The Threat of Security (Habakkuk 2:6–20)

This post was originally published on December 29, 2014 and was revised  on April 3, 2020.

Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.

—Habakkuk 2:9–11

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When threatened, picking up a sword could be the most dangerous response. Reaching for a gun when an officer has commanded “Freeze!” is a fool’s act. Sometimes, the supposed wisdom of security is really the folly of unbelief. All our attempts at security might be nothing more than thinly veiled self-reliance and idolatry.

Nebuchadnezzar built an eagle’s nest where he thought his dynasty and kingdom would be safe. Walls were erected wide enough for a chariot to travel on. Much was invested in security, but all this was counterproductive because the most crucial factor in any building program wasn’t heeded—the One who holds the atoms of every stone, brick, and piece of lumber together—God Almighty.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalm 127:1

All that was for safety only testified against Babylon. The materials gained by evil means antiphonally cry out against her (2:11), just as Abel’s blood cried out against Cain (Genesis 4:10; Habakkuk 2:12). Where men see glory, God sees sin; and He isn’t intimidated. Babylon was a city built with blood and sin; and thus, it was not a city to flee to, but to flee from. Worse than building their own prison, they’d constructed nothing more than a giant lightning rod to attract the unbearable storm of God’s wrath.

Your efforts at security may not be mortared with blood, but if they’re an expression of self-reliance and idolatry, then it’s still bonded with explosive-laced sin and a fire is coming. Tis far better to be Habakkuk in certain-to-fall Jerusalem, confusingly trusting in the Rock (1:12). The righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

Shaking our Confidence to Strengthen our Faith (Habakkuk 1:12–2:5)

This post was originally published on December 22, 2014 and was lightly revised on March 30, 2020.

Habakkuk: “We shall not die.”

Yahweh: “The righteous shall live by his faith.”

—Habakkuk 1:12; 2:4

Habakkuk laments. God responds. Yet, God’s response seems to rattle more than settle Habakkuk. God’s answer to evil appears only to be greater evil. Habakkuk is flabbergasted as to how God can use the more evil Babylonians for reproof such that the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he.

But before Habakkuk launches into further lament, expressing his greater confusion, he takes comfort in recalling who God is. He reasons, “Are you not from everlasting? We shall not die.” How does God’s being from everlasting result in the conclusion that they shall not die? God is from everlasting, and what he does is from everlasting (2 Kings 19:25; Isaiah 46:9–10). Also, God is from everlasting, therefore, what He does is everlasting. He makes a covenant with Abraham that is an everlasting covenant (Genesis 17:7). God’s covenant love for his people is from everlasting, and is everlasting. When Habakkuk cries out “my God, my Holy One” he is speaking the language of covenant, just as when a husband says “my wife.”  Habakkuk’s addressing God as “the LORD,” or Yahweh is not insignificant or unrelated. Yahweh is the covenant name of God, given by Him to His people for them to remember Him by throughout all their generations (Exodus 3:15). Habakkuk knows God as holy, righteous, good, and faithful because of who God has revealed Himself to be for His people. He calls Yahweh his Rock (cf. Psalm 62:6–7). Habakkuk comes before God, on the basis of God. In the midst of confusion, Habakkuk finds comfort in who God is, and yet, it is who God is that is the reason for his confusion. His theology and his reality don’t seem to jibe.

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When God answers Habakkuk a second time, he explains how he will judge the Babylonians but that is all. He makes no explicit promises of salvation, discloses nothing of His plan to make it right in the end, offers no explanation of how everything will work out, and states not how He can remain righteous in all of this. God simply contrasts the proud man with the man who lives by faith. The man of faith lives, and he lives by his faith. By implication, and as it is spelled out in the rest of chapter 2 concerning the Babylonians, the proud man dies. With this, God is calling for Habakkuk to go deeper into what Habakkuk has already expressed he believes about God—that He is the everlasting, holy God of covenant, and that He is a sure and steady Rock of salvation.

In the midst of injustice, tragedy, and suffering, you don’t need to understand the situation; you need to believe in who God has revealed Himself to be. We don’t need situation specific answers; we need to lean into the revelation of who God is, what He has done, and what He promises to do.

When Your Chapter Is Dark (Habakkuk 1:1–11)

This post was originally published on December 15, 2014 and was lightly revised on March 23rd, 2020.

Habakkuk: “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?”

Yahweh: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”

—Habakkuk 1:3, 5

klim-sergeev-UYNH5VCsYPU-unsplash.jpgHabakkuk begins in lament and ends in praise, yet, nothing has changed. As far as the circumstances on the ground are concerned, violence abounds. Habakkuk begins in lament and ends in praise because nothing has changed. God is still God.

Habakkuk laments because of the violence and injustice committed by the leaders of Judah. God answers by telling Habakkuk to zoom out and see the bigger picture. God sees on vastly larger scale than we do and in His revelation, He gives us a glimpse of His perspective. Imagine someone who has only seen an ugly part of Yosemite and when asked about the park replies he finds it repulsive; or the person who has only read or seen the darkest part of an epic tale saying it’s horrid. Zoom out. God is calling for Habakkuk to read on to the next chapter and beyond.

Frodo and Sam queried what kind of tale they had fallen into. They knew, that as in all good tales, they they couldn’t truly know the ending, yet, when they began to think of their tale in light of the bigger one it was wrapped up in, they took hope.

Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’

‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’

‘No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got—you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’

‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.

‘And then we can have some rest and some sleep,’ said Sam. He laughed grimly. ‘And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: ‘‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’’ And they’ll say: ‘‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’’ ‘‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.’’’

‘It’s saying a lot too much,’ said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. ‘Why, Sam,’ he said, ‘to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the “chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. ‘‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’’ ’

‘Now, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, ‘you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.’

‘So was I,’ said Frodo, ‘and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’’’

‘Maybe,’ said Sam, ‘but I wouldn’t be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different.’ *

Habakkuk finds himself in a dark part of the tale and God’s answer is that the next chapter is even darker. God’s answer to violence is greater violence, but, it is used violence. This is not the last chapter, nor is it even the darkest. We’re not at the end of the story yet, but we’ve seen the climax and if you look at the tale that has been told thus far, you may be confident that the Author isn’t going to botch the ending. He wrote Himself into the very darkest chapter and burst through the other side with life and light and eternal bliss for His people. The greatest injustice ever was that of the cross and it was an injustice ordained by God for His glory and His people’s good (Acts 2:22–24). God has answered in bold red the question, “Why do the wicked prosper?” For His glory and His people’s good, and nothing more.


*Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). The Return of the King. London: The Folio Society LTD.

King or Tyrant (Jeremiah 22:10–23:8)

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
and does not give him his wages,
who says, ‘I will build myself a great house
with spacious upper rooms,’
who cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar
and painting it with vermilion.

Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
declares the Lord.

But you have eyes and heart
only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.” —Jeremiah 22:13–17

chess-2727443_1280.jpgIt has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others. The real genius of our democratic republic is more negative than positive in nature. The brilliance isn’t foremost in contriving a constitutional government that is so good, but recognizing that the constitution of man is bad. The system of checks and balances, the limitation of terms, the division of power, the constitutional rights—all of these limit how much bad, bad men can do. 

Given this, isn’t it peculiar, that even in our republic, even we are enchanted by kings. You could chalk this up to fairy tales, Arthurian legend, historical intrigue, and royal pomp, but I believe there is something far deeper. The historical story of kings is filled with injustice and unrighteous, and even so, there is a longing for the royal, the regal, the kingly, the majestic. Our republic betrays this when she says “In God we trust.”

From Jeremiah 21:1–22:30 we have a string of wicked kings, and the answer of chapter 23:1–8 to this, the hope held out, isn’t the abolition of the Davidic Dynasty, but the fulfillment of it. It is not less monarchy, but monarchy in the fullest that is the hope of man. Spreading the power of government out to more fallen men doesn’t bring enduring peace and justice. The answer is an absolute sovereign who is absolutely good. Mysteriously, He is also man. He is certainly more than a mere man, but He must be a man. He shows us man as man ought to have been. Kingly, imaging forth his Sovereign in the domain given to him, acting as a steward-king.

What is it that makes a king a king? Cedar does not a king make. Rightfully residing in a royal palace doesn’t make one royalty. Jehoiakim was indeed king, but he was not kingly. What is it that makes a king a king?

This is similar to the question “what makes a man a man?” There are men, who though they are men, they are not manly. They remain boyish. It is just this type who so often strives for manliness, but always in a way that makes it more boyish. Such men try to compensate by artificial markers of manliness, a self-defeating act manifesting just how boyish they are. Such violent strength and ill gained wealth are empty of all that is truly regal and royal. As Jehoiakim builds up, he tears down. As he tries to climb, he digs.

In Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, the earthy (not earthly mind you) King Lune of Archenland was kingly, whereas the outrageously opulent Tisroc was trying to compensate. What makes the difference? The Tisroc’s glory is one built by taking, whereas King Lune’s is built by giving. King Lune’s glory is one of magnanimous joy; the Tisroc’s, of demanding servitude of others. King Lune explains to his son, “…this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

The truly majestic is not a glory that grabs, but that gives. This is the difference between a tyrant and a king. The King of kings bled to make His bride beautiful. The kingly is that which flows with sacrifice knowing it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Perhaps? Perhaps! (Jeremiah 21:1–22:9)

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, when King Zedekiah sent to him Pashhur the son of Malchiah and Zephaniah the priest, the son of Maaseiah, saying, ‘Inquire of the Lord for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us’ ” (Jeremiah 21:1–3).

Zedekiah was the last reigning king of Judah. This siege began in the ninth year of his eleven year reign. This means Jeremiah had been prophesying near forty years at this point, warning Judah of judgment and calling for her to repent. Neither Zedekiah nor Jerusalem have repented, but ol’ Zed thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Perhaps Zedekiah recalls the instance when Assyria done messed up by mocking Israel’s God during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18–19). In that instance, it wasn’t so much that Judah was so good, but that Assyria was so bad. Though God has promised to destroy Jerusalem with the Babylonians, Zedekiah presumptuously thinks “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

Thomas Brooks warned “Despair hath slain her thousand but presumption her ten-thousand.” Ol’ Zed is not alone in thinking “Perhaps?” As Zedekiah went to the prophet, so we go to the word or the preaching of the word, not desiring to hear the word of the Lord, but a word from the Lord, because “Perhaps?” We don’t want to know what Scripture says concerning His will for our lives; we want Him to speak encouragement and blessing on our lives. We have no inkling of honestly obeying Him without reservation, yet we come to the word thinking “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

If you’re not following me, every time we sin, we presumptuously think to ourselves “Perhaps?” The presumption of “Perhaps?” is as foolish as heading west on Route 66 and expecting to get arrive in the Caribbean. We hear the serpent’s whisper, “You will not surely die… you will be like God.” We know what God said, but hey, perhaps? God clearly said that the wages of sin is death, but we think “Perhaps?” Perhaps!

To our wretched “Perhaps?” the immutable I AM of heaven always and without fail replies, “Absolutely not!”

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8)

Discomfort with Whose Complaining? (Jeremiah 20:1–18)

“O LORD, you have deceived me,
and I was deceived;
you are stronger than I,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
everyone mocks me” (Jeremiah 20:7).

If one was hoping the more uncomfortable passages in Jeremiah might be left behind after chapters 18 and 19, chapter 20 proves sorely disappointing. But whereas the discomfort of chapter 19 consists in Yahweh’s ear-tingling judgment, that of chapter 20 is found in Jeremiah’s complaints. We feel as though we are in the presence of a rebellious child publicly lashing out at their venerable father.

Here we see Jeremiah at both his best and his worst. Before he complains to the Lord, he is bold for the Lord. We too easily dismiss the boldness for the complaint. Jeremiah’s complaint is the last of six that are called the “Confessions of Jeremiah.” The others are found in 11:18–20; 12:1–6; 15:10–21; 17:14–18; 18:18–23. In some of these, Jeremiah righteously laments; in others, he sinfully complains. This complaint bears the most similarity to the one found in 15:10–21, which along with 12:1–6 are the only places where we find a word of rebuke following Jeremiah’s “confession.” This lament, though no rebuke follows it, stands above, or should we say, far below the rest. Here we see Jeremiah at his lowest; in his darkest pit.

I’ve argued before that though Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet, we shouldn’t unnecessarily slander him as a weepy prophet. He’s a sinner true enough, and he doesn’t need our imaginations to make him more so. Over a ministry spanning forty years we have five recorded lament/complaints, and we, on the basis of those, might like to think Jeremiah a cry baby, and thus below us. If you look down on his lament, ask yourself if you have risen to the heights of his courage? If you have never been so high, can you really understand such lows?

My point in this is not to excuse Jeremiah in the least. His complaint makes me cringe. It is repulsive. May we never complain as he does. Lord forgive me when my prayers and the sentiments of my heart are just as blasphemous. Forgive me that I think myself superior to Jeremiah simply because I mask the same ugliness. My desire is that instead of looking down on Jeremiah, we would see our own cowardice and complaining, and then, having seen it, strive, in hope of the same grace, to be as courageous in the future without the complaint on the other side.

Playing with Matches in the Ammunition Dump (Jeremiah 19:1–15)

“…because they have abandoned me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods that they, their fathers, and the kings of Judah have never known…” (Jeremiah 19:4 CSB, emphasis mine).

“And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem…” (Jeremiah 19:7).

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God commands his prophet to play with matches in the munitions room. We’re not talking about stocks of centerfire cartridges. Fused grenades and kegs of powder are everywhere.

Jeremiah has just declared the clay/pot prophecy. It didn’t go over well. They don’t want to hear from God. When Jeremiah keeps on talking, they plot against him (Jeremiah 18:18). Now, God commands Jeremiah to go buy a hardened clay vessel. Hmm? Then, he is to take some leaders, the selfsame leaders who want to silence him mind you, to the Potsherd Gate. Hmm? Further, this Potsherd Gate, somewhere on the south side of the city, leads out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that place of horrid idolatry where they sacrificed their children (Jeremiah 7:30–34). Hmm? Can you feel the tension?

Jeremiah takes his adversaries on a field trip for an object lesson. Normally this gets the kids excited. But the leaders are not complete dunces. Though they cannot accept the truth, they catch the insult, but without humility, such that there is no repentance and only rebellion.

All this bodes ill for God’s prophet? Has the Principal no concern for his teachers? He does send them out as sheep among wolves, but, He is the potter, and Israel is the clay. Immediately, playing with matches by the powered keg is dangerous, but disobeying God, as Israel does, is the far more dangerous thing. The hottest man has done is nuclear fission and even that is small scale to God’s cosmic nuclear fusion.

Israel has estranged the land by her harlotry (v. 4). For this reason, Yahweh will make void her plans (v. 7). This is much more serious than a ruined vacation. Israel is to be treated as the pagan nations. She has foreignized. She will be foreignized. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10, emphasis mine).

What it means to be foreignized is spelled out in the second psalm.

“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
‘Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.’

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’

I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel’ ” (Psalm 2:1–9).

The students may scorn the teacher, but the Principal holds a rod of iron.