Ruined

Habakkuk believed that God would do what he said he was going to, and, therefore, Habakkuk knew that his life was about to be ruined. God had said the Chaldeans would come and completely destroy the nation of Judah. He also said everyone would be killed except for a small portion of the population that would be taken into captivity and would become slaves of the king of Babylon. Given what he knew, Habakkuk prayed, “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid. O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2).

Somehow, Habakkuk knew that God could show his people love in the midst of their punishment. He asked that God would revive his work and make himself known to his people while they were in captivity in Babylon. Habakkuk was most likely referring to God’s work of salvation. One of the key components to God’s plan was that the Messiah had to be a descendant of king David. In order for God to accomplish this, he had to preserve the royal blood line. Habakkuk didn’t know what would happen to him or his family when his country was invaded, but he believed that his salvation was assured and that was enough for him to trust God with the outcome of his situation.

Habakkuk declared, “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundest the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah” (Habakkuk 3:13). Habakkuk was able to see there was more at stake than the occupation of the Promised Land by God’s people. Where they lived was not as important as the fact that the Israelites remained alive until God’s plan of salvation was completed. Habakkuk understood that God was preserving, as well as punishing, his chosen people by sending them into captivity.

Habakkuk’s concluding statement of faith showed that he was able to trust in God’s providence regardless of his circumstances. His anticipation of what was to come, caused Habakkuk to set his mind ahead of time that he would survive against all odds. Habakkuk confidently stated, “The LORD is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Although Habakkuk’s fate is unknown, it is possible he escaped Jerusalem before it was invaded and became a member of the first wave of what has been described as the dispersion of the Jews. He may have set out for a far off land, leaving behind his prophetic writing as a testament to his belief that God would protect and preserve those of his people who truly put their trust in him.

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The vision

The vision Habakkuk received of the punishment that would come to the people of Judah by the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 1:5-10) was so distressful that Habakkuk couldn’t comprehend that God would actually carry out such a plan against his own people. Habakkuk questioned God’s motives and asked, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13). Habakkuk didn’t understand how a God that couldn’t stand to see his people sin could tolerate such an injustice as was described to him.

The vision Habakkuk received was intended to be a final warning to any who would be willing to put their trust in God before it was too late. It says in Habakkuk 2:3-4, “And the LORD answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it, for the vision is yet for the appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie. Though it tarry, wait for it’  because it will surely come; it will not tarry.” God’s  instruction to make the vision plain meant that it should be obvious to everyone that it was definitely going to happen. It was not a matter of if, but when the end would come to the nation of Judah.

The end that the LORD was referring to was not just an end to the political and religious structure that kept the nation of Judah functioning, but an end to the Old Covenant that promised salvation through the keeping of the Mosaic Law. Habakkuk was given an advance presentation of the New Covenant when he was told, “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him, but the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Many in Jerusalem at the time of its destruction thought they would be saved, but God told Habakkuk only those who had faith, believed that God would do what he said he would (530), would remain alive and be taken into captivity.

In contrast to the promise that the just would live by their faith, Habakkuk was told that the unrighteous or nonbelievers would suffer a terrible death and eternal punishment (Habakkuk 2:5). Five woes were pronounced, similar to those recorded in Isaiah 5:8-23. In the New Testament, Matthew addressed the religious leaders who were referred to as “scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 23:13) and pronounced woes upon them. Matthew labeled these teachers of the law as hypocrites, men who acted as if they believed in God, but in actuality they were depending on their knowledge of God’s rules and regulations to condemn others instead of examining their own hearts to see if they were guilty of any sin.

Uncircumcised heart

Jeremiah’s assessment of the situation in Judah revealed that the people were not following God’s commandments because they didn’t really know the LORD, they didn’t have a relationship with him (Jeremiah 9:3). Beginning with Abraham, God had made it clear that faith was the only way to enter into a relationship with him. Abraham believed in the LORD and God counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

God’s people thought the most important things in life were for them to be wise, powerful, and rich (Jeremiah 9:23). They wanted material success rather than a godly life. They didn’t realize that having a relationship with God was the only way for them to be truly happy. God had to explain to them that his way of life was the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. He said:

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

One of the ways Jeremiah described being committed to the LORD was to have a circumcised heart. He told the people of Judah to “circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). Taking away the foreskin was symbolic of being stripped or to go naked (6188). In reference to the heart, it meant you would bare your soul or confess all your sins to God.

The LORD warned his people of a day when the entire world would be punished for sin. Previously, the Israelites expected God to pardon all their sins and establish an eternal kingdom for them in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:13). Because of their unfaithfulness, God would only pardon those of his chosen people who repented of their sins and received salvation through Jesus Christ. He said, “Behold the day cometh, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart” (Jeremiah 9:25-26).

Born again

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse established the fact that Jesus was both distinct from God the father, and was God in the fullest sense of who God is. Therefore, when Jesus spoke during his ministry on earth, he was not speaking for God, but as God.

In Isaiah 55:11, it was made clear that God would speak for himself at some point in the future, instead of through a prophet. He said, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” In the same way that God spoke the physical world into existence, so he intended to speak a spiritual world into existence through the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The difference between God’s original work of creation and his work of salvation through Jesus was the eternal durability of the human heart. Whereas the heart of man was originally able to be broken and filled with sin, Jesus made it possible for man’s heart to be regenerated, to be born again (Titus 3:5). Isaiah declared of God, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).

The Hebrew word translated revive in Isaiah 57:15 is chayah (khaw – yaw´). This word means “to bring to life” or “to cause to live” (2421). In this instance, God was referring to causing someone to live again in both a physical and spiritual sense. When Jesus told the man Nicodemus he must be born again, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:4-5).

The key to understanding Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ question is the word and. Jesus said that a man must be born of water and of the Spirit. Water spoke of the natural birth, coming out of a mother’s womb, and the Spirit referred to the spiritual birth that took place when a person believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Only God could see the result, but Jesus assured Nicodemus that if he believed, Nicodemus would receive eternal life (John 3:16).

Believing

Believing is more than an acknowledgement that something is true. When we believe something, we act on it. Our behavior makes what we believe evident to others. Originally, the kings of Israel were meant to be role models. Their personal relationship with God was a living testimony to the truth of God’s promises. The prophets of Israel were mouthpieces of God, designed to keep Israel’s kings in check, but false prophets undermined the people’s trust and caused Israel to veer off course. By the time Isaiah came on the scene, the role of a prophet was merely to communicate God’s will and pronounce judgment.

Israel’s Messiah was a prophet as well as their king. It was important for these two roles to be combined so that the people could see the alignment between words and actions. In essence, what Jesus did was speak the word of God and simultaneously act it out. His words and behavior were completely consistent. Although we don’t think of Jesus as a believer, he was a true believer in every sense of the word. What Jesus demonstrated was perfect obedience to the will of God at the cost of his own life.

Isaiah described Israel’s Messiah as a servant, one who was called by God, subject to the will and command of his master (5650). In his description of the Messiah’s calling, Isaiah proclaimed, “The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name, and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:1-3). As an instrument of death, the Messiah was destined to convict the world of its sin. Not only would he cause Israel to repent, but the Messiah would also make it possible for the Gentiles to be saved (Isaiah 49:6).

As God’s chosen people, the Israelites had an advantage over the rest of the world. Through their birthright, they were guaranteed salvation. The main purpose of God’s work was to bring the Israelites to the point of believing. Isaiah provided a clear picture of the Messiah’s obedience in order to convince God’s people that their Savior had come. Approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:5-7).

At the core of Israel’s believing was the issue of death and eternal life. Jesus willingly went to the cross because he believed God would raise him from the dead (Matthew 17:23). Repeatedly, God delivered Israel from her enemies in the Promised Land, but salvation was ultimately about defeating death itself. Isaiah exclaimed, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6).

Isaiah likened death to being a prisoner and living in darkness (Isaiah 42:7, 49:9). In contrast, Isaiah portrayed life after death as waking up from sleep. He stated, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city…shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:1-2). The Messiah’s resurrection from the dead was more than just a restoration of life. The transformation that occurred during Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural changing from one life form to another. He was no longer a mortal being, but the immortal Son of God.

God’s message of salvation was in many ways news that was too good to be true. Regarding the Messiah, Isaiah asked, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). The Hebrew word translated believed, aman is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says of Abraham, “he believed in the LORD.” “The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God…It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God himself…In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than in impersonal relationship with his promises” (539). Isaiah referred to believing as having a personal relationship to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah predicted the rejection of Israel’s Messiah and made it clear that Jesus would suffer because of Israel’s unbelief. Isaiah declared:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid  on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)

In exchange for giving up his life, the Messiah would be rewarded by God with the spoils of his victory. Isaiah foretold of Jesus, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Although the nation of Israel as a whole rejected its Messiah, there were some who believed in Jesus. Isaiah described those who would believe and receive salvation as a wife of youth, and said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy redeemer” (Isaiah 54:6-7).

Similarities between the Messiah and his followers were noted by Isaiah in his use of the same Hebrew word to designate the servant and servants of the LORD. True believers would be expected to submit themselves to the will of God as the Messiah did. To those who responded in faith, God promised, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). Essentially, the believer was guaranteed entrance into heaven where he would be united with other believers and receive eternal blessings from God (Isaiah 54:11-17).

Isaiah’s great invitation of salvation had two characteristics that made it difficult to resist. First, salvation was free of cost. Isaiah stated, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Second, salvation was obtained by merely paying attention to what God said. Isaiah declared, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). The type of hearing Isaiah referred to involved not only the ears, but also the heart (8085). God wanted his people to listen to him using spiritual discernment.

According to Isaiah, the key to believing was an understanding of the ways of God. As much as God had done to develop a relationship with the people of Israel, his effort was fruitless because they couldn’t comprehend his loving nature. Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In order to close the gap, God would himself become the messenger and for the first time since the garden of Eden, he would speak face to face with his children. John the apostle stated it this way. “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

A sure foundation

One of the reasons God sent the nation of Israel into captivity was to get rid of all the people that didn’t believe in him. Captivity was a type of refining process that enabled God to work with only those who wanted to be a part of his kingdom. Particularly in the northern kingdom of Israel, there were many people that wanted nothing to do with God. Event the priests and prophets were willing to lie in order to lead the people away from God rather than to him.

Focusing on the time period when the Messiah’s kingdom would be established, Isaiah stated, “In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty unto the residue of his people” (Isaiah 28:5). We know this time period has not yet taken place because Jesus was rejected and killed by the people of Israel and his followers were scattered throughout the world after his death. The reason being, the Jews didn’t understand God’s plan of salvation included everyone.

God had revealed his plan, but his people misunderstood and rejected his messages. Isaiah explained the situation as though his people perceived God’s word to be childish nonsense. “But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little, that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken” (Isaiah 28:13).

A clue that Christ’s arrival on earth would not immediately clarify God’s intentions and initiate his reign was the declaration that a foundation must first be laid before God’s kingdom could be erected. Isaiah declared, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation. He that believeth shall not make haste” (Isaiah 28:16).

The sure foundation Isaiah referred to was the process of salvation, which is now known as being born again. Whereas God’s people were originally determined by birth, according to the Lord, the Messiah’s kingdom would be determined by a deliverance from death. “And your covenant with death shall be annulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand” (Isaiah 28:18).

In his effort to cleanse the world of sin, God planned to show everyone it was possible to change the course of one’s life. The key to change was believing. Unfortunately, the majority of the Israelites didn’t believe and missed their opportunity to be saved. “Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth (Isaiah 28:22).

A sign

Isaiah’s first assignment was to speak to a king of Judah named Ahaz who did not believe in God. The nation of Judah was about to be invaded by a coalition of armies formed to oust king Ahaz and replace him with a puppet king referred to as “the son of Tabeal” (Isaiah 7:6). When Isaiah meets up with king Ahaz, he was checking his water supply to see if he could survive a long siege. It says of king Ahaz in Isaiah 7:2, “And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.”

The Hebrew word translated moved, nûwa‘ (noo´ – ah) means to waver. The king of Judah and his people were shaken up because during king Uzziah’s 52 year reign they had gained strength and were enjoying prosperity similar to the days of David and Solomon. It seemed unlikely they would need to defend themselves, but the threats made against them were real enough that king Ahaz thought it necessary to check his water supply. As Isaiah approached “the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” he was instructed to tell king Ahaz to “take heed, and be quiet” (Isaiah 7:3-4).

Essentially, Isaiah was telling king Ahaz to take it easy and pay attention to what he was about to say. Isaiah had a message of comfort and encouragement to share with king Ahaz, but he wasn’t sure how his message would be received. King Ahaz was only 20 years old and likely had little or no military experience. His grandfather king Uzziah had only been dead about five years, and his father Jotham had done little to maintain Judah’s military strength.

After Isaiah told king Ahaz the plan to overthrow him would  fail, he said to the king, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (Isaiah 7:9). What Isaiah told king Ahaz was he needed to exercise his faith. More specifically, Ahaz needed to ask God for help and rely on God’s faithfulness, rather than trusting in his army to deliver him. Isaiah told Ahaz, “Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD” (Isaiah 7:11-12). Ahaz refused to give the LORD a chance to prove himself and earn Ahaz’s trust.

Following Ahaz’s rejection of God’s invitation to put him to the test, Isaiah delivered his first gospel message. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah went on to say that judgment was ahead and God would use the king of Assyria to devastate his people and ruin their land.

The sign God intended to give his people, a Messiah, indicated he did not want his people to be destroyed, but saved from their sins. In spite of his many attempts to win their favor, the people of Israel and Judah refused to put their faith in the LORD. In a message that was to be sealed up and kept as a testimony against Israel, Isaiah stated:

For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A  confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself: and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.