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A View from the Altar / A full earth
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A full earth

No big secret here: the minor prophets are pretty heavy on death and judgment, gloom and doom.  Habakkuk follows the pattern by foretelling the Chaldean invasion and detailing the calamities of war.  The Chaldeans are bitter and hasty, coming for violence, filling up the land, and Israel will be taken prisoner by the ten-thousands captive and enslaved.  All bad news for Israel.

In the second movement of his vision, Habakkuk directs his criticism against the Chaldeans.  He calls them drunkards, invaders, covetous, insatiable, thieves, spoilers, bloody, idolaters, uncircumcised, vomiting drunkards, contagious drunkards, and pronounces woe upon those who build their houses with blood.  All bad news for the Chaldeans.

Americans are blessed in that we’ve not had a big war on our soil since 1865.  If you want to know just how blessed we are, read the accounts of the past few wars here and there — Serbia, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan.  They had massacres, traitors, rape hotels, pointless slaughters, atrocities, snipers who shot children while their mothers  scavenged for a few meager groceries.  Or spend a few minutes at Google images and imagine this candid shot of Grozny as your neighborhood, your place of business, your parent’s home.  Wars in 800 B.C. were just as destructive.  The only difference was that the invaders had to do it all by hand.  But they did it just the same.

Habakkuk doesn’t somehow insulate himself from what’s coming.  But he does say a curious thing in the middle of all the dark prophecy:  The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.  (Hab 2:14)

The surface application of his statement is that the judgment of God upon Israel comes in the form of the Chaldeans, and they will flood Israel with wrath.  Judgment begins first at the house of God and with his people (1 Pe 4:17). Even though this is the application that’s sitting right there on top, I think most preachers tend to miss it.  The verse is lifted from its context and quoted to the people as the great hope of the end times without any reference to the surrounding view of Jerusalem being plowed like a field as Micah said.  First great lesson: If you number yourself among the people of God, don’t forget to fear him.  His name is dreadful among the heathen (Mal 1:14), so there’s a serious denial of reality at work if his name is treated casually among the Christians.

The secondary application of Habakkuk’s statement is its eschatological view.  The Chaldeans were evil, and he will judge them with everlasting fire, for there is no respect of persons with God.  So there is coming a day when the Light of the World will split the sky and descend from heaven with a shout, and with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God.  He will overthrow the wicked and cast Satan into the abyss.  He will establish righteousness throughout the earth.  He will make all things new, and the saints of God will join with the angels in a shout of praise that will rattle the foundations of the world.  Grozny will look like Eden, so will Baghdad and Port au Prince, and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of his glory like the waters cover the sea.

But between this day and that one, we have to live in this world with the Chaldeans looking on.  When God’s people are holy and following the Lord, he is their shield and no weapon formed against them can prosper (Isa 54:1).  But when God’s people leave his presence and settle their dwellings closer to Babylon than to Jerusalem, it is no great surprise if the children of the flesh persecute the children of promise. (Gal 4:29)  It’s always been this way and won’t change in our time.

Habakkuk’s prophecy is not written as a threat.  I do believe the Gospel that there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ.  Our judgment was poured out upon the Lord Jesus once and for all at Calvary (Heb 10:10).  He won’t repeat that judgment, nor is the glory of the cross amped up with a few more rounds of human misery.

But Habakkuk’s prophecy is a reality check.  Sin has consequences down here on earth.  We do tend to reap what we’ve sown.  (Gal 6:7)  If we sell our strength by getting comfortable with evil, we’ll end up weak enough that the enemy will take advantage.  And as Paul asks in Romans 3:9, “Are we better than they?”

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