Does God Care?

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Habakkuk 1:1-11

INTRODUCTION: Habakkuk is a tiny book in your Bible, only three chapters long and not easy to find. It is the fifth book back from the end of the Old Testament, but unless you know your Old Testament well, you will probably want to use your table of contents to find it. And as I mentioned last week, once you find it, bookmark it or note the page number because we will be returning to this book each week over the next couple weeks.

Our message series is called “The Journey from Doubt to Faith,” because that is what the book of Habakkuk is all about. Habakkuk was a prophet who was struggling with questions about evil in the world and why God permits evil. Habakkuk’s three big questions were: “Does God care? Is God fair? Is God there?”

People are still asking the same questions today. The book of Habakkuk traces the prophet’s journey from doubt to faith as he brings his complaints to God and finds satisfying answers to his questions.

The book begins with today’s passage in 1:1-11 where Habakkuk asks the first of his three questions: “Does God care?” (Read Habakkuk 1:1-11 and pray.)

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“Does God care?” That is a question that has haunted countless persons over the ages as they have grappled with the problem of evil in the world. “If God is all powerful, then why does he allow evil and suffering? Is God concerned about us? Does he notice all the troubles that take place on our planet? Does God care?” If you have ever asked questions similar to these, then you are not alone. Habakkuk struggled with these same questions and doubts, and he was a prophet!

Habakkuk 1:1 begins: “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received.” Habakkuk is one of only three prophets in the Old Testament who specifically identify themselves as prophets at the beginning of their books. The other two are Haggai and Zechariah. Habakkuk identifies himself as a prophet, and he identifies the book that follows as “the oracle that he received.”

An “oracle” is another word for prophecy. Habakkuk is saying from the very first verse that the message in this book is not a message of his own devising. Rather, it is prophecy. It is a message from the Lord.

There are several Hebrew words that can be translated “oracle” or “prophecy,” but this particular word also conveys the idea of a burden. It is used especially to describe prophecies that carry a warning or a rebuke for the hearers. It may also imply that bringing a prophecy of judgment upon a people was a burden for the prophet as well. It is never easy to be the bearer of bad news.

Habakkuk tells us that he “received” this oracle. The word translated “received” in this verse is a word that also means “to see or perceive something.” And so, it is possible that Habakkuk received this message as part of a vision. Either way, this points us back to God as the source of the message. The prophet Habakkuk was only the channel through whom God brought his word.

The apostle Peter says the same thing about Old Testament prophecy in the New Testament. He writes in the book of 2 Peter: “Above all you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-20)

And so, Habakkuk begins by presenting his message as a prophecy that comes straight from God. This is the oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received from the Lord.

Today we are looking at verses 1-11 which form the first section of this oracle. And this first section contains two parts. In verses 2-4 Habakkuk brings his complaint before the Lord. And in verses 5-11 God graciously answers Habakkuk’s complaint. And once again, if we were to sum up Habakkuk’s complaint in these verses, it all comes down to the single question, “Does God care?”

I. Why do we sometimes think that God does not care? (1:2-4)

So, let’s begin with Habakkuk’s complaint. Why do we sometimes think that God does not care?

   A. We pray but do not see God’s answer right away (2a)

One reason is when we pray but do not see God’s answer right away. Look at the beginning of verse 2. Habakkuk cried out to God: “How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2a) Apparently Habakkuk had been praying to God for quite some time, but he did not see any answer coming. He began to wonder if God was even listening.

Do you ever wonder if God is listening when you pray? Have you ever prayed for something, I mean really prayed, and then when the answer didn’t come, you questioned whether God even heard you at all? When God does not answer our prayers right away, we sometimes think that God does not care.

   B. We are in trouble and God does not deliver us right away (2b)

Another reason we sometimes think God does not care is when we are in trouble, and God does not deliver us right away. Look at the second half of verse 2 where Habakkuk continues his “how long” prayer: “How long, O LORD, must I … cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2b) The word translated “violence” here also carries the ideas of cruelty and injustice. It is not used of violence as in a violent sport but always of violence in a sinful context, where one person wrongfully does violence to another.

One of the most difficult things to deal with in life is when someone harms you intentionally and unjustly. A violent injustice is harder to handle than accidental injury or pain because there is the additional affront to your dignity. This was Habakkuk’s situation. And so, he cried out, “How long, Lord, how long?” You can hear the desperation and pain in his cry.

Have you ever prayed a “how long” prayer? “How long, O Lord, until I finally find a job? How long until I get better? How long until my marriage improves? How long until my loved ones come to Christ? How long until this burden is lifted from me?” We go through many troubles in this life. And when we are in trouble and God does not deliver us right away, we sometimes think that God does not care.

   C. We see the wicked triumphing over the righteous (3-4)

And then, another reason we sometimes think God does not care is when we see the wicked triumphing over the righteous. In the next two verses Habakkuk changes the question. He goes from asking God, “How long?” to asking God, “Why?” Look at verses 3-4 with me now: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:3-4)

Habakkuk was writing at a time when the people of Judah had almost completely abandoned their loyalty to God and God’s laws. Habakkuk was surrounded by violence, destruction, conflict and strife. He could not look to the leaders of the nation for help because the leaders were equally corrupt. The law was virtually paralyzed in this situation, and justice hardly, if ever, prevailed. The wicked not only outnumbered the righteous; they surrounded the righteous few – hemming them in, cutting them off, twisting and distorting things until justice was no longer recognizable. And so, Habakkuk cries out to the Lord: “Why? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Lord, don’t you care?”

Do you ever ask God the “why” questions? Do you ever wonder why God allows evil in the world? Do you ever wonder why people who have no concern for God and his laws seem to prosper and get ahead? Meanwhile, you are doing your best to serve God, and you feel like you are falling behind. And you begin to wonder if it is even worth it all. Does God really care? These are some of the same questions Habakkuk was struggling with at the beginning of his journey from doubt to faith.

II. How do we know God does care? (1:5-11)

So, how do we know God does care? What about when we pray, and we don’t see God’s answer right away? What about when we are in trouble, and God does not deliver us right away? What about when the wicked triumph over the righteous? I mean, in those situations it really could look like God doesn’t care.

But of course, looks can be deceiving. In verses 5-11 God responds to Habakkuk’s complaint. And in answering Habakkuk’s questions, God shows Habakkuk – and he shows us – that yes, he does notice; yes, he is concerned; yes, God does care.

   A. God assures us that he hears our every prayer (5)
      – 1 John 5:14-15 (Psalm 66:18; James 4:3)

So, how does God do this? First of all, God assures us that he hears our every prayer. Remember, Habakkuk wondered if God was listening to his prayers for justice, but God was listening all along. Look at verse 5 where God tells Habakkuk: “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5) Not only had God been listening, but God was also moving entire nations around in answer to Habakkuk’s prayers. God told Habakkuk, “You just watch and see how I am going to answer. You are going to be utterly amazed.”

Isn’t that just like God? While we are busy crying out “How long?” and wondering if he is even listening, God is already in the process of answering our prayers. And God often answers in the most amazing ways. If someone told us in advance how God was going to answer our prayers, we probably wouldn’t even believe it. God’s ways are higher than our ways; his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.

When we pray and God does not answer right away, we may sometimes think that God does not care. But God assures us that he hears our every prayer. 1 John 5 tells us: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15) God hears and answers us when we pray.

Does God answer every prayer? Well, there are a few conditions God lays out for us in his word. First, God says we must ask according to his will. We just read that in 1 John 5: “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) God says we must ask unselfishly. We read that in the book of James: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3) God also says we must come to him with a pure heart. We read in Psalm 66:18: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18) But when we come before God with a pure heart, with the right motives and asking according to his will, God promises to hear and answer our prayers. God assures us that he hears our every prayer. God cares.

   B. God promises us that he will deliver us in his time (6-11)
      – Psalm 34:19; Psalm 91:15; 1 Peter 5:10

And then, another way we know that God cares is because God promises us that he will deliver us in his time. This is the answer to Habakkuk’s “How long?” question: “How long must I wait?” God has his purposes, and we must learn to trust his timing. Look at verse 6 where God tells Habakkuk how he will deliver him. God says: “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.” (Habakkuk 1:6)

This was the “amazing” something that Habakkuk would not have believed even if told. While Habakkuk was busy crying out, “How long?” God was orchestrating the events of history so that the Babylonians would come to world dominance and finally bring an end to the violence and injustice in Judah. Habakkuk had to wait for God’s timing in all this, but God assured him that once the Babylonians came, the deliverance would be swift and sure.

Look at all the words relating to speed and quickness spread throughout verses 6-11. The Babylonians are “impetuous” – the Hebrew word means “to be hasty or in a hurry.” They “sweep” across the earth. Their horses are “swifter than leopards.” Their cavalry “gallops headlong.” They “fly” like an eagle or vulture. They “sweep past” like the wind.

When we are in trouble and God does not deliver us right away, we may sometimes think that God does not care. But God promises to deliver us in his time. Psalm 34:19 says: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:19) Psalm 91:15 says: “He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:15) And 1 Peter 5 reminds us that we need to look to God’s timing for our deliverance, not our own. We read in 1 Peter 5:10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10) God promises us that he will deliver us in his time. God cares.

   C. God affirms that he will judge all evil in the world (6-11)
      – Ecclesiastes 3:17; Romans 2:4-5; 2 Peter 3:9

And then a third way we know that God cares is because God affirms that he will judge all evil in the world. This is the answer to Habakkuk’s “Why?” question: “Why, Lord do you tolerate wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3) God’s answer to Habakkuk is basically this: “I do not tolerate wrong. In fact, I will judge all the wrongs in this world.” The nation of Judah was full of violence and injustice. Judah had turned away from God and his law, and now God would judge Judah for her sins. God was raising up the Babylonians for this very purpose.

In verses 6-11 God describes what the coming Babylonian invasion will be like. In verse 6 God calls the Babylonians “that ruthless and impetuous people.” The word “ruthless” means bitter. It speaks of the bitterness of the judgment to come. We have already seen that the word “impetuous” means “to be hasty or in a hurry.” God says they will “sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.” The word “dwelling place” in the Hebrew is the same word for “tabernacle.” The tabernacle was God’s dwelling place among the Israelites in the desert. Not only will the Babylonians take away the people of Judah’s homes, but they will also destroy the temple, God’s permanent dwelling place in Jerusalem which had replaced the tabernacle.

In verse 7 God says: “They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.” (Habakkuk 1:7) The Babylonians have no respect for law or justice, and they have no concern for anyone else. You cannot reason with them. You cannot negotiate with them. They are only concerned with their own honor. Thus, they are a feared and dreaded people.

Verse 8 describes the Babylonians in terms of swift and fierce predators: they are leopards renowned for their speed; they are evening wolves hungry and ready for the hunt; they are like a vulture swooping down to devour. The word for “vulture” here can also mean an eagle, which I think is probably the better choice – the picture of a great eagle swooping down on its prey.

Verses 9-10 picture the Babylonians as an unstoppable force: “They all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them.” Verse 11 says: “Then they sweep past like the wind and go on – guilty men, whose own strength is their god.” (Habakkuk 1:9-11)

Notice how the descriptions of the Babylonians correspond in many ways to the people of Judah. The people of Judah were full of violence. The Babylonians are described as ruthless and “all bent on violence.” The people of Judah distorted justice and undermined the law. Now they will be overcome by a people who are a law unto themselves.

Habakkuk asked God, “Why do you tolerate wrong?” God answered Habakkuk, “I don’t, and I won’t. The people of Judah will be judged for their sin.” When we see injustice in the world, when we see the wicked triumphing over the righteous, we sometimes think that God does not care. But God affirms that he will judge all evil in the world. Ecclesiastes 3:17 says that “God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.” (Ecclesiastes 3:17)

You might wonder why God waited so long to judge the people of Judah. We know from other books in the Old Testament that God did not judge the nation of Judah right away because he was giving them time to repent and to turn from their sins. The whole reason why he sent prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk was to warn them of the coming judgment in hopes that they would turn away from their sins.

In fact, if Judah had responded even to this prophecy from Habakkuk with genuine and sincere repentance, God may very well have withdrawn his hand of judgment. God in his mercy was giving them time to repent. But when Judah did not repent of her sins, God’s judgment finally came. And when it came, it came swiftly, severely and completely.

The same situation exists today. God in his mercy also gives you time to turn away from your sins and to come to Christ for salvation. 2 Peter 3:9 says this concerning Christ’s return and the final judgment: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

If you repent of your sins and come to Christ, you will be saved. But if you do not, God’s time of judgment will also come for you, just as it did for the people of Judah. That’s why the apostle Paul writes in Romans 2: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:4-5)

Make no mistake, God does care about sin and evil, and he affirms that he will judge all evil in the world.

CONCLUSION: Habakkuk struggled with unanswered prayers, with trials and troubles in life, and with the problem of evil. This caused him to doubt, and he began to question: “Does God really care?” God answered Habakkuk’s question with an overwhelming “Yes!” He showed Habakkuk that he hears our prayers, that he delivers us from our troubles in his time, and that he will judge all evil in the world.

Perhaps you have been struggling with doubts just like Habakkuk. Perhaps you have been wondering, “What am I supposed to do with all my questions and doubts?”

I believe Habakkuk presents a good example for us in this regard. Too often when we are struggling with doubts in life, we walk away from God. But Habakkuk did just the opposite. He came to God with all of his questions and doubts. And God answered him. It may not have been the answer he was looking for. In fact, God’s answer actually prompted a whole new set of questions for Habakkuk which we will look at next week.

But the important thing is that Habakkuk kept coming back to God. And I believe that is the key when you have questions. Bring your doubts and your questions to God. Come to Jesus in faith believing. Because God listens. God notices. God cares.

© Ray Fowler

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