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God’s Word for You

Acts 13:40-41 and Habakkuk 1:5

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 4, 2020

40 Therefore watch out that what was spoken by the prophets does not happen to you: 41 ‘Look, you scoffers! Be amazed and perish. I am doing something in your days, something you would not believe, even if it were carefully explained to you.’ ”

Paul ends his first (recorded) missionary sermon with a quotation from the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk was an especially popular book in the first centuries BC and AD among Jewish scholars. One of the more famous of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a commentary on Habakkuk. The prophet lived in the seventh century BC. His prophecy came at just the moment when the Assyrian empire was about to be overthrown by the Chaldeans. This was an amazing moment in history, “something you would not believe, even if it were carefully explained to you.” The Assyrian empire was, on paper, vast. It extended from present-day Iraq to Egypt. But after a few generations, the Assyrian nobles didn’t want to serve in the army, and its military strength was commanded by foreigners, men who came from countries and ethnic groups that had been conquered by Assyria. Imagine being at a meeting of the Assyrian General Staff in 630 BC and noticing that no Assyrians at all showed up. So, the ranking Chaldean looked at his Mede, Persian and Ninevite officers and said something like, Why are we fighting for Assyria? The revolution didn’t take very long. Nabopolassar conquered an empire with amazing speed. Within four years he was sitting on the throne, and his Babylonians would soon sweep down on Judea and conquer Jerusalem.

Now, Paul says, don’t let that happen to you. Jerusalem was destroyed in the days of Babylon. Might that also happen now in the days of Rome? Habakkuk told his people to trust in God, because “the righteous will live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). The destruction that was on its way to Jerusalem in Paul’s time would change the life of the Jews forever. But just as the Jews could turn to their faith in those earlier days, so also God’s people were being invited to turn to their faith now: faith in the Messiah who had come, who had justified mankind from all sin, and “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3).

The translation “carefully explained” in verse 41 is my attempt to show the depth of the word ekdiegetai (ἐκδιηγῆται), The diege- part is to tell, to relate piece by piece, as in Luke 8:39, “The man told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” The ek- prefix adds the idea of spreading ‘out’ this explanation, breaking it down into its significant pieces. The Jews had heard Paul carefully breaking down the appearance of Jesus Christ, but many of them still did not believe, even though it was carefully explained to them. This is similar to the trouble many Christians today have with the miraculous statements in Scripture. To believe that Jesus could feed five thousand? Okay. To believe that sins could be forgiven with a handful of water and a promise? That makes many people shrug.

As then, so now. As in Habakkuk’s time, so also in Paul’s time. As in Paul’s time, so also today. Holy Spirit, keep our faith firmly set in your promises and grace.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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