If we were not having the installation of our part time youth director this coming Sunday, I would be preaching on the Old Testament Lesson from the book of Habakkuk. I found it to be quite intriguing, to say the least.
The appointed text is actually the first four verses of chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1: 1-4 reads:
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
4 So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgement comes forth perverted.
This was an intriguing beginning, and since it has been a long, long time since I've read Habakkuk, my interest was peaked. Essentially, the prophet is looking around at all the bad stuff going on in the world and asking, "Hey, God, what are you going to do about this? Where are you in the midst of this? Are you just going to sit up there in silence, or are you going to act?"
With a lack of action from God, "The law becomes slack, and justice never prevails."
With all the justice talk I hear in my own denomination, my ears became sharply attuned. But, as a student of the biblical text, I was not content to jump straight to chapter 2. I wanted to see what was left out: what was skipped. I kept reading.
Most of Chapter 1 held to this theme with a little added bit of worry from the prophet who saw the Chaldeans just up the road preparing for war. "Hey God, you gonna let these folks come in here and destroy us? How about a little help?"
Chapter 2 followed with God's response to Habakkuk:
2Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
4 Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
This is where the appointed text stops. Essentially, God tells the prophet to be patient. There is an end to come. There is a vision for the future. God's got everything under control. Live by faith. Good stuff, but that's not the whole of it. God also has some intriguing words about that future and what will happen to those who have abused their situation on earth. Interestingly enough, many of God's words to the prophet then have some strong connections to what is currently going on in our world today. Some of it is quite jaw dropping. And, quite frankly, I think it shows some of our ignorance of the past. So often we think we are dealing with stuff that is new and different. Yet, human nature hasn't exactly changed over the past several thousand years. Here's proof (All from Habakkuk Chapter 2):
What's going to happen when you go so deeply into debt that you cannot pay? It would be prudent not only of people but some politicians to listen to this one:
‘Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!’
How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge?
7 Will not your own creditors suddenly rise,
and those who make you tremble wake up?
Then you will be booty for them.
What goes around comes around. What happens if you are a bully?
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you—
because of human bloodshed, and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who live in them.
For those who isolate themselves from the needs of their neighbor; for those who hide behind walled communities and pretend that they are above everyone else:
9 ‘Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm!’
10 You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
11 The very stones will cry out from the wall,
and the plaster will respond from the woodwork.
For those who commit violence and build their "city", "town", "government" on iniquity--lying, cheating, stealing, etc.:
12 ‘Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed,
and found a city on iniquity!’
13 Is it not from the Lord of hosts
that peoples labor only to feed the flames,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
14 But the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea.
For those who take advantage of others sexually. (Hell, nothing has changed when it has come to this kind of stuff. We just have cell phones and cameras to record it now-a-days.):
15 ‘Alas for you who make your neighbors drink,
pouring out your wrath until they are drunk,
in order to gaze on their nakedness!’
16 You will be sated with contempt instead of glory.
Drink, you yourself, and stagger!
The cup in the Lord’s right hand
will come around to you,
and shame will come upon your glory!
Apparently, the ancients had their own versions of Mardi Gras.
God's message through the prophet is obviously a warning about such matters--a warning which has basically gone unheeded for several thousand years. The more things change, the more they actually stay the same.