READ : Habakkuk 2:14
There is a world-wide flood coming someday soon, but it won’t be destructive. Rather it will be a flood of knowledge and glory.
Nowadays the really scary prophecies seem to come not from the preachers but the scientists. Doomsday scenarios abound: ecological disasters as a result of global warming, asteroids striking the earth and destroying all life, or genetic experiments running out of control and creating mutant species. Many people are concerned and understandably so. But the biblical depictions of approaching apocalyptic events are not taken as seriously any longer. Who even bothers to read the Bible’s prophecies any more? The threat of divine judgment just doesn’t seem real to most people. Judgment has become a cartoon subject; it is a nut walking up and down the sidewalk wearing sandwich boards that proclaim, “The end is near.”
You might find that amusing except that, well, the end is near. It is always near, for all of us: the end of the world, the end of our little worlds. “The Lord is at hand,” the apostle Paul wrote to his friends in the church of Philippi (Philippians 4:5). But this reminder that our end is near is not meant simply to frighten or alarm people. Make no mistake: the prospect of divine judgment is alarming. The Hebrew prophet Habakkuk has just been talking about it in a long series of terrifying “Woes” that fill up the second chapter of his little book. It would be good if these biblical passages did “put the fear of God,” as we say, into more of us! But whenever the Bible talks about the coming day of the Lord, it is not merely engaging in scare tactics. It turns out there is another side to the story, because after judgment comes restoration.
THE WORLD TO COME
The news that God is going to judge the world is bad news for some, but it is good news, though, for everyone who loves what is right and longs to see goodness, beauty and truth established on earth. Because after God judges sin and destroys evil, he is going to recreate the world. The Bible speaks clearly of a new order of things, of new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come here on earth: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Habakkuk tells us that one day our prayers are going to be answered. Once long ago, in the days of Noah, God sent a great flood to cover the earth in judgment. But some day there will be a different kind of flood.
Habakkuk prophesies of the time when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). What a beautiful and justly famous verse! What a gorgeous picture that is! One day, after God has judged all things, only he and his people will be left. The New Testament speaks of a time when God will be all and in all. That is what Habakkuk is looking forward to here. How full of water is the ocean? Stop and think for a moment how full of water is the ocean. Well, that’s how full of God the creation will be! Everywhere, everyone will know him. Every hill and tree and stream, every home and family, every tribe and nation, every person left on earth will be full of God, filled with his life and glory.
Notice two significant details about this coming flood foretold by Habakkuk. First, it is a vision of the future that is distinctively terrestrial, not celestial – it is focused upon the earth rather than heaven. Habakkuk says that it is the earth that will be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory. Contrary to all the popular images of eternity, people with harps sitting around on clouds forever and ever, the future salvation the Bible promises is to be experienced on the earth. It is a new earth, to be sure, a whole universe, in fact, transformed by the power of God into a place of unimaginable goodness and beauty, but the real world nonetheless. Biblical hope is physical as well as spiritual. It is hope for our bodies, for our planet, for the sun, moon and all the stars of all the galaxies in the universe. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” declares God at the end of the Bible, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
Second, Habakkuk’s vision emphasizes glory – the indescribable glory, the unimaginable wonder of a new creation made perfect by divine power. Habakkuk prophesies that the whole earth will be filled not just with the knowledge of God, but with the knowledge of the glory of God. That suggests a creation-wide experience of blessing. It will be a world of incredible bounty and endless delight, a world of safety and harmony, free of discord, where ancient animosities are overcome and all divisions are healed – not just human enmities but even those within the animal kingdom. Many passages in the prophets speak in vivid terms of life in the new creation; for example, this one from Isaiah:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of
the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
There it is again in Isaiah, the coming flood of glory. Only the richest, the most vivid poetic imagery can begin to convey the glories of the world to come. Writing two generations or so after the close of the New Testament, the early church father Irenaeus described the blessedness of life in the kingdom of God with a vivid word picture of a fantastically fruitful grapevine.
The days will come, in which vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and in each branch ten thousand twigs, and in each twig ten thousand shoots, and in each one of the shoots ten thousand clusters, and on every one of the clusters ten thousand grapes . . . and when any of the saints shall lay hold of a cluster, another shall cry out, “I am a better cluster, take me; bless the Lord through me.”
Irenaeus, Against Heresies
Isn’t that a lovely passage? Well, there is a single biblical word that best sums up all these wonders of the new creation. It is the Hebrew word shalom, or peace. Theologian Neil Plantinga, in his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, talks about the great biblical concept of shalom.
The prophets kept dreaming of a time when God would put things right again. They dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would be straightened out, rough places made plain. The foolish would be made wise, and the wise, humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease, and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder; all humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God, and delight in God. . . . The webbing together of God, humans and all creation in justice, fulfillment and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight . . . Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
But you and I know very well that things aren’t the way they ought to be, not anywhere, not yet. Where is shalom today? How can we experience it, where can we find it in the midst of our broken world? A Palestinian suicide bomber walks into a crowded Jerusalem restaurant at lunch time and blows himself up, killing more than a dozen innocent people and wounding scores more. The terrorist group responsible issues a statement explaining that the bombing was an act of revenge for Israeli assassinations of Palestinian guerilla leaders. So Israel retaliates with still more attacks. Did you know that Arabs and Jews use the very same word for their everyday greeting? It is an expression of blessing: Salaam . . . Shalom . . . Peace. The irony is too painful to contemplate.
The truth is, we are never going to achieve shalom by ourselves, through our own unaided efforts. It is beyond the capacity of human nature as it is to make the world a place of universal justice, blessing and peace. When Isaiah described his vision of the new creation he introduced it with another prophecy:
A SHOOT will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him . . . with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
Isaiah’s prophecy speaks of a great Prince, a descendant of David, who will arise to rule the world long after the royal house of Judah seemed extinct. This mighty King will establish righteousness and justice in the earth. He will do it for us. And now we know his name – it is Jesus Christ. He came once to atone for sin and to reconcile people to God and to one another. He will come again to complete the salvation of the whole world. Christ’s glorious reign in the new creation will usher in the kingdom of God in all its fullness, and then shalom will fill the universe.
Of course, in a sense the universe is already full of God right now. God is here. God is everywhere. But the tragedy is that so many people either do not realize this or refuse to acknowledge it. All around we are surrounded by people who were made by God, who are loved by God, who should be living for God, but who do not know him. They never even seem to think about him. Or they have gotten themselves entangled with substitute gods of one kind or another. But some day that is all going to change.
And it is beginning even now, whenever and wherever someone turns in faith to the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Have you done that? Has he made you a new person? Are you – in all of your life, your words and actions, your work and leisure activities, your relationships, your various interests and pursuits – contributing to the world’s shalom? Is your life a stream that is already adding to the coming flood, when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea? If it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?