by Al Maxey
Issue #868 -- June 27, 2023
The vision we now require is nothing short
of a new covenant. At root, we need to return
to our spiritual identity as the children of God.
Jim Wallis [b. 1948] The Soul of Politics:
A Practical and Prophetic Vision for Change
Perhaps one of the most important passages in Scripture for a nation in spiritual decline is found in 2 Chronicles 7:13-14. The Lord appeared to Solomon one night with this message: "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." Any student of history knows only too well that human history is a chronicle of the rise and fall of tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations. World powers and global institutions come and go, as do those parties and persons who head them. No matter how mighty militarily or powerful politically or significant socially, none are immune from the dire consequences of corruption and moral decay. A people who embrace godlessness on a national level will experience a national decline, and if they refuse to heed the warnings to repent, they will ultimately fall.
Our nation has reached that critical crossroad in our history. If we continue our current course, we will fall; if we change course and return to our God, He will heal our land and restore our fortunes. The choice "we the people" make in the near future will determine our fate, and I firmly believe that our upcoming local, state, and national elections will reflect that choice, and thus the fate, of this nation. My fear, quite frankly, and I pray fervently that I am wrong, is that this nation will continue its downward decline. The shameful, unblushing perversion and corruption we are witnessing in society right now are heart-breaking for those of us who love God and country! I can't help but think of Lot, as he lived among the godless and depraved inhabitants of Sodom: "That good man was driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment" (2 Peter 2:7-8, The Message; see my article titled "The Sins of Sodom" - Reflections #65). We all know what fate these corrupt cities faced: God "condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6; cf, Jude 7; Genesis 19:24f; Ezekiel 16:49-50). Are we listening?! Are "we the people" at this critical point in our history hearing the warning of our God? Are we willing to heed that warning?! Time will tell.
But what was the fate of "that righteous man dwelling among them" (2 Peter 2:8a, NKJV)? What will befall the faithful when the Lord pours out judgment upon a nation? Will they too feel His wrath? Will they too be cast away from His presence? Peter tells us that God "delivered righteous Lot" (vs. 7a), and that "the Lord knows how to deliver the godly" (vs. 9a). Yes, tragically, when nations fall, the horrors that accompany that fall will be felt to varying degrees by all within that nation, both the wicked as well as the righteous. God's "deliverance" for the faithful isn't always from temporal afflictions upon the land, although at times it can be. The deliverance for which we long, and of which we are assured, is of a higher nature, and far more lasting! Thus, when a nation falls, the righteous may well, and most likely will, experience many of the hardships and deprivations that come from that fall. This can be a real challenge for those, who in the face of the depravity surrounding them, sought to live faithfully in covenant with their God. How do the faithful survive the fall of a nation? Let me introduce you to the prophet Habakkuk, for that is precisely the focus of his prophecy. He has a message for us, and it is very timely.
The name Habakkuk is an unusual one of uncertain meaning. Some feel it comes from the Hebrew word "Habaq," which means "to embrace," and that it thereby signifies an "ardent embrace." This "is taken literally to mean either 'one who embraces' or 'one who is embraced,' the latter being more probable" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 14 - Habakkuk, p. ii]. "At the end of his book, this name becomes appropriate because Habakkuk chooses to cling firmly to (embrace) God, regardless of what happens to his nation" [The Expanded Open Bible]. St. Jerome preferred the idea of embracing so as to wrestle, "because he wrestled with God." Martin Luther seemed to favor this idea as well, saying, "It is certainly not unfitting, for in this little book we see a man, in deadly earnest, wrestling with the mighty problem of theodicy (the divine justice) in a topsy-turvy world." Others have suggested his name was derived from an Assyrian flower ("Hambaququ"), but there is no way to verify this. According to popular Jewish tradition, he was the son of the Shunammite woman, since Elisha told her, "At this season next year you shall embrace (habaq) a son" (2 Kings 4:16). A second tradition identifies him with the "watchman" of Isaiah 21:6. Further legendary material may be gleaned from the pages of the apocryphal book "Bel and the Dragon" (vs. 33-42), where an angel carries this prophet by his hair to Babylon to feed Daniel in the lion's den. In the superscription of this book (in the Codex Chisianus of the Septuagint), Habakkuk is said to be "the son of Joshua, of the tribe of Levi." This is interesting in light of the final directive of Habakkuk 3:16 - "For the choir director, on my stringed instruments." It is inferred by some scholars that the use of the possessive ("my") confirms that this prophet was indeed a Levite, and among those chosen priests who took part in the music of the temple worship. In reality, however, we know nothing for certain about this man personally (nothing from the Scriptures themselves) other than he was a "prophet" of God (Habakkuk 1:1).
What we do know about this prophet, and this is derived from references within the text of the prophecy itself, is that Habakkuk lived during a period of national decline during which the people were increasingly turning from their God and their covenant with Him, which departure was being reflected in the depravity of the nation. Because of the decline of His people into moral and spiritual chaos, God was preparing a nation (the Babylonians) that would in time implement His divine judgment against the southern kingdom of Judah. This points to a time prior to the time when Babylon became a world force (which was after the critical battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.), yet after the reign of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.), based on the moral and spiritual conditions described in the prophecy. Thus, most scholars feel the prophecy of Habakkuk best fits the time of the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-597 B.C.), especially during the early years of his reign. He was a godless king who led the nation down the path to destruction (2 Kings 23:34 - 24:5; Jeremiah 22:18). "It is therefore reasonable to conclude that Habakkuk delivered his message somewhere around 607 or 606 B.C." [Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 356].
At this time in their history, "the people of God were caught up in the crises of religious and moral bewilderment" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 5]. Evidence of moral rot was everywhere. The nation was in a mess; it was falling apart. "Looking about him, Habakkuk sees a vivid demonstration of prevailing evils" [Dr. Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, p. 408]. These are "manifold manifestations of presumptuousness" on the part of "those who are proud and secure in their own ways" [ibid]. "Habakkuk is disturbed by the prevalent evils of his generation. Injustice prevails, violence and destruction continue, Torah is ignored" [ibid, p. 407]. Like Lot, and like many of us today, Habakkuk is greatly distressed by what he is witnessing in his society. The nation is "going to hell in a handbasket," and it appears to him that God is doing nothing about it. Thus, he wrestles with God ("rechtet mit Gott"): "How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But You do not listen! 'Violence is everywhere,' I cry, but You do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted" (Habakkuk 1:2-4, New Living Translation). It was a societal situation best described by the word "depravity" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 5]. "Habakkuk lived in days that were remarkably like the present. It was an age when divine standards were relaxed and gross permissiveness permitted in human conduct" [Dr. H. P. Mansfield, Habakkuk's Message for These Days, p. 4]. Judah was on its way "down to the final and mournful catastrophe; when political excitement was at its height; when the worst passions swayed the various parties; and the most fatal counsels prevailed. The reforms of Josiah were forgotten, and, heedless to the appeals of the prophets of Yahweh, the people rushed headlong over the precipice into the weltering political ruin below" [ibid, p. 7].
"The inner corruption of the nation was becoming increasingly apparent, so that violence and oppression were the order of the day" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible, vol. 2, p. 689]. "The people of God, covenantally bound to Him since the days of the Exodus, had sharply fallen away from those covenant standards. Violence and law-breaking (covenant violations) abounded, and the wicked seemed at least superficially to triumph" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 494]. Drs. Keil & Delitzsch characterize Judah at this time as a "degenerate covenant nation" [Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 10, p. 53]. The prophet, like God's people today, "deplores the anarchy, oppression, and social disorder which prevail among his countrymen" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 5, p. 525]. Habakkuk is troubled and greatly agitated by the decline of Judah; he is tormented by the perversion and depravity he witnesses daily. He is also perplexed, and even angered, that in spite of his many prayers to God to step in and do something, God has done nothing. Things are going from bad to worse ... so, "Where are You, God?!" Can you relate?! I most certainly can!! I look at what is happening in my country right now - a country I deeply love, by the way - and I am appalled. Some of what we witness every day is virtually beyond belief. This nation has descended into levels of insanity and depths of depravity that, frankly, I never believed could have happened here! And yet it is happening ... and it is getting worse by the day! "Where are You, God?! DO something!!" "Yahweh should have arisen to correct the situation, particularly in response to believing prayer for change by such as Habakkuk. Such correction, however, had not been forthcoming, and the prayers of the righteous and the struggle for justice in the land seemed in vain, with the result that God's program of redemptive history was threatened" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 494]. Yes, I can indeed relate to the depth of emotion and intense frustration expressed by this prophet as he wrestled with his God. My guess is, so can many of you.
The problem Habakkuk faced, as have others down through history (including you and me), is that God was not operating within the parameters of his (Habakkuk's) expectations, and therefore, in this prophet's mind, God was not acting at all. The ways of our God, as He deals with His people, are not always our ways, and, frankly, we should probably all be very, very thankful that they are not. WE want God to step in right now and "fix it," and we are more than willing to tell Him how. God will indeed "fix it," but it may very well not be in the way we expected; indeed, it may even be quite painful for all involved, both the righteous and the wicked. God's solution, for example (as history repeatedly bears out), may be to step back and let a nation experience the full force of the consequences of their choices!! In effect, as Paul spoke of with regard to a situation in Corinth, God may decide to hand a nation over to Satan, and the evil forces of this world, so that the nation will experience a devastating fall from its former glory. Some nations, just as some individuals, have descended so far into arrogance and depravity that only their destruction may awaken them to their need for redemption. This was Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 5 with regard to a certain morally depraved man, and I believe it reflects what God was seeking to accomplish with "degenerate, depraved Judah" as well. A spiritual restoration of their nation would require a temporal judgment upon and destruction of their nation, and this was going to be traumatic for everyone!
"In a time of general apathy and lukewarmness towards the things of God, Habakkuk wrestled faithfully and courageously with the frustrations and problems of his times, and he was enabled by God to see beyond them to the glory yet to be revealed in the earth" [Dr. H. P. Mansfield, Habakkuk's Message for These Days, p. 6]. What this prophet came to realize is that he must allow God to be God and to handle the situation in His time and in His manner, even if he didn't understand it or agree with it. In other words, it's GOD'S job to fix it; it's OUR job to trust Him and to continue living and walking by faith, no matter how painful and/or frustrating that walk may be! This is summed up in the key verse of the entire book: "The righteous one will live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4). The Living Bible reads, "The righteous man trusts in Me and lives!" The Complete Jewish Bible reads, "The righteous will attain life through trusting faithfulness." When those around us are outdoing themselves in displays of depravity, yes we must speak out against it, but we must also counter that depravity with lives lived visibly in devotion to God and His will for mankind. Set aside the frustration, and embrace FAITH and TRUST, which is exactly what Habakkuk did. When things do not always turn out the way you would like (and they won't), when the world descends more and more into godless worldliness (and it will), rejoice in the Lord anyway, and remain true and faithful to Him!
"In spite of appearances to the contrary, God is still on the throne as the Lord of history and the Ruler of the nations. God may be slow to wrath, but all iniquity will be punished eventually. He is the worthiest object of faith, and the righteous man will trust in Him at all times" [The Expanded Open Bible]. "Apart from Isaiah (Isaiah 7:9; 28:16), no other prophet stressed the significance of faith and prayerful trust in such a way as did Habakkuk. The central theme of Habakkuk's prophecy (viz, that the righteous shall live by his faith - 2:4), is taken up in the NT and applied in significant contexts: Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38-39" [The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 3, p. 4]. "The growth of faith from perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust is one of the beautiful aspects of the book, and its lesson is for all time!" [Homer Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, p. 274]. "Through a living faith in God the prophet gathers strength to face the uncertain future" [Dr. Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, p. 408].
The Lord God informs Habakkuk that his nation will fall. That was not a pleasant prospect; it terrified the prophet. He was also informed, however, that in time the invading nation, which God raised up to punish Judah, would also be dealt with decisively. God would "sort it all out," but very difficult days and years were ahead for His people. Yet, ultimately their fortunes would be restored when they turned back to Him. Until that time, the prophet was to live in visible demonstration of his faith and trust in God. To this we find the final declaration in Habakkuk's prophecy, and it is a powerful one! "This final response, one of the great statements of faith in God in the face of adversity, lends its tone to the entire book and is probably the reason Habakkuk is preeminent among the minor prophets" [The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 584]. Habakkuk declared, "I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear. My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror. I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us. Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights" [Habakkuk 3:16-19]. AMEN!!
Let me conclude with this quote from Dr. H. P. Mansfield, which I pray will challenge each of us, in our current situations, to reflect the same depth of trust and faith as Habakkuk: "A similar challenge faces individuals today. Will they succumb to the forces of darkness that are so much in evidence? Or have they sufficient faith to see beyond present conditions to the glorious future, and to boldly declare their intention to 'rejoice in Yahweh, and joy in the God of salvation,' in spite of prevailing conditions about them?" [Habakkuk's Message for These Days, p. 7]. My own charge to my fellow believers is this: Let us cease the sectarian squabbles among believers, and let us pray for one another, rather than prey upon one another! If ever the people of God, regardless of their varying perspectives and practices, needed to stand together, united as One Body in Him, it is NOW!! We face a powerful enemy that threatens our nation and opposes the will of our God. May each of us have the courage to boldly live by faith in visible opposition to those about us who are determined to bring our nation and His Church to ruin. May God help us!!
SPECIAL OFFER: If you found the message of the above article on Habakkuk to be relevant to the troubling circumstances of our present day, then I believe you will be interested in this very special class I taught titled "A Fresh, Reflective Study of the OT Minor Prophets: Their Message to Us Today." This series of lessons, which I presented in my Sunday morning adult class, consists of audio recordings (MP3 format) of all 12 of my 45-50 minute classes, and additionally all 12 of my in-depth handouts on each prophet. They are available on a special thumb drive, and I will pay the shipping costs. Each of these men, who spoke God's message to their own troubled times, also have a message for us in our own troubled times. In this study we will also address the following questions and concerns: What is a "prophet"? Are there any prophets today? Why are these twelve men called "minor" prophets? What was the historical and religious context for these men? What was their message to the people of that era? Do they have a message for us today? What are some of the legends that are associated with each of these prophets? What were their strengths? Weaknesses? If they were to speak to us today, what would they say? This special study may now be ordered at the above link.
From a Reader in Alaska:
Al, I was thinking of you earlier today here in ----, Alaska. We have a young preacher who is a graduate of Sunset School of Preaching in Lubbock, Texas, and I had recommended your writings to him only a few hours ago. Your work is an invaluable resource for us all, but particularly for young preachers, many of whom are disturbed by the vitriol that seems to spew from so many of the troubled souls of our fellowship who are trying so hard to place followers of Jesus under law without grace. They rail at "false teachers," never seeming to grasp the irony of their obsession. Our nice young preacher is really struggling with the unloving rhetoric coming from a nearby crop of zealots who seem to always have their eyes set on weeding out "false teachers."
From a Reader in Alabama:
Al, your writings are a great addition to a sound library of those who love the Lord, Truth, and one another. Through your work, "His Truth is marching on," despite modern-day Pharisees, legalists, and sectarians.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Al, I enjoy your Reflections very much! It does seem that we are oftentimes quick to judge others, and to point out their need for punishment, while we excuse our own similar behavior, because we ascribe better motives to ourselves than to others. Thank you for your insights!
From a Reader in Montana:
Thank you for your article "The Morals of Chess: Guidance for the Game of Life" (Reflections #867). I do know how to play chess, it's just that I'm not a great player. In the readers' response section of this issue, the last two readers were very critical of you, condemning you as a "heretic" and comparing you to Max Lucado. Let me just say that if I ever once got compared to Max Lucado ... well, what a great day that would be!!
I actually have a funny story to tell on myself with regard to Max Lucado. During my eight years as the minister in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1984-1992), Max Lucado and his family came and worshipped with us one Sunday morning. I believe they were on vacation in the area at the time. After the morning assembly, as I was in the back speaking with people as they left the building, Max introduced himself and his family to me. When he said his name, it kind of "rang a bell" in my mind, but I couldn't quite place him. I said, "Max Lucado ... hmm, that sounds familiar. Have you written anything?!" Yep, I'm an idiot!! (LOL) -- Al Maxey
From a Reader in Georgia:
Al, your article "The Morals of Chess" was fantastic! I really enjoyed this one. And that last quote you gave in the article ("Marriage is like the king and queen in chess: the king must carefully take one step at a time, but the queen can go anywhere she wants") will stick with me for all eternity!! (LOL) Love ya, brother!
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