Habakkuk 3:17Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
Here we have, in my estimation, one of the most beautiful prayers in the OT. Certainly it is one that I have turned to repeatedly in my own life. It is one I reference almost weekly in my long prayer when I pray; “In wrath remember mercy.” (Hbk 3:2)
Habakkuk was the prophet of resolution. He stared face flush into the pit of coming darkness and standing resolute He makes the good confession of faith. He was a philosopher, like Job, examining the mystery of God’s ways with men. Like the Psalmist in 73 he is asking the question “why do the wicked prosper,” and like that Psalmist he finally is able to see that, in the words of Longfellow,
Though the mills of God grind slowly
Yet they grind exceedingly small:
Though with patience He stands waiting,
With exactness grinds He all.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
And in that conviction here in this passage Habakkuk makes a prayer/confession that regardless of the visible circumstances he will look and consider that which is unseen but even more certain. He lifts his eyes above the smoke of battle that sees a crumbling agricultural social order infrastructure and says, “I shall be not be moved in my confidence nor undimmed in my joy, that God shall have the final word. Though all may disintegrate around me yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior.
Truly all our joy is, to be in Him in whom is all Good, who is all Goodness and all Love.
And Habakkuk had a good reason to think that the destruction he posits could indeed come to pass. The context of the book finds God raising the wicked and ruthless Chaldeans up in order to be His rod of punishment against faithless Israel.
Tyranny, chaos, and lawlessness were rampant in Judah. The wicked leaders of Judah had raised up strife and contention (1:1), oppressed righteous people (1:2, 13), lived in open sin (2:4, 5, 15, 16), worshiped idols (1:4, 14, 15). Habakkuk’s time was dark. He faced a complete and utter disregard for God’s law, the certainty of a pending invasion, contentiousness among the people of Judah.
The book opens with Habakkuk complaining about wicked Judah and God responds… “Not to worry. I’ve got this. Indeed, my solution is bringing in the Chaldeans to have His judgment upon Judah. In vs. 12-17 of Habakkuk the prophet is aghast at such a prospect. He, understandably finds that a case of going from the proverbial frying pan to the fire.
Habakkuk found God’s ways here difficult to understand and justify in his thinking, though he learns in God’s second soliloquy (2:2-4) that God will bring about His justice in His good time. The prophet learns;
“God has all the ages which to demonstrate his justice. The testing of time will reveal what men are, as fire separates gold from dross. The Chaldeans may prosper in their wickedness for a season, and seem to triumph over a people more righteous than they. Yet they carry in themselves ‘the germs of certain ruin.’ The years, which are the crucible of God, will make manifest the essential weakness of an ungodly people.”
Then in the rest of chapter 2 following 2:4 God pronounces a series of five woes on the wicked. That is then followed by the anthem of praise and resolution in chapter 3 that we are looking at.
As we come to these verses we are looking at a grizzardly old prophet rocked by the circumstances of life, standing alone as living among a defiant people creating and bending to a wicked social order with the only prospect in his pocket that all of that was the good news.
But amidst all the uncertainty there remains one place and one place only to stand and on that one place he resolves to be unmovable. And that one place to stand is the certainty of the reality of God.
And so he becomes a hero for us today in the words that follow.
I.) Note first Habakkuk’s technique in overcoming
Habakkuk talks back to himself.
We’ve talked about this before here over the years but it is worth repeating. Habakkuk is in danger of being governed by his fears of what might happen to him in the future. He is understandably uncertain and we might even say fearful. Who wouldn’t be? He has been doubting God’s wisdom and sovereignty and ability to deliver him in his circumstances.
And here if vs. 17 he begins to take himself in hand and he begins to talk back to himself. You see don’t you, that Habakkuk is, as we might say, “getting a grip on himself.” He is finding his voice of courage to drown out his voice of fear and doubt. He says that come hell or high water, no matter if the very worse I can imagine could happen, I am not going to give up my confidence in God. I am not going to allow it to steal my joy in God my savior. I am not going to allow it to steal my ability to rejoice.
This technique of talking back to one’s self is found all throughout the Psalms. We see in Psalm;
43:5 – Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why the unease within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him for the salvation of His presence.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why the unease within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.
Fellow saints we need to learn this technique because should we not learn to talk back to ourselves, I can promise you we will certainly be overcome by our fears… fears which in the times we are living in — times not greatly different from those of Habakkuk – we will surrender to despair or perhaps worse yet we will compromise our convictions for a little relief.
As a Pastor I have to repeatedly tell people to not listen to their fears. I have to tell them to talk back to themselves with the truths about God’s character.
I tell the young lady who has unjustly lost her job that God has not abandoned her and she needs to talk back to herself that truth.
I tell the spouse that is going through divorce for cause that they must talk back to themselves regarding that God still loves them for the sake of Christ.
More than once I have had to tell parents who have lost a child or who have had a child born unhealthy that they must talk back to themselves and not allow their understandable discouragement be the louder voice.
I tell them, as I must often tell myself repeatedly, that we can yet still rejoice in God.
Now, I would not suggest this is easy. I doubt it was easy for Habakkuk but it was needful all the same. And speaking of personal experience if we don’t talk back to ourselves we are sure to sink in the slough of despond.
II.) Note Second the resolve in the Prophet Habakkuk
We are no longer an Agrarian people and so we have a hard time understanding the scenario here that the prophet paints.
3:17Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
This is a description of full and final desolation. This describes apocalypse of death and famine. The closest I have read on this in my life is what happened in the Holodomor. This was the political starvation of the Christian Ukrainians by the Atheist Jewish Bolsheviks in the 1930s when millions of people were purposely starved to death in order to bring them into subjection.
From my reading, starvation is a slow, torturous and particularly painful death. Yet despite the prospects of such a possibility what the prophet resolved on doing, when all nature and every seeming hope is dead is to say, “I will rejoice.”
This is supernatural. Almost beyond comprehension. And yet we have other accounts like this that come down to us from history. One I have told here before;
An old covenanter father and son during the 17th century Bishop Laud persecutions found themselves arrested and imprisoned. One day in the dank, cramped, filthy, and vermin filled cell the authorities came for the son. Hours passed until the door opened again and something was tossed in the cell. Covered with clothes the old father peeled back the clothes to see what it was that had been tossed only to discover his son’s severed head.
His response was as an example of talking back to himself was
“This is from the Lord…. it is good it is good.”
I can truly say that I do not have that amount of faith – of Habakkuk or of the Covenanter. I can only pray that should such a day come I would be given the grace to have that kind of faith to anchor myself in the real reality of God that lies beyond desperate and dreadful circumstances.
Of course all this is anchored in that foundational biblical and Reformed conviction that God is sovereign. If we can not convince ourselves of that… if we must put limits on God’s sovereignty, if we are not convinced that circumstances are beyond God’s control, we will not be able to talk back to ourselves, we will not be able to have this theocratic optimism that we find characteristic of Habakkuk and characteristic of our Reformed Faith & Fathers.
We can have no resolve… no grit … no ability to rise above our circumstances, our setbacks, or our challenges unless we believe in God’s sovereignty.
We see this in what we finally note here
III.) The Prophet’s Vision of God
In this section we see that Habakkuk escapes the thoughts of sufferings of this life to believing joy in God.
He speaks here of God as “The Sovereign Lord,” and it is this understanding of God that is the source of Habakkuk’s immeasurable joy.
He is rejoicing as vs. 18 says … “In the Lord, the Unchangeable God, “who is and was and is to come,” the great I am. He is rejocing in, as he says, “the God of my salvation.”
Here we hear the echoes of the name of Jesus for the name Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Augustine even notes here;
Augustine, de Civ. D. xviii. 32:
“To me what some manuscripts have; ‘I will rejoice in God my Jesus,’ seems better than what they have, who have not set the Name itself (but saving) which to us it is more loving and sweeter to name.”) “in God my Jesus.” In Him his joy begins, to Him and in Him it flows back and on; before he ventures, amid all the desolation, to speak of joy, he names the Name of God, and, as it were, stays himself in God, is enveloped and wrapped round in God; and I((the words stand in this order) “and I in the Lord would shout for joy.”
Augustine, following some manuscripts thought the Habakkuk text should read; “ I will be joyful in God my Jesus.”
Let us turn our attention then to vs. 19. which also speaks of Habakkuk’s vision of God.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
The idea that God is to make his feet like hind’s feet (the feet of deer) refers to swift footed, which was a qualification of a warrior (II Sam. 1:23, I Chronicles 12:8). This swiftness of foot enabled the warrior to make a flash attack upon the enemy and then to pursue him vigorously. Habakkuk uses this expression for the fresh and joyous strength in God, which Isaiah refers to “rising up on eagle’s wings.”
Habakkuk uses this phrase to point to the reality that God gives His people the victory over the enemy.
Keil and Delitzsch offer here that this phrase regarding deer’s feet
“Simply denotes the ultimate triumph of the people of God over all oppression on the part of the power of the world, altogether apart from the local standing which the kingdom of God will have upon the earth, either by the side of or in antagonism to the kingdom of the world.”
If this is accurate then Habakkuk is breathing a theocratic optimism here. He has seen God high and lifted up and He knows that He knows that God is going to give the victory in His time.
And here we find the basis of our eschatological optimism. There is no conquering ourselves or our enemies apart from a confidence that when all is said and done in space and time history, God wins.
If a man becomes what He believes then being confident that God is going to make us warriors by making us swift footed to pursue and conquer the enemy is foundational to our faith.
The bottom line is, is if our theology teaches us we will be conquered and lose then our believing that will make it a self-fulfilled prophecy. Habakkuk does not allow us to go there and despite the heavily majority report on this subject that rebukes us postmill folks on this, my word is … fear not, for God will make us swift footed to conquer them also.
A sermon like this needs to be preached because the church is currently being sifted and that sifting work is going to only increase in the days ahead. Western Civilization and the Christianity that created it are being attacked in every corner. God’s people are being squeezed increasingly regarding their Christian convictions. Friends correspond with me telling me how they have to keep their Christian convictions on the down low if they are to survive in their work place. Parents come to me weeping that if it is found out what their Christian convictions are they may well lose their children in custody issues before a hard left judge. Churches by the droves are abandoning the historic Christian faith that their father at all times and in all places once embraced in favor of a egalitarian Marxist version of Christianity.
We are being sifted. I don’t know where this ends but I do know that if any of us are to survive this we must be able to pray like Habakkuk. We must be able to have the vision of God that Habakkuk had. A vision that says that come hell or high water I am not quitting on God. I will rejoice in God my Jesus – my salvation. I will continue to look past the seen and felt hardships of battle and will see the unseen …. the Sovereign Lord (who) is my strength.
Our Father of Job had this same spirit. Job could write along with Habakkuk, “Though He slays me, yet I will trust in God.”
If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous cloud,
It is but for a time; I press God’s lamp
Close to my breast; its splendor, soon or late,
Will pierce the gloom: I shall emerge one day.