Alfred Place Baptist Church

1-11 God’s ways, mysterious, misunderstood yet sure

Habakkuk 1:1-11 “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. ‘Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling-places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honour. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on–guilty men, whose own strength is their god.

Let me say four words of introduction about the brief opening sentence.

i] This is an ‘oracle’ given to Habakkuk. The word ‘oracle’ is the same word that is used for a literal ‘burden.’ When the word ‘oracle’ is used to describe a prophecy then generally the message is one of judgment or doom. That is so in almost every case, and thus it is fitting to translate the opening words as ‘the burden that Habakkuk the prophet received.’ A preacher may find the challenge of preparing two or three sermons a week somewhat of a burden, but that is not a good comparison. That is not a burden to me. For a more accurate comparison one must think of the responsibility of visiting someone you love and breaking bad news to them, telling them a message that will give them very great grief. You inwardly groan and sigh at having to do it, but you must do it. What a burden! And Habakkuk did not have to do that on one occasion but many times, virtually every time he spoke, and it never got easier. Only the strength of the Spirit of God could enable him to continue carrying this burden. So his prophecy will deal with sudden savage death coming to people whom he loved; that was his burden. Think of Jesus weeping over a city that refused to come under his sheltering wings. The prophet Jeremiah compared his vocation to having a fire burning away inside him; it was extremely painful. He couldn’t contain such a furnace, but it always caused a conflagration when it burst out. Habakkuk had to unload his burden, but how painful that was.

ii] It was this man Habakkuk’s own personal burden, but who Habakkuk was, and when he lived no one knows. His name is a form of the Hebrew word ‘to embrace,’ but this is not a kiss but the embrace of a wrestler gripping and contending with an opponent. Think of Jacob wrestling at Bethel. This prophecy is about a prophet of God who lived out his name by laying hold of God – “How long, O Lord, must I call for help?” He is in the ring hanging on for long minutes before the bell will ring. That is a wrestler. Generally Habakkuk is thought to have lived at the same time as Jeremiah just before the Babylonian invasion which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the ensuing exile. Whether he was married, what age he was, where he lived, and for how long we know nothing, because none of those things is important.

iii] What was important was that Habakkuk was a prophet. There are no prophets today but there are millions of men who bring the message of the prophets to the churches through the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The prophets and apostles were foundation gifts and now every congregation needs to be built on their foundation. Thus it has been throughout church history and so on until the end of the world. This prophetic proclamation by the energy of the same Spirit who inspired the prophets is God’s appointed means of shaping every gospel congregation. Prophetic preaching is the climax of their worship. But Habakkuk was more than a preacher. As Walt Chantry says, “God Almighty set Habakkuk aside to be God’s spokesman, to declare the very words of God. He was God’s mouthpiece to deliver a divine message to the world. He was a ‘holy man’ carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). Habakkuk’s words were ‘breathed out’ by God himself through his prophet” (Walter Chantry, Banner of Truth Magazine, February 2007, “A Prophet’s Burden: Habakkuk 1:1-4,” p.28). No part of Habakkuk’s burden was self-invented; his strong prophecy was not his own assessment of the situation, locally, nationally or internationally. The words we have before us were not a mere holy man’s philosophy of the problem of God seeming far off, and keeping silent while his people cry, “How long Lord?” These words are not a human answer as to why people suffer, or how you can reconcile human pain to an all-powerful God of love. No, we are not going to waste time studying the personal thoughts of a brilliant religious man. The burden this prophet bore was measured out to him to the ounce by God and Habakkuk unloaded the burden he had received on his hearers. They were yoked together, the preacher and the congregation, under this burden that comes to the church from its Lord.

iv] So it was from Jehovah that Habakkuk ‘received’ all this message. Literally we are told that he ‘saw’ this revelation. Again, Walter Chantry is helpful saying, “Even when Habakkuk ‘saw’, it was not like our seeing. The Holy Spirit does enlighten the eyes of our understanding through Scripture. Prophets, however, were (in the earliest days) called ‘Seers’. In Numbers 12:6 the Lord said to Aaron and Miriam, ‘If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak in a dream. Not so My servant Moses. I speak with him face to face.’ God made prophets to see truth directly in visions and dreams. Those things which they saw, they conveyed to us in words of Scripture. The exceptions were Moses and the Prophet like Moses, Jesus Christ. These two spoke with God face-to-face and delivered more clear and complete messages in Holy Scripture” (Chantry, op cit, p.28).

So those are the four things I wanted to say about the first seven words of Habakkuk. Now let us turn to the opening words of the prophecy, what the NIV translation has headed “Habakkuk’s Complaint’. My first point is this:

 

  1. GOD’S WAYS ARE OFTEN MYSTERIOUS.

Let us look at that from three perspectives;

i] God can seem inactive for long periods. Obviously Habakkuk had been a man of God for a long time. He’d been calling to Jehovah to help him and help the people of God for years. We know that because he begins his prophecy with the question, “How long?”  How much longer was Habakkuk going to be kneeling before God and saying, “Lord we still need your help. When are you going to send help? I am calling for help; why don’t you listen? Please send help.” Habakkuk would hear of some terrible atrocity, too ugly to speak of, and he would cry to God, “There is more violence Lord . . . terrible violence, but what are you doing to deliver us?” Is God deaf, or not powerful enough to deal with the situation? He appears to be either unable or unwilling to do anything about the awful situation in society.

Habakkuk was a preacher in an age when the people had largely turned away from God. They were serving the Baals and the land was increasingly full of wickedness. When was the Lord going to do something? Habakkuk pointed out these things to God but nothing happened. He simply saw more injustice; he found the wickedness intolerable, but it seemed to him that God didn’t. “Why do you tolerate wrong?” he said to God (v.3). “You of all beings, a sin-hating God; just and holy is your name.” This is the Lord who expelled rebel angels from heaven, the God who destroyed the world in the days of Noah, Jehovah who poured out fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, so why does he now tolerate behaviour that was worse than in those times? Can’t he see what’s going on? What is before the eyes of God? Habakkuk says, “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds” (v.3). ‘Destruction and violence’ are Habakkuk’s first mentioned crimes. He has a sense of horror at what he’s seeing and hearing about, and we share in his revulsion, the suicide bombers in London, the destruction of unborn babies by the tens of thousands, battering to death little children, knifing a vicar, shootings in schools, road rage, drug trafficking, crimes of passion – how long will it be before God will intervene?

Habakkuk took his incomprehension at this lack of divine interest to God himself. He goes to the One at the top, the great First Cause of everything, the One in whom men live and move and have their being, the One in whose hands is their very breath. Habakkuk personally protests about God’s inactivity. He has been bringing the nation’s evils before God again and again, but nothing happens. God doesn’t make bare his arm and smite the criminals. The statistics for crimes of violence, rape and robbery, fighting in the streets, gang warfare, etc. in our own days are all remorselessly increasing. People don’t feel it worth reporting muggings and burglaries. My grandson is held up by a man and has his phone stolen; later he has his bicycle security chain cut and his expensive bike is stolen. What can an over-worked police force do about thefts like that? Thousands of petty thefts like that occur every day of the year. What is alarming is that the police often appear to be defending the rights of criminals. Parents who correct their children are threatened with having their beloved sons and daughters taken from them. Tract distributors and open-air preachers are harassed. So Habakkuk says, “Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails” (v.4). “Never,” he says, that great word of the orator and the agitator, “ . . . no justice anywhere.”  “The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (v.4). Isn’t this our concern? Don’t our prayer meetings reflect these very concerns? There is such evil all around us and we gather and we cry to God about it. On Sundays I lead you in prayer and a part of that intercession can be the atrocious wickednesses surrounding us, all the pain that this brings into the lives of individuals and families.

How long have we been praying like this? We have had a prayer meeting for revival every Friday morning at 7 a.m. for nine years and there is not a sign anywhere of a movement of God’s Spirit, of conviction of sin, or numbers crying out, “Men and brethren what must we do?” We want to see truth advanced and a tide of righteousness and love flooding the land. “God arise and help us!” we cry. There are huge challenges and we lack the man power and the spiritual conviction to summon a nation to truth and salvation. There is the Dyfi valley north of us stretching forty miles from Aberdyfi up to Dinas Mawddwy. Twenty thousand people live there with just a couple of ministers of any theological persuasion to serve them. There is one of our members living in the heart of that valley battling on with his poor health. How can that area be reached for God? That is just a microcosm of our land; there are hundreds of areas like that far from the South Wales Bible belt, but if your mind can embrace the nations of Europe to the east and south of us aren’t there millions of square miles without Christ crucified. 40,000 towns in France do not have a gospel pulpit. We cry to God to open wide the windows of heaven. Instead of a little watering-can sprinkling the window boxes it is time for God to pour waterfalls of grace on these nations. Our hope of an awakening of truth must be fixed on him. We cry to him for blessing, and have cried, but where is a response commensurate with the divine glory of Christ? “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (v.2). Why doesn’t God answer our prayers? Why does a loved one remain unconverted? Why do congregations grow smaller? Why does God permit his people to be as she is today? Why doesn’t he give honour to the Son he loves by bringing many to confess him as Lord? So God has seemed inactive for a long time. Think of the dark ages when the church was deprived of the Bible. Medieval superstition dominated the professing churches. The papacy was led by a series of avaricious sensual men. Christianity seemed to be all about indulgences, relics, celibacy and secular power. This state of affairs continued for centuries while God seemed inactive. Another mysterious way of God:

ii] God brings about unexpected providences. The Lord does not keep silent, replying to Habakkuk. There is no rebuke offered. The Lord is fully in sympathy with Habakkuk’s concern, in fact he perceives the problem more deeply than the prophet. Habakkuk is counseled and given homework. This is what he has to do, “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed . . .” (v.5). The commands are staccato and constant: “Look! See! Be astonished! Wonder!” Jehovah tells Habakkuk that he is failing to look in the right place to see him at work. The prophet’s eyes were glued to the sins of his own land, to the idolatry and unrighteousness in Judah. That is all he noticed. He was longing for a work of God restraining that sin, and because he saw no restraints he concluded that God was doing nothing. “Look beyond your little creek. Look at the nations and watch,” said Jehovah. Our God is the Lord of all nations. His purposes are global. God’s answers are not always seen in the sending of revival. Sometimes they appear by way of multi-national events. Then God announces something very different from Habakkuk’s expectations: “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (v.5).

God is always doing the unexpected. In Elisha’s day a city was dying because its water supply was bad. Elisha threw salt into the spring and healed the water. You’d think salt wouldn’t help at all, making it undrinkable, but it was salt that caused the water to be wholesome for ever (2 Kings 2:22). Again, there was a blind man who cried to Jesus for sight and Jesus answered by putting mud on his eyes, something one would think would be the most unhelpful thing he could do, but because of that the man’s sight was restored. Or think again of the action of Pilate in permitting the Son of God to be crucified, the most terrible crime the world has seen, and yet God decreed by this horrific cruelty of Gentile unbelievers that cosmic redemption and eternal good would come.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “We all tend to prescribe the answers to our prayers. We think that God can come in only one way. But Scripture teaches us that God sometimes answers our prayers by allowing things to become much worse before they become better. He may sometimes do the opposite of what we anticipate. He may overwhelm us by confronting us with a Babylonian army. Yet it is a fundamental principle in the life and walk of faith that we must always be prepared for the unexpected when we are dealing with God. I wonder what our fathers would have thought [eighty] years ago if they could have had a pre-view of the state of the Christian Church today. They were unhappy enough about things even then. They were already having meetings for revival and for seeking God. If they could see the Church at the present time, they would not believe their eyes. They could never have imagined that spiritually the Church could have sunk so low. Yet God has allowed this to happen. It has been an unexpected answer. We must hold on to the hope that He has allowed things to become worse before they finally become better” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, From Fear to Faith, IVP, 1953, p.17).

 

John Newton asked God that he might grow in faith and love and ever grace, and we pray that for our congregations. What is numerical growth if Christ-likeness is virtually nil? God answered Newton’s prayers by stirring up sin in him and making him feel its power, upsetting his plans and laying him low. Newton cried to God, “Why is this?”

‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied
I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ
From pride and self to set you free
To break your schemes of earthly joy
That you might find your joy in me.
The Christian receives unexpected providences.

Another mysterious way of God;

iii] God uses unusual instruments. “I am raising up . . .” What? An army of missionaries? No. God is absolutely content with one man Habakkuk; this prophet is adequate for the task God has given him to do. “I am raising up . . .” What? “The Babylonians.” “Oh no! You don’t mean that ruthless and impetuous people?” Exactly; “that ruthless and impetuous people” (v.6). “Can’t you see in the rise of Babylon that I am at work, fulfilling my sovereign purposes against these evils giving you such concern?” He is telling Habakkuk to prick up his ears and take note, “Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed” (v.5). Then God, in order to underline the truth that he knows exactly the power he is unleashing, describing in most vivid language – I believe there are twenty different features mentioned – the Babylonian armies who “sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling-places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honour. Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour; they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them. Then they sweep past like the wind and go on – guilty men, whose own strength is their god” (vv. 6-11). They end up exalting themselves as god! Today with computer enhanced graphics it is possible to picture on the silver screen chilling scenes of vast armies of merciless killers, sharpening their swords, licking their lips in anticipation of young women and plunder. They stretch out to the distant horizons, their war-horses champing at the bit, and they advance when the signal is given, pouring over the borders and descending on cities where fearful families and brave men wait dry-mouthed for their arrival and the inevitable slaughter.

“Are you saying that God is directing and using such monstrous hordes?” That is the unmistakable claim God makes, “I am going to do something in your days that you wouldn’t believe even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians . . .” (vv.5&6). Their king’s heart was in God’s hand. At that moment God was strengthening Babylon, getting its war machine ready, making plans for an invasion, working out the route and the supplies and so on. God was prompting them to do that because the Babylonians would be God’s instrument of chastisement upon Israel.

We know that Babylon came out of nowhere. They had been an insignificant little country, and then God raised them up, so that in the year 614 they conquered Assyria, two years later Nineveh, two years later Hanan, and five years later they routed the armies of Pharaoh. They became the undisputed strongest power on earth ruling over Babylon, Assyria, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Twenty years earlier no one had heard of them and then God raised them up as his rod of chastisement.

Today we have to think in terms of decades and centuries about the recapturing of Europe for Christ. We must certainly get into our minds that whatever Babylonians are attacking us it’s not that “the devil sent them” to mess up our party. It has been God who has been doing the sending whether the Babylonians are in the form of communists, or Muslims, or existentialists, or humanists. We see hordes of them all around the church; the city of God is under siege. The beast that comes from the sea has seven heads and whichever one is attacking the church at the present we must go to God. We must ask him for grace to learn whatever lesson God may teach us through this particular trial.

It was God who sent the ruthless pagan Babylonians against the people of God. This is not a truth just found here in a tiny book in the Old Testament. Seven hundred years before the time of Habakkuk the danger was made painfully clear to the people by Moses. God spoke saying in Deuteronomy 28, “If you do not obey the LORD your God . . . The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young . . . Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other” (Deut. 28: 15, 49, 50, 64).

Again consider the mighty prophet Isaiah in the tenth chapter; we meet this identical truth. In verses five, six and seven God says, “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.”

In Isaiah’s day God wasn’t using the Babylonians to chastise his people, he was using the Assyrians. They were the ones doing the clubbing, but behind the Assyrian club was the arm of God. No matter what is going on or whom the Lord chooses to be the means of his chastening it is God who is in control and making sure that his will is being done. So God uses unusual instruments and his ways are often mysterious.

  1. GOD’S WAYS ARE OFTEN MISUNDERSTOOD.

i] God’s ways are often misunderstood by careless religious people. God says that the people are going to be utterly amazed, and they’re not going to believe what Habakkuk tells them (v.5). “Have you heard the latest? Habakkuk was preaching in the city this morning and he said that the Lord was going to use the Babylonians against us! As if God would do anything like that!” The whole idea was preposterous. “We don’t believe it,” and they scornfully reject it. When Noah warned the people of a coming judgment and told them that God said his Spirit would not always strive with man all the world mocked Noah. It was the same with Sodom and Gomorrah, the inhabitants couldn’t believe that judgment would fall upon them. Their view of God was that he always gave a soft landing and a happy ending, so they went on with life, Jesus said, eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the judgment fell upon them.

Many today in the professing church say, “God is a good God and he only does us good.” But good was certainly going to come from this “ruthless and impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth” (v.6). One of the terrible fruit of the invasion and ensuing Babylonian exile would be a man called Daniel, and another fruit would be Ezra, and another Nehemiah. The people would become utterly disillusioned about the idols they had served in Judah for centuries, and they would turn in repentance to Jehovah. So Habakkuk’s prayer for God to revive his work would be answered via the Babylonian invasion and captivity of the church. God would not solve the moral crisis amongst his people by Habakkuk’s preferred method of revival. He would solve it in this unwelcome way

If today troubles come into a professing Christian’s life or into his church then that man might instinctively blame those problems on the devil. What is that man doing? He is backhandedly strengthening his own inflated opinion of himself and his church. “We really must be super-spiritual Christians to be attacked so strongly by the devil.” I am saying that you must always go back to the first cause of everything that happens and see the hand of God in all things or you will go on fighting God, and also failing to deal with the purpose for which he sent in the Babylonians. Haven’t you heard misguided professing Christians blaming Satan for what is the consequence of their own stupidity? They’re thinking that the devil did this to them because they are so spiritual. They cannot accept that their circumstances have been sent by God. That is immature theology, and it is keeping people from hearing the voice of God speaking to them in their trials; it is hardening them in false spirituality. Evil does not have the initiative in human life, however much at times it may seem so. God allows it to rage for purposes of his own, long after we think it should be curbed. Men are too shortsighted and distrustful of God’s sovereign omnipotence to realise this.

One great proof of the correctness of this interpretation is that Paul quoted from Habakkuk chapter one and verse five as the climax of his sermon in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13 verse forty one, saying to them, “You Jews won’t believe what I am saying about the Messiah any more than your forefathers believed Habakkuk. You have crucified the Messiah; you refuse to repent and now God will raise up the Romans and they will punish you,” and that is what God did in the year 70. Peter lays down this principle, “The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel?” (I Pet. 4:17). There are the strange dealings of God; he does act in such ways. It could be said that one of the by-products of the world wars of the last century was that God punished the Germans and their modernistic churches which had rejected the authority of the Bible and supported Nazism. God raised up the RAF and the Allied armies. What of 9/11? There are many American Christians grieving over the wickedness of their culture who say that the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York was ultimately through God raising up the Islamic terrorists to chastise a violent civilization. In the British Isles we are witnessing how God has raised up Islam in our midst; it has invaded the heart of Britain and in many mosques there is a militant, threatening scorn of our civilization. We can sympathize with their moral outrage; the western world is faced with chastisement. Who knows what horrors lie before us? We dare not become smug and think God would not think of using such an instrument. God is using it at this moment.

ii] God’s ways are certainly misunderstood by the enemies of the gospel. Neither in Isaiah’s day nor in Habakkuk’s day did the Assyrians or Babylonians have any desire to do the will of Jehovah. “That is not what Assyria intends,” says Isaiah – to serve the Lord – but intend it or not that is what these nations were doing. Pontius Pilate and the Jewish chief priests did not intend to put Jesus on the cross in order that God’s purpose and counsel determined before to be done. They just wanted to see the troublesome Jesus of Nazareth wiped out, but God made sure that their wickedness accomplished our salvation. So today Islam has no idea that the living triune God is using Islam’s threats and acts to humble the European church and make it love righteousness and preach the gospel with more earnestness. What do the powerful enemies of the Lord worship? They are described here in Habakkuk chapter one and verse eleven, “Guilty men, whose own strength is their god.” They bow down before their numerical strength – one billion Muslims, their oil reserves, their military might. They don’t realise that they are being led on a lead like poodles to do the will of the Master Jehovah.

iii] God’s ways are often misunderstood by great men of God themselves. You see Habakkuk here, “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (vv. 2&3). If this godly prophet, to whom God spoke, was perplexed at what God was doing in his day we might find hope in our own discouragements. We often say with Isaiah, “Who has believed our message?” Why do we go on preaching when it seems that no one is responding? The answer is that we have a call from God to tell the world about his Son, and we do not know when the set time to favour us will come, and when it does it will be the message of the Bible God will bless.

  1. GOD’S WAY IS CLEARLY REVEALED.

There are great principles we can glean from this opening chapter of Habakkuk.

i] History is under God’s control. It is not that God is solely in control of the church but he has the whole world in his hands. Just consider with me the most mighty man in the world, Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, unknowingly being used by the Lord himself to punish God’s own defiant people. Listen to this proud man parading his own sovereignty, “As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’” (Dan. 4:30). Then keep following this passage and see God’s true sovereignty revealed, “The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, ‘This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.’ Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird” (Daniel 4:31-33). Then keep reading and see that divine sovereignty of the Most High is acknowledged by Nebuchadnezzar in verse 34, “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives for ever.” Then keep reading and see how God’s control over all men is declared in the next verses, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:34&35). That history is under God’s control is acknowledged by a mighty pagan. He has more theology than many bishops.

ii] History follows God’s plan. We sing these words,

“I know who holds the future and he’ll guide me with his hand.

With God things don’t just happen, everything by him is planned.”

Dr Lloyd-Jones could be commenting on these words as he said, “Things do not just happen. Events are not just accidental, for there is a definite plan of history and everything has been pre-arranged from the beginning. God who ‘sees the end from the beginning’ has a purpose in it all, and knows’ the times and the seasons’. He knows when to bless Israel and when not to bless her. Everything is under His hand” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, op cit, p.22).

iii] History follows God’s timetable. Again Lloyd-Jones says, “It was ‘when the fullness of the time was come’ that God sent forth His Son. He allowed the great philosophers, with their clarification of thought, to come first. Then emerged the Romans, famous for ordered government, building their roads and spreading their wonderful legal system throughout the world. It was after this that God sent forth His Son. God had planned it all. There is a purpose in history, and what is now happening in this twentieth century is not accidental” (ibid).

iv] History is bound up with the Kingdom of God. Finally Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, “The key to the history of the world is the kingdom of God. The story of the other nations mentioned in the Old Testament is relevant only as it bears upon the destiny of Israel. And ultimately history today is relevant only as it bears upon the history of the Chris­tian Church. What really matters in the world is God’s kingdom. From the very beginning, since the fall of man, God has been at work establishing a new kingdom in the world. It is His own kingdom, and He is calling people out of the world into that kingdom; and every­thing that happens in the world has relevance to it. It is still only in process of formation, but it will finally reach its perfect consummation. Other events are of importance as they have a bearing upon that event. The problems of today are to be understood only in its light. What God is permitting in the Church and in the world today is related to His great purpose for His own Church and kingdom. Let us not therefore be stumbled when we see sur­prising things happening in the world. Rather let us ask, ‘What is the relevance of this event to the kingdom of God?’ Or, if strange things are happening to you personally, don’t complain, but say, ‘What is God teaching me through this? What is there in me that needs to be corrected? Where have I gone wrong and why is God allowing these things?’ There is a mean­ing in them if only we can see it. We need not become bewildered and doubt the love or the justice of God. If God were unkind enough to answer some of our prayers at once, and in our way, we should be very impoverished Christians. Fortunately, God some­times delays His answer in order to deal with selfishness or things in our lives which should not be there. He is concerned about us, and intends to fit us for a fuller place in His kingdom. We should therefore judge every event in the light of God’s great, eternal and glorious purpose” (ibid, p.23&24).

21st October 2007     GEOFF THOMAS

[1] There are fine books on Habakkuk; John Calvin’s foundational commentaries on the minor prophets have been reprinted by the Banner of Truth, Palmer Robertson’s superb commentary has been published by Eerdmans, while Walter Chantry’s series of articles on the prophecy in the Banner of Truth magazine during 2007 are surely destined for publication. Tim Shenton has written thoroughly and helpfully (Day One), but over fifty years ago Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ studies in the book entitled, From Fear to Faith, (Inter-Varsity Press) first appeared and since 1953 it has gone through at least fifteen editions. Never convinced about the value of prominently announcing the headings of a sermon nevertheless for his introductory sermon he produced a stunning three point outline with sub-points which I gratefully took over, ending with a long quotation from his conclusion. By outlines, one can gain clarity, but they can be at the expense of vital encounter. The lecture form, alas, overcomes the proclamation, and that was ever Lloyd-Jones’ concern. How he rightly deplored what he described as a ‘glorified Bible study’ masquerading as a sermon.