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Habakkuk, Genesis 3:8, and ‘A Day of the Lord’?

September 14, 2020 2 comments

A recent sermon series, “The Gospel According to Habakkuk,” has included a lot of good points on the law, gospel, trials and suffering, judgment, and more — all from the minor prophet Habakkuk.  Going through the first complaint-response and then Habakkuk’s second complaint, up to the beginning of chapter 2, includes many issues in Habakkuk’s struggle.  One’s basic orientation / disorientation, and reorientation toward life (after working through a very difficult time) is seen in Habakkuk’s experience, and often in the lament Psalms.

One of Habakkuk’s issues, of judgment, relates to understanding of the term apocalypse, which (as we know) means to uncover or reveal something.  Revelation is the actual English translation of the Greek term of apocalypse.  Here, though, one idea seems rather novel, something that I haven’t come across in the historic Reformed and Puritan commentaries:  the idea of many small ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events — a wide definition that even includes Habakkuk’s experience.  In this sense, any event in one’s life that brings trials and difficulties, is a small ‘Day of the Lord’ event, one that helps each of us prepare for the coming final Day of the Lord.  The term ‘Day of the Lord’ thus refers to many different historic events, occurring throughout history and not limited to the future Second Coming.  Overall, yes, this makes sense, in that every difficulty presents itself as a growth opportunity, with a choice of faith or pride; we can humble ourselves, look to God in faith, and learn what God would have us learn (I especially think of Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot), or answer with pride and self-righteous anger.  As pointed out in this series, the recent events (including the response to the covid-19 pandemic) have revealed a lot of shallow and superficial Christianity, a lot of self-righteous pride, rather than humbly considering what it is that God wants us to learn.

Then we come to Genesis 3:8, which describes Adam and Eve hiding from LORD God in the cool of the day.  The new idea mentioned here takes a different interpretation:  this was not a comment on the weather, but God coming in judgment to Adam and Eve; the term ‘cool,’ sometimes translated as wind, can also mean spirit, and so this verse is describing a terrifying judgment scene rather than a casual conversation with God.  The sense of Genesis 3:8 is quite different than what is found from reading Reformed and Puritan commentaries such as John Calvin, Matthew Henry, or John Bunyan’s (unfinished) commentary on Genesis 1-11.  The text here is compared to other Old Testament texts that describe the terrifying experience such as what Moses and the Israelites heard on Mt. Sinai, and references in the prophets — such as Jeremiah 46:10 (about Egypt), Ezekiel 30:2-4, Joel, and Zephaniah 1:14-16.  Joel 2 — again, according to this view — is fulfilled in Acts 2.  This view then makes an even greater leap, to state that all of the Old Testament ‘Day of the Lord’ prophecies were fulfilled at the Cross.  Only the New Testament passages about the future Day of the Lord are still considered relevant, referring to Christ’s Second Coming.  Further, Revelation 1:8, which describes John being in the spirit “on the Lord’s Day” is equated with the Day of the Lord.

From all of this, it seems to me that general application of scripture — about how we learn and grow from our trials, as events that reveal our hearts and provide opportunities to repent and grow in faith — has been mixed in with doctrinal teaching about the prophetic scriptures that address the Second Coming of our Lord.  Both ideas are important and should be taught, yet that does not require conflating the two ideas as done here.  I’m also reminded of other modern-day doctrinal innovations such as this previous post coming out of the ‘Redemptive-Historical’ school of thought.  Again, I don’t find such ideas in the Reformed and Puritan commentaries, and wonder why modern teachers seemingly have the desire to come up with new interpretations rather than standing by traditional, historic teaching.

In closing, I appreciate this commentary excerpt from John Bunyan on Genesis 3:8:

“And they heard the voice of the Lord God.” This voice was not to be understood according, as if it was the effect of a word; as when we speak, the sound remains with a noise for some time after; but by voice here, we are to understand the Lord Christ himself; wherefore this voice is said to walk, not to sound only: “They heard the voice of the Lord God walking.” This voice John calls the word, the word that was with the Father before he made the world, and that at this very time was heard to walk in the garden of Adam: Therefore John also saith, this voice was in the beginning; that is, in the garden with Adam, at the beginning of his conversion, as well as of the beginning of the world (John 1:1).
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The gospel of it is, in the season of grace; for by the cool of the day, he here means, in the patience, gentleness, goodness and mercy of the gospel; and it is opposed to the heat, fire, and severity of the law.

James Boice on the Prophet Habakkuk (Part 2)

August 19, 2020 Leave a comment
As mentioned in the last post, James Boice did a 5 part series on Habakkuk (as well as teaching through all the other minor prophets).  Boice’s sermon dates are not that easy to determine, as he did not typically reference the year or specific events — unlike S. Lewis Johnson, whose sermons are fairly easy to date given the frequent date references.  Yet in this case, Boice mentioned a recent PCRT conference on the topic of Revival, and specifically that one of the messages was given by John Richard DeWitt.  It turns out that this conference was held in 1982, “Come, Change Our World”  (audio recordings available here) — which also explains Boice’s frequent references to revival, as what Habakkuk probably had on his mind.
Habakkuk 2:4 is a well known verse, cited three times in the New Testament:  Romans 1:17, Hebrews 10:38, and Galatians 3:11.  Here, James Boice pointed out the Greek construction with three parts — “the righteous” “by faith” “will live” — and that each of these New Testament texts provides an exposition of one of the three parts.  Romans provides the commentary on “the righteous,” Hebrews on the phrase “by faith” (with the great “hall of faith” Hebrews 11 soon after the Habakkuk reference in Hebrews 10), and Galatians adds the commentary on “will live,” how the righteous will live.
In the third chapter, Habakkuk has finally been brought from his earlier self-righteous angry attitude, to a God-ward focus.  Here we can see the value of a prepared composition and poem.  Yes, spontaneous prayer has its place and value, our daily talking with God, but Habakkuk’s prayer shows reverence for God, a focus on God that is not filled with the uncomfortable uhs and “ands” in our everyday speech.  Habakkuk’s earlier chapters included references to himself, and he considered God’s attributes.  But what really helps, to reorient our life back to God, involves more than just intellectually understanding God’s attributes.  What helps to get past the complaints, is to also remember and affirm God’s past actions, what God has done for His people in the past.  Habakkuk was terrified as he considered the coming judgment — verse 16:
I hear, and my body trembles;  my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.
 and so now, what gets Habakkuk going again, is to remember God’s mighty acts of the past, and how God had delivered His people.  It is after this focus on God and recalling God’s actions for His people, that Habakkuk can truly trust and rejoice in the Lord, expressed in the final verses (17-19), a great poem and song of hope:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

Lessons from Habakkuk

August 14, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m taking another look through the minor prophets, and particularly the book of Habakkuk.  Alistair Begg’s “No Simple Answers”, which I listened to last fall, provided great down-to-earth application.   Another good one is James Montgomery Boice’s 5 part series from a few decades ago.  Boice mentioned someone saying that he had never heard church sermons on Habakkuk; in our day sermons are more available, including more attention to this minor prophet.  A local-area PCA church is also currently doing a series on Habakkuk, a more detailed approach with 5 messages and still in progress. 

Boice’s series emphasized the overall theme of God’s Sovereignty, and God and History, and how we wrestle with problems and dealing with God’s answers.  Habakkuk was a deep thinker, and like us he remembered his nation’s better times — King Josiah’s brief revival, which turned out to be more from the top-down, an incomplete revival.  Habakkuk then saw the moral decline and wickedness of the nation, and wanted God to do something–very likely, he wanted God to send revival.  The answer was not what he wanted to hear; Boice likened it to God telling American Christians that His answer to American Christianity would be, “I’m not going to send revival, I’m going to send the communists.”  Ironically, a generation later, there is a lot of truth in that idea, as to the judgment that God has sent–though not in the obvious outward way that Boice, during the Cold War with the Soviets, probably thought of.

Referencing Martyn Lloyd Jones, who preached on Habakkuk in the years soon after WWII and later published a small book (which is unfortunately out of print, and used copies quite expensive), come these four points regarding history:

  1. God is in charge of history
  2. God causes history to follow His own plan, a divine plan
  3. History follows a divine timetable — “I am going to do something, in your day”; also Hab. 2:3.  God appointed the time.
  4. History is bound up with the divine kingdom.  The point here is that history was not about “the Babylonian problem.”  God is concerned with building His kingdom through His people.  Boice also referenced Matthew 24 and the general instruction to believers: watch out, do not be deceived; you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.

How did Habakkuk get to the point of Habakkuk 2:1, where he waits for God’s answer?  One view, from Martyn Lloyd Jones and shared by James Boice, demonstrates four steps in how we should approach all problems that we don’t understand:

  1. Stop, and think
  2. Restate the basic principles, the things you know; firm footing
  3. Apply the basic principles to your problem
  4. If, having done all this, you still don’t have answer to the problem: commit it to God and wait for Him to answer it in HIs own time. (Habakkuk 2:1)

The recent Habakkuk series (mentioned above) takes the view that Habakkuk in 2:1 is still in a hostile mindset, not really responding in faith.  Habakkuk uses a military term of watching, as though he is preparing himself to battle the Lord regarding this:  the judgment is so unfair.  When Boice gets to Habakkuk 3, he notes a similar thing (if perhaps less bluntly): Habakkuk at the end of chapter 1 had still been thinking in terms of himself, not yet seeing things from God’s viewpoint.  As brought out in the current series, Habakkuk 1 provides expanded lessons regarding the moral law of God and its three uses, the problem of self-righteousness, and judgment.  The wicked in Habakkuk 1:4 are a different group than the wicked in verse 13, showing Habakkuk’s comparative scale between his fellow countrymen and the pagan Chaldeans (Babylonians).  Habakkuk was among the righteous remnant, but it’s a small step to self-righteousness, when he complains (verse  ) “the law is paralyzed.”  Yet if the Law becomes the main thing, you’ll trip over it.

Both of these series are helpful, bringing in sound theology along with good illustrations and application to our time.  I look forward to the continuing lessons in the current Habakkuk series.  

Habakkuk the Minor Prophet: How to Solve Our Problems

July 21, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s four-part series through the minor prophet Habakkuk, I offer the following overview of the book Habakkuk and its major themes.

This three chapter book teaches two great ideas:  individual salvation (the just shall live by faith, Habakkuk 2:4), and the problem of history — God’s dealings with His chosen people and His dealings with the non-elect.

Habakkuk chapters 1 and 2 records a colloquy, a conversation between God and Habakkuk, and chapter 3 gives a theophany.  Or, Habakkuk contains a dialogue in the first two chapters, and a song of God’s intervention in history in the third chapter.

Habakkuk can also be called the great book of faith:

  • Habakkuk 1:  Faith is Tested
  • Habakkuk 2:  Faith is Taught
  • Habakkuk 3:  Faith Becomes Triumphant

Habakkuk’s problem is expressed in simple terms of “how long?” and “why?”  It is the age old question, often asked by Job and the psalmists:  why do the evil prosper, why is the law ignored, and why does wickedness rule?  God’s ways are often mysterious, and His inaction puzzles us.  His instruments are unusual; in Habakkuk’s case He uses the wicked Chaldeans to accomplish His purposes. Yet we observe Habakkuk’s manner, that he gets away from everyone and everything else, and spends time with the Lord.  We take our problems to God (not to others).

From Habakkuk 2:1 we can learn how to solve problems

    1. Put away panic.  Don’t start talking and get upset.
    2. Reflect upon the basic principles, the fundamentals.
    3. You are the eternal God, the Lord Jehovah, the Creator of All, the Holy God, and my God, the covenant keeping God.

    4. Put to use the principles that we learn.
    5. Reference James 1:22 — prove yourselves doers of the word and not merely hearers.

    6. Leave it in the hands of the Lord, and expect an answer.

    The ultimate example from scripture is our Lord’s prayer to His father, in the garden of Gethsemane.  Also, the answer may be yes, no, or even wait.  Sometimes we don’t receive the answer to our prayer in this lifetime.

    Other relevant scripture:  Philippians 4:6-7 expresses this attitude of prayer and dependency on God.

    The Old Testament shows examples of the wrong and right ways of dealing with our problems: Jacob meeting Esau is an example of the wrong way, and Daniel 6 (Daniel in the Lions Den) the right way.