Let me describe a scene for you. World powers jockeying for supremacy at any cost; chaotic and indecisive national leadership; a widespread loss of religious devotion tied to a sudden, rapid decline in morality and ethics. The warning voices of the God-fearing faithful fall on deaf ears, and true justice is thwarted or perverted at every turn.
Where did your mind take you as the image played out in your imagination? Before the Great Wars? Before the Reformation? Before the Middle Ages? Before breakfast?
It’s as familiar as the morning papers, but the scene I am describing is Judea and Jerusalem, six hundred years before Christ. The major powers were Egypt and Babylon, and little Judah was stuck in a vice between the two. If ever there was a time for strong, disciplined, Godly leadership it was then. But Jehoiakim was in charge, a weak and evil puppet with Egypt’s pharaoh pulling his strings (2 Kings 23:35-37).
One man voiced his complaint – not against the administration, but against God – he accused God of being passive and tolerant and slow to act in judgment. God answered his accusation with shocking news. I am sure it was not what the prophet Habakkuk wanted to hear. God was indeed preparing judgment on the wickedness of Judah, just as He had done a century before against Israel in the north. A ruthless and powerful force was being raised up to come against Jerusalem. Babylon was on the march.
If you take the time to read Habakkuk’s three little chapters, you’ll notice a stark difference between the prophet’s indignant and impatient attitude in the opening verses and his humble submission to God’s revealed plan in the closing verses:
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?
Habakkuk 1:2-3 (NIV)
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
Habakkuk 3:16-18 (NIV)
Now at this point, we might smugly say that this was all for the good, since the nation was entirely corrupt at the time, and God was just sweeping away a bad lot. But let’s think that through. Daniel was alive at this time, so were his young friends. They certainly weren’t wicked. Jeremiah was alive at this time; he was a prophet of God, as was Ezekiel. Many good and devout people were caught up in the typhoon strength of Babylon’s assault, and their lives were changed forever as a result.
Daniel and his friends Shadrack, Meshack and Abed-nego wound up as exiles in Babylon, Jeremiah is last seen in exile in Egypt, and Ezekiel prophesied to the exiles, also in Babylon. Bear in mind that God was keeping His covenant promise delivered through Moses eight centuries earlier. If they persisted in turning away from God, they would be driven from the land – exiled. Shadrack and company were thrown into a brick kiln; Daniel saw the insides of a prison and a lion’s den. God sustained them all through the troubles, but He didn’t shield them out from the trials. Their lives became testimonies to faith under hardship, not escape stories.
Now back to Habakkuk. Did you notice the prophet’s reaction to impending disaster? Since he knows that God is behind the shaking of the nations (even his own nation), he can exult and rejoice. If the Bible speaks of similar events as this age draws to a close, we can do so much more than just hunker down and hang on. If God is reshaping the world, if His judgment is upon the nations, then how can we do anything other than exult in Him, and rejoice in His strength? Like Daniel, Jeremiah or even good old Abed-nego, the times may become hard and even perilous for those of faith during times of judgment. God never promised any other way. But He also showed that our hope should not be established on the things of this earth, but on His Son Jesus. In Him we can exult, in Him we can rejoice, even if life takes an inconvenient turn. I’ll look for you in the lion’s den, if not there, meet me at the brick kiln!