Habakkuk 3

Habakkuk 3  August 24, 2017

The burden of the prophet is overwhelming. To have a revelation of impending doom may seem as though it is a great privilege while in reality, it is a tremendous burden. In reading the 3rd chapter of Habakkuk, the reader easily picks up on a vacillation of the use of past tense, present tense, and future tense. While that may seem a bit strange, considering the place of the prophet brings an understanding. The prophet is not writing in a passive voice speaking of the past as those it is present, he is speaking of the future as if it is present because through the revelation of God he sees the future as if it is present.

Habakkuk records a three-fold response to the chastening hand of God he visualizes as the Lord reveals the impending doom. He responds with humility, with a plea for mercy, and with praise. Verse 2 says he heard the report about the Lord and he was filled with fear. Fear is an emotion that is accompanied by humility. It usually occurs when a human being encounters a situation full of danger yet one they cannot control. There is a force or power greater than they who is in charge. Consequently, they are simply brought into humility under that power. Hence, Habakkuk was full of fear. He first responded with humility.

His humility led to a plea for mercy. The plea for mercy is a plea for a reprieve while knowing full well relief is undeserved. Habakkuk is not asking the Lord to overlook the sin. He is asking the Lord to grant a lesser sentence than is deserved. Notice that he does not enter a plea of not guilty.  He is actually offering a plea of guilt and calling on the Lord to not impart the fully deserved sentence due the Israelites because of their breaking of the covenant.

The final response to the Lord is one of praise. Habakkuk sees the hand of the Lord using many elements of the creation to execute his hand of chastisement. He reports his vision of God using pestilence, plagues, earth quakes, rivers, and seas. His use of imagery is strong. But then he mentions chastisement and his own salvation. Here is a strong reminder, the work of the Lord here is not wrath against the people but rather correction. God is using the rod of correction. God is exercising mercy and grace in delivering the people from what would be the consequence of their own sin if left to their own devices. When he realizes the purpose of the calamity, Habakkuk offers praise to God. He closes the book  by saying, “I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”

The one who walks close to Jesus sees more clearly the future than the person who lives in sin. When one fully understands the future for the person who walks in sin, his heart is broken. But when he sees the wisdom of God in chastisement, and when he sees the salvation of God work to redeem one who is lost in sin, his response turns to humility, a plea for mercy, and one of praise. The one who walks with Jesus is full of compassion for the one who rejects Christ, a plea for mercy for the one who knows Christ but walks away, and song of praise when he stops long enough to realize, but the by the grace of God, we would all be lost.

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Habakkuk 2

Habakkuk 2 August 23, 2017

The Lord’s response to Habakkuk reads like a piece of wisdom literature mixed with prophecy. The first issues addressed are those of folly. The Lord then used the issues of folly symbolically to bring a strong indictment against the Israelites. It was the height of their arrogance that brought on this strong action from the hand of the Lord.

In verses 4 and 5, the Lord makes a case against Israel for her pride and drunkenness. In verse 6 his accusations turn to the misuse of credit. The misuse of credit is followed by the charge of taking from other nations by way of abuse of power, they looted many nations. This charge is followed by the declaration of a great woe or warning of judgment to come. The one who uses evil to gain for his house will one-day face judgment and Israel’s day of the Lord had come. The charges of wrong doing are followed by one of two very strong statements regarding the sovereignty of God. The earth will be filled with the knowledge and glory of the Lord. Israel may have failed her God given task, but God will get his glory even if he has to severely chastise his people in order to show himself to the nations.

In verse 13, the result of Israel’s failure is connected to the symbolism of her relationship to the nations. Her sin against God has served as a means of seduction to draw the nations of the world into her own web of sin and rebellion. The nations have become drunk with the wine of Israel. The wine here is symbolic rather than literal. It was the method of holding tpower that had seduced the nations. The folly of Israel had spread among her neighbors and God was now holding them accountable. The verses between 13 and 19 spell out the ruin that is soon to come upon the Israelites due to their vain influence.

The second occurrence of a reminder of God’s sovereignty appears in verse 20. The Lord is in His Holy Temple. That line brings back memories of an old hymn we used to sing. The verse serves as a great contrast to the previous verses. It shows a picture of a God who is holy and separated from these evil acts. It also shows the Lord to be ready to act upon their wickedness. The phrase, “Let all the earth be silent before him” speaks to his righteous judgment that is soon to come.

There are two strong lessons to be drawn from this chapter. First, a person’s actions have a greater effect on others than is sometimes understood. By her ungodly actions, she was causing other nations to sin. What is true on the national level is also true on the level of family and even the individual. Let us not be found as wielding ungodly influence in the lives of others. The second lesson is equally, if not more frightening. God’s glory will not be thwarted by a person or a nation’s rebelliousness. He will deal with that unrighteousness at the proper time and the earth will be filled with His glory. His judgment is righteous and his judgment is certain.

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Haggai 2

Haggai 2 August 21, 2017

If a man does not want to succeed, there are many barriers at his disposal. Two of the most common barriers to succeeding or simply moving forward to accomplish great things are found in the words of God to the prophet Haggai. While casting a vision for the rebuilding of the temple, the Lord shows Haggai a way to deal with the negative attitudes that will certainly surface. The first of those was the success of the past. This negative surfaces  in many forms. You hear it consistently, “Things will never be the same.” “We have never done it  that way before.” “The good ole days.” So the question is raised, “Does it seem like nothing in comparison?” In other words, the new temple will never reach the same level of glory as the former, why even try. The success of the past sometimes prevents the attempt of something big.

Not only do successes from the past prevent attempts to accomplish great things, so do the failures of the past. The famous phrase, “We tried that once and it did not work” comes to mind. Scientific research often uses the phrase, “all things being equal” when it seeks to explain an experiment. But the bottom line is, rarely are all things equal. The last time it was tried, some of the variables were different.  And then there is a significant mitigating factor, God. It is the factor of the presence of God that makes all the difference. The presence of God turned a hopeless situation into one where the leaders were to, “take courage.”

The phrase “take courage” indicates that courage is available and is simply there for the taking by the audience within Haggai’s reach. Courage was available to them. The basis for the taking of courage is explicit in the text, “because God is with you.” And if God be for you, who can be against you?  Consequently, the leaders God has called out to lead the building of the temple should take courage, God is in the effort. There is no need to be stifled by the success or failures from the past. There is every reason to move forward with courage rather than to retreat in cowardice.

The one who is walking with Jesus can also take courage. The promises of abundant life to the one who seeks the Lord daily heavily populate the New Testament. The successes or failures have little bearing on the present. The greatest effect of those events is merely, psychological. God is the factor that changes the circumstance. Feeling defeated today? Remember, courage is available for the taking to the one who seeks the Lord. Are you doubting the future? God takes care of the Lily of the field. He is adequate to take care of you.

 

 

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Habakkuk 1

Habakkuk 1 August 22, 2017

Desperate situations call for strong responses. According to the Oracle of Habakkuk, the times in Israel were desperate. Wickedness was so prevalent that righteousness could be found only in the shadows. Justice was perverted because the prevailing ideologies were self-centered wickedness with no thought given to the righteousness of God.

God’s response was not what the prophet had hoped. The promise was for one of the arch enemies of Israel to rise to great strength and invade the land. The invasion was to be quick and strong. There was to be little if any mercy in the hands of the invaders. There was a promise for them to be held accountable. However, the decree is clear, this invading army that does not serve the living God was going to be used to bring judgment on Israel. Desperate times call for strong responses. God’s response is not a desperate response because God is never desperate. In His great wisdom, He knows exactly how to care for His people, without desperation.

God uses many events in order to discipline those who have called upon his name. Of course, the preferred measure is simply for His people to follow His lead and walk in his blessing. You might be reminded of the promises of Psalm 1:1.  It is there the Lord promises blessings to the one who walks in the counsel of God rather than living according to the counsel of the ungodly. The blessings that follow the one who walks in the counsel of the godly are likened to prosperity. The consequence of the one who lives by the way of the wicked is destruction. It is as the Lord said, ” I set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity… (Duet. 30:15)” The encouragement is to choose life.

It has been my great privilege to know many believers who have chosen to live in the counsel of the Lord and to choose life and prosperity. On the other hand, too many times I have seen the devastating consequences when people who claim to be followers of Christ but choose to walk in the counsel of the ungodly consequently suffer death and adversity. For the one who really belongs to God, the death and adversity are sent not simply as a consequence of sin, but also as a clarion call from the Lord to return. My experience tells me the number is far too few who receive the chastening hand of the Lord turning to repentance. In fact, we live in such a culture as the one mentioned in Habakkuk when the one who suggests repentance is berated, justice is perverted by wickedness and men glory in the shame of their nakedness before God and men.

Today as in all generations, every person on the earth chooses to walk in the blessings of God or in the consequences of living the counsel of the ungodly. And if one chooses to walk in the counsel of the world long enough, the measures left to the Lord are just as strong as those proclaimed by the prophet Habakkuk when God raised up a godless enemy to chasten His people. This battle between good and evil is strong and real. Choosing life and prosperity are at stake and contradicted by death and adversity. I concur with the call of God through Moses, “choose life.”

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Haggai 1

Haggai  1 August 18, 2017

A reading of the prophets along with the narrative history books of the Old Testament can leave one wondering if anyone heard what they had to say. That may be one thing that makes the reading of Haggai different. When this prophet spoke, God stirred the hearts of the people to move. This chapter is an encouragement to teachers and a testimony to what happens when God moves his hand.

The historical time frame for this prophet is during the exile. He is known as an exilic prophet. The temple in  Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Israelites had been scattered throughout the Babylonian Empire. This writing came after the fall of Nebuchadnezzar and the rise of the Persians. Throughout the exilic period, there appears to have been a desire in the hearts of the people to once again build a temple in Jerusalem and return to worship. Interestingly enough, that longing appears to remain to this very day.

God first stirred the heart of Haggai and made him a prophet. He also stirred the heart of Zerubbabel Shealtiel and Joshua. Included in this stirring was a prophet,  a governor, and the high priest. God moved the religious community with the priest, the political community with the governor, and the common people with the prophet. When God initiates a movement, he covers all the bases. He made an appeal to the shame of not having a temple in  Jerusalem. While the appeal was for the temple to be restored, the larger picture was a return of the allegiance of the people. Building programs should always result in spiritual renewal.

The Lord not only stirred their hearts toward rebuilding the temple but also to prosperity and peace. The Hebrew word to describe this longing is one for Shalom or peace. It is the desire of God for the people to serve him and for him to provide their every need. The most encouraging word in this chapter is found in verse 13, “I am with you declares the Lord.” It is one thing to undertake such a project in the flesh, but it is a blessing to undertake such a project with the promised support of the Lord. This chapter is the picture of a beginning revival among the people of Israel.

What can be done without a stirring of the Lord? John 15:5 reminds us that apart from him we can do nothing. It is important for us to simply fall prostrate before the Lord and to pray for God to stir the hearts of those whom he has placed in the critical positions. Lord, stir up the heart of a political leader, a spiritual leader, and a prophet.

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Nehemiah 13

Nehemiah 13 August 17, 2017

Nehemiah took leave from Jerusalem to return to Babylon just as he had promised the King. After a period of time, he returned to Jerusalem and found the people to have broken  the covenant document signed after the building of the wall. There were three primary charges. First they had allowed corruption to infiltrate the treasury system, next they had allowed merchants to defile the sabbath day by selling goods, and finally, they had foolishly allowed their children to marry the children of non-Israelites.

The first charge was proven in the allowance of Nehemiah’s enemy, Tobiah, to take charge of the Temple treasury. He failed to properly compensate those who had been established as spiritual leaders. It was a serious matter for those who were to tend to the matters of worship leadership to have to move their focus to make a living in a way other than that prescribed by the Lord. Nehemiah wasted no time or energy in some kind of compromise. He immediately removed  Tobiaha reestablishing the proper system of compensation. When our worship fails, so does every other area of our lives. This was the first priority for Nehemiah.

His second order of business was to deal with profaning the Sabbath day. Based on the Genesis account of creation where God rested on the seventh day, observance of the Sabbath day had become an expected ritual in Jerusalem. You may remember it was even one of the top ten commandments given to Moses. A few chapters previous, the leaders of Jerusalem had signed a commitment not to purchase goods on that day. Nehemiah acted with haste and a firm hand in putting an end to the idolatrous practice of selling goods on the Sabbath.

The third order of business for Nehemiah was to deal with the profaning of marriage by the people. Perhaps due to their relationships developed during exile, the children of Israelites married the children of Moabite and Ammonites. This was a serious matter. It was so serious that Nehemiah confronted the issue with physical violence. He made certain that there was an understanding of the seriousness of the offense. Pulling out of hair was an extreme manner.

We are many generations removed from Nehemiah. The issues remain the same. Corruption and self-serving lifestyles are always too near. Some enter the ministry for the wrong reasons. Matters that are holy to God are taken lightly by men. And too often, men fall into direct disobedience to the Lord. We need the preaching of Nehemiah to remind us when we get off track. God has provided a steady supply of preachers through the generations for our benefit. Let us hear the message of God and repent. Too often, corruption sneaks in to misappropriate funds given to God’s work, the Sabbath is treated as just another day, and children marry unbelievers.

In many ways, the book of Nehemiah is the final narrative history of the Old Testament. There are post exilic prophetic writings to give us some clue as to what life was like in the post exilic period leading to the time of Christ, but the record is far from exhaustive.

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Nehemiah 12

Nehemiah 12 August 16, 2017

Can you imagine a celebration without music? Some years ago I heard Rick Warren, pastor of the 30,000 membership Saddle Back church of Orange County California, comment that if he were starting a church today, he would focus much more on good music than he did when he started Saddle Back years ago. Music has a way of lifting the spirits. It poetic approach to lyrics has a way of succinctly stating great truths with much meaning. Music stirs the soul and touches the depth of emotions. Good music can accomplish all that without bypassing the mind. Music touches the mind, the heart, and the emotions. It is a mover of the will.

Nehemiah seemed to have a grasp on the need for great music. He took great pains to assemble two massive choirs for the dedication of the wall. It was with great fanfare that they prepared the music and even the assembly. This opportunity was not to be wasted. This time of worship pointed back to the great times of worship in song under the leadership of Asaph the choir leader for King David. Nehemiah was using music to connect the past to the present while striving for the future. It is a wise leader who accomplishes such a task.

Recently I was reading an article by a pastor condemning the use of emotions to call others to Christ. He cited the many who had been moved emotionally to profess Christ while not repenting and following Christ. It is absolutely true that many who responded to Finney, Moody, and yes even Billy Graham were not moved in the will, only the emotions. However, it is also true that many who were moved emotionally were also moved spiritually and changed in the heart. In fact, many who might read the article came to Christ in that very manner. To think one is brought to repentance only in an intellectual manner is to fail to understand the intricate connections of the entire man. Nehemiah worked diligently to appeal to the intellect of men. But he did not by pass the importance of the emotions. When I think of my own conversion and those I have witnessed, I have found the entire man to be involved.

The value of those who lead well in music is demonstrated by the response in verse 47. These singers were paid just as were the other spiritual leaders in the common unity. There is a basis in this Scripture to not only have a paid minister of preaching, but also a paid minister of music. There is even a basis to have paid administrators and musicians. The bottom line understanding is this, great times of celebration with good preaching a powerful music are of great value to the common unity. That was true for ancient Israel and it is true for the modern church.

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