peoples, or nations.  Instead, he dialogued with God and to no one else.  Metaphorically, he shook his fist at God asking why He allowed evil to exist among His chosen people.  Habakkuk was blunt, candid and honest.  But, Habakkuk was neither defiant, nor disrespectful of his Lord.  Quite the contrary.  Habakkuk felt an extreme closeness to God.  He enjoyed such a closeness with his God that he could go to Him in the quiet recesses of his heart, mind and soul without fear of repercussion.

Incidentally, Habakkuk is not a Hebrew name.  Some scholars believe his name was of Babylonian origin, meaning “to embrace”.  While others have argued his name was associated with an Assyrian flower.  But, regardless of its origin, his name is not found anywhere else in scripture.  Martin Luther commented: “Habakkuk signifies an ‘embracer’; one who embraces his fellow man.  Just as God embraces His children.  He takes them in His arms, comforts them, and lifts them up, as one who embraces a weeping child.” [1]

Isn’t this how you would want to be comforted?  To have your eternal Father embrace you and hold you close like an infant being weened.  And yet, we should always have a healthy fear of and an awesome reverence towards the God of all creation!

Like us, Habakkuk had grave concerns about his homeland.  Years before, the Northern Kingdom had been overrun by the Assyrians (722 B.C.).  And the prospects for the Southern Kingdom were looking bleak.  The Babylonians were becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Like the ten northern tribes, Judah had forsaken God’s edicts.  Only a few of their kings “did what was right in the eyes of God.”  The last of these eight good kings was Josiah.  But, at a young age he was mortally wounded in battle.  His heir apparent, Jehoiakim, did not follow in his father’s footsteps.  He was young, ambitious, cruel, and thoroughly corrupt.

In desperation, Habakkuk cried out to his God saying: How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save.  Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness?  Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore, the law is ignored; and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted.”

Habakkuk’s words speak volumes about what was happening to his fellow countrymen.  The nation had fallen prey to a moral laxness, a spiritual malaise which singed his conscience.  Just as it had been during the period of the Judges when everyone “did what was right in their own eyes.”

Upon a closer examination of this oracle, the reader comes away thinking that: HABAKKUK HAD BECOME DETACHED (repeat).

Habakkuk became detached from the country he once knew.  He felt alone and estranged.  It’s not that Habakkuk was disinterested, or had become uninvolved.  Put simply, he no longer recognized what his nation had become.

Perhaps you, too, can relate with how Habakkuk must have felt.  I, for one, am deeply saddened by what is happening to our nation.  I no longer recognize the country I grew up in.  Our nation is so polarized; so divided.  More so, than ever before.  Leastwise, not since the 1860’s.  A century and a half later and we still can’t agree on what that war should be called.  Was it the American Civil War?  Or, the War Between the States?

To be sure, our country is not what it once was.  And it most assuredly is not what it can, or should be.  Many Americans have lost sight of our Christian-Judeo precepts upon which our nation was founded.  There’s too much anger and rancor.  And these same sentiments were so eloquently expressed by this prophet.  A man who lived in the late seventh century B. C.!

Yes, times have changed, but people have not!  Ravi Zacharias wrote: “Humanity will never find unity until it can understand the reason for its brokenness.” [2]  We are a disjointed civilization.  The halls of Congress are filled with political hacks.  They are not statesmen.  They owe their allegiance to lobbyists instead of their constituents.  Federal judges legislate from the bench, rather than following a strict interpretation of the Constitution.  Our public schools seem more concerned with sexual preferences rather than teaching the basics of: reading, writing and arithmetic.

And, if that’s not enough to rile you, there are anti-American groups like, Antifa; fringe groups that want to redact our nation’s history and heritage.  Malcontents that are intent on removing historical landmarks and symbols, including monuments for some of our greatest leaders.  George Orwell penned what has proven to be prophetic words: “The most effective way to destroy a nation’s people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

Perhaps, you, too, feel detached, or estranged from this cockeyed world of ours!  If so, you are not alone.  A sobering reminder tells us that: “If we dare to forget history, we are doomed to repeat it.”

But not only did Habakkuk feel detached: HABAKKUK BECAME DISILLUSIONED (repeat).

God timely responded to Habakkuk’s urgent plea where He said: Look among the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished!  Wonder!  Because I am doing something in your days — You would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs.  They are dreaded and feared; their justice and authority originate with themselves…” 

Imagine Habakkuk’s astonishment on being told of this revelation!  How could justice and mercy prevail if Judah was enslaved by a nation more wicked that they were?  The prophet protested saying: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong.  Why then do You tolerate the treacherous?  Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

Let’s examine a few recent events on our own native soil.  We’ve endured two horrific hurricanes.  Three if you count the one that struck the territory of Puerto Rico.  We’ve witnessed catastrophic floods.  All-consuming fires.  And what of the senseless bloodshed by a crazed madman in Las Vegas?  Why, just this past week in a New York suburb, a foreign terrorist deliberately ran down innocent bicyclers and pedestrians, among his victims were young children.  Is God giving us “a wake up” call?

We keep searching for answers without asking the right questions.  We ask ourselves: “Why is our nation besieged with such unbridled evil?”  Have we not always been a nation of “first-responders”?  We selflessly bring aid and comfort to other countries in the wake of natural disasters.  Hundreds of thousands of our young soldiers have fought and died on foreign soil to secure world peace.  And not an acre of land have we seized in victory other than placing military cemeteries scattered throughout the world.  So, why are we the ones left “holding the bag”?  Are these just coincidences?  Someone once said: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

Like a watchman on the wall, Habakkuk anxiously awaited God’s reply.  In chapter two God assures His prophet that the wicked will surely not go unpunished wherein He mentions five “woes”.  Time does not permit me to delve into what they are.  But this much you can be certain of.  The wicked will not prosper.  Like chafe from the wheat stalks, they will be thrown into a fiery furnace.  The sheep will be separated from the goats.  And every person and nation will be judged accordingly to God’s righteousness.

Like scales falling from his “dim-sighted” eyes, Habakkuk was finally able to see his way clear from his detachment and disillusionment.  His eyes became clearly focused whereby: HABAKKUK DISCOVERS GOD’S FAITHFULNESS (repeat).

This final point is a bit of a misnomer.  God’s faithfulness was never questioned.  For just as it says, If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” [2 Timothy 2:13].  Habakkuk never questioned God’s faithfulness.  Only His deafening silence.  What becomes clear was that Habakkuk’s faith was strengthened.  Even after being told of Judah’s fate.  Despite the cataclysmic events that were about to unfold, this prophet acquired an even greater appreciation for his God!

In his final remarks, Habakkuk exclaims in this solemn prayer: I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered.  Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble…Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us…Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.   The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.”

Can the same be said of your faith and mine?  Or, perhaps we’re more like that elderly patient in the operating room who was trying to orchestrate events through human effort!  Yes, we’d like to believe that if we were God, things would be different.  Things would be better.  Thing would be different alright.  But they wouldn’t be better!  God Himself reminds us: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” [Isaiah 55:8, 9].     

Let’s learn what the prophet Habakkuk learned.  Ultimately, we must “respect the mystery of God’s providence.”  Embrace Him just as Habakkuk did so long ago.  And may God embrace you within the shadow of His wings!

Let us pray…

[1]     Dr. Charles L. Feinberg,  The Minor Prophets  205 .

[2]     Ravi  Zacharias,  The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing,  2007)  pg. 251.