Q&A About Babylon

Bible Text: Habakkuk 1:12-2:20 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Haba-Who? Habakkuk: A Study of God’s Unexpected Work | This morning we will continue in our sermon series on the book of Habakkuk, a minor prophet from the Old Testament. Last week we looked at Habakkuk’s complaint to God about the conditions and injustice of Judah as he called for God to intervene. We also looked at God’s response to Habakkuk and learned about the coming Babylonians who would be the instrument of God’s justice against the Judean kingdom. And we took away the primary message that God is at work in the world, even when we are not always aware of it.

 

Now just like last week’s reading, this week’s section of Scripture is broken into 2 separate headings. Chapter 1 verse 12 through chapter 2 verse 1 falls under the heading of “The Prophet Questions the Lord”. And then chapter 2 verse 2 through verse 20 falls under the heading of “The Lord Responds”. So, let us again begin with Habakkuk’s words to God and see what he is questioning about God’s original response to his complaint.

 

So, after complaining about the social state and injustice of the kingdom of Judah and hearing God’s plan to “fix” the problem, Habakkuk now apparently questions God. Some people are just never happy, you know? Habakkuk pleads with God, “Don’t let us die” and then questions God’s methods asking, “Why would you look at the treacherous or keep silent when the wicked swallows one who is more righteous?” What a complainer right?

 

And Habakkuk’s complaint about the Babylonians is not just that they will harm the Judean’s, but he also questions God on the appropriateness of choosing the Babylonians. Habakkuk sees them as a wicked and unclean instrument for God to use to punish the wickedness and evil in Judah. He talks about how the Babylonians capture kingdoms and people and show no mercy, never sparing anyone. Habakkuk laments how the Babylonians live in luxury at the cost of those they capture and overthrow.

And that is an interesting question isn’t it? How could God utilize a godless nation like the Babylonians to punish a nation that is filled with God’s people? In today’s world we might ask how could God make use of a godless nation to punish a nation that is filled with Christian churches? Is that how we see it sometimes I wonder? Do we view certain happenings in the world as God using a godless nation to punish our nation, one that many people argue is a Christian nation and is at least full of houses of worship to God?

 

But is that what is really happening? Is God using godless nations to attack and punish our country? Or maybe a better question would be “Is God using a godless nation within our own nation to punish the Christian nation within our borders?” Are those who do not carry any kind of faith in God carrying out God’s punishment on those of us who do? I am not making that claim myself here, but it is one I could see someone trying to make given the violence and turmoil we see to be experiencing lately.

 

And I do not make that claim because I do not believe I have any authority or evidence to do so. While I try to use a prophetic voice while I stand before you here, I am by no means a prophet of God, especially like any of those we read about in our Scriptures. But I do think I can use that prophetic voice to say that I do think that some of God’s people in our country and in our world today have fallen to the same acts and challenges that the Judean people did that Habakkuk complained about.

 

I think there are Christians that have begun to, or continued to, oppress others unfairly. I think there are Christians who where there is a power balance, have begun to fight to gain an edge in that power over someone else. I think there are Christians who continue to allow or even participate in injustice in our country and in our world, whether directly or indirectly. I think at times we may be just as guilty as the Judean people in Habakkuk’s time. I know I have in my life, even despite my best efforts.

 

So, what about the Lord’s response? How does God respond to Habakkuk’s critique of his methods of dolling out punishment to God’s chosen people? Well first God instructions Habakkuk on how to record and then deliver his response. He also makes it clear that Habakkuk should wait for a response, “There is still a vision for the appointed time; it testifies to the end; it does not deceive. If it delays, wait for it; for it is surely coming; it will not be late.”

 

But then God gets into the nitty-gritty of his message and response. God first warns that there are evil people, these people whose “desires are truly audacious”, and that they will suffer for their evil ways. “But the righteous person will live honestly.” We have to remember that in Habakkuk’s time, for one to be “righteous” meant that they obeyed God’s law and that they treated other people fairly and justly. These people would have been those who shared Habakkuk’s concern for the state of affairs of the kingdom and people.

 

Interestingly, this verse is quoted three different times in the New Testament of the Bible. You can find it in Romans chapter one verse seventeen, Galatians chapter three verse eleven, and Hebrews chapter ten verse thirty. This was apparently one of Paul’s personal favorites and he uses it for his doctrine of justification by faith. But biblical scholars admit that Paul alters its meaning in two ways. First, Paul translates faithfulness as faith. And second, Paul deliberately links the words of Habakkuk together in a way that is different from what Habakkuk intended.

 

It then continues on with a series of taunts. Beginning in verse six carrying through verse eight, we find these taunts against the Babylonians. The people discussed in the taunts who will be rise up to bite and plunder are the nations which the Babylonians have conquered and defeated previously. The implication here is that the situation happening in Habakkuk’s day will eventually be reversed, and all of these oppressed nations under the Babylonian rule will be in position to repay the Babylonians for all of their cruelty.

 

A second taunt follows in verse nine through eleven against the person or persons who has gained for themselves and their families, riches that they took through violence and injustice. Instead of the security they seek, the Babylonians will find shame. And because of their own cruel treatment of others, the Babylonians have essentially ensured that they will be killed themselves, suffering God’s punishment towards them.

 

Now the third taunt is of course still directed at the Babylonians, but this one covers more than the first two. This taunt basically says that there will be doom for those who have made a city on violent actions and built it up by murder. And to add insult to injury here it goes on further to claim that all of the nations that the Babylonians had conquered and forced to do work, will see their efforts will gain them nothing. These people wore themselves out, but everything you made them build will be completely burned up and destroyed. And this will happen at the Lord’s hand.

The fourth taunt continues on condemning the Babylonians, this time highlighting their fondness for getting drunk and their parties turning into shameful orgies. And again, God will punish them for this and repay them for their sins and violence against others. The fifth and final taunt in this section covers verses 18 through 20. Here we find mocking idols and the people who make and worship idols. The Babylonians were a very idolatrous people, so this again is clearly directed at them.

 

Wow. That is some harsh punishment. I am not saying it is not deserved necessarily, but it does kind of come up against our idea of a loving and forgiving God doesn’t it? Now that does not mean that the Babylonians were not able to be forgiven at some point, but it is an interesting position. We could make the argument that God had to in turn punish the Babylonians because they were oppressing God’s people, and many other nations, and using violence against them and worshiping idols.

 

But if we do that and stop there, don’t we run into the potential issue of again becoming exclusive instead of inclusive? That God’s people, the Judean’s are somehow better than or more deserving than the Babylonians. That kind of thinking has caused more violence throughout history than most others. And if we claim it was simply God’s desire for justice in the world, then wouldn’t God eventually have to again raise up the Babylonians after they are defeated by the nations that they first oppressed? Sounds like a never-ending merry-go-round.

 

I remember once having a conversation with some friends about judging the actions of others, things one might see as sinful or oppressive towards others. And someone remarked that we should not worry about what other people do, because in the end they will have to answer to God for those deeds. But this kind of attitude still carries an air of exclusivity and I think could lead to some dark places if left unattended.

 

Now one of the things I mentioned last week was a caution against assigning things that happen in the world to God’s hand, as ways that God might be punishing someone or some group of people. And I thought about that more and more this past week and I believe that there is another strong reason of support for this. Beyond the need to not become an exclusive group, there is a very important difference between our world today and the world in which Habakkuk was living. And is Jesus Christ.

 

You see the Judeans had continually broken the Law of Moses, and God was going to hold them accountable to the Law. But when Jesus came and died for our sins, defeated death and sin, and rising again to heaven – Jesus had then answered to the Law for our sins. God does not need to hold us accountable to the Law in the same way as the Judeans because Christ died for us and to save the world. I think that adds to the reasoning to avoid assigning world events that cause others harm to God.

 

Last week I said that the day Jesus died for us, when Christ saved the world, love won. Love won that day. Love overcame the punishment deserved for breaking the covenant. Love overcame the punishment deserved for not being faithful to the Law of Moses. Love overcame the barriers humanity built up between itself and God. Love won. Pure and simple.

 

There are a lot of potential takeaways from this section of Scripture, but there is one in particular that I would like to focus on. Rather than spend our time placing judgment on others, what if we instead asked God to guide us so that we could work alongside God in the world? What if instead of just complaining about how bad things seem at times in the world, we worked side-by-side with God to MAKE things better? Love won because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We can continue to help love win every second of every day, we just have to step up and get to work. Amen.