Lesson 2: God’s Use of the Ungodly Habakkuk 1:5-11
The Prophet Habakkuk wrote during the troubled times before Judah’s captivity. Assyria had fallen when Nineveh, its capitol, was destroyed in 612 BC. Egypt and the Neo-Babylonians were competing for world dominance. In 609 Judah’s King Josiah was killed in battle against Egypt. His son Jehoahaz became king. It was a period of apostasy and violence. The new king was deposed after three months. Egypt made his brother, Jehoiakim, the new king over the Jews. In 605 Egypt was defeated by the Neo-Babylonians at Carchemish. This New-Babylon marched through Canaan and took hostages (one of them was Daniel).
During this period, foreign powers invaded Israel again and again, and inside the nation known as God’s people, evil and immorality raged. God’s Prophet Jeremiah warned of God’s judgment.
As we saw in the first four verses of this book, Habakkuk was confused. Why did a holy God allow such evil to continue?
But Habakkuk’s confusion was not doubt. He had great trust in the truth of God. He recognized what was evil because he believed God’s law. He didn’t accept evil apathetically, he was appalled by it. He dealt with his doubts and confusion in the right way, he turned to God, not to his own understanding. God answered him.
The Lord revealed that He was very much at work.
Habakkuk 1:5, “Look among the nations and watch — Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days Which you would not believe, though it were told you.”
The Prophet was told to look around him and see what was going on among the nations, observe! and be astounded! That’s where the judgment will come from.
It will be a most terrible judgment. The manner of the judgment would be unexpected. Those who were rebelling against God had become apathetic. They probably said things like, “See, God isn’t doing anything” “no body ever gets punished”, “it can’t be very serious.” They had forgotten the longsuffering of the True God who made all things, and who rules as King over all kings.
God often reveals himself in most unexpected ways. The coming of Messiah was unexpected. When Isaiah 53:1 speaks of the future coming of the Messiah, literally it says, “who would have believed the thing reported?” His birth as a baby who would grow up, suffer and die was most unexpected.
Paul used this verse from Habakkuk to warn the foolish despisers of the gospel. In Acts 13:41 he said, “Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, a work which you will by no means believe, Though one were to declare it to you.”
Jeremiah also spoke of the same thing about which God warned Habakkuk. In Jeremiah 13:20 it said, “Lift up your eyes and see Those who come from the north… .” Jeremiah 25:32 says, “Behold, disaster shall go forth From nation to nation, And a great whirlwind shall be raised up From the farthest parts of the earth.”
The LORD had a purpose in using the Neo-Babylonians
Habakkuk 1:6, “For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, A bitter and hasty nation Which marches through the breadth of the earth, To possess dwelling places that are not theirs.”
The Neo-Babylonians were dominated by Chaldean kings. The terms “Neo-Babylons” and “Chaldeans” are used interchangeably for the people of that Empire.
That pagan nation was struggling against Egypt for dominance. Soon they will be raised up from that struggle to full power. God was revealing that He was going to use this ungodly power for judgment upon his own straying people.
This warning was made clear in the ancient covenant revealed long before through Moses in Deuteronomy 28. It is a warning to Israel that if they should break God’s covenant, calamity will come upon them revealing the wrath of the offended God.
28:25, “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth.”
28:36, “The LORD will bring you and the king whom you set over you to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods — wood and stone.”
28:49, “The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand”
God’s covenant warned from the beginning that if Israel fell into sin God would use a foreign heathen nation to bring judgment upon them. A nation would come to judge them speaking in a language they did not understand (Deuteronomy 28:49).
In this period of Judah’s last kings, the Prophets warned of the fulfillment of this covenant promise. Isaiah 28:11 warned, “For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.” Jeremiah 5:15 said, ” ‘Behold, I will bring a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,’ says the LORD. ‘It is a mighty nation, It is an ancient nation, A nation whose language you do not know, Nor can you understand what they say.’ ”
In the time of the New Testament after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see the expansion of God’s Covenant to include Gentile believers drawn to the Savor by the Gospel. Israel as a nation had rejected the promises of Moses and the Prophets culminating in the demand for the death of Jesus, God’s Messiah. Though there were still many who had remained faithful, others no longer followed the words of the Prophets.
God’s sign of judgment was that they would hear foreign language on the streets of Jerusalem, speaking in a language they did not understand. God was about to turn to the Gentiles as He judged Israel as a nation for her unbelief.
In Acts 2 God poured out His Holy Spirit on the disciples who spoke on the streets of Jerusalem in the languages of the Gentiles who were present. A most astonishing way of fulfilling that prophesy. Pentecost was a sign to the unbelieving of Israel that they had broken the covenant and stood deserving of God’s judgment and wrath.
Paul, in writing to Corinth, corrected the Church’s misuse of speaking in foreign tongues. There he said in 1 Corinthians 14:21, ” ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; And yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord.” He directly quoted the covenant warning of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Deuteronomy. Covenant judgment was about to be poured out upon Israel. God was rejecting their national privilege, and turning to the Gentiles to populate his Covenant Nation on Earth.
Paul also made this clear in Romans 9-11. Israel stumbled at the stumbling stone, the suffering messiah (Romans 9:31-33). Though Israel was many, only “the remnant will be saved” (Romans 9:27).
The Lord described the ungodly.
Habakkuk 1:7-11, “They are terrible and dreadful; Their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses also are swifter than leopards, And more fierce than evening wolves. Their chargers charge ahead; Their cavalry comes from afar; They fly as the eagle that hastens to eat. They all come for violence; Their faces are set like the east wind. They gather captives like sand. They scoff at kings, And princes are scorned by them. They deride every stronghold, For they heap up earthen mounds and seize it. Then his mind changes, and he transgresses; He commits offense, Ascribing this power to his god.”
The evil nations God was raising up to judge his rebellious people were self-centered. They looked to themselves for their power. They had fast horses and were more fierce (more alert, fierce, and sharp) than the hungry wolves that come out to hunt in the evening. They move ahead as a determined army spreading violence. They sweep through like the strong winds from the East gathering up captives that number like the grains of sand. They have no respect for the leaders of other nations. They make a joke out of those who dare to not submit to them.
The mind of evil changes from bad to worse being taken in by successes in conquest. It becomes all the more bold in lawlessness. The evil ones believe pridefully that their own imagined gods have blessed them.
This is the attitude of the evil heart in all ages. Even today there are those who are arrogant and have no honor for God as He reveals Himself in Scripture. They live as if there was no Creator, no moral law, no accountability.
Today, the weapons of force have improved, yet all the more they take whatever they want, and give only when it serves their purpose. They mock authority and law, and believe that “might makes right.” They still look to their own strength and ability as if they were divine and answer to no authority above their own.
Though used by God for his purposes, the ungodly are still evil. God may ordain to use their wickedness, but this does not make it morally right. Acts 2:23 tells us that Jesus was delivered up, “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death”
Though used of God to complete his plan, those who crucified our Lord were still personally wicked and godless in what they did.
The Lord revealed his attitude toward them.
They will be held guilty. Don’t mistake temporary material victories for true success. God will deal with them according to his plan, but first, He will use them for His own covenant judgment.
How beautiful! He even turns wicked hearts to serve his Sovereign purpose. They intend to be their own god. They do whatever they want. In their very act of oppression, they unknowingly serve the glory of the Creator. But what they do is not going to bring them true blessing. They heap judgment on themselves.
God blesses those in whom he stirs to obedience, and judges disobedience. His covenant is always enforced. His purpose in creation will stand. The glory of His nature and attributes will be made known in full.
The ungodly show the futility of their rebellion, the awful penalty of sin, and the just wrath of God. The repentant show God’s unmerited grace to undeserving sinners, and reveal the merciful blessing and goodness of God. Yet both declare His awesome glory.
How will the plan of God be fulfilled in the ungodly?
Habakkuk learned that the material success of the ungodly is not a reliable measure of their true success. When we don’t see the ungodly punished immediately, or when they seem to be successful in their evil ways, we should not assume that God is beaten or is pleased to turn His head.
God will surely judge all rebellion, secret and open. We should never presume to say to an unbeliever, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” We can’t know that. God will bring ultimate and final judgment upon all ungodliness. Their end will be most awful. He may for a time use the ungodly to bring deserved chastising upon the hypocrites among His own people, and to show his uncompromising wrath upon those left to what we all deserve aside from the work of his grace.
We are called to be among his faithful people. He sent His son to pay a most costly price for the sin of His people, for those who trust in Him. Will we show forth God’s glory in our obedience and in our receiving of His covenant blessing? or will we in our rebellion demonstrate the just curse of His covenant warnings?
Those who look to themselves, will eventually and always reap their just punishment. Those who turn in humble trust to the Lord, who rest in His work of redemption, who seek to walk in his ways, and who turn in humble repentance when they fail, will receive His righteousness, and blessing forever. This is the grace of God as revealed in His merciful covenant.
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)