Frustration with God is expressed in the writings of some of the ancient prophets. It surfaces in the life of the prophet Habakkuk. It’s amazing to me that God allows man to vent his frustration and make serious allegations against him. Listen to Habakkuk:
The prophet expresses his frustration in three areas: The silence of God. Psalms 13:1-2. His fervent pleas to God were not getting any response.
The inactivity of God. Habakkuk cries out to God and laments, “you do not save”.
You do nothing! You neither hear nor act. Jeremiah expresses similar words: “Why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveller who stays only a night?” Jeremiah 14:8.
The prophet is asking why God doesn’t stay around a bit longer and help resolve the problems. To Jeremiah, and to us on occasions, God is so unlike the movie hero, Superman, who can detect the faintest cry for help and respond by flying “faster than a speeding bullet” to rescue a cat trapped in a tree or save a man in a burning building or foil a bank robbery. Superman’s “ministry” involves him in immediate and effective interventions when people call his name. It is God’s apparent inactivity, God’s failure to respond immediately to the cry for help, that creates frustration.
When we feel God is silent and inactive it’s only a short step to accusing him of being indifferent.
Fortunately the book of Habakkuk does not end after the prophet has concluded his tirade against God. God does respond. Habakkuk 1:5-11.
God tells Habakkuk he is wrong about all three charges: God is not silent, inactive or indifferent. Behind the scenes God is at work preparing the Babylonians to come in judgement upon the very people Habakkuk sees living in rebellion against God. There are times when it looks like God is doing nothing, as Habakkuk and others have thought, when in fact, God is doing extraordinary things.
(1) From an old couple, Abraham and Sarah, God raised up a nation of people at the time when it looked like he was doing nothing
(2) God raised up Moses to deliver the Hebrew people from slavery when it looked like he had forgotten them
(3) God raised up Esther to be queen so that the Jews could be saved from extinction when it looked like they didn’t have a friend on their side.
Why doesn’t he move at the pace expected by Habakkuk? We must remember that God’s judgement is tempered with patience and designed to lead sinners to repentance. For example, God delayed his judgement on the Amorites “for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure”. Genesis 15:16.
God was giving them time to repent. And Paul reminds us that our salvation is due to the patience of God: Romans 2:4.
Habakkuk teaches us that God’s “slowness” in bringing judgement, and in responding to his pleas, is in fact a display of his gracious love towards sinners. He delays so that people have a chance to repent and turn to him. The prophet teaches us that God does not operate on our schedule or follow our agenda. God has his own timetable and he has everything under his control.
Earlier Habakkuk expressed frustration with God for apparently doing nothing, for delaying in bringing judgement, but he has since learned that “the righteous live by faith”. Habakkuk 2:4.
Having taken a panoramic view of God’s dealing with Israel, the prophet is impressed. He now wants God to display that same awesome power once again; to rise up and vindicate his holy name in the midst of his enemies.
The judgement is imminent, “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:3.
Though the coming judgement fills him with fear, the prophet has made God his strength and his refuge and will “live by faith”.
This faith is expressed in words that have been a source of encouragement for many of God’s people through the ages:
Habakkuk is not ignoring the consequences of this coming judgement with its disruption to every area of life; he is aware of that, but he will trust in a holy and righteous God whose ways are perfect.
Habakkuk asked questions of God and the answers he received are the same answers we receive to our questions. We ask: Why do ungodly people prosper? Is there any advantage in being upright? Where is the God of divine justice when evil is taking place? If God is so powerful why doesn’t he do something? How do we maintain our faith when God seems silent? Are there any certainties we can hold to? Can God be trusted?
God’s answer to us is always the same: “live by faith”.
Trust me, God says, for I cannot be anything other than faithful. Even though life may become complicated, throwing up problems and obstacles in our path, we deal with them the same way Habakkuk dealt with his – by trusting God.
(1) God’s plans move according to his schedule and are not subject to our agenda.
(2) No matter how chaotic life becomes – whether in our family, our church or our nation – God is in control.
(3) We live in a sinful world with the consequences of sin all about us. In the midst of such chaos, we must “live by faith”, trusting God every step of the way.
(4) God can be trusted.
The ministry of Amos took place about 25 years before the ten northern tribes of Israel were taken captive by Assyria. They resembled ripened fruit waiting to be picked since they “rejected the law of the Lord” and sold “the needy for a pair of sandals; they [trampled] on the heads of the poor… and [denied] justice to the oppressed.” And, if that was not bad enough, their depravity pushed immorality to new lows as “Father and son use the same girl.” Amos 2:4-8.
This ungodly behaviour is coming from a people who were the recipients of God’s special favour. God now reminds them that it was he who brought them up from Egypt and met their needs for forty years in the desert. It was he who gave them the land they now occupy. And it was he who raised up the prophets to speak to them.
Israel was not like any other nation; God chose it for a purpose – to be the nation through whom the Saviour would come into the world. They were a privileged people: Deuteronomy 26:18-19.
They were not chosen because of their moral superiority or spiritual potential; their selection was a sovereign act of God and with this privilege came responsibility. This is where Israel failed.
And to emphasise the gap that now existed between them, God asks rhetorically, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Amos 3:3.
Israel was no longer walking with God.
Israel is described as a nation bent on selfish indulgence and indifference towards God and his laws:
The region of Bashan was known for its rich pasture lands, hence its fine, well-fed, healthy cattle.
The women of Israel had access to the best of everything, but they over-indulged, pampering themselves while ignoring the needs of the poor.
Not only did they not care about the poor, they refused to listen to God. Five times God reminds them that he had chastised them with a view to winning them back, “yet you have not returned to me,” he says. Amos 4:6 / Amos 4:8-11.
If Israel thought that “the day of the Lord” Amos 5:18, for which they longed would bring blessings upon them and vengeance upon their enemies, they were greatly mistaken, for instead, it would be a day of judgement upon them for their rebellion against God.
During the time of the prophet Amos, Israel had become a wicked nation. Yet they hadn’t abandoned the practice of their religious duties. Their corrupt behaviour, however, rendered their worship an offence to Almighty God.
When God uses such strong words – I hate, I despise… I cannot stand… I will not accept… I have no regard for… I will not listen – we all need to pay attention. A spirit of complacency prevailed in the land. Israel was self-satisfied and displayed an attitude of indifference.
No one “grieved over the ruin of Joseph”. The spiritual decline in the nation, which brought a lowering of standards in every area of life, had been ignored. Israel was self-destructing and no one grieved. No one cared. No one was doing anything about it. To reinforce the point, Amos asks, “Do horses run on rocky crags? Does one plow there [on rocky crags] with oxen?” Of course not. Yet Israel had done what should never have been done: they “turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness.” Amos 6:12.
Amos is shown the impending judgement in a series of visions. The first two visions lead him to plead with God to extend mercy to Israel and his prayers buy them some time. (Amos 7:1-6) In the third vision, Amos sees “the Lord standing by a wall that has been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said, ‘I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.'” Amos 7:7-8.
The plumb line shows just how crooked Israel has become. In the fourth vision, God shows Amos a basket of ripe fruit and says, “The time is ripe… for my people Israel, I will spare them no longer.” Amos 8:2.
When the judgement of God came upon Israel, it was not without justification. The people had ignored repeated warnings, rejected the prophets and embraced an ungodly lifestyle. Here’s another example of their behaviour:
Commercial life had become exceedingly corrupt, dishonest practice and extortion an everyday occurrence. Israel’s sinfulness had reached capacity and there would no longer be any communication from God. Their sins had brought them to a point where a word from God would be a waste of time. A spiritual famine would descend upon the land.
Though Israel had become unfaithful, God would still fulfil all the promises he had made to them. Through the descendants of Israel, God would bring into the world a Saviour whose sacrificial death would be a blessing to all who believe. (Amos 9:11-15) At the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) James quotes the prophet Amos to show that the conversion of the Gentiles shows the fulfilling of God’s ancient promises.
1. Worship from an impure heart offends God
2. God notes injustice, greed and dishonest practices
3. God’s judgement comes only after repeated warning
4. God is always faithful to his promises.
Micah, like the other prophets of his time, warned Israel about the judgement that was coming because they had turned away from God. Their idolatrous practices had earned them “the wages of prostitutes”. Micah 1:7.
Their unfaithfulness incites the emotions of God: he feels betrayed, like a husband whose wife has become involved in an illicit affair. And the effects of Israel’s sin are graphically described: “Her wound,” God says, “is incurable.” Micah 1:9.
There is nothing that can be done for her. And the reason Israel ended up in this pitiful state was that she refused to listen to God’s prophets.
However, Micah caustically remarks, “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ he would be just the prophet for this people.” Micah 2:11.
Israel would learn that there are consequences for continually rejecting God; he will not always be available.
The depth of their self-deceit is evident in their remark, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.” Micah 3:11.
But God summons them to the bar of justice.
From this Scripture we learn that God doesn’t want elaborate, sacrificial offerings coming from a heart that does not love him. What he wants is the daily practice of justice, the extension of mercy to those in need coupled with humility.
Israel had grown familiar with the pagan gods they adopted: gods that could not talk or see, gods that could not hear or respond to their cries, gods that needed to be carried. (Isaiah 46:1-6, Jeremiah 10:1-10) They had turned from the true and living God, who was always willing to show mercy and to forgive.
As the prophet says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18-19.
God’s mercy and forgiveness is best appreciated when seen against the background of Israel’s sinfulness, their prostitution with other gods, their betrayal of the one true God, their ingratitude for all they had received from his bountiful hand.
All who repent will receive mercy and, to emphasise the extent of God’s forgiveness, the prophet says that God will tread their sins underfoot and hurl their sins into the depths of the sea where they will never be found. Who, indeed, is like our God?
1. Sin is not a minor offence but a betrayal of an intimate relationship with God
2. Mistreating people, especially the poor, does not go unnoticed by God
3. God will not be found by those who repeatedly refuse to listen to him
4. God desires a holy lifestyle from his people
5. God will never forget his ancient promises
6. God is gracious and forgiving to the penitent.