Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series. I want to end with some thoughts on dealing with our personal least favorite parts of Scripture. Admit it–you likely have parts of Scripture that you prefer to avoid as you migrate toward books that encourage you. For me, the major and minor prophets represent the portion of Scripture I naturally tend to put off reading. I love the gospels and Pauline epistles, find comfort in the Psalms and wisdom in the Proverbs. But the prophets?! They can be a real downer.
Last year, I was given the opportunity to teach a lesson on Jesus in the Prophets at church. Nobody forced the topic on me, but at the same time, it wasn’t one I was seeking for myself either. I actually did it because I knew I needed to wrestle through the topic. What the heck do the prophets have to contribute to our understanding of Jesus, the gospel, and His kingdom? Personally, I saw the prophets as only helpful if you wanted to understand the past or the future, but not particularly relevant to the present work of God. I was also wary of them after watching them abused by obsessive-compulsive fans of the Left Behind series.
In contrast to the stereotypical view of the prophets by some, I found my study of the prophets deep and rich in meditations on the gospel. I was confronted with my own idolatry and reminded that I serve a God whose purposes transcend my small view of reality. God’s plan was put in motion before time began and will continue into eternity. One pastor put it this way: I didn’t invite God into my story; He’s called me to be a part of His. And wrestling with the prophets really challenged me on how I think about this.
I’ll use Habakkuk as a succinct illustration of the themes throughout the prophets at large. In these 3 little chapters, we see Habakkuk wrestling with God, literally complaining to the sovereign Lord of the Universe. As best I can tell from my studies, Habakkuk is a righteous man who believes God. But God’s word to Habakkuk is that He is using the wicked Chaldeans, a people who worship their own might (Hab. 1:11), to bring judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah. Habakkuk is aware that God had promised that the “scepter will not depart out of Judah” (Gen. 49:10), indicating that God would preserve the line of kings and ultimately the Messiah through the tribe of Judah. But to Habakkuk’s eyes, it looks like the scepter is most definitely about to depart out of Judah. And Judah does end up as captives forced in exile. What in the world is God doing?! From the glory years of David and Solomon to this point in Israel’s history, it looks like it’s all gone to pot.
But right in the middle of this complaint to God, God gives Habakkuk the phrase on which the Apostle Paul builds his gospel presentation in Romans and Galatians, “the righteous will live by their faith.” (Hab. 2:4; see also Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). Not by their sight, but by their faith. It’s like He’s saying, “Habakkuk, I know what the immediate circumstances surrounding you look like, but I am calling you to follow me by faith in the larger picture.” Do you hear the depth of what God is saying here? And do you see it’s great relevance to where you and I stand today in God’s story? The righteous will live by their faith! And if you really want to understand faith, you need to study the New Testament commentary on the subject in Hebrews 11. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT SEEN.” (Heb. 11:1)
I have had many times in my life when I got caught up in Christian excitement—there was positive peer pressure to follow Christ and a fun social group to support me. But in those times, I am often just a bandwagon Christian—everyone is doing it, it seems fun, and I’ll be bored and lonely if I don’t. I’m not totally knocking the value of a positive social group who points you to Christ and the Word. But our faith is sifted and tested during the times when the bandwagon breaks down, when we can no longer see exactly what God is doing, and we don’t get enthusiastic support to be faithful. Sometimes, it seems God’s allowing everything good we thought He was doing to fall apart around our feet. What’s God waiting for? What’s He going to do when He’s done waiting? And what do I do when all I can answer is, “I don’t know”?! In these moments, I find Habakkuk’s final response back to God an anchor for my soul.
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.
The righteous shall live by their faith. Not by their sight. By their faith. I am learning that sometimes the toughest parts of Scripture hold the deepest treasure, and they are worth the effort and journey to understand what God reveals of Himself in them.