Session 37: Habakkuk and Zephaniah
"See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright- but the righteous person will live by his aithfulness." Habakkuk 2:4
Key verses: Habakkuk 2:4, 3:2, 17-19; Zephaniah 1:14; 2:3; 3:15-17
Key personalities: Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Manasseh, Amon and Josiah
Timeline: 730 B.C.- 605 B.C. The period: 2 Chronicles.
Zephaniah and Habakkuk, contemporaries of Nahum, Micah and Jeramiah, who preached the faith and pleaded with the kings and people in the seventh and sixth century B.C. to repent to fall and lose everything to Babylon. They preached to the people and challenged the evil kings of their day, i.e. like Manasseh, 687-642, and Amon, 642-640, and Josiah, 640-608 B.C. and finally, Jehoahaz, who reigned 3 months, and he was taken prisoner to Egypt by Pharaoh Neco. 608 B.C.
The Book of Habakkuk can be called 'a dialogue with God.' It takes place while Babylon is attacking Jerusalem. It is about discovering faith in the midst of God's justice. This about knowing how to trust Him when terrible things happen that we do not understand. Habakkuk gives us a different type of prophecy from the other writings; this is given to us in the form of Habakkuk wresting with God in a passionate discourse of complaints and questions of a man in confusion and distress and God's reply to Him (and us). It ends in a musical tone. God answers the pleas with affirmation, thus Habakkuk enters into a deeper faith that enables him to have confidence in God's plan when life does not make sense, and he learns to trust in God with worship, praise and contentment.
The Book of Zephaniah is about the Day of the Lord, when judgment comes as God also offers salvation and hope. This is a brief yet comprehensive book, pointing out two essential themes of prophetic teaching--God's righteous judgment, and God's offer of salvation and hope that extends to all nations. Zephaniah knows of Israel's failures and witnesses the current invasion because of God's judgment. Thus, he passionately urges the people to repent or doom and gloom will result. He also reassures them that God has not forsaken them; He still dwells in their midst and will be there following repentance.
Key Happening: Growing through the Crises of Faith
Habakkuk was a Prophet of God and perhaps a temple priest in charge of worship, who comes to us as highly educated man and as a writer with extreme passion in an elegant poetic and musical form. He ministered during the time of Jeremiah, and overlapped to the start of Daniel and Ezekiel. This was during Judah's great tribulation when they were being invaded by Babylon (and soon will be taken into captivity for 70 years). This was a time of God's judgments because of God's children continued in sin and wickedness and God's resulting sorrow. Habakkuk, with respect and reverence, was frustrated and cried out "Why?!" We can identify with him because he asked God the same questions we may ask, like "Why?" "How long, will this be God?" Why do you not listen when you people cry out for help?" But, he does not stop where many of us do, wallowing in frustration and anger. Habakkuk has confidence that God knows what He is doing and thus developed a deep and unwavering loving trust in God. Thus, his faith grew deeper, even though he did not understand what was going on (Psalm 62:2; Habakkuk 1:2-4).
Habakkuk is about what to do during a crisis of faith--something we all face at some point-and about where our experience and expectations converge, yet do not meet. Usually, these occur when we venture beyond our comfort zone into His service, and we find that our circumstances are challenging our faith. We will wonder if our lives have been meaningless. Did I do the right thing? How come, even though I have been faithful, have I experienced such suffering and disappointment? This is what the book of Habakkuk is all about. Habakkuk starts out complaining to God. God reveals Himself; Habakkuk repents, and ends by worshiping God, even though his circumstances did not change. His perspective and outlook changed (Isaiah 35:4-6; 50:10; Matt. 11: 1-19; Phil. 4:19)!
Habakkuk presents us with a model of real living faith. When a crisis comes, know and trust in God's attributes! Get into His Word and allow it to give you assurance and peace. Allow God to refresh you and give you strength; He will come and save you. Turning back in defeat, distrust, or disillusionment is no real answer. Realize that your faith needs to be challenged so it can grow, and glow. Because believing something does not mean you live it. Faith must be real and invoke a response from within you. It cannot be just academic, real faith will produce our actions, but our actions will demonstrate our faith (Duet. 6:4; Hab. 1:12; 3:2-12; Matt. 12: 22-37; Mark 12:29; Eph. 3:20; Heb. 13:5-6)!
Faith is based on knowledge given by God. Faith is not just simple trust; faith is not blind trust either, because we know the One who is leading. Our faith is based on historical evidence, logical reasoning, and valid testimonies. Our lives must be dictated and expressed by what Christ has done for us. Yet, real faith is still trusting what is not seen and believing our God (Rom. 1:16-32; 5:1-11; 10:14-17; Gal. 3:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; James 2:14-26)!
We did not earn our faith; hence, grace is the ultimate free gift. We cannot earn our faith or salvation; this is why we need Christ as savior and Lord! Every aspect of faith is built on faith, and nothing else. This is the cornerstone of the Gospel. This means we are to trust God and His promises and provision. In Habakkuk, those who survive the Judgment do so because of their faith in God. Faith in the O.T. meant to pledge one's life on the assertions that God gives (Jos. 24:15; Hab. 2:4).
Zephaniah ministered also during the time of Jeremiah, Nahum and Micah, while Judah gets conquered. He was the only Prophet of royal lineage as a descendant of Hezekiah, and he is a royal advisor and thus has the ear of the kings. Perhaps, he had a role in Manasseh, and Josiah's reforms. He passionately warns the people, both Judah and the nearby races, of Judgment and reminds them of their sins. He reminds that this is how Isreal fell to the Assyrians and that Judah will follow unless repentance is given. Yet, his audience did not believe it could happen to them. His theme is the Day of the Lord and gave hope that God's salvation can still be had, if they seek God, then they will be restored as a nation. There is always hope when we trust in the Lord (Col. 3:3-4).
Day of the Lord. Meaning: Judgment. God is a God who gives us grace, comfort, and rest, yet is also a God of judgment. All too often we forget His holiness, righteousness, and right to judge. We forget that we are responsible for our actions and think, "This can't happen to me". We just go on with our meager lives without any forethought of the consequences or opportunities. Yes, for us Christians, our God is a God of Grace. How wonderful and comforting to be able to allow Him to be our haven of rest, our comfort. Yet, we cannot allow ourselves to neglect His full magnitude and character. We need to be willing and able to wait and rest in Him, His plan, and in His ways, not ours. Even in times when we suffer stress and confusion, even when we fail, He is there, holding us, loving us, and giving us His rest and grace beyond what we can fathom. When we surrender our yoke--that is, our will and plans--over to His perfect rest, how splendid a Christian walk we will have; what an impact we can be (Joel 1:15; Zeph. 1:14-15; 2:3; Matt. 11:20-30!
- Judgment is when God will overthrow every resistance of evil (Isa. 2:11-20; 13:9-13; Joel 1:15; 3:14-21; Amos 5:18-20; Luke 1:68; 1 Cor. 6:2-3; Matt. 25:31-46; 1 Thess. 2:1-3; 5:2; 2 Peter 3:9-11).
- Judgments were also against the kings and rulers who were evil and corrupt, especially those who claimed they were good (Isa. 5:14; 14:14-15; Jubilees 24:31, Jewish apocryphal book).
- Zephaniah and Habakkuk were not alone as all the minor and major Prophets converged, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel called for judgment numerous times upon evil cities and their people who had fallen away, who refused to acknowledge God and His sovereignty, protection, and plan. Like many people today, the people in the Prophets' time chose to seek false gods, chose to depend upon themselves, and they suffered and died rather than acknowledging God as Lord! Has anything changed since Christ came? Only that we now have our Haven of Rest!
- Judgment for us today means that we all are responsible to God, according to the election and Grace that we receive or reject (Matt 3:11-12; 24:29, 35; Luke 12:17 ff.; John 5:22; Rom. 2:12-16).
- The judgment will bring the deeds of darkness to the Light (Isa. 29:15; 45:16-17).
- Judgment is a part of the liberation of Christians who trust and obey God (Luke 18:1-8; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; Rev. 6:10).
- Even in the these dire times of sin, God is patient--as in long-suffering--in exercising judgment so that people may have the time and the chance to come to faith and repentance (Luke 13:6-9; Rom. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
The Prophets are each giving us the same message in different ways.
The Prophets are giving us a subpoena from God that we have committed a crime, which is spiritual adultery. The Hebrews flat out rejected His truth, His priests, His prophets, and everything else that was godly. Zephaniah and Habakkuk did not just give a "pep talk," but rather they told of a walk with God the Father to go behind the woodshed for a beating they deserved. The Hebrews forgot truth, mercy, and love. Instead, they used the waste created; the waste was used as their spiritual food. "My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge"--not because of a lack of food or military might, but because they forgot God and failed to follow His decrees.
They forgot to be the light to the world, they forgot who they were in God and what He did for them. Therefore, God asked these Prophets to live it out, preach it out and be the illustrated the example to show Israel Who is God and how God would retaliate using the same behaviors against them as they used to God and others. Also, in the midst of chastisement, is hope; the basic theme is loving mercy. Even in Israel's extreme disobedience, God remains hopeful and still operates to His problem children in Love! God rejects the people for their sins and remains hopeful (this type of hope does not negate God's sovereignty) they will come back to Him. He even states that they will come back to Him (Rom. 13:8-10; Rev. 14:6-13; Hos. 4: 1-19).
Key Takeaway: Without faith we are nothing. Habakkuk is the nuts and bolts of where, in one sentence, faith sums up the Gospel of Romans, the life of Paul--that a faith lived out is not to be a theory, but that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation that has transformed us, and shows the only way of justification! Paul was totally surrendered and poured out to God with gratitude and indebtedness that infused and permeated all that he was and did. Our faith and trust in Christ must infuse us also so that all we do is a reflection of Christ working in us! If not, all we have is a religion and a philosophy--not righteousness and impacting faith. As Christians, we are to live out our faith with passion and conviction, not being ashamed of who we are in Christ (Rom. 1:16-17).
Zephaniah and Habakkuk also show us that we are to stand firm in our faith and do the mission Christ has called, even if no none else does. There will be times when you will go through stress and confusion in your Christian walk; you will get pushed back. You may not see a way to get yourself out of it, and you may even feel hopeless. You need to realize that God is in control, and this confusion is temporary. He may be taking you through this journey so your eyes can be more on Him and less on yourself.
The foreshadow of Jesus Christ? Paul uses Habakkuk 2:4, 14 for the foundation to Romans that showcases the reason and purpose of faith. If you accepted Christ, then you will live it out--a surrendered trust in Christ that creates a living faith (the same faith that caused Martin Luther to examine his faith and ignited the Reformation (Rom. 1:16-17; Gal 3:10-11). Zephaniah points to how Jesus protects us from God's just wrath and that Christ will be the ultimate King (Zep. 3:15-17; Col. 3:3-4).
Questions to Ponder
- If you could have a direct a dialogue with God, what would you say?
- How does Habakkuk model what you think and feel at times?
- Have you ever felt frustrated that God seems slow in answering your prayers and dealing with people suffering.
- Have you ever been warned of a disastrous end if you did not do something? Were you resistant?
- Why was God seemingly allowing evil to go unpunished?
- What can you do to make sure your Faith is real? What would invoke a response from within you?
- How do you feel that God promises are not always when and what you may have hoped for?
- What gets in your way to learn to trust in God with worship, praise and contentment?
- What do you need to do to have more confidence in God's plan even when you do not understand it?
- If you feel your prayers don't seem to be heard or responded to, what should you do?
- We will all experience crises of faith at some point. So, what do you need to do to prepare your mind, will, and faith to expect and accept whatever comes, then turn it into a learning and faith-building experience?
- What should we do during times when we do not understand God's timing or plan?
© 2014 R. J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org