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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Study of Haggai - a Book Digest

Build the House of God

Haggai 1:1-2:23
Key Verse 1:8

“Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD.

In studying the books of the Bible, one of the ways to find out the point of the message each book is to consider the meaning of the human beings (like the prophets) through whom the word of the Lord came to be canonized.

This method applies to the book Haggai as well. In Hebrew the name Haggai means "festival" which in turn hints the point of his message: "festival." A festival is a time of celebration marked by special observances. On normal days people go about their businesses according to regular schedules. But when a time of festival arrives they stop and take a break from their daily routine. They get into a party mood. The word festival conjures up in our minds all the good and fun stuff, like music, dancing, drinks, B.B.Q, sports, games, arts, crafts, and much more.

Imbedded in the heart of every person is the desire to see the times of their lives filled with what is good. The same was true with the people of Haggai’s day - the [early] returnees returning from the Babylonian Exile back to their homeland. Now that Darius had issued an order to go back home, some of the devout Jews did go back home. Now that they successfully made their journey back home, using all the job skills they accumulated in Babylon, they started to build their lives in their homeland. But the Prophet Haggai saw that there was a problem. What was it? And what was the solution to their problem?

I. You expected much, but it turned out to be little. Why? (1:1-11)

Let us read 1:1-11. In verse 9 the Lord asks a question saying, "Why?" The returnees desired to build a good life. They made plans and they worked hard on those plans. But their plans had many holes. The problems they had remind us of the people in the U.S. building up retirement accounts only to see the monies sitting in the accounts (like the investments in stocks, bonds, IRA accounts, real estates, etc.) going down the tube or slipping through fingers through medical bills.

The main cause was to build their lives without the Lord. Their plan was flawed. The Bible shows us the framework for "quality" (or blessed) life. The Lord incorporated this blessed framework in the house of the Lord. In the Book of Haggai the word "house" [of the Lord] is repeated 9 times.

In what respect does the house of the Lord represent the divine framework for a blessed life? What does this house teach us that we can have life to the full? We can find the answer to this question in two words: pleasure and honor.

1) The Lord's pleasure.

Verse 8 says that the house of the Lord is the source of the Lord's pleasure. "Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored." The word "pleasure" (in Hebrew ratsah) denotes a state of satisfaction (or gratification), a state of joy and comfort, the state which is enjoyed on God's level. By definition God is infinitely perfect. So built in the house of the Lord is the framework for ultimate satisfaction where nothing is lacking, for all components that guarantee man's perfect happiness for total satisfaction are found in him. In Psalm 16:11 King David found this to be the case, when he sang, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

This finding raises a question: "Why is it that it is only in the Lord's house that the Lord ‘may’ find ‘pleasure’ in it?" Before answering the question, let us think about the Lord being displeased with his people. In the book of Haggai the Lord is displeased with his people that he interferes with people's efforts to build life on their own. (Read 1:10 and 11, for example.) However, as the Lord God repeatedly urged the returnees to build the Lord's temple, the Lord promised to change his position towards his children when they diligently work on the house of the Lord until completion. Why?

We find the answer to this question in the meaning of the word "pleasure" for in Hebrew the word ratsah means "to be propitious," "to appease," or "punishment accepted as satisfactory." We find the same usage of the word in regard to Jesus for when  Jesus was coming out of the water after being baptized by John the Baptist, a voice was heard from heaven, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." The house of the Lord is symbolic of Jesus, the Savior to come. Why then did the Lord find pleasure in Jesus? Why is God so "pleased" with Jesus the Son? Again we find the answer to this question in what John the Baptist testified, because before baptizing Jesus he looked at Jesus and said, "Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world".

This observation indicates that at the heart of the framework for a blessed life is the need to have man's sin problems resolved. Sin destroys festivity.

2) The Lord's honor.

"Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD." Other translations of the expression, "I may be...honored," include: "I will be glorified" (RSV), and, "[I shall take pleasure in it and] manifest my glory there" (New Jerusalem Bible). "Honor" and "glory" are associated with each other for if God is honored (or God's name is glorified) it is because God's glory becomes manifested. For the same reason in the book of Haggai, the prophet mentions God's glory associated in the house of the Lord when he referred to the glory of the former house vs. the glory of the present house, or the glory of the house to come as in the expression, "I will fill this house with glory" (2:7).

The word "glory" characterizes the state of God’s creation that is divinely perfect. While the "pleasure" of the Lord refers to the cause for a quality life, the "glory" of the Lord denotes the manifestation of God’s nature. Supporting the same idea, King David said in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." The heavens and skies are collective terms for the universe and everything in it, for the universe and all of God's creation (except the fallen men) reflect God's excellent qualities. The sun, moon, all the stars and their movements reflect God's glory. When we look around ourselves we see myriads of creatures exhibiting God's glory like the birds of the air, butterflies, bees, fish in a pond, and all sorts of flowers blooming season after season. Just think about a creature like a fly. Can you make a machine that flies as niftily as a fly? Despite all the technological advancements, the U.S. military was not able to make a helicopter as nifty and nimble as a fly.

The quality life comes with a quality person. The problem with a man desiring a quality life is the quality of the person so desiring. No matter how much one desires a quality life, when the quality of a person remains questionable, no matter how sophisticated a plan he may come up with for the betterment of his life, the plan for a good life is not going to fly.

The Prophet Haggai saw this being the case with the returnees of his day. They lived in Babylon for a prolonged period of time. As they were about to build a good life in their homeland, they should realize that the problem exists "inside," so that no matter what they do for a better life, unless they deal with the problem (or problems) that is inside they are not going to get what they really want.     

II. The people obeyed (1:12-2:9)

Thanks to the Haggai's prodding and encouragement, the returnees started working on the house of the Lord.

There are three classes of people who worked on the house of the Lord: the governor, the priest, and the remnants. The governor (Zerubbabel) was a political leader, the priest a spiritual leader, and the remnants the work crews.

Verse 12 reads, "Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God." Here "the whole remnant of the people" refers to a small group of faithful people who chose to live in close proximity of the Jerusalem temple (Cf. Isaiah 4:3). In Downey some live several hundred feet from the Downey center, some within several miles. Living closely to the Jerusalem temple was critical to getting the work done. Imagine the Downey center remaining in ruins so that a prophet shows up on one Sunday and rebukes the people to restore it. What will happen? Who will do the work? In the case of the people of the day of Haggai, they needed to go up to the mountains and bring down timer and build. In our day, probably we need to make lots of trip to big boxes like Home Depot or Lowes. In working on the entertainment center for the children next door, several coworkers made lots of trip to Home Depot. And we were able to do the work in a relatively short period of time, for several of us, especially Samuel Seon, live closely to the Downey center. The same was true with the remnants. In obedience to the Lord's call they went up into the mountains nearby and brought timber. In those days they did not have any pick up trucks air compressors or chainsaws. Yet with hands and feet and other primitive tools they worked hard on the project.

At first the work seemed overwhelming. Progress was slow. Yet as they started obeying the Lord started helping them out as Haggai 1:14 says, "So the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the LORD Almighty, their God..."

The work began in the second year, 6th month, 24th day (Haggai 1:15). In less than a month the people's enthusiasm wore out so the Prophet Haggai encouraged the people to persevere (2:1). In so encouraging, it is interesting to note that Haggai stimulated the workers to think about the greatness of God's "glory" to be revealed. Let us read 2:2-9.

In a modern society where there are lots of attractive distractions, the promise of Glory to be revealed [in the life of a gospel worker] comes as a viable source of encouragement, for in this information age an increasing number of enemies stand up against the knowledge of God. The generation may change but God's way does not. The way to build God's house in the hearts of all fallen men never changes. In our generation we are called to build God's temple with prayer and the word of God, with the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Although an increasing number of enemies arise against the gospel message, we must take heart and keep working to build God’s house, for God’s word is powerful enough to help man realize his sin, repent, and turn to God for God’s glory.

Another important point of encouragement is the promise for the Lord to once more shake the heavens and the earth (2:6). This shaking will coincide with the time of the Lord's coming again. On his return the Lord will shake nature as well as all "nations." When this happens what the Scripture says in Hebrews 12:26-29 will come true. This promise of shaking (only to reshape what is to be shaken) is encouraging for when the shaking becomes complete, the kingdom of God will emerge so that the remnants will see God's glory revealed fully in their persons inside out.   

III. From this day on I will bless you (2:10-23)

Thanks to the Prophet Haggai's encouragement, within a period of about three months the work on the house of the Lord progressed (2:10). Most likely the Prophet saw that people overcame difficulties and committed themselves to bring the work to completion. [According to Ezra 6:15, the work was completed in the 6th year, 12th month, and third day.] To further encourage them to work till completion the Lord gave them the promise to bless their work.

What does the blessing consist of? There are two categories: internal blessing (2:10-19) and external blessing (2:20-23).

Internal blessing is featured with God's “holiness.” In vs. 10-14 the Lord asked the priests two questions on defilement. The questions and answers indicate that it is so easy for a man (and his possessions) to be defiled, while it is so hard to reverse what has been defiled to go "undefiled" (or "holy"). Here the word “defiled” is synonymous with the word “unholy.” The word defile means: "to make unclean or impure; to corrupt the purity of perfection of; to violate the chastity of; to make physically unclean especially with something unpleasant or contaminating; to violate the sanctity of." The meanings of the word indicate the consequences of man sinning, that is, becoming ineffective, counterproductive, useless, or harmful.

"From this day on I will bless you!" Here the word "you" refers to one's person (the inner qualities). God wants to bless one's "person" and then his possessions. For those who work faithfully on the house of the Lord, the Lord will reverse the situation, so that a defiled man will be transformed to a man of God's blessing. This promise is nothing new, for after leading the Israelites out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai, the Lord God called them to be a kingdom of priests and a "holy" nation (Exodus 19:5-6).

In vs. 20-23 the Lord promised to make Zerubbabel like God's signet ring. A signet ring is a royal seal (the way to sign and ratify the word of the Lord). Zerubbabel is symbolic of the Savior to come and all those who belong to him, those who are faithful to serving the Lord's kingdom purpose. They are the ones to inherit the perfected kingdom to come.

In conclusion, as the returnees came back from the Babylonian exile to their homeland, the Prophet Haggai encouraged them to work for God's house first, for getting right with God is the key to living a blessed life. The Prophet Haggai carries a very important message for people living in the electronic age. In this age where the love of many has grown cold and the generation becomes increasingly wicked and adulterous, it is imperative for us to hold onto the call to build the house of the Lord as a matter of first priority.


Class Exercise:

1. In Hebrew Haggai means _____________________.

2. In Leviticus 23 the Lord asked the Israelites to keep seven "feasts" (or festivals). What does this command indicate about the Lord's will for his children?  __________________________

3. The work of the house of the Lord began on _____________ and was completed on ____________.

4. The people (the returnees) said, "The time has not yet come for the house of the Lord to be built." What was wrong with their argument? ___________________________________________

5. Describe in your own words the works that might have been involved in building a "paneled" house or the house of the Lord "in the day of Haggai." _______________________________________

6. Which one came first, "obedience" (to the command to build the Lord's house) or the Lord "stirring up the spirit" (to build the house)? ______________________________

7. Where did "whole remnant of the people" [who obeyed] live?

8. In the book of Haggai, the Savior to come again is called “the ___________ of nations.”

The end.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Zephaniah - Book Digest

Seek the Lord, All You Humble of the Land

Zephaniah 1:1-3:20
Key Verse 2:3

“Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger.”

In Hebrew the name Zephaniah means "Yahweh has hidden," or "Yahweh has preserved (or treasured)." The words "preserved" and "treasured" are synonymous with "sheltered" and "protected." The antonyms of these are: exposed (instead of hidden), wasted away or trashed out (rather than preserved or treasured), or endangered (or even harmed--as opposed to protected).

The meaning of the prophet’s name is indicative of the point of the message Zephaniah intends to convey, that is, the way for one to come under the wings of the Lord's protection, provision, and preservation, even in times when all peoples on earth are marked out for destruction.

In what respect then are people "exposed" (to dangers, harms, and destruction)? How can one protect himself from the exposures?    

Part I. In what respect are people exposed?

In the eyes of the Prophet Zephaniah people are exposed to the ways of destruction (or simply the judgment to come), so they need to be made aware of the dangers that are going to hit them down the road. Zephaniah saw that all peoples on earth are “doomed” and yet they remain ignorant of their destiny. Zephaniah could clearly see the ultimate destruction destined to fall on all men (both Jews and Gentiles). [The generations of people exposed to the ultimate destruction to come are classified first in a general category in 1:2-3, then in specific categories like Judah (1:4-13), Philista (2:4-7), Moab and Ammon (2:8-11), Cush (2:12) and Assyria (2:13-15).]

In regard to the ultimate destruction that is going to hit all people on earth, Zephaniah describes: 1) how it [i.e., the destruction] will happen (1:2-3; 1:18-2:2 etc.); and 2) when it will happen (that is the Great Day of the Lord coming) (1:14-18). According to the account of man's fall described in Genesis 3, all descendants of Adam came to be exposed due to the fall of the first man Adam. Due to men sinning, the relationship between the Creator God and men came to be broken. This is the origin of the history of exposure. The exposures arrive at the door of each fallen man both individually and collectively. On an individual level, upon Adam sinning it was decreed that Adam shall turn to dust. So in Adam all sinners came to die. Thus man is born only to die. [It is a debatable issue on whether or not Enoch and/or Elijah are exceptions to the said decree, but this issue is beyond the scope of our study tonight.] On a collective level, the entire human race that is going to come onto the surface of the planet earth is destined to roll down the road only to be hit with the ultimate decimation. Let us read Zephaniah 1:2-3. The human race along with other creatures such as animals on the land, fish in the ocean, or birds in the air, is going to come to the point of total extinction. The Lord himself will ensure that the earth would be rid of all the wicked.

Part II. Who does the Lord preserve (or spare)?

In 2:3 Zephaniah says, "Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger." This passage says that the Lord may shelter those who seek the Lord. Supporting the same idea, in Zephaniah 3:12 it is written, "But I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the LORD."

The Lord himself either destroys or preserves people. What makes the difference? Why does the Lord destroy a group of people and yet why does he choose to protect another group? The difference is that when one turns away from the Lord and thereby sins against him, the Lord himself will work to cause destruction to fall on the one who turns his back on the Lord. Collectively, those who turn their backs on the Lord are called "the wicked."

On the other hand the Lord himself will spare from disasters and protect and preserve those who seek the Lord and come under the wings of the Lord's protection. Collectively, the Bible often times calls this group of people “the righteous.”

We can easily understand this distinction when we admit the fact that the universe and everything in it came from the Lord and are being sustained because of the Lord. In this regard Hebrews 1:3 reads: "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." This passage indicates that when one chooses to turn his back on the Lord and thereby cuts his relationship with the Lord, that person effectively puts himself outside the bounds of the Lord's provision, protection, and preservation. By the same token when one seeks the Lord and places himself in the hands of the Lord, the Lord in turn sustains his life.  

"Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD'S anger." Here the word "seek" is repeated three times: 1) seek the Lord; 2) seek righteousness; and 3) seek humility. This repetition holds the key for preserving good life in the Lord. So let us stop for a moment and think about the key in order.  

First, seek the Lord. Seeking the Lord narrows down the objects of our pursuits, for in order for one to be able to seek the Lord, one must drop seeking all other objects,  just as the old saying goes, “The one who runs after two rabbits at the same time will end up catching nothing.” So in order to seek the Lord one must stop chasing after other things or people of this world. The world offers many attractive alternatives as purposes or goals, but in order to seek the Lord, one must sacrifice seeking other alternatives. This is more easily said than done, for worldly alternatives such as money making opportunities (e.g., good businesses producing a good income) look like more realistic solutions to the practical problems we have in life like the problem of financial security. Compared with worldly goals, the goal to seek the Lord looks vague, uncertain, and unreliable as the way to build a security in this uncertain world.

But to Bible believing people, like Zephaniah, the Lord is the source of true life-security; to a spiritual man like Zephaniah physical phenomena, such as the economy or politics, are as unreliable as shifting shadows. Why are the things or people of this world not reliable? Why is it that the Lord alone is the only reliable source for life? The answer is obvious: The Lord is without a limit, whereas all others are limited. So between that which is limited (and therefore is imperfect) and that which is unlimited (and infinitely perfect), which one would you rather choose?

Second, seek righteousness. The call to seek righteousness further defines the call to seek the Lord, for seeking the Lord has its own purpose, that is, righteousness. Thus the Prophet Zephaniah says, "Seek the Lord," and then, "seek righteousness." In seeking the Lord one should not treat the Lord like a son coming to a father for the money in the father's wallet. Rather one must seek the Lord for the sake of the Lord's person, not for the sake of the Lord's provisions. This is what the call to seek righteousness means, for as used here “righteousness” means God's essential characteristics, such as his love, his mercy, his holiness, etc. The call to seek righteousness then is the same as the call to "be like God."

Third, seek humility. "Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility..." According to Miriam-Webster’s Dictionary, humility means the state of being humble. And the word humble means "not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive; reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission; ranking low in a hierarchy or scale." “Humble” is synonymous with such words as insignificant or unpretentious.

The call to seek humility balances out the call to seek the Lord and the call to seek righteousness. God is God in his own order. No matter how much we are made to be like God, still we are what we are, that is, created beings. The call to seek humility then is the same as the call to remind ourselves of our own position as God's creation. God made us out of dust. So we are merely a handful of dust. We are nothing, but God is everything. No matter what moral or spiritual level one might have reached in his pursuit of the Lord’s righteousness, one's identity as God's creation remains the same. We all must be like God, still knowing that one will “never” be the same as God. Jesus said that we are to be at one with God, as he prayed in John 17:21, "That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Jesus prayed that we would form a perfect unity among ourselves, just as Jesus is in the Father, and the Father is in Jesus, and we in Jesus. But this oneness does not mean that we are the same as God. God is God, man is man. God is holy but we are a handful of dust.

Abraham, in Genesis, understood man’s humble state, so he prayed to the Lord, saying, "I am nothing but dust and ashes." Let us think about dust and ashes. Dust is dust. Let us think about a gardener doing his lawn. With a lawnmower he mows the lawn. Then he rakes the area. As a final step of clean up, he uses a gas blower. With a gas blower, he blows the side walk around the lawn. As the blower blows the area, along with debris, dusts are blown away. And the area becomes clean. And look at the dusts being blown away. How easily are they blown away? A particle of dust is so light and insignificant that it is blown away quick. Such is the case with our existence. No matter where we might have reached in our maturity, we still remain nothing but a handful of dust. Let us consider ashes. What are ashes? Ashes are powdery residue of matter that remains after burning. It represents ruins, especially the residue of something destroyed. So when Abraham described himself as "ashes" before the Lord, he found himself as no different than a dead corpse, a man as good as dead, a man who after death has been reduced to a handful of ashes.

Seek humility! Why then should we "seek" humility? An immediate answer can be found when we think about the Lord's economy. God is the God of economy. He does not do what is not needed. So when God asks us to do something it is because he wants to address a specific need we have. When the Prophet Zephaniah asked his audience to seek humility he found the exact need to call people to seek humility, that is, their tendency to become proud. Indeed we are so easily puffed up, and pride is the beginning of downfall.

Humility is the beginning of the life that is upward mobile as the Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 5:6, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."

Seek the Lord, seek righteousness, and seek humility! These are Zephaniah's framework for the life that is treasured in the hands of the Lord.

Part III. How will the Lord preserve the meek and the humble?

In the book of Zephaniah those who "seek the Lord, seek righteousness, and seek humility" are described with different names: "all you humble of the land" (2:2); "the remnant of the house of Judah" (2:7), "the remnant of my people" or "survivors of my nation" (2:9b); "the meek and humble" [who trust in the name of the Lord] (3:12); or "the remnant of Israel" (3:13).

How then will the Lord protect, preserve, and provide for those who seek the Lord? In 3:14-20 the Prophet answers the question. Let us read this passage. While other verses promise that the humble and the meek shall inherit the earth (2:7,9), the Bible passage we read poetically describes the secure life the meek and humble find in the Lord, for 3:17, for example, reads, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." The shelter found in the Lord where the Lord treasures his children works like a spiritual pentagon for it comes with a five-fold protection: 1) the Lord is with you; 2) he is mighty to save; 3) he will take great delight in you; 4) he will quiet you with his love; and 5) he will rejoice over you with singing.

This passage conjures up in our mind the image of a father lifting up a son or a daughter rejoicing. He is so joyful for the child that he sings and dances. He is so happy with such a loving child that he had to sing. He is so proud of the child that he rejoices over the child with singing.

This scene stands in strong contrast with the Lord being angry over his creation, for in many places of the book the Prophet Zephaniah talks about the Lord's anger: "...fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you" (2:2); "the day of the Lord's anger" (2:3); "I have decided to assemble the pour out my wrath upon them - all my fierce anger; the whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger" (3:8).

The Lord is angry over those who: turn their back from following the Lord, neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him (1:6); the one who obeys no one, accepts no correction, does not trust in the Lord, does not draw near the Lord (3:2).

But the Lord rejoices over the one who seeks the Lord, righteousness, and humility.

In conclusion, the contrast between the way the Lord relates himself with the wicked and the way the Lord blesses the righteous helps us better understand the way of death and destruction vs. the way of life and prosperity. Some people try to build their own security of life based on worldly means. They build and live in their own shelters, and yet they still remain exposed to all sorts of harms and dangers. But the righteous are different. They seem exposed to harms and dangers. Yet they are fully protected by the Lord, so that despite difficulties, such as persecutions like beatings or even executions in public arenas, their souls are preserved with a five-fold protection, so that they are filled with joy even as they go through fiery ordeals. The secret of such a joyful life begins with one seeking the Lord.

One word: Seek the Lord


Class Exercise

1. In Hebrew Zephaniah means: ___________________________

2. What does the following Bible passage mean? "The Lord prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited" (1:7) [Cf. Isaiah 34:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 39:17; Jeremiah 12:3]

3. Fill the blanks: "The Lord within her is ______; he does no wrong. Morning by morning he dispenses with _______, and every new day he does not _____; yet the __________ knows no ______."

4. The book of Zephaniah begins with prophecies on disasters to come, but ends with the promise of ________.

The end


Thursday, October 23, 2014

The righteous will live by his faith - Book digest on Habakkuk

The Righteous Will Live by His Faith

Habakkuk 1:1-3:19
Key Verse 2:4

“See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright--but the righteous will live by his faith—”

The name Habakkuk in Hebrew means “embrace.” This word reminds us of a mother embracing her child in her arms. In many ways the relationship between the Lord God and his children is similar to that of the relationship between a mother and her baby. One of the primary characteristics of the mother-child relationship is a mother giving her child loving care with the child leaning on the mother's bosom in full trust. Imagine a pregnant woman. The baby in the mother's womb remains totally dependant on the mother. After the pregnancy, the child comes out of the womb but still remains helpless. Draw in your mind a picture of a mother breastfeeding her son, holding him in her arms. When the feeding is over, the child is fully satisfied. He smiles and falls asleep.

This picture is reminiscent of the kind of relationship Habakkuk had with the Lord. His days were rough. Yet according to his personal faith he withdrew from his personal relationship with the Lord all the provisions he needed for life. So he thrived even when many went starving to death. How was he able to prosper even during hard times?

I. I will stand at my watch (1:1-2:1)

When everyone believes, it is easy to believe. When no one believes, it is hard to believe. In the day Habakkuk lived in, it was particularly difficult for anyone to keep his or her personal faith. But Habakkuk overcame the difficulties by coming to the Lord and laying down before the Lord the problems he had .  

According to verse 6 it is very likely that the prophet lived during a period of time when the exile into the Babylonian Empire was drawing near. In 612 B.C., after emerging as the new superpower nation, the Babylonian empire put an end to the Assyrian Empire. In 568 B.C. the Jerusalem temple came down. The fall of the Assyrian Empire was timed with the Lord preparing to export the people of Judah to Babylon in exile.

In Habakkuk 1:1-4 the Prophet filed a complaint with the Lord for the Lord seemingly tolerated the injustice prevailing in the land of Judah. In vs. 6-11 the Lord addressed the prophet's complaint with the news that the Lord would raise the Babylonian empire to knock down the Assyrian Empire, erase the establishments of Judah, and export the "chosen" people into Babylon.

In 1:11-2:1 the prophet questioned the Lord about using the Babylonian Empire (the wicked in v. 13) to execute judgment on "the more righteous" (in v. 13), whereupon the Lord answered the Prophet with the revelation recorded in 2:2-20.

The Prophet had a keen sense of problem on the injustice prevailing inside and outside of the Promised Land. He brought the problem to the Lord. Then another question came to mind. He brought that question to the Lord as well. The Lord answered both questions. And the Prophet solved his inner conflicts. In this way he could keep his personal faith in the Lord despite the majority of people rebelling against the Lord.

This is like a student doing his homework by himself. A math student for example gets homework on math questions. Some questions are easy to answer and some are hard. But all math problems have their own solutions; for no problems are without solutions. In regard to the hard problems then he needs to study by himself until he can find the solutions. If he cannot, he can secure help from others with superior knowledge. The important thing though is for him to try to “understand” the solutions, for merely getting the answer without understanding the answer [as well as the way to arrive at the answer] is not going to improve his capability on math. When he does not understand how to solve the questions, how can he go for the next level? But when he "understands" the answer (as well as the way to solve the problem) he is in a position to handle other questions. In this way he can become a master mathematician.

"I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint" (2:1). Here "ramparts" are a facility (or facilities) raised above ground level to provide a better view of what is going to emerge on the horizon. It was there in his ramparts that the Prophet Habakkuk got his "problems" resolved. And his tutor was the Lord himself. He himself entered into the ramparts. He spent time there to find solutions to the problems. And there in his own ramparts he must have cried out the Lord. And it is very likely that in his ramparts he kept close all the means available, such as reference materials like scrolls. His struggles paid off. Understanding came. His mind was enlightened just like a pilot seated in a cockpit of an airplane that has taken off, pushed itself up into the sky, above the layers of clouds, and arrived at the cruise level. Then there was no more smog-screen blocking the vision. Despite all the confusing events and the wicked people running around he could see the Lord's will clearly.

The call for each believer to build his or her own ramparts and do the spiritual struggles to understand the Lord’s will is nothing new. In sending Joshua into the battlefields, the Lord God commanded Joshua to do his homework daily, that is, to meditate on the word of the Lord day and night, night and day, for the Lord said to him, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." Similarly, a psalmist cried out to the Lord saying, "My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises."

After Christianity became publicly recognized in 313 A.D., the church started to become corrupt. Then in a revolt against the corrupt generation a few monks established their ramparts in places such as the sites for the underground churches in Cappadocia of the present day Turkey.

Martin Luther’s day was as evil and confusing as the day of Habakkuk. Like Habakkuk however Luther was able to overcome the confusing generation for he established his own ramparts and there he brought to the Lord all the questions he had. Then the Lord enabled him to rise against the evil generation and post his 95 theses on the door of the building where the public could see the truth in plain view. Following the example of Martin Luther or Habakkuk, we need to build our own ramparts - ramparts at home, at a fellowship, at a church, at work, or on college campuses.  

II. I will rejoice in the Lord (2:2-3:19)

The Lord blessed Habakkuk's struggle to finish his homework by giving a special revelation. The Lord's revelation enlightened the prophet's mind and spirit. He could understand the way of the Lord, the ways of the wicked, and the ways of the righteous.

Habakkuk was then able to establish his stand. Through personal resolution he stood his ground and became a source of inspiration for the people living in darkness. Let us consider the fruit of his search for the Lord's will in three parts: revelation, realization and resolution.
1) Revelation (2:2-19)

Habakkuk 2:2-3 reads, “Then the LORD replied: ‘Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it lingers, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.’” The contents of certain revelations are specific, such as time, people, and events. Some revelations do not give out specific information as to location, time, etc. Rather they come as a principle (or declaration or determination).

The revelation the Lord asked Habakkuk to write down on tablets belongs to the second (abstract) category. The revelation is laid down as a principle in that it talks about a man, represented in such words as "he," "his," and "him" (2:4). "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright--" (2:4a) Here "he" could be anyone. The first person to fit in was Eve in Genesis 3. The serpent tempted the woman. She became "puffed up." When she saw the [forbidden] fruit there arose a desire which was not upright. She soon plucked and ate the fruit. Thus she became a source of eternal grief for many.

Figuratively, the position of the person called "he" can be likened to the door to a black-hole. Once you get close to a black hole you get sucked into it and you are gone. Since the first woman Eve got sucked into this spiritual black-hole, each and every day people without a number still step into the hole and disappear into the kingdom of darkness.

Again it all begins with a man becoming "puffed up" (or getting proud enough to think that he or she can disobey the Lord and get away with it scot-free). But the principle does not discriminate anyone, for it will apply to all with the same consequences, and the steps of the oracle are: 1) you get puffed up; 2) you entertain desires which are not upright; and 3) you get hit with ill consequences. Or put it another way, you become "arrogant"; you become never at rest; you become as greedy as the grave; like death you are never satisfied. You successfully gathered all the nations. You have taken captives all the peoples, and yet you are not satisfied.  

In verses 6-19, with "five woes," the prophet further illustrates the destiny of the one who gets sucked into the black-hole described in the revelation in 4a.

1) Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortions! (2:6)
2) Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin." (2:9)
3) Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! (2:12)
4) Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. (2:15)
5) Woe to him who says to wood, "Come to life," or to lifeless stone, "Wake up!" (2:19)

These woes remind us of failed gurus, such as the head of the Madoff Ponzi, or the CEO's of AIG. We are also reminded of the so-called heroes of the past like Alexander the Great.

So let us take a more serious look at the revelation, particularly, the three stages of downfall: the beginning (or cause); the process in the middle; and the end (or the final state). According to verse 4a, the beginning or the cause is pride. Pride gives birth to and fosters the desires that are not upright. Then, like a chunk of meat being processed into a meat grinder, you get yourself chewed up and ground through a system.

Inasmuch as the principle remains on a physically invisible realm it remains hidden to most people. So the Lord asked Habakkuk to "write down the revelation and make it plain."

This principle is applicable to all who are puffed up and thereafter dragged away by a variety of desires such as the desire for money, power, or people. Each desire has its own period of development (or manifestation), so the revelation “awaits an appointed time.” In addition, the revelation speaks of the end and it will not prove false. Here the "end" is the end of the development; so that when the end comes the fall becomes completed. The kingdom which began based on wicked desires finally collapses.  

2) Realization (2:20-3:16a)

The revelation helped the prophet realize the beginning, the process, and the ending point of the things that were going on before his eyes. It helped him to see clearly why things developed and were unfolding as the way they were, how long it will take for the injustice [being staged or to be staged in the days] to complete its course, and when it will come to an end.

This revelation brought Habakkuk to personally meet the Lord who remains "sovereign" at all times - past, present, and future.

At the moment of Habakkuk prophesying, he was able to see clearly the Lord ruling "in his holy temple" (2:20). In a prophetic vision he could see the Lord's mighty works of redemption for the people Israel - the works the Lord fulfilled from the day the Lord revealed himself to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai to the day when the prophet was ministering in Judah.

"God came from Teman (Teman refers to the land of Esau (or Edom), which land is also known as the land of Seir) the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden" (3:3-4). This passage reminds us of the scene where the Lord God first revealed himself to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai in order to give his law [Moses’ Ten Commandments] to his people. [Read Deuteronomy 33:1-4.]

In Habakkuk 3:5-15 the Prophet mentions plagues, pestilence, distress, disasters, and so forth. These phenomena accompany the presence of the Lord. These destructive forces represent the manifestation of God's divine character which must judge any hint of wickedness.

The realization of this vision came with the spiritual force stemming from the presence of the Lord approaching, so that as the prophet came to be exposed to the Lord's presence (or nearness of it), and as the Lord’s influence penetrated into the prophet’s inner world in the form of the audible sound of prophecy, the prophet felt immediate judgment upon him, so he says, "I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled" (3:16).
3) Resolution (3:16b-19)

The revelation helped the prophet realize that the disobedient has no inheritance in the Lord. The Lord made this already clear in the Law of Moses such as the book of Deuteronomy. But for a while the Lord's revelation slipped out of the Prophet’s mind. The injustice raging inside and outside of the Bible-Belt put up a smoke screen and so for a while the prophet got confused. But now that the smoke screen has been removed, he could see everything clearly. This helped him to renew his position as a believer. He was able to take his stand.

Let us read verses 16b-19. This passage reminds us of the Lord's words, "Man's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions,” but in one's relationship with the Lord. In the Middle East the economy still depends on crops of fig tree, grapes, olives, other foods in the fields, the number of sheep in your sheep pen, or the number of cattle in your stalls. But the prophet says that even when these sources of material possessions fail, he is still going to rejoice. Why? It is because he realized that man thrives on his personal relationship with the Lord, not on the abundance of his possessions. Thus he confesses, "Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments."

In conclusion, Habakkuk 2:4b reads, "The righteous will live by his faith." Again when all others go unbelieving, it is not easy for one to keep believing. But thanks to the revelation, the prophet could overcome the world. He was convinced that true life comes with one's personal relationship with the Lord. As one remains in the Lord and walks with him, the Lord fills him with the joy of salvation. The Lord makes his feet as light and free as that of a deer, enabling him to go on to high heights.

One word: the righteous will live by his faith


Class Exercise:

1. In Hebrew, Habakkuk means ___________.

2. The first time the word "sovereign" appears in the book of Habakkuk is in ____________.

3. Fill the blanks:

(1) "How ______ must I call for help, but you do not listen?"
(2) "I will...station at my ________: I will look to see what he will say to me..."

4. Habakkuk 2:4a reads, "See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-", whereas 2:4b reads, "but the righteous will live by his faith." Explain in your own words the life of the righteous as it stands in contrast with life of the man described in 4a.

5. Read Habakkuk 2:13-14 and describe in your own words the import of the question, "Has not the LORD Almighty determined".

6. The book of Habakkuk begins with ______ to the Lord, but ends with _______ to the Lord. This change in the author's attitude to the Lord took place because: ___________________________________

The end