Reading the Newspaper with Habakkuk

old man newspaper 2

I have been preaching through the book of Habakkuk and it has been very refreshing and instructive. One area of encouragement came through the interplay between current events and the context of God’s overarching plan. I think it is particularly helpful when we think about the current events in the world today.

If you are not familiar with the book let me set the table a bit. Israel is in a bad place in the early 7th Century BC. Assyria has kicked their teeth in a bit, deporting many and dominating those who remain. Because of the people’s rebellion against God’s Word they are suffering from the suffocating rule of a pagan nation. Habakkuk looks around and sees things getting worse rather than better. He cries out to God in chapter 1 declaring that he is fatigued and somewhat frustrated with what he sees. He wants answers as well as salvation.

God does answer him but not in the way that Habakkuk would have expected or even desired. God says that he is going to deal with the Assyrians and the rebellious covenant community by raising up and deploying the Babylonians. And, it would get very, very bad.

Through all of this however, Habakkuk is taught a very important lesson: God has an ultimate plan, an endgame, for both the nations and his people. To borrow from Jim Hamilton’s excellent book title, God will bring Salvation through Judgment”. God’s people will be saved. God’s enemies will be judged. But, the saving will not be easy, but painful through persecution.

Habakkuk is told to “wait” and to “watch” (Hab. 2:1-4). This is what it looks like to live by faith (Hab. 2:4). We are to trust and treasure God in the moment because we understand the big picture plan.

This is of tremendous importance to us in our 24-hour news cycle. We seem to have more opportunity today to fret over world events. Some Christians seem especially prone to trying to read every headline into a biblical prophecy. Generation after generation tries to overlay the newspaper with the Bible to see them line up just-so. This is often a frustrating and discouraging “fool’s-errand” because it does not look at the big picture and lean heavily upon what is known for certain. Instead, many lean on the uncertainties and find themselves frightened, fatigued, and frustrated.

Here’s a better way. Read the newspaper like Habakkuk.

1) Realize that God is holy (Hab. 2:20). We are reminded that God is in his temple and that we are to be silent before him. He is in absolute control. While the air on the ground is polluted by sin God is enveloped in his emanating holiness in this temple. We are not dealing with these trifling gods of people’s imaginations; the Lord God reigns!

2) Remember that God is committed to his holiness. The end-game will showcase God’s holiness. He will vindicate his perfect standard by judging those who fail to keep it. He will fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory! (Hab. 2:14) This means that the earth will be filled with his knowledge and his presence. Holiness will flood the earth. O God, make it so!

3) Revisit God’s promise to judge his enemies (Hab. 2). God promises to not overlook sinful rebellion but rather to judge it. He will repay. With a number of “woe’s” God shows that iniquity is both noticed and will be punished. This revisiting of God’s past judgment will reinvigorate your prayers. You will begin praying like Habakkuk in chapter 3 as he looks ahead to this promised judgment. Imagine what it would be like if you read the newspaper and prayed in light of confidence in God’s good and just coming judgment.

4) Rehearse God’s past work of salvation. In Habakkuk’s prayer in chapter 3 he recalls how God brought salvation through judgment. Whether through the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, Gideon’s triumph, or other seismic saving work, he remembers that God “went out for the salvation for your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked laying him bare from thing to neck” (Hab. 2:13). As Christians we see the mountain peak of this salvation when Christ himself was crucified for us. He was crushed and judged for the salvation of his people (Rom. 8:32; Gal. 2:20). This rehearsal of God’s saving work will refresh your soul. It should be a daily discipline.

5) Rejoice in the Lord (Hab. 3:18). Habakkuk understands that he is to live by faith (Hab. 2:4) which means that he is to trust God even when things don’t make sense. This rejoicing means that he has a settled abiding trust in God’s character. His joy or contentment is not tied to fluctuating circumstances (or headlines) but to God’s unchanging character! He has the privilege to rejoice in the God of his salvation! The Lord, God is his strength! And he is yours as well.

So read the newspaper, but don’t do it with amnesia. Read it from the position of being informed of what God is ultimately doing. Read the news with your grandpa Habakkuk. He’ll keep you on point.