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Wednesday Bible study: There's fear, and then there's...

Today we dig into the book of Habakkuk, a prophet we know only a little about.  What we do:  His name is a matter of debate, although most believe it comes from an obscure word for "embraced".  We know by his intro that he is one of the "official" prophets of the Temple.  And from his book we surmise that he was prophesying right before Babylon's first attack on Judah.  First attack?  Yes, because, for those of you who struggle with OT history, there were 3 attacks by Babylon.  The first came at a point you should remember from previous  WBS's that we've done.  Egypt comes through on their way to help out the rump Assyrian Army, destroys Judah's army and kills king Josiah, gets their butts whupped at Carchemish by Babylon.

Coming back through, they unseat the son of Josiah (taking him back to Egypt to die) and put in Jehoiakim.  Jehoiakim plunders his country to pay the Egyptian ransom, which of course pisses off the pursuing Babylonians.  In 605 BC, they besiege the city, and Jehoiakim flips.  Later, the Babylonians would take the city (597), which was the prophesied taking of the Temple's treasures from Hezekiah's days; they put Zedekiah in charge, he rebelled, and ten years later they erased Jerusalem from the map.  Habakkuk comes in around 607, so a lot of his prophesy deals with the upcoming Babylonian attack.  But not all.

Habakkuk 3 is a song written that could be applied two ways, as most prophecy is; in one sense, it is about the final attack 20 years hence; but more vividly it is the story of what we call Armageddon.  I'm going to give you our verse for the week, and then I'm going to backtrack so we can understand.

Hab 3:16  I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 

Before we start to unpack this, one of the commentators mentioned that this is the SECOND time in the chapter Habakkuk heard the Lord, and we have to go back there first.

Hab 3:2  O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. 

The prophet makes three statements we need to look at here.  First, "I fear your work".  And as you read the rest of the chapter, you see it is not because it is directed at him (standing in for Israel), but because God is planning an awesome vengeance against his enemies, a vengeance so awesome that it almost seems it is the planet itself He is out to destroy:

Hab 3:8  Was your wrath against the rivers, O LORD? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation? 

Next is the twice repeated phrase "in the midst of years".  This too is a controversial term.  The commentators swing wildly here.  Many believe it directly references "the current time"- that which Habakkuk was experiencing.  One (who only gets brought up in a poo-pooing by another) thought it meant "in the middle of the rest of time".  The Septuagint apparently gives the sense of "between the now and the future."  But IMHO the best way to look at it is from Adam Clarke's commentary, which renders it, "As the years approach".  In other words, it's going to happen soon- and then be revived, and made known all over again.  Score one for the Septuagint.

And of course the third:  "In wrath, remember mercy."  This tells us that what is coming is so bad that, once seeing the vision, Habakkuk prayed He wouldn't forget to save the remnant.  And Jesus Himself tells us Habakkuk had reason for that worry:

Matt 24:22  And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

And so now we know what it was that Habakkuk heard that had such an effect on him.  And only now can we sort through the various opinions to figure out which is right and why.  Luckily, I have (tried to) do that for you, so sit back and listen to how I see it- which the majority of the commentators basically agree with.

In between 3:2 (the first time he heard) and 3:16 (as he looks back on what he heard) is the story of God destroying His enemies once and for all.  Let me bring our verse back down here.

Hab 3:16  I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 

Divide this verse in two parts.  As the beginning of 3:2 was the preface to what he heard, the first part of 3:16 is his reaction to what he heard.  And as the rest of 3:2 basically says, "Bring it on, Lord, but don't forget about us on the way", the "Yet" of 3:16 is his determination to TRUST that God will do as He said and have mercy on the remnant.

The lesson here is the extent to which we can trust the promises of God.  For Habakkuk, it meant, even if it seems the whole world is going to be destroyed, he could trust God.  We can trust Him just the same.

This post first appeared on Tilting At Windmills, please read the originial post: here

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Wednesday Bible study: There's fear, and then there's...


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