by Tim Herwaldt
17Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
When we read this passage from Habakkuk 3 it sounds like a great hymn expressing Habakkuk’s faith in the sure provision of the Lord. But that is not how the book named after the prophet began, and it took a while for him to get to this point. How he got to the place of expressing this confidence in the Lord is a great lesson for us, especially in light of the appearance of the world around us currently.
The book opens with Habakkuk expressing dismay at the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. Does this sound familiar? Chapter 1 leads out with his complaint about the state of affairs and the voicing of his puzzlement about the Lord’s apparent lack of action in the face of this.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
This sounds rather like, “Lord, look at the gross unfaithfulness of this nation. Don’t you care? Why don’t you do something?”
In verses 5-11 of chapter one, the Lord answers Habakkuk’s complaint, but it was not the answer that he was expecting. In essence the Lord says, “Listen closely. You won’t believe this! I’m going to send the Chaldeans to punish Israel!” Then he proceeds to describe the ruthlessness and fierceness of the people that he will use as his rod of punishment.
This prompts another complaint from Habakkuk. In verses 12-17 he cries out in disbelief. “What? You’ll use someone even more wicked than Israel as your means of punishment?” He was concerned initially, but now he is completely confused.
As chapter two begins, the prophet declares his intent to watch and see what the Lord will do. The Lord responds by giving him a vision and telling him to write it down and wait for it because it will surely come to pass. He assures Habakkuk that he knows full well how despicable the Chaldeans are and pronounces five woes against them because of their great wickedness. The final of these is a woe pronounced over those who worship a god who is not the one true God, and concludes with this admonition in verse 20: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
Finally, Habakkuk begins to understand. Chapter three is the prayer that he prays in which — and this is the key to his finally understanding — he reminds himself of who this God is that he serves. He remembers his might and power and his mighty acts, and as he completes this rehearsal 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.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
Now he is able to voice the confidence that he expresses in the passage quoted at the top of this page. It is worthwhile paying attention to the description of the conditions that Habakkuk realizes might come to pass. The picture he paints is one where he is potentially bereft of the very necessities of life. Yet he will rejoice in the Lord!
This should be a great encouragement to us. Even when the world around us looks utterly confusing, even when it looks as though things are coming undone at the seams, our God is on the throne, he is accomplishing his good purposes, and he is for us.
On Sunday, August 16, as Pastor Jason finished up the summer series on the faith of Abraham, one of his final points was that Abraham was able to pass the test of faith because he had his priorities in good order. Abraham did not need to know the “why” behind what he was called on to do, because he knew the “who.” He was able to trust the heart behind a puzzling providence. The same is true of Habakkuk. He reminded himself of who God is and thus was able to trust him through another puzzling providence.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the same God of Habakkuk is our God, and he is trustworthy!