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How Long, Oh, Lord?

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)


DavidJohnson  The title for our lesson is, “How Long, Oh Lord?” That is a phrase that is common to us today, isn’t it? For example: How long, oh Lord, am I going to have to deal with this pain? Or: How long, oh Lord, is my loved one going to suffer? How long, oh Lord, do I have to wait?

Habakkuk, one of the Hebrew prophets in the Old Testament, wrote these words in his prophecy. It was Habakkuk’s oracle or burden or pronouncement that included this age old complaint, how long, oh Lord? How long, oh Lord, will evil go unpunished? How long, oh Lord, before you answer my prayers? Because, you see, Habakkuk was horrified at God’s seemingly long delay to chasten the socially and spiritually corrupt and apostate Judah, God’s own covenant people, This was Judah about 600 years before Christ. Habakkuk was concerned that God was not going to punish and chasten his own people because of all of the apostasy and immorality and idolatry that was across the kingdom.
We are going to make application also to today in the Church. Does that sound familiar to the churches, to our thinking regarding our society, regarding our nation, regarding this world in which we live in the 21st century? How long, oh Lord, will this world, as it is, go on? Because, you see, none of this is new.

One of the major differences today in America is that we live in a 24/7 news cycle. If something significant happens, whether positive or negative, something unusual, something ‘newsworthy’, no matter where it is, we hear about it, from Australia to Zimbabwe. We know about it in detail, often too much information. Eventually we may think to ourselves enough already. I have heard enough. I don’t want to hear any more. It can burden our hearts as Christians concerning the world around us even in our own communities, even afflictions in our own families that sometimes hit the headlines, even in the Church.

In Habakkuk chapter one and verse two we find these words, “How long, oh Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen?” We think to ourselves: Is God deaf? We may think that though we know he is not. We may also think: Well, does God care? Is God napping? Where is God?   Violence all around us, and there was violence in Judah. Notice the language of the first four verses, the oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. “How long, oh Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen, or cry out to you, ‘Violence’, but you do not save. Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me. There is strife and conflict which abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted.”

It sounds like today even in our own nation, even in the 21st century, because of the depravity of man. These things are not new. Note the corruption, the depth of the corruption of the society in Judah in Habakkuk’s day. In verse three it speaks of injustice and wrong followed by destruction and violence and strife and conflict. Certainly this is often the way it sounds on the morning news, the noon news, the evening news, on our streets and our neighborhoods today. And worse, in verse four it says the law is paralyzed. Justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous. Justice is perverted, and this describes God’s original covenant people, Judah.

And even America today, supposedly a Christian nation, and yet we are told that America has the highest crime rate of all of the advanced nations on the earth today. In verse four of Habakkuk, it tells us in the Scripture concerning Judah that the law is paralyzed. Literally, in the original Hebrew language the law here is referred to as being chilled or numb, meaning ineffective. The law may be on the books, but it is certainly not, or was not, on the hearts of the people. And, worse yet, the leadership did not enforce the law. They were corrupt also and we have that today also, rampant lawlessness as was present in Judah. No respect for the law. No respect for authority. And, again, these are not new, these conditions, these circumstances. Often it just takes one ungodly generation to ruin a nation.

The Church today must stand in the gap of a spiritually paralyzed nation. We must remain faithful and unspotted by the world, driven to our knees in supplications for our nation, for our community, for our families and for ourselves. It begins with us, God’s people today, the Church, whether Jew or Gentile in the Church. We do not want to be spiritually paralyzed. And so at the exclamations and exhortations of Habakkuk and these complaints, God did answer Habakkuk. In Habakkuk chapter one and verses six and seven we find these words. God was speaking as Habakkuk recorded these words, “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own. They are a feared and dreaded people. They are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.” And on and on it goes. God did act. But not as Habakkuk expected. God used an even more evil people, the Babylonians or the Chaldeans, depending on your translation, to punish Judah. And Habakkuk was appalled.

Let’s apply this to America. Suppose, for example, that our economy goes into a free fall. Would that be possible? Suppose the other economic powers for some reason were to turn against us or we would no longer be as competitive in the world market? Imagine a shortage of the basic commodities of life, of necessities which would be accompanied by unfavorable weather conditions for example. Would it be unrealistic to think that we could, across our nation or at least in many areas, suffer from drought or floods or other severe weather conditions? How much food do we have in our pantries? How much food do we have in our freezers? How long could we last? Even if just the fleet of trucks were to stop or the railroads unable to transport and get commodities and food across our great nation? How long would we be able to hold out? And think of the long lines at gas stations. Just think about not having enough gas or not being able to afford the gas because it was super spiked up in price. Would that be possible? Would we be willing to walk everywhere we need to go? How would we get along without being able to use our cars?
And suppose on top of that, martial law and curfews were imposed on our streets and our neighborhoods and rioting and looting and violence erupted everywhere. Yes, this is a very negative picture, but is it possible? Sure it is. And God could allow this. God could even punish America in this way. And only God knows what the origin of this would be. All of us would suffer, not just the ungodly, but even the godly would suffer. As Christians we would not expect this to happen. We would probably be angry at God in our own suffering with our own families and friends and our own congregations. How could God do this? But could it happen? Absolutely. Did the first century church suffer? Did they have all kinds of enemies? Were they persecuted? Did they have shortages? Were they discriminated against? Absolutely. It happened in the first century church and down through the centuries in generation after generation often times genuine Christians were persecuted and suffered all kinds of problems. Sometimes even at the hands of those that claimed to be Christians or religious. Absolutely it could happen also in the 21st century.

In our own history, as America suffered defeat after defeat in the War of 1812 against the British who again tried to defeat and destroy our nation, President James Madison proclaimed a national day of prayer in July of 1813, emphasizing the importance of a nation humbling itself before almighty God and pleading for God’s help against injustice. So today prayer is powerful, because it moves the heart and the hand of almighty God. And God can, if he chooses, if it is his will, he can deliver us again. And prayer can change God’s mind concerning some issues. God changed his mind concerning Hezekiah and God can change his mind concerning our issues and the circumstances that can afflict our nation, our people.

But there is also encouragement in the book of Habakkuk, encouragement for his generation, but especially even for us. All is not gloom and doom. For example, look at Habakkuk chapter two and verse 14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Well, what does that mean here? It means that one day, yet future to us today, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. No more injustice and idolatry and immorality because Christ’s kingdom on this earth will come, and not just with the church age, but also the messianic kingdom, a literal, physical, political kingdom on this earth as the waters cover the sea completely and totally. Believing this, we should be encouraged. And it must come to pass, because it is written. But in the meantime what is our most important charge and challenge as God’s people, whether it was 600 years before Christ as Old Testament saints or today as New Testament saints?
Habakkuk chapter two verse four and the latter part of that verse has the answer where it says but the righteous will live by his faith. Notice the personal pronoun, his. That is personal. It has to be an individual intimate, genuine relationship, a faith relationship with the Lord, with God. And that in comparison to the Babylonians who were an ungodly people and that in comparison also to the ungodly today of all stripes and types. We must remain faithful to our God no matter what comes, including what God allows. Faith needs to trump fear. We should not live in fear. We live by faith. And it is not just saving faith at conversion, but it has to be an ongoing faith, a steadfast commitment of faith. That is, not just a one time act of faith, but a way of life with continually being faithful.

Perhaps you have heard of the geysers at Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming. The tourists don’t usually go to the geyser that is the largest or the most powerful. They go to the geyser that is the most consistent, Old Faithful, which erupts on a regular schedule. And by application we need to be faithful consistently. Listen to the firm faith, the type that we need today, just as Habakkuk finally grew and matured. This is a beautiful passage at the end of Habakkuk, chapter three beginning in verse 17. “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 go on the heights.” This is the type of faith that we need to have today, just as Habakkuk grew to understand in his own life.

In verse 17 it describes, for example, that if everything basically collapses, the food, the fields, the freezers, empty shelves, empty stomachs, are we going to just panic? No. Not just panic. In verse 18 it says we are also to rejoice in the Lord, joyful in God the Savior. Well, is that not realistic? Not if you and I have a mature faith with an eternal perspective of faith. Not just temporary, but we are living by faith, because even without food God is still faithful. Even if everything falls apart on earth, is heaven still ahead? Does a sea of troubles cancel our salvation? No, no, no. All of the precious promises of God are still true and the righteous will live by faith.

Now I am not saying this is easy, but it should encourage us and we can do it by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit today. This prophecy of Habakkuk ends with a beautiful imagery in verse 19 as it says He makes my feet like the feet of a deer. How is that? Meaning sure footed, without falling, strong, stable, sturdy, steadfast in our faith. He enables me to go on the heights like a deer, to scale, to climb the mountain heights without slipping, without faltering because we are carried by faith. We live by faith. We are faithful. It is not because of my abilities, but because the Lord God, the sovereign Lord is my strength. He will help us if we choose to remain faithful even to the end.

How do I know this? By faith. With faithfulness that is ongoing no matter what the circumstances, no matter what may afflict us, no matter what God may allow into our lives. It is not and should not be a constant refrain from us this plea, how long, oh’ Lord, but rather this truth, the righteous will live by his faith.


David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, Indiana

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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33