Lessons from the Prophet Habakkuk

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I was sinking fast; death was only a few moments away. The water perilously engulfed me. Unable to swim, I continued to sink further and further underwater to my apparent watery grave.  If it were not for my father’s heroics, I would have died that day so many years ago. Dad’s timing was perfect. There are times in our lives when we feel completely overwhelmed as if we were drowning.  My story is a true story of a near-death experience, too many of us face our own problems.  We are drowning and suffocating in our individual watery grave.  What do we do when life is unfair and uncertain?  How do Christians navigate the political waters we are drowning in?  What do we do when God seems distant and weak? Where is God? Why are we hurting so much? Why isn’t He doing anything?

The Prophet Habakkuk had many of these same questions.  He was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom of Judah between 609-605 BC.  King Josiah was dead.  Judah was in the grips of a pagan world power, Babylon, led by King Nebuchadnezzar. Why would God allow a pagan power to overpower His people?  Why isn’t God answering the prayers of His people?  What should the people of God do during such a turbulent time? God’s answer to Habakkuk is needed today.  God is actively at work; have faith in God no matter the circumstances.

In chapter one, you hear Habakkuk’s complaint. ‘How long, Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen or cry out to you about violence, and you do not save? Why do you force me to look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates” (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

You can hear and feel Habakkuk’s frustration, pain, and anger in verse 13:

‘How long, Lord , must I call for help and you do not listen or cry out to you about violence and you do not save? Why do you force me to look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do you tolerate those who are treacherous? Why are you silent while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself? ‘

Can you feel Habakkuk’s heart?  Why doesn’t God do anything?  How can He allow the pagans to have such freedom and live in such evil?  Why won’t He judge them? Have you ever been at that place of helplessness?  Are you there now? Do you have a complaint to make to God?

In mercy, God responds to Habakkuk.  It was not the answer Habakkuk expected nor hoped.  God reminded him that He was in complete control; He was using the pagan power to achieve God’s plan.  Make no mistake, God is able and He is faithful. At the end of the short book comes one of the truly great faith statements we find in the entirety of Scripture.

‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord , I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.’ (3:17-19)

Don’t give up. God’s timing is perfect. In your moments of fear, doubt, and feelings of abandonment and overwhelming emotion, here are a few anchor points for your soul:

  1. God knows what you are going through.
  2. God cares.
  3. God is in complete control.
  4. God’s perspective is eternal.
  5. Therefore, live by faith (2:4b)

Carry on with life!  Press into Jesus and walk in unity of the Spirit. God is for you.

Why does “Amen” matter?

Why all the uproar over a prayer at Congress?  To open the 117th Congress, practicing Methodist Preacher and Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver ended his prayer with “amen and a-women.”  The Twitter world was set ablaze with proper criticism, anger, and bewilderment.  Honestly, my first thought was, “The stupidity of the liberals never ceases to amaze me.”  For a couple of days, I’ve been watching the reaction of people on social media. Honestly, Heidi and I have been amused at some of the memes of “amen and a-woman.” However, is our reaction to this offensive prayer doing any good?  What if God has given us this as an opportunity to teach people why Christians were so offended.

The word “amen” is a Semitic word meaning “truth.”  It means “to be true, let it be granted, or confirmed.” It is the Hebrew word, אָמֵ֔ן, a-men.  It is derived from the Hebrew root ‘mn meaning “to prove to be firm.”  “Amen” can be used in a few ways.  First, “Amen” is used as a solemn formula to confirm a covenant or oath.  In Deuteronomy 27:15-26, you can see the people affirming the law with a commitment of “Amen” or let it be.

In Isaiah 65:16, you see another way the Hebrew word is used.  In this passage, the Hebrew word is used twice as a noun to describe God.  Twice God is called the “God of truth.”  He is the “God of the ‘amen.’” Finally, in the Old Testament, you will find “Amen” as a response to prayer or used in ancient Israel’s corporate worship.  In Psalm 89:52, you read, “Blessed be the Lord forever, Amen and Amen.”  In other words, “Blessed be the Lord forever, let it be, or it is so.  The word is an agreement to the truth of the prayer or statement. The “Amen” acknowledges the validity of a word spoken. It’s as if we are saying, “I agree,” or “this is true.” 

In the New Testament, the Greek word is a transliteration of the Hebrew word, “Amen.”  Again, the word is used in various ways.  For instance, in Revelation 3:14, it is used as a title for Jesus Christ.  Also, in the New Testament, Paul will often use “amen” after a doxology (see Romans 1:25; 9:5; 11:36; 15:33, 16:27; Philippians 4:20, Ephesians 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:17 and 6:16 as examples).  Again, at the end of a doxology, we are acknowledging the validity of the word spoken.  As a Christian, it is a way we affirm the basis of our praise, adoration, and belief in God. 

One of the interesting ways it is used in the New Testament is by Jesus.  There are times in the Gospels Jesus is driving a point home to His listeners, and he will use the phrase, “Verily, verily.”  In modern translations, He says, “Truly.”  For instance, in John 3:3, He says, “Truly, I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  The word “Truly” is the word “Amen.”  In other words, Jesus is saying, “Amen, I tell you …”  In Greek, He uses the word “amen” twice as, “Amen Amen, I tell you…”  That is why the King James Version uses the phrase “Verily, verily.”  The words chosen by Jesus gives His statement authority.  It is analogous to the Old Testament messenger formula of “Thus says the Lord.” 

Why do we care so much?  Why are Christians offended by Cleaver’s use of “amen and a-woman.”  For the Christians, “amen” is a word of worship and praise.  When we utter the phrase at the end of a prayer, we acknowledge our dependence and reliance upon God.  We affirm His provisional care in our lives and are praising the character and nature of God and Jesus Christ.  In faith, we say “amen” believing God can do all that is needed for us.  It is important to note, “amen” has absolutely no gender connotation to it at all.  It is a word of faith and praise to our God.

By the way, Cleaver’s closing words were not the only offensive words. His last sentence was, “We ask it in the name of the monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many different faiths.”  It is my prayer you understand why his entire sentence is so offensive. We pray to the one true God, and Yahweh is His name. Amen and amen. If someone asks you why the uproar, try telling them how important the word “amen’ is to us. God may be using this as a teaching moment.