Holding on to Faith in Desperate Times
4. Choices – Babylon or Jesus?
We have heard it said many times that our choices matter. We know this is true because all of life is shaped by the choices we make. We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us. I realize that at the age of 61, I am nothing more than the sum total of all the choices I have made over all the years of my life. I am what I am, where I am, doing what I do, as a result of thousands of choices made over a long period of time. Choices. So important. So crucial. We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us. Near the end of his life Moses challenged his people this way: "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deuteronomy 30: 19).
Joshua was an old man and nearing death, he reminded the people of what God had done for them. Then he challenged them: "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24: 15).
Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and addressed the people: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18: 21).
Familiar words from Solomon: “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14: 12).
Finally this solemn warning from the Lord Jesus Christ: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7: 13, 14).
Every person is on a journey that leads to life or death. Jesus calls it a “way.” One “way” is wide and easy. The other “way” is narrow and hard. Many take the easy way. Only a few take the hard way. Jesus is saying to all of us today, “Make sure you are on the right road. You don’t want to end up in a place you never wanted to be.”
Brings me back to where I began. Our choices really do matter. We make our choices and our choices turn around and make us. Never is this more important than when hard times come and life seems to move against us. When trouble comes, you find out very quickly what you really believe. That’s what is happening to Habakkuk. He is finding out what he really believes. Now God is bringing him face to face with the choice he must make.
The little book of Habakkuk records a conversation between the prophet and God. In chapter 1 they speak to each other. In chapter 2 God speaks to Habakkuk. In chapter 3 Habakkuk speaks to God. As we pick up the story in chapter 2, Habakkuk is a man waiting for an answer. God gives him 3 instructions -
1. Write v. 2
Living Bible: “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.” God wants to make his will clear. What he says to Habakkuk is not some secret, coded message only for the prophet. Instead it’s a message for the whole nation.
2. Wait v. 3
God may seem slow but he’s never late. He never delays in order to hurt us. He’s an “on-time” God. God will not share his glory with anyone. Sometimes he delays his answers so that we cannot later say, “Well, it was my faith that made the difference.” He answers in his own time and in his own way so that we end up saying, “To God alone be the glory!”
God is saying to Habakkuk, “Not today. Not tomorrow. But the answer is on the way. Hold on. Wait for it.” He even says, “It will certainly come.” The Babylonians will be judged, and in the end they will be destroyed. God will balance the scales of justice. But he’s not working on our timetable. Though he seems to linger, he does not delay. Remember that the next time you feel like giving up when you pray.
3. Remember v. 4, 5
Babylon was greedy - the empire spread itself in all directions, conquering cities, towns, provinces, and ultimately whole nations. Nothing satisfied Babylon’s hunger for conquest. There was always another nation to subdue, another city to overrun, another army to defeat.
In the midst of this rampage of terror, what should the people of God do? “The just shall live by faith.” What do you do when they are killing you? The just shall live by faith. What do you do when the enemy destroys your home? The just shall live by faith. What do you do when your loved are taken into captivity? The just shall live by faith. What do you do when the Muslims falsely accuse you of adultery and apostasy, sentence you to death, and shackle you to the floor in a prison cell? Remember that “the just shall live by faith,” and you refuse to renounce Jesus.
This little phrase became for the Apostle Paul the hallmark of the Christian gospel. 1500 years after Paul, this verse became Martin Luther’s highway to heaven.
Near the end of his life, Johnny Cash sang a song called “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” that catches the spirit of Habakkuk 2.
You can run on for a long time, Run on for a long time,
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down.
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down.
Go tell that long tongue liar Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.
Chapter 2 describes how God is going to one day cut Babylon down. The mighty empire will be brought down and utterly destroyed. God conveys that message through 5 woes -
1. Extortion v. 6
That perfectly described the Babylonians. When they took a city, they plundered its silver and gold. They took the crops and the cattle, and they carried off anything else of value. Thus they grew rich through the misery of others. But God promised a day of judgment: v. 7, 8.
They got away with it for a long time because no one dared to stand against them. But God saw it all, and in due time he would even the scales of justice.
2. Arrogance v. 9
The Babylonians thought themselves invulnerable to attack. They believed no army could ever breach those fortifications – v. 11.
Many years later Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, would give a grand banquet that turned into a drunken orgy that was interrupted by the sight of a finger writing on a wall. Babylon had been weighed in the scales of justice and found wanting. Now the kingdom would be taken from Babylon and divided between the Medes and the Persians. That very night the king died and the kingdom collapsed. Mighty Babylon was no more.
3. Bloodshed v. 12
God hates those who build an empire on bloodshed. Obviously this applies to nations that use military might to conquer the weak and defenseless. One wonders what God would say about a nation that murders its unborn. In the midst of these words of judgment comes a glimpse of a happier, better day: v. 14.
Here God pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of the world as it will be when Jesus comes back. There is coming a time when the “the earth will be filled” -
Not with the knowledge of bloodshed. Not with the knowledge of pornography. Not with the knowledge of immorality. Not with the knowledge of injustice. Not with the knowledge of greed. God intends to fill the whole earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. He’s talking about this ball of dirt that is the “third rock from the sun.” He means this earth we currently inhabit. This earth . . . That had no room for the Son of God. That mocked his words and doubted his character. That refused to believe he was the Messiah. That falsely accused him. That preferred to let a guilty man go free. That hated what he stood for. That accused him of being in league with the devil. That beat him without mercy. That made him carry his own cross. That crucified him between two thieves. That watched him die in agony.
God intends to bring his Son back to this earth. Back to the same world that rejected him the first time. One day the glory of the Lord will fill the earth. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We are not there yet. It will be a day with . . . Injustice gone, violence gone, terror gone, threats gone, abuse gone, pornography gone, divorce gone, abortion gone, perversion gone, liars gone, blasphemers gone.
A vision of a better day coming! Not to some other world, but to this world! Hard to believe this today because we live in a world filled with violence. We see the cruelty and the killing all around us, and we long for a better day. Someday this world will be pristine and beautiful again.
Please, God, make it soon. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
4. Immorality v. 15
We all know that alcohol changes behavior. A person under the influence of alcohol will say and do things they would not normally say or do. Where would Sun City be without alcohol? Where would sports events be without alcohol? Where would conferences be without alcohol?
God promises judgment on those who use alcohol as a tool to lead others into immorality. You may justify it in your own mind, but God will not be fooled.
God’s response - v. 16. What goes around comes around. Babylon used alcohol for illicit purposes, and that’s one reason God brought them down. Let all who think alcohol is not dangerous ponder these verses.
5. Idolatry v. 19
This speaks to the idiocy of idolatry. Who in their right mind would believe that praying to lifeless stone could make any difference? Pray to the stones all you want, bow down before the wooden altar. Work yourself up into a frenzy. Say all the incantations you like to your “god” of metal. It will do you no good. Your prayers will go unanswered. Your idols have no life. The wood cannot hear. The stone cannot speak. Besides all the other obvious points against idol-worship, here’s the big one: it’s a complete waste of time. God’s indictment of the Babylonians ends -
Hush! v. 20
God looks at the nations and says, “Be quiet now. I am about to judge the earth.” “Habakkuk, do you get it now? I will judge Babylon in my own time and in my own way. Their downfall is certain because I have decreed it. So hush with your complaints. I have given you my answer. Will you believe it?”
In 605 BC Babylon looked invincible. Less than a century later the Babylonian empire had disappeared. Babylon looks good in all its glory. Babylon always looks good . . . until it is no more.
I remind you that history is really His Story. It’s the outworking of God’s plan for the human race. Those who line up with the cultural forces of today will find themselves out of step with God tomorrow. That’s the whole point of Habakkuk 2. You can side with Babylon and win in the short run, or you can take sides with God and win eternally.
Whose side are you on? Team Jesus or Team Babylon? Right now Team Babylon seems to be winning the big game. They largely control the media, the entertainment industry, the major universities and the political power. Team Babylon holds sway over contemporary culture.
But the game isn’t over until it’s over. The only score that matters is the final score. That score has already been predetermined by God. If you think this world will last forever, join Team Babylon and you’ll have a front-row seat when it all comes crashing down. If you think God’s Word is true, then join Team Jesus and 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you did.
Time to make your choice. Whose side are you on? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Prayer - O God, Help us to choose you over the call of Babylon. Help us to be on the right side of history—your side. Give us faith to believe that in the end all your ways are right and you make no mistakes. We pray for courage to choose rightly because no one who trusts in you will ever be put to shame. In Jesus’ name, Amen.