This Week's Focus Passage

Acts 13:41 - ‘A work which ye shall in no wise believe.’

Acts 13:41 - ‘A work which ye shall in no wise believe.’


These words of the apostle Paul are cited from the words of the prophet, Habakkuk, found in chapter one, verse five. This prophecy is spoken of by Habakkuk as The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. This ‘burden,’ or ‘oracle,’ is that which was, perhaps, a vision if we take seriously the expression ‘which the prophet did see.’ Whatever form of communication was employed, Habakkuk was the recipient of a message from God; a burden from Jehovah. This burden took the form of an asseveration that God was going to punish His people, the Jews, for their sins against Him. He was going to raise up the Chaldeans, a terrible and dreadful people as His instrument of punishment. Habakkuk’s responsibility is to proclaim, to prophesy, unto the Jews what Jehovah intended, and why. Surely it was a burden. Speak unto my people and remind them of their waywardness; their turning the back to me; their behavior that has allowed ‘justice to go forth perverted.’ He declaims against them in verses five and six in particular, uttering the following:

Behold ye, among the nations, and look, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling-places that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful.

Jehovah said of this message that Habakkuk delivered for Him to the Jews, which ye will not believe though it be told you.

Habakkuk’s audience did not believe. Either they were unconvinced that they were as wicked as they were told they were, or else they were resting in their covenant relationship with God through Abraham. Either of these stances may have been their argument against believing that God would so deal with them. Is that not the position of vast multitudes even unto this day; both Jews and Gentiles? ‘We have never behaved so badly as to be subjects of God’s anger and wrath!’ ‘We are the circumcised!’ ‘We are the baptized!’ ‘We are members of the Church!’ ‘We are His covenant children!’ ‘Anyway, God is a god of love, is He not? He would not pour out His wrath upon any of the sons of men.’ Behold, ye, among the nations, and look, and wonder marvelously. God has thundered His voice. Those self-righteous Jews who ‘stood their ground,’ were dragged away from that very ground, and carried into captivity, or else their blood was spilt and left upon that ground.

Was there any difference in the days of Paul? It is quite apparent that the apostle did not think so. He cited the same words of God to his auditory at Antioch even as Habakkuk had uttered them to his audience centuries earlier. Beware, Paul said to them of Antioch, therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken in the prophets. And upon this, he cited the words of Habakkuk the prophet. Those to whom Habakkuk communicated God’s message were, most surely, his ‘kinsmen according to the flesh.’ They were of those that were of the seed of Abraham. This prophet had, not only this burden, in a vision which he saw, but the blood relationship and the burden which that naturally—according to nature—involves.

In our focus passage from Acts, we find Paul—as he was often found—likewise among his natural kinsmen. These were Paul’s ‘kinsmen according to the flesh.’ (Romans 9:3). He was extremely concerned for them; to the point of tears if we may interpolate his expression when he, so passionately to say the least, cried out for the sake of these brethren, who are Israelites, whose is the adoption, saying:

I say the truth, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

It is not very easy to imagine any greater solicitude from one member of the human race for another such member. We know that Paul well knew that what he asked for was impossible—that he could ever be anathema from Christ, for that good work that Christ had begun on the road to Damascus would most surely be perfected in the day of Jesus Christ—Philippians 1:6.

Returning to our focus passage in Acts 13:41, the entire chapter contains the apostle’s preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. He is at pains to set before them the gospel as contained in “their Scriptures,” that is the Old Testament to which they claim adherence. In Antioch when Paul and his company went into a synagogue on the Sabbath day, we are informed that after the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers ‘opened the floor’ when they said,

Brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. And Paul stood up, and beckoning with the hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, hearken—Acts 13:15-16.

Paul then proceeded to remind his hearers of the dealings of God with this people beginning with their miraculous recovery from bondage in Egypt (v. 17), and how God had been a nursing-father to them in their wilderness trek from that land to the one promised them. He destroyed the nations of Canaan in order to give His people that land for about 450 years; He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet, and when they asked for a king, He gave them Saul, the son of Kish, a Benjamite; then He raised up David, the son of Jesse to be their king after Saul. Of this man ‘after God’s own heart,’ Paul said, God promised unto Israel a Savior, Jesus. This true Man after God’s heart came to save His people from their sins. This is He spoken of in both psalm 2 and 16. But they that dwell in Jerusalem and their rulers knew Him not. They slew Him, fulfilling all that was written of Him in the psalms and prophets. But God raised Him from the dead. Be it known unto you therefore, brethren, that through this man is proclaimed unto you remission of sins. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken in the prophets. But they did not believe.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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