Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Fear and Trembling

Leslie Basham: The Bible says God is always working. Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains how.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It doesn’t say God is always working to fulfill the wishes of His people. But God is always working for the salvation of His people. And that salvation is not just a past-tense salvation. It’s not just their justification. God is working for our sanctification and our ultimate glorification.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, October 26.

There are some popular songs in churches today that ask God to send His glory or show His glory. Next time you sing one, realize this: The Bible is full of stories where people fall down terrified when they see God. Get some perspective on God’s presence, which can cause both terror and comfort. Nancy’s continuing the series Habakkuk: Moving from Fear to Faith.

Nancy: If all you ever heard on Revive Our Hearts was this series on Habakkuk, you might think, “That woman is really negative. She’s dwelling on some pretty negative themes.” Well, what we try to do on Revive Our Hearts is to teach the whole counsel of God and to lift up His character as it’s revealed in the Scripture.

I do love the Old Testament. You don’t hear a lot of teaching from the Old Testament today, and I think it’s a loss. It’s a shame because the riches and treasures of the New Testament are not nearly so precious to us if we haven’t seen them against the backdrop of the Old Testament. It’s not that God has changed. He’s the same God. But praise God, this God of wrath and anger and judgment has made a provision so that sinners can be saved!

Someone was telling me on a break before this session that she heard a preacher this week say, “It’s the bad news that makes the good news so good.” And that’s the truth. We have the Gospel. That’s the good news. But it’s the bad news of our sin and our depravity and our being deserving of God’s judgment that make the Gospel of God’s mercy and grace such good news.

We’re in Habakkuk chapter 3. Habakkuk is praying to the Lord, and he’s lifting up the character of God. He’s remembering the redemptive acts of God on behalf of His people in the past. As He sees what God has done in the past—at Mount Sinai, delivering His people out of Egypt, taking them through the Red Sea crossing, and then taking them with His Shekinah glory through the desert, through the wilderness years of wandering.

He sees the power, the might, and the majesty of God, and he’s in awe of what God has done—the power of God. As he sees the past work of God, his faith is strengthened to believe that God can do what is needed in his day. And then you have these glimmers in the book of Habakkuk of things yet to come.

We read in chapter 2, verse 14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

You see how God came to the Red Sea, swallowed up the Egyptian army, and let His people go through on dry land. And you say, “Yes, that gives me faith to believe that, one day yet to come, there will be a day when the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.” So we’re seeing a past and a present and a future reality in this prayer of Habakkuk in chapter 3.

Now we come today to verse 13 in Habakkuk chapter 3, which has become one of my very favorite verses in this book as I’ve studied it in recent months. Habakkuk 3, verse 13: “You went out,” Habakkuk says to God in his prayer, “for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed.”

Let me stop there just for a moment. We’ll get to the rest of the verse in a few moments. But remember in chapter 1 where Habakkuk said to God, “I cry out to You, but You don’t save. You’re not doing anything” (see verse 2)? He didn’t think God was a saving God because in his circumstances it didn’t look like God was delivering them. It didn’t look like God was moving and working.

But now he has come to realize that God is always at work. “I am doing a work in your days,” God said to Habakkuk (1:5). God would say this to you when you think, “God, You’re not saving. You’re not saving my husband. You’re not saving my children. You’re not delivering me in this situation.” God says to you, “I am doing a work in your day. I am at work.”

So now Habakkuk by faith says, "The righteous shall live by his faith" (2:4). This is a prayer of faith. Habakkuk has come to realize that God is always going out for the salvation of His people.

He looks in the past, and he says, “God, You went o ut for the salvation of Your people. When You sent plagues and terrible things, You were doing it to judge the wicked. But You were also doing it to save Your people. You went out for the salvation of Your people.”

Those historical events in the past foreshadow the future. He looks back on the Red Sea, but he looks forward to the cross and to our ultimate deliverance from the very presence of sin. God went out for the salvation of His people. Let me just remind us that even in the midst of corruption and sin and judgment, which we see going on in our world today, God is always working for the salvation of His people.

I love this verse. “You went out for the salvation of Your people” (3:13). It doesn’t say, “God went out for the comfort of His people.” It doesn’t say, “God is always working to fulfill the wishes of His people.” But God is always working for the salvation of His people.

And that salvation is not just a past-tense salvation. It’s not just their justification. God is working for our sanctification and our ultimate glorification. He has saved us; He is saving us, and He will save us. There’s a past, a present, and a future tense to our salvation.

So whatever is happening in your life—whatever is happening in your home, your marriage, your workplace, with your roommate, in your school—God is working for the salvation of His people. God is sanctifying you. God is preparing you for eternity in His presence. God is always saving His people.

In the second half of verse 13, we have the other side of the coin. Remember we said in the last session that judgment and salvation always go together in the Scripture? Begin to watch those parallel tracks as you read the Old and New Testaments. There’s judgment, and there’s salvation.

The first part of verse 13 is about the salvation of God, but there’s judgment in the second half: “You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah.” Stop and think about this verse. God is out for the salvation of His people, but God is also judging the wicked. “You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.”

In the immediate context, as Habakkuk is reflecting back on the redemptive history of the Jews, he’s thinking about God delivering the Jews out of Egypt. God crushed Pharaoh’s armies: “You crushed the head of the house of the wicked.”

God dealt with Pharaoh. Pharaoh lost his firstborn son. Pharaoh, his household, and all the Egyptians experienced the awful plagues of God on their nation. God crushed that incredible world power. He laid him bare. He stripped him of his power.

But I don’t think that’s all Habakkuk is referring to. I think he is also, with eyes of faith—the righteous shall live by his faith—with eyes of faith, he is looking forward to the day when God will crush the power of the Babylonians who have yet to conquer the Jewish people. They will chasten the Jews. They are God’s instruments.

But he realizes that the Babylonians will receive their just dues. God will crush them. Nebuchadnezzar—that proud, arrogant king—God will crush the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare.

But I think Habakkuk, with eyes of faith, is looking even further—beyond Egypt and Babylon and other world powers that have come and gone. I believe that the ultimate head of the house of the wicked is none other than Satan himself. He’s the strong man we read about in the New Testament who thinks he has his house under his control.

And in verse 15 of chapter 2, we read about how this head of this house, this strong man, made others drink to expose their nakedness. He shamed others. But now Habakkuk says, “Your time, Satan, has come to be exposed.” It’s a picture of the end, when Satan will be defeated—he will be pierced; he will be rendered impotent and powerless. “You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.”

As I read this verse, my heart goes, “Yes! We know the end of the story!” Now, I’m not gleeful over God’s judgment, but I am really gleeful at the thought of Satan’s demise. Aren’t you?

What a God. You went out for the salvation of Your people—we who deserve God’s wrath and His judgment. You had mercy on us. You also have promised, and You have illustrated in the past, that You can do it—that You will crush the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare.

That’s what God promised in a veiled way, giving just a glimpse of that promise in Genesis chapter 3, when the curse was put on the earth and the consequences of the fall were given. The woman and the man and the serpent were all told what their consequences would be. And then in verse 15, God says, “He”—that is, the offspring of the woman, Christ—“He will bruise your head, Satan. He’ll deal you the fatal blow. And you—the serpent, Satan—will bruise his heel” (paraphrased).

Wasn’t that fulfilled at Calvary? The serpent bruised the Savior’s heel by causing Him to suffer. But who got the final blow? Jesus dealt that final, decisive blow to the serpent. And so we read in Romans 16, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (verse 20).

What a benediction! What a blessing! We live in this corrupt, fallen world, and we do spiritual warfare. We wage war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and wickedness and darkness in high places (Ephesians 6:12, paraphrased). You experience it in your life as you deal with temptation and sin.

You experience it in your marriage as you’ve got two selfish people who are being sanctified, but who can really get on each other’s nerves at times. You deal with it as you’re training your children, and then they grow up, and sometimes they don’t pay attention to the things you taught them. You see the works of darkness; you see the efforts of the evil one. You see the nations of the world fuming and raging against God. And you can get really depressed unless you keep your eyes on the end of the story.

The God of peace—that’s our warrior God; He’s a God of peace—will soon crush Satan under your feet. You say, “Well, how soon is soon? It doesn’t seem like very soon. It doesn’t seem like it’s happening.” I want to tell you, at Calvary, it was as good as done.

That old serpent is still writhing and acting like he’s got some power, but he is defeated. And soon, in God’s time, in His way, He will crush Satan under our feet. We have victory. We live, walk, serve, love God, worship Him, and live on this planet from a position of victory over the evil one. We have victory over evil because God went out for the salvation of His people, and because He has promised to crush the head of the house of the wicked. I want to tell you, that’s good news! That’s the Gospel.

Verse 14 continues. “You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors.” God doesn’t deal only with Satan, but God deals with all of Satan’s emissaries—all his imps, all his demons, and all people on this earth who are instruments of Satan.

“You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors.” God’s going to use Satan’s weapons against him. “You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.”

Verse 15: “You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters.” God gives this awesome picture to Habakkuk. And Habakkuk remembers it as he reflects and reviews. What was God like? What did God do? How did he display His power? How did He display His majesty? How did God go out for the salvation of His people? How has God crushed His enemies? Habakkuk has been, in this prayer, reflecting on all these things.

And Habakkuk, who’s been praying through these—he’s been remembering these—now, in verse 16, he responds to all the awesome things he has seen and experienced and heard. It’s a response that you don’t see a lot of today. He says in verse 16, “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.”

Now, what is causing Habakkuk to tremble? I think it’s several things. I think, first of all, it’s the revelation of God’s awesome power and glory, like looking at the sun in its brilliance. It’ll shake up your world. Seeing God will change your perspective on everything. He is so awesome, so holy, so great. I don’t have words to tell you what God is like.

When you’ve been given a glimpse of Him, when you’ve seen His power and His glory, you’re going to tremble! So I think in Habakkuk there’s a sense of awe and fear and weakness. He’s just limp. He’s shaking like a leaf at the power of God.

We’ve seen people do that. You hear about hurricanes and earthquakes and tornados, and people tremble. I want to tell you, they’re nothing next to God. If we ever could see and know God for who He is, we would know what it is to tremble.

Habakkuk trembles at the wrath of God, at the terror of God, at the impending judgment and persecution that God is going to send on the earth. God has told Habakkuk that in his immediate situation, the Babylonians are coming. They’re going to sweep through the earth. They’re going to mow things down. They’re going to conquer Judah.

And sure enough, they did, within 15 years of Habakkuk’s experience with the Lord. He knows there is impending judgment. He knows there is impending devastation coming. It makes him tremble.

It would make you tremble if you could see what God is going to do in this world to judge the nations. It may be 15 years; it may be 15 minutes. You don’t know. It may be 1,500 years. You don’t know. But when you know it’s going to happen and you reflect on it, it makes you tremble.

I think Habakkuk trembles because he knows everyone is going to suffer—including the righteous, including himself, the man of God. He knows there is suffering coming. And Habakkuk experiences physical and psychological effects in his body, his emotions, and his mind from the revelation he has seen of God and of what is to come.

Habakkuk’s encounter with God is transforming. He trembles. Now, that trembling—as we’ll see before we finish this series—ultimately becomes praise. It becomes proclamation of the greatness and the deeds of God.

But at this moment, it is as if Habakkuk can smell the singed flesh of those who are under God’s judgment. He knows that even the righteous are going to experience some of that wrath. If you’re righteous, and you live in an ungodly nation, and God judges the nation—you’re going to feel the heat. And he trembles.

As you go through the Scripture, you see that people who met God, people who really saw God’s purposes and plans, they trembled. I’ve said it earlier in the series, and I guess I want to say it again. It confounds me how we can be so flippant, so trite, so casual in the presence of a holy God today.

Years ago, my pastor preached through the book of Habakkuk. I remember he preached a powerful message on chapter 2, verse 20: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

As I meditated on that passage during that sermon, God was weighing heavily on me with the truth of how powerful He is, how holy He is, and how majestic He is. By the end of that message, I could hardly breathe. I felt a righteous fear of the Lord—not an inappropriate dread, but an awesome fear of God’s presence.

And then do you know how quickly we snapped out of that moment as soon as the final amen was said? The music starts playing, and we’re talking about everything on the planet other than God. I mean, people are talking and chatting. I’m not being critical; I’m just staying we don’t know God. We’re not really seeing God.

Now, I’m not saying that every time we come to church it should be in hushed tones, and nobody should talk about anything like the weather or sports or whatever. But there is something when you are really in the presence of God that is awesome. It makes you tremble.

You see that in the Scripture as people saw God. You see it in the book of Daniel as he was given a vision of the pre-incarnate Christ. Theologians call it a “Christophany.” He actually saw Christ. He was left alone, and he saw this great vision. And he said, “No strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed” (10:8). The original language there says, “My splendor was changed to ruin.”

There’s something devastating about really seeing Christ as He is. Daniel said, “I retained no strength.” He said no strength remained in him and no breath was left in him. There was this sense of being breathless, just having your breath taken away, no strength left in you.

That’s what Habakkuk experienced. It’s what Daniel experienced. It’s what Peter experienced when he saw the power of God—when Christ did that miracle, and there was that great catch of fish. Peter saw this was no ordinary man who made this happen. He knew he was looking at majesty and divinity.

And the Scripture says in Luke 5, “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (verse 8). He was trembling in the presence of the holy God, a powerful God.

Habakkuk saw it. Daniel saw it. Peter saw it. The apostle John saw it in Revelation chapter 1. We have that beautiful, powerful, amazing description of Christ—the glorified Christ of Revelation chapter 1, whose feet and head and hair shine. They’re glorious. What happened when John saw that vision? He was not running off to play, not running off to chatter with his friends about something inconsequential. He said, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (verse 17).

The majesty of God. The power of God. The judgment of God. The wrath of God. What’s going to happen when you see it? When you meet with the Lord, when you hear from Him, how can you just run off to your own routine? To your own day? To business as usual?

It’s said of the revivals of the past that one of the consistent marks was that people were overtaken with a sense of the awesome presence of God, and with the sense of eternity. It’s as if they couldn’t think or talk about anything else. It was said that in some of those great revivals, you could walk down any street—in what had been previously very secular environments—and you would find that people everywhere were talking about God and the condition of their souls.

When’s the last time you trembled at the presence of God? Has the knowledge of God and His ways ever made you stop dead in your tracks? How often when I have my quiet time, do I open the Word, read the Bible, see what it has to say, and then quickly just close my Bible and go on to the next thing? On to my computer, on to my laptop, on to my meeting, on to a phone call. Did I just meet with God?

Now, I don’t want to say that we shouldn’t have regular, normal moments of living life, or that God never has fun, or that we can never enjoy anything. That’s a whole dimension to living the Christian life that is also very true. But why are we so missing this dimension of trembling at the presence of God? I think it’s because we’re not seeing God for who He really is.

So as you get into God’s Word, as you go to church, as you’re with the people of God, ask God to help you to see Himself, to tremble at the reality of who He is.

Leslie: We can get so casual with God. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been reminding us how great and awe-inspiring He really is.

That message is part of a series called, Habakkuk: Moving From Fear to Faith. The series originally aired a few years ago, and we’re excited to give it an encore airing as part of our 10th year of ministry. Throughout the year we’re revisiting some of the most meaningful moments from the previous decade. A listener had this to say about the series when it first aired.

Your teaching on Habakkuk has been so clear and has given me a real enthusiasm for this little, often overlooked book of the Old Testament. How relevantly it speaks to us today though written such a long time ago!"

If you’re thankful for the rich teaching on the entire Bible you hear each weekday on Revive Our Hearts, would you help us stay on the air in your area? We’re able to provide this kind of teaching thanks to listeners like you who donate to the ministry.

When you make a donation of any amount, we’ll offer our thanks by sending you a Bible study booklet to help you dig in deeper to the book of Habakkuk. It’s called, Worry, Woes, and Worship. You’ll find it a perfect companion to Nancy’s teaching, an excellent resource for your own quiet time.

Ask for Worries, Woes, and Worship when you call 1-800-569-5959 with your donation of any amount. Or visit ReviveOurHearts.com and donate there.

Do you ever feel like life is one big traffic jam and that you do more waiting than doing? Find out what the prophet Habakkuk learned about waiting by faith. It’s on tomorrow’s Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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