Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (March 15, 2020) Consequences for Injustice Habakkuk 2:6-14

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s lesson the prophet Habakkuk learns there will be consequences for injustice. There will be consequences for Judah and there will especially be consequences for Babylon.  He has already taken his watch on the tower wall. Habbakuk is expecting an answer from God.  He has made his complaint known and now he will watch and wait to hear an answer from God.  God graciously answers the prophet. God tells Habakkuk to write and to make it plain. And make it plain he does.  Habakkuk essentially trash talks the Babylonians when he writes the prophecy containing the five woes that will befall the wicked and evil Babylonians.  He writes the prophecy and there will be no question about who he is writing about and who will cause these woes to befall the Babylonians. When God says something will come to pass, people will be able to look back at the record and know that it was God who brought it to pass.  The wicked and evil Babylonians may be on top today, but judgement is coming. And when it does come, it won’t be pretty. God will still use the evil Babylonians to punish Judah. Judah won’t escape but the Bablyonians will fall and when they do it will be epic.  Some key ideas surrounding this week’s text includes the terms:  

Theodicy

Evil

Background:

As I stated last week the book of Habakkuk is the eighth book of the twelve books we call the minor prophets.  It is called minor only because it is shorter in length and comes behind the five major prophets in the Old Testament.  Not much is known about Habakkuk, the man. In fact, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “the book of Habakkuk provides no information about the prophet himself.”  The CSB Study Bible notes that “Habakkuk is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible and by the time of Habakkuk “Chaldean” had come to be a synonym for “Babylonian”.” Although Habakkuk is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible and little else is known of him we can at least deduce that he was a man of great faith.  The New American Commentary explains that “one thing appears clear about Habakkuk, he was a person of great faith and great courage who dared take the theological teaching of his day and test it against the experiences of his own personal life and of the nation.  Habakkuk adopted the role of philosopher of religion and was an honest doubter.”  I think it’s important to acknowledge Habakkuk’s doubts.  He looked around at what was going on in his own life and in the life of Judah and it left him with honest questions for God.  I don’t think Habakkuk stands alone in his honest doubts. I see Habakkuk as knowing who God is and ultimately believing in God’s character but doubting what God was doing.  Habakkuk could not initially reconcile God’s character with God’s method of bringing about justice.  He could not understand the pain, suffering, and violence he saw in Judah.  He couldn’t understand why God would allow evil to go unpunished in Judah and how a righteous God could use Babylon – a wicked nation – to judge sin in Judah.  I explained how Habakkuk was essentially asking the question – why do bad things happen to good people.  After all, these were God’s own people, the nation of Judah. All of this brings forward the notion of theodicy.  

Last week I defined theodicy as “the attempt to defend God’s omnipotence and goodness in the face of the problem of evil in the world (Lexham Bible Dictionary).”  Theodicy is not a unique concept to Habakkuk. Lexham Bible Dictionary explains theodicy also appears when

  • “Abraham asks the LORD “Shall not the Judge of the whole earth do right?” (Gen 18:25)
  • Moses asks that the LORD write him out of the record of history in Exodus 32:32 after God’s massacring of those who constructed the golden calf at the base of Mount Sinai.  
  • Isaiah 45:7 says of God: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
  • The book of Job deals directly with the subject of theodicy.”  

Lexaham also explains that “Ecclesiastes echos Job’s questioning of a God oblivious to human suffering.  It shows man’s incapability of answering the question of theodicy.” It also notes that “many of the Psalms are lamentations bemoaning the feeling of an absent God during crisis.”  So these questions and doubts about God’s presence or absence during suffering and crisis are not isolated incidents.  They form a collection of genuine people bringing their genuine concerns and genuine doubts before an omnipotent God.  

Lexham also explains certain aspects of theodicy in the New Testament.  For example “The New Testament shows how God uses and allows evil for God’s greater purposes.  Three approaches concerning evil and how believers may understand its presence in the world include: 

  1. Evil is a natural repercussion of free human choices.  Romans 2:3-5 explains how persons who practice evil do so out of the hardness of their hearts.  This however, does not explain every form of evil such as painful deaths caused by natural events.  (One example of natural events would be the horrific tornado that killed at least twenty-five people in Nashville TN this past week.  There is a difference between human evil and natural evil).
  2. Evil may be used by God to help shape a believer and sanctify them further (1 Cor 9:24-27; Heb. 12:3-13).  Human suffering comes as God either directs or permits suffering to teach. As humans suffer, God is bringing about discipline and maturity in their lives.  (if we are talking about honest doubts, like Habakkuk had, I have honest doubts about this.  I completely agree with the text in Hebrews, but not in the context of explaining how God uses evil.  I don’t discipline my children with evil to teach them a lesson. I discipline my children with love that may be painful but not evil.  So the idea that evil may be used by God to help shape a believer and sanctify them further is suspect  in my view).
  3. Though evil may be carried out and performed, God will one day execute justice and fairness on all evil doers (John 14:1-3, 2 Cor. 4:16-18).  All suffering and wrongs will be righted at the end times when God will judge the world.”  That may be true but it is of little comfort when, Like Habakkuk you see, know, understand, and experience the pain and suffering right here and now.

So I hope this helps us deal with the subject of theodicy.  Habakkuk in his day could not explain all that God is and why God chooses to do things the way God does.  And if God is still God, we can’t explain all that God is and why God does what God does either.  I think that’s especially important for us to remember when we are trying to comfort those who have experienced death, or sickness, or some other crisis.  If we’re not careful, we can cause more harm by trying to explain what God is doing or why God allowed something to happen.  Often times it’s enough just to be present with someone and to let them know that you care about them.  

The second chapter of Habakkuk deals with God’s reply to Habakkuk’s complaint as Habakkuk stands watch on the tower, and the five woes of the wicked that are surely to come.  This chapter contains familiar passages. Namely, “Then the LORD answered me and said:  Write the vision and make it plain” in verse two. Verse four tells us “the righteous live by their faith” and verse twenty with “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!”  Some important terms to consider about this text include:

Theodicy

Evil

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:

In Last week’s lesson the prophet Habakkuk questioned God on his way to a prayer for justice.  Habakkuk didn’t understand how God could justify using the evil and wicked Babylonians to punish Judah, God’s own people.  Habakkuk was hurt, he was probably disillusioned and discouraged. Then he came to the realization that God did this! This was God’s work, God’s plan, and God ordained.  God was responsible for what Habakkuk believed was unjust suffering, violence, and pain.  Habakkuk had been praying, asking, and pleading with God for some time and all he saw was pain and violence.  Habakkuk saw iniquity, injustice, wrongdoing, wickedness, and immorality. And as far as he could tell, God was doing nothing about it.  Habakkuk was hurt. He was not happy with how God had allowed this violence to happen and he questioned God.  When God graciously answered Habakkuk, he was not satisfied and he questioned God again.  In his unusual dialog with God Habakkuk laid the violence and injustice at the feet of God.  He thought God had been indifferent and silent to the violence and suffering in Judah. It was God who allowed evil to go unpunished in Judah and it was God who would use the evil Babylonians to punish Judah.  That brought the notion of theodicy into view. How could God be good and just when evil exists the way it does. This week we continue in the theme of justice with the prophet Habakkuk awaiting God’s answer to his complaint.  In this week’s text, Habakkuk comes to realize that faith in God is the answer to questions that have no human answer.  In this text Habakkuk realizes the just shall live by their faith.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentaries title this week’s lesson Consequences for Injustice.  The scripture text comes from Habakkuk 2:6-14.   

There are three woes in this text and Habakkuk lists the crimes of the Babylonians.  Judgement is coming and they will surely pay the price for their evil, their wickedness, and their injustice.    

What Takes Place in This Passage:  

The lesson opens in verse six with Habakkuk the prophet having already taken his watch on the tower wall.  Habakkuk is expecting an answer from God.  He has made his complaint known and now he will watch and wait to hear an answer from God.  God graciously answers the prophet. God tells Habakkuk to write and to make it plain. When the prophecy is written and made plain for all to know, there will be no question about who is doing what.  When God says something will come to pass, people will be able to look back at the record and know that it was God who brought it to pass.  

As God speaks, Habakkuk begins to realize that he has no reason to doubt God.  He realizes that just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  Others may doubt, but God helps Habakkuk to understand that the just, will live by their faith.  Unlike the Chaldeans or Babylonians who are not just, who are not righteous and not holy, the people of God will be saved in the coming tribulation.  The Pulpit Commentary notes that “the promise looks beyond the temporal future of the Chaldeans and Israelites, and unto a reward that is eternal”.  Judah and the Israelites will still be punished, but ultimately it will be their faith that keeps them safe in God. God wants Habakkuk to know that he can trust in the God of the universe.  Even when God takes him/them through pain, suffering, and violence. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible explains that “God’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint was that he does punish evil, but in his time and in his way.  A truly righteous person will not lose faith because evil is not immediately eliminated or the wicked quickly punished.”  

In verse six Habakkuk begins to write about the five woes that will befall the wicked.  The UBS Handbook on Habakkuk notes the five woes as

  1. Greed for wealth (6-8)
  2. Extravagant private building (9-11)
  3. Extravagant public building (12-14)
  4. Misuse of liquor (15-17)
  5. Idol worship (18-20)

It notes that “each taunt begins with the word Woe except the last where the Woe comes in the middle (v 19).”  

In verse 6 part a Standard Lesson Commentary notes in the NIV that “Him refers to the Babylonian Empire, personified as a single representative person.  The word them refers to nations and people who are the victims of the Babylonian’s aggression and brutality (Hab 2:5).”  Standard also explains that this writing style Habakkuk uses “in context, describes a mocking kind of speech, perhaps similar to what is referred to today as trash talk.”  Habakkuk is making it plain. Everybody is going to know that the Babylonians are going down for their evil and wicked ways.  They will be punished.  Lexham Bible Dictionary describes these verses as “God’s taunt song.  Consisting of five woes against wicked Babylon. In these oracles of woe, Yahweh mocks Babylon.  The sovereign God of Judah will bring down the arrogant empire.”

When Habakkuk says “Alas for you who heap up what is not your own!” How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge?”  He is talking about evil greedy people.  These Babylonians are evil, wicked, and greedy people who take advantage of others.  The Babylonians take what is not rightfully theirs to have, they take what they have not labored for, and they take the dignity and respect of honest working innocent people.  

In verse seven God explains that creditors will suddenly rise up against the wicked.  This is just one of the woes to come. It will be unexpected and sudden. The Babylonians will experience for themselves what they have done to others.  Punishment is in store for the evil and wicked Babylonians.  

In verse eight  God says “Because you have plundered many nations, all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you.”  Again, the evil Babylonians will experience what it’s like to be treated the way they treated others.  Creditors will suddenly come upon them and the surviving people whom they have plundered will rise up against them.  The shoe will be on the other foot and this is just the first woe. The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible notes that “The Old Testament principle of retributive justice teaches that God’s moral law extends not only to believers but to unbelievers as well.”  In other words the Babylonian’s will reap what they have sown.  

Verses nine through eleven describe the second woe.  It begins, “Alas for you who get evil gain for your house, setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm!”  The Babylonians may be a great world power at the moment, but they are not greater than the reach of God.  They can try to create safety and security for themselves with wealth but their hurt, injury, and pain is coming in Habakkuk’s prophecy.  Standard Lesson Commentary notes that “This person wants to live in the fortress of an enclave of wealth, which is untouched by the poor and needy.”  There is no inherent sin in being wealthy. The sin enters when the wealthy are untouched by the needs of the community.  

In verse ten God highlights how the Babylonians have “devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.”  The punishment of the Babylonias will be harsh.  For their pride over others and evil against others, they would lose their own lives.  The houses they built with the resources of those they conquered would be a testimony against them.  The Pulpit Commentary notes that “Even inanimate things shall raise their voice to denounce the Chaldeans wickedness.  The stone shall cry out of the wall.”  

In verse twelve the crime of the Babylonians is building a city upon the shed blood of others.  This is the third woe. The Babylonians have used evil, violence, and injustice to create their wealth, place their trust in a false sense of safety and security, and to build their cities.  Townsend Commentary notes that “Verse twelve introduces violence: a vice particularly observable among the Babylonians, but it is characteristic of our time as well. Here are a people who have gone from greed to injustice to violence.”  

Verses thirteen and fourteen close this lesson now mentioning the LORD of hosts.  As Habakkuk writes what the LORD has spoken to him he knows that all of the Babylonians labor will only feed the flames.  In other words, it will be useless and amount to nothing. What will amount to something is the knowledge and glory of the LORD.  God is the maker and creator of the heavens and the earth and all that dwells therein.  God’s glory will be known throughout the earth and especially to the Babylonians who have chosen injustice and violence instead of justice and righteousness.    

Context

In so many ways it seems as if the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper.  Evil seems to be present on every hand. Asaph laments in the seventy third Psalm “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” It can be difficult to watch the wicked prosper when your own life seems to be filled with pain and suffering all while living the best you know how to live in righteousness.  In this way, life can seem so unfair. Even when you have done nothing to “deserve” pain and suffering sometimes it comes your way. In these times, Habakkuk provides a good example. He came to understand that the just shall live by their faith. We can trust that God is our God and that God will see us through.  

Key Words:  

Theodicy – The justification of a diety’s justice and goodness in light of suffering and evil.  

Evil – has a broader meaning than sin.  The Hebrew word comes from a root meaning “to spoil”, to break in pieces : being broken and so made worthless.  

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:  

1. When the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper.

2.  The just shall live by their faith.   

Question:  

How do we explain events like the horrific tornado that occured in Nashville, Tennessee this past week?  

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week’s lesson continues in the Old Testament minor prophets.  The lesson for March 22, 2020 comes from Micah 3:1-2, 9-12; 6:6-8. Next week’s lesson is titled Corrupt Leaders and An Argument Against Corruption.       

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