At the end of the Old Testament, there are twelve books often referred to as the ‘Minor Prophets’. The term ‘minor’ only refers to their length, not to the status of their content. Far from it! The importance of these prophets cannot be overstated. They deal with events of their day and prophetic truth, all vital for the serious student of the word of God. But they also reveal something of the ways of God and how His people should order their lives. There is much instruction about personal behaviour, relationships with the world, the discipline of waiting upon God, and bowing to divine sovereignty. Looking particularly into Habakkuk, in addition to these lessons there are those relating to the conduct of a God fearing people and the high standards of worship and meditation He requires. It should also be noted that Habakkuk is a book quoted a number of times in the New Testament.
There are no details of who Habakkuk is or where he comes from. What an interesting lesson for every believer in a day of self promotion and hero worship! Men of God do not occupy themselves with who they are, or anything they may have or may not have been positively involved in. John the Baptist said, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’, John 3. 30. Similarly, the Apostle Paul described himself as ‘the least of the apostles’, 1 Cor. 15. 9. Later, in Ephesians, he speaks of himself as being ‘less than the least of all saints’, Eph. 3. 8. Finally, in 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 15, he humbly called himself the ‘chief’ of sinners.
In Habakkuk, we find a spirit of personal humility coupled with a deep burden, not for himself but rather with a heart for the nation. He is so burdened that a people so dear to his heart and special to the Lord was found utterly defiled and marred by sin, 1. 3, 4. As believers saved by grace, have we such a burden about the things of the Lord? Does the spiritual welfare of the local believers have a special place in our hearts? As Habakkuk surveyed the wreckage of Judah, he had cried out so long for divine help, 1. 2. It seemed to him that the Lord was not listening. Everything was going wrong. He had a sensitive soul for divine order. He abhors the evil, the rejection of the truth of God, and the abandonment of spiritual standards. Just as the prophet was living in an evil day, so are we. Do we show a sensitivity to the slide into the rejection of the ways of an eternal God?
Habakkuk cried out for an answer, but when it came it was not what he expected. It is part of a believer’s experience to receive and fully accept an answer to prayer even when the answer is not what we expected. We must always accept the response of God in His righteousness. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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’, Isa. 55. 8, 9. Habakkuk is shocked that the nation is to face being ransacked by the pagan, godless Chaldean empire from the east, led by Nebuchadnezzar, 1. 5-11. In modern terms, the prophet is, in effect, exclaiming, ‘You cannot be serious, Lord. Are You really going to allow an ungodly, violent nation with no time for You to extend its empire by sweeping through the land and taking away the people?’ However, he does realize that there is a need for divine discipline, 1. 12-17. But why by means of the Chaldeans?
The lesson for us today is that, like Judah, we cannot prosper spiritually if pride, worldliness, and division have brought about a departure from the pathway of truth. It is to the prophet’s credit that, after heaven’s answer to all that has shocked him, he raises no further complaint. He bows to the righteous authority of God to do as He will, but understands that, whatever the consequences, the nation will be preserved. He is, however, perplexed and still cannot understand why the Lord is dealing with the nation in this way. Here we have the cornerstone of the prophet’s spirituality. Despite the dreadful situation, he has a high appreciation of the Lord. This is brought out in the preciousness and high standard of his worship which is particularly demonstrated by chapter 1 verses 1, 2, 12 and 13, chapter 2 verse 1, and the whole of chapter 3. Even in an atmosphere of tragic departure, just over a third of the book is devoted to worship. Men who stand for God in troublesome times should be men of worship. This is the secret of spiritual leadership. Nevertheless, the prophet too has much to learn, and he does it by waiting upon God by faith. He will remain silent. He says that he will stand up on his watch, 2. 1. He is to stand and not sit in expectation. He stands above the affairs of earth anticipating heaven’s message. Similarly, the believer needs to wait, away from, and above, the thoughts and ways of unregenerate, foolish men. He needs to look out to see what God has to say to him. In time, this is the place of divine comfort, assurance, and instruction.
The message Habakkuk is to receive is to be proclaimed far and wide, as it is not just for that time alone. The fourth verse of chapter 2 heralds these words, ‘but the just shall live by his faith’. This is repeated no less than three times in the New Testament, Rom. 1. 17; Gal. 3. 11; Heb. 10. 38. The next fifteen verses prophesy the judgement of God upon the Chaldeans, which concludes with a conversation about their idolatry, Hab. 2. 18, 19. The final verse turns to a declaration of the Lord as the sole object of worship, ‘let all the earth keep silence before him’.
The result of all that God has told Habakkuk sends the prophet into a song of worship, ch. 3. Sadly, worship has become one of the most misunderstood subjects. So important to the Lord and essential to the spiritual progress of the worshippers, it is not a demonstration of physical movement nor a product of popular music. It is not a display of art, acting, or repetitive chanting, nor the wealth of religious promotions. True worship is from a heart in touch with God, bowed in reverence, uttering words of deep appreciation concerning the glory of God, the person of Christ, and all things pertaining to what is pure and honourable before the Lord. Hence, the third chapter brings together a plea for revival, v. 2, an acknowledgement of the power of God over creation, vv. 3-6, and an appreciation of the nation’s history.
It is clear from the tone of chapter 3 that the prophet is no stranger to worship, neither its practice nor its importance. His commitment to worship gives us a great lesson as to how true spiritual worship affects our lives. First, we are strengthened in our assurance of salvation. Second, we are strengthened and blessed in our knowledge of Christ. Third, we are drawn closer to Christ because we get to know Him more personally and more intimately. Fourth, we are nurtured to a more positive personal testimony. And, finally, we are led to consider less of self and more of Him as our appreciation of Christ grows.
The psalmist in Psalm 29 said, ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’, v. 2. That is the standard of worship. Again, in Psalm 19, ‘Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer’, v. 14. That is the testimony of worship. The last three verses of Habakkuk chapter 3 show just how well the prophet has progressed in his spiritual life through his dialogue with God. Although all the gifts God has liberally given for the welfare of mankind are missing, he says in verse 18, ‘Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation’. He is a man who now truly believes that whatever the circumstances, God will meet every need. This is confidence in worship. The prayer of Habakkuk is the outpouring of a man who triumphs over every circumstance because he has strength through divine provision. In light of this challenging book, every believer should ask themselves: have they joy in the person of Christ, joy in salvation through Christ, joy in Christ as their sole divine resource, joy in His power to keep us, joy in the pathway in which He leads us, and joy in giving Christ all praise and worship?
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