By Andrew E. Courtis
It is interesting how circumstances bring out different responses in us. When things go our way, we are often excited. When things don’t go our way we are often frustrated. To go from frustration to excitement we are usually in need of things going in our favour. In this final message, we will see how Habakkuk’s response to what was happening the world goes from perplexity and fear to praise and faith. But unlike us, who a lot of the time needs the circumstances to be stacked in our favour, this was not the case with Habakkuk, at least by the time we come to the end of the book.
Habakkuk 3 begins with a musical title (3:1), the term “selah” is repeated three times (vv. 3, 9, 13) and it ends with a musical subscript (3:19). Along with its poetic content, style, and structure, its features align with many of the psalms. So this prayer of praise could also be referred to as a psalm of Habakkuk. Habakkuk’s prayer begins,
“O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (3:2)
He heard the report of the Lord and His work most recently in his Q & A session with the Lord (1:5-11; 2:2-20). After hearing about God’s sovereign ways and work he humbly responds, “I fear”. Habakkuk has clearly been impacted by the greatness of God’s ways. So much so, that he is no longer thinking about the political situation of Judah, or of his lack of understanding as to how God could allow godless leaders to overtake the land. His focus was now on God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way,
“How was Habakkuk brought to such a position? It would seem that it was when he stopped thinking of his own nation, or of the Chaldeans, and contemplated only the holiness and justice of God against the dark background of sin in the world” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, From Fear to Faith, p. 57).
He now makes two simple requests. Firstly he prays, “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known”. This is a request for God to bring revival in the land. His chief concern was not the direction of the nation; his chief concern was that the greatness of God’s name be seen. We can very easily lose focus of God’s glory, and become focused on earthly glory. His second request is, “in wrath remember mercy”. This is an appeal to God, that while He justly pours out His wrath on the nation, that He would also grant mercy. He is calling for the Lord to be true to His glorious character.
In this final chapter the prophet brings the book to a close by taking time to recount the greatness of God’s acts (3:3-16), and then responds by praising God (3:17-19). This prayer was not just for the prophet, it is also for all of God’s people. As we work our way through it, we will learn that no matter what happens in this world or in our lives, the people of God can still rejoice in the Lord.
1. THE PROPHET’S RECOUNT (3:3-15)
After making those two requests to the Lord, in his prayer Habakkuk now recounts the greatness of God’s past works. This recount includes references to God’s dealings with His people in bringing them out of Egypt, His acts during the wilderness wanderings, and His mighty acts as they claimed the Promised Land. This recount is not designed to be a chronological historical review, but rather it is a poetic collage that assures the prophet of two realities of God’s character worth remembering. He remembers God’s power (3:3-7) and God’s wrath (3:8-15).
Remembering God’s Power (3:3-7)
The prophet looks back to the time when God’s power was on display in His deliverance of His people from Egypt, through the wildness, and to the Promised Land. God revealed Himself in splendor and power (3:3-4). He delivered His people by sending plagues and pestilences (3:5) and demonstrated His power through earthquakes (3:6-7).
Remembering God’s Wrath (3:8-15)
Habakkuk now recalls a series of events in which God was seen as Israel’s Divine Warrior. God’s wrath was seen in the drowning of the Egyptian soldiers as they pursued the Israelites (3:8, 15). He allowed His people to have military victories by decisively defeating their enemies by crushing them (3:11-14). God intervened for His people and revealed Himself as their Divine Warrior.
Habakkuk’s recount is significant. He is making use of certain facts concerning God and His ways. This practice is important because as we are bombarded with so many different ideas and opinions in the world, what serves us best is the certainty of God’s ways. The certainty of God’s ways is the foundation that we are to build our hopes and desires on.
2. THE PROPHET’S RESPONSE (3:16-19)
After recounting such amazing truths of God’s great character, Habakkuk responds,
“I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me” (3:16a)
The thought of Judah being invaded by the Chaldeans, a people led by a godless and brash leader caused great distress to come upon Habakkuk. But as he takes his focus off himself and the circumstances, and remembers God’s past actions, he says, “Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us” (3:16b). In other words, he simply submits himself to God and will wait for His final vindication. This waiting involved the requirement of faithful living (2:4) and the recognition of the ruin of the enemies of God in the future (2:6-20). Now with complete trust in God, regardless of what goes on around him, Habakkuk declares,
“Though 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, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (3:17-19)
In verse 17 Habakkuk describes a devastated economy. He understood that this might happen to the people of Judah when the Chaldeans invade the land. We may not directly relate to the devastation described by Habakkuk as we don’t live in an agrarian society, but if I put it these terms we may be able to relate: Though my house loses all its value, then I lose my job, and there is no food available in the supermarkets or in the farms, and my pantry and fridge are empty, yet will I rejoice in the Lord. With such a horrible prospect Habakkuk was able to respond by knowing that regardless of what happens, he can have satisfaction and strength.
Why and how will Habakkuk have satisfaction in the midst of such devastation? It is so easy for us to rejoice and be excited when things are going well for us. But what happens when circumstances are not going our way? Habakkuk could be satisfied even at the prospect of an invasion of a godless nation because his satisfaction was not in what is happening around him, but it is in the Lord. He said, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (3:18). When we look at the circumstances we will not be satisfied, but if we look to the Lord, it is only there where we can find true satisfaction. This satisfaction does not remove the legitimate emotional grief and sadness that we often experience, but it does provide us with a settled joy that is found in the Lord, who alone is in control of all that is happening.
In the prospect of such devastation, Habakkuk will not only be satisfied but he will also have strength. He declares,
“God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (3:19).
Because he knows that only the Lord is his strength, Habakkuk likens himself to a confident deer that is able to scale high mountains without slipping. This is true because his refuge is in the Lord (cf. Psalm 34:8). Such strength can only find its source in the Lord. This is what Paul conveyed when he declared, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
The prophet began this book with a problem that led him to fear and perplexity. He then ends the book with a psalm that expresses faith and praise. What changed? It wasn’t the circumstances, because they were the same. The prospect still looked bad, but what changed was his perspective. He no longer spent his time dwelling on the problems of the world; he instead looked to the Lord.
The great hope of Christianity is that if you come to the Lord Jesus Christ, though you will still experience trouble in this world, you are able to rest in the sovereign Lord who alone can provide forgiveness of your sins and grant you eternal peace. You can be assured that the day is coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). With this as our hope, regardless of what happens in this world or our lives, we are called to set our eyes on Him and live our lives for His great glory. Trouble and hardship will be on our pathway, but we can be assured that God is doing a work. We won’t understand the full extent of this work, but we are to trust Him as we keep our eyes on His coming kingdom. The Lord alone is worth making much of, so then, we are to strive to live out the rest of our time here by faith (2:4).
Let us be like Habakkuk and say, “Come what may, I will rejoice in the Lord”.