Two ways to live

Today’s Passage: Habakkuk 1:12-2:20

Last week, we started looking at the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk is one of the shorter Old Testament prophetic books, but what it lacks in length it certainly makes up for in punch! As we saw last week, Habakkuk found himself living in a land that seemed to have gone to hell in a hand-basket. Evil and violence were everywhere, and the law (which in Israel was meant to have as its basis the law of God!) was paralysed.

What really got at Habakkuk, though, was God’s seeming inaction in it all. Why didn’t God do something
about the state of his people’s nation?

In reply to Habakkuk’s complaint, God provided an answer that seemed almost unbelievable. He was already doing something – and that something involved sending in the Babylonians in judgement over the people of Judah. He was sending in the ultra-violent in response to the violence! We noted last week how God can use what seems to be evil to bring about His good. In particular, He used the cross – the emblem of suffering and shame – to bring about salvation for all who trust in Him.

God’s idea of bringing in the Babylonians certainly seemed incomprehensible to Habakkuk. Habakkuk knew God. He knew God as his God, his Holy One, his Rock. He knew the absolute holiness and purity of God. He couldn’t understand why God would tolerate the treacherous. He wonders, in effect, how it is that God could put up with such an evil people as the Babylonians. Yes, he’d been complaining about his own people in Judah. But they were surely better than the Babylonians.

In effect, from 1:12ff, Habakkuk seems to switch from, “when are you going to do something about the mess here God,” to “we’re not as bad as them, God” mode.

I wonder if we aren’t prone to do exactly the same thing. As much as we might lament the state of our own (perhaps our own selves, church, country, race), we are also often quick to decide that we aren’t as bad as that other (person, church, country, or race). We tend to operate on a scale system: assuming that God must be more displeased with some people than with others. And, even if we’re honest in recognising we need dealing with, we don’t like thinking of ourselves as being at the end of the scale!

But I don’t think that’s the way God views us. Yes, there are degrees of evil. But as far as God is concerned, there is no-one righteous… (Romans 3:10). Either we are righteous or we are not. Either we deserve judgement for rebelling against God, or we don’t.
Habakkuk takes his complaint to God – and waits for God’s answer.

And God’s answer is fantastic… Habakkuk 2:4 is one of those verse that stands out, and is used at least 3 times in the New Testament to describe life with God. God describes the outcomes of the two possible ways to live – the outcomes of those who are puffed up and of the righteous who live by faith. Although it might seem like the way of the “enemy” is the sensible way to live, God explains in no uncertain terms the futility of that sort of life.

But if there is no-one righteous, then are there really, practically, two possible ways to live? Yes – but only by the grace of God. What we need is a righteousness that isn’t our own. What we need is the gift of God. What we need is Jesus’ righteousness, ours when we put our faith in Jesus. Ours when we live our lives trusting him.

Without God, there is only futility. But, as God says, there will come a time when the knowledge of His glory will cover the earth. And the righteous – those who live trusting God – will see it. We are, in fact, chosen to share it (Romans 8:17)!

In the end, God doesn’t answer Habakkuk’s question about how he could use the “more” wicked to punish the “less”. Because ultimately, that’s the wrong question. A better question would be this: will I do whatever it takes, however bloody or ridiculous, to try and guarantee my security and safety – or will I trust God? Will I trust Jesus and His promises, even though they “linger” (Habakkuk 2:3)?

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