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).

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)

Don’t Be Ashamed that He Shames the Shameful (Jeremiah 13:26–27)

“I myself will lift up your skirts over your face,
and your shame will be seen.
I have seen your abominations,
your adulteries and neighings, your lewd whorings,
on the hills in the field.
Woe to you, O Jerusalem!
How long will it be before you are made clean?” —Jeremiah 13:26–27

If there is a dominant note in the assortment of words that make up chapter 13 of Jeremiah, I’d say it is that of the shamed she. By putting the words “dominant” and “shamed” and “she” in the same sentence, however far apart and dissociated they may be, perhaps I’ve already put the misogynist match to the patriarchal fuse of dominance dynamite.

Indeed, the shamed she here is dominated, and as such, she is shamed. This passage isn’t politically correct. Truly, the shaming of the she is disturbing, but if we fail to see that her being shamed is a just punishment for her shame, then perhaps we too are trying to hide our nakedness behind inadequate leafy loincloths.

fig-2711420_1280.jpgJudah is shamed because she is shameful. It is because Judah is not ashamed that she is to be so shamed. One aim of this judgment is to shame the shameful. When God shames the she, His judgment pulls the curtain back and exposes the harlot for who she really is. The fig leaves are gone. She can no longer hide. The judgment is harsh because the sin is vulgar.

This passages in’t about the oppression of women. This passage is about the execution of justice. God’s grace had made His bride beautiful. Judah then used this beauty to whore after other gods. The promised land was like a wedding chamber. Yahweh brought Israel there that He might make her beautiful, radiating with His glory. Brought in as a bride, now, having committed adultery with the pagan gods, she is driven out as an adulteress. What was hidden in the darkness is now brought into the light. Yahweh doesn’t place a shame on Judah that doesn’t fit. He removes the royal robes with which He clothed her, garments she had used to conceal her harlotry, so that she is now seen for what she is. Yahewh clothes her in her own garments, and those fig leaves don’t cover.

When you shudder at the language of shame, remember, Christ wore this garment Himself so that His bride might be clothed with His righteousness. The severity of His justice, He has tasted Himself. The severity of His justice testifies then to the depths of His mercy and grace. He was stripped bare and exposed so that the church might stand before the throne of His Holy Father, clothed in His righteousness.

Yes, He rose as Lord over His bride, but His redeeming rule does not oppress; it liberates. Know that when you are repulsed at His lordship in judgment, you’ve then also foundationally rejected the lordship that redeems.

Riddle Me This (Jeremiah 9:12–26)

“Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the LORD spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through?” (Jeremiah 9:12)

object-with-path-1552086-1279x1203.jpgJeremiah propounds two questions as to who could possibly answer a third question. First, who is so wise that he can understand this? Second, to whom has Yahweh spoken that he might reveal it? So what is this? What is it?

Before unveiling the enigma, consider that a short bit after Jeremiah we come to the prophet Daniel, who, because of his Lord, could explain mysteries no other could. When Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall and none of his wise men could interpret it, the king was alarmed, but then the queen explained:

“There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation” (Daniel 5:11–12).

Now, to resume our present mystery. What puzzle is Jeremiah going to set before us?

“Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness so that no one passes through?”

This is not a difficult question. It is an indictment of Judah. These questions are no insult to her intelligence, but her pride. Her inability to answer stems from no deficiency in intellect, but in humility. If you flunk this test, Ephesians 4:18–19 explains why.

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.”

“The blindness of humanity is so great that people are actually proud of their blindness,” wrote Augustine. Look around at humanity and you will see blindness touted as sight, darkness paraded around as though it were light. It is because of the lies that Judah holds onto in pride that she cannot grasp the truth, for truth can only be held with the hands of humility. The false prophets have told Judah “He will do nothing, no disaster will come upon us” (5:12). They say “Peace, Peace!” when there is no peace (6:14). Judah doesn’t want to let go of these lies because that would mean she would have to turn from her idols. 

The reason she cannot answer this question is because she loves darkness. Judah has fallen for the wrong boy and she can’t admit the relationship is toxic. In Jeremiah 5:31 we are told not only that the prophets prophecy falsely but that the people love to have it so. They love lies because they love darkness. Jesus said, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19–20).

Their pride is perplexed by God’s humbling them. Their sin is shocked by God’s righteous judgment. Their love of darkness is angry at God’s light. This is why they cannot answer so obvious a question. This is why the world still cannot see the curse all around us? This is why she cries “Why?” in the face of suffering. We act dumfounded because the apple is still in our hands and we want to eat it deceiving ourselves that despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, we will indeed be like God if we just eat a bit more. The love our of idols is proud because the idol we love most is self.

God told Jeremiah that the people would ask this question. “And when your people say, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours’ ” (Jeremiah 5:19). The punishment rhymes with the sin, but their sin-muffled ears can’t hear the poetry.

Such is the wisdom of man. It can tell you how pain works, but it is blind to why a thing such as pain is.

“Where?” “Why?” (Jeremiah 8:18–9:11)

Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
from the length and breadth of the land:

‘Is the LORD not in Zion?
Is her King not in her?’

‘Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images
and with their foreign idols?’ (Jeremiah 8:18)

Judah asks “Where?” God asks “Why?” Do you see how His question silences theirs? They seek for Him in tragedy, but not in their lives. Judah has incessantly committed adultery with her idols showing no remorse; but now that the taxes are due for her lavish lifestyle, she accuses her husband of abandoning her.

Who has not acted so foolishly when grieving? C.S. Lewis captures the agony well in A Grief Observed. What Lewis unpacks is not always rooted in such profound sin. Often God seems absent to His faithful servants in the midst of trials. But frequently, we wickedly want God more in our grief than we want Him otherwise.

haunted-house-1225739-1599x1148.jpg“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will be come. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’

…Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent—non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?”

We ignore God, and then we blame God for not being there when we taste something of the rod. Those who care nothing for God in their lives shouldn’t be surprised when He seems to care not for them as they taste of death. The scariest thing about running away from God, is that God just might let you. Of course you cannot escape Him totally. But one can, as it were, run from His long-suffering and into His judgment.

Of course, if one by grace turns in repentance, God is right there. But it’s quite presumptuous, isn’t it, to think one can spend a life running from God when happy, and then genuinely seek Him when sad? Such cries of “Where?” will be met with “Why?”

Why? (Jeremiah 5:1–19)

“And when your people say, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours’ ” (Jeremiah 5:19).

Names have been referred to as “handles” and though I’m not completely certain of all the etymology involved, I’d bet it is largely because names help us to pick things up. It is peculiar how naming a thing can prove so useful in understanding it. This shouldn’t be mystifying, for naming a thing is as old as Adam, and once named, conversation may ensue. So let me give you a handle by which to pick up this chapter: theodicy. This chapter presents a theodicy, that is, it argues to vindicate the goodness of God. A theodicy answers the questions that begin, “How can God be good if… ?” This particular theodicy is a justification of God’s justice; it demonstrates that God’s justice is just. Now we’re talking huh?

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The answer given here to the question “Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?” is not one that is universal but particular. And yet, ultimately, the answer given is the answer, for all suffering is foundationally rooted in sin. The judgment Judah faces here is the one we all deserve.

The real puzzle to turn over in your noodle is not a theodicy, but an anthropodicy. It is not the goodness of God we should question but the goodness of man. We ask “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but we have started with a false premise. The real dilemma is “Why do good things happen to bad people?” B.B. Warfield explains, “Righteous men amid the evils of earth seek a theodicy—they want a justification of God; sinners do not need a theodicy—all too clear to them is the reason of their sufferings—they want a consolation, a justification from God. …we are sinners, and what hope have we save in a God who is gracious rather than merely just?”

So why do good things happen to bad people? We might begin by answering that God is patient, long-suffering, and benevolent, but this answer is not enough. This is a big question and a larger foundation must underly such patience. To see what it is, let’s return to ponder that question we discarded, and see if it might help us now. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” One theologian answered, “That only happened once, and He volunteered.” Peter tells us that “Christ… suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The real dilemma of God’s dealing with man was not “How could he judge?”, but “How could he show mercy?” The answer is that grace comes in the Christ who quenched the fury of God’s anger against sin so that we might be declared just.

Sinner, you are not righteous. Shall He not punish (5:7–9)? Do not delude yourself with words of wind, but hear these words of fire against your soul (5:12–14). And yet, know this, there is hope. Instead of expected justice God extends surprising grace. This grace is found in Jesus Christ who was everything we are not—righteous, and was reckoned everything we were—sinful, bearing everything we deserve—the wrath of God.

Repent of your sins, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved. Then you will ask, not in agony, but in bliss? “Why has YHWH our God done all these things to us?” “Why has He blessed and loved us so?” And the answer you will love to hear and give again and again for all eternity is this, “Jesus!”

Poetic Justice (Jeremiah 4:5–31)

Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say,

“Blow the trumpet through the land;
cry aloud and say,

‘Assemble, and let us go
into the fortified cities!’
Raise a standard toward Zion,
flee for safety, stay not,
for I bring disaster from the north,
and great destruction.
A lion has gone up from his thicket,
a destroyer of nations has set out;
he has gone out from his place
to make your land a waste;
your cities will be ruins
without inhabitant.
For this put on sackcloth,
lament and wail,
for the fierce anger of the LORD
has not turned back from us” (Jeremiah 4:5–8)

Jeremiah 4:5–31 is certainly poetry, but it isn’t love poetry. This isn’t even like the poetry of scorned love that has preceded. Now the theme is judgment. Here is verse that would make Poe wince, or so it should, for this is no fiction. The terrors here are real.

God commands his people (the verbs of 3:5 are plural) to tell the themselves to tell themselves (nope, no stuttering) that disaster is coming out of the north. Judah is to flee to Jerusalem, the fortified city. 

God’s intent isn’t that there is any hope of withstanding the siege, he simply means to tell them to get ready. If Judah puts on armor instead of sackcloth she has missed the point (4:8). God isn’t warning them as an ally, but as their enemy. He is telling his people to get ready for Him. God uses no stealth. He broadcasts His blow knowing there is no possible way it can be blocked.

When the Babylonians draw their bows, God has drawn the Babylonians. He has sharpened His arrows. He is soon to let them fly. 

More than Judah needs to be saved from the Babylonians, she needs to be saved from God. The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of all wisdom, for it is folly to fear the mosquito when the lion is bearing down on you. It is folly to fear the sword and not the warrior who wields it.

God’s justice is poetic. The judgment of man will rhyme perfectly with His sin. The lovers Judah turned to, are now her murderers. Our sin is against an infinitely holy God; it is with an infinitely holy God that we will have to deal. 

The only possible refuge from God is God. Know that His salvation is as poetic as His judgment. At the cross God made judgment and salvation to rhyme as His Son bore judgment for the salvation of sinners.