Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the LORD; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! The LORD my Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!Habakkuk 3:17-19
I am thankful to my friend, Rich Berry, for reminding our Zoom group of this powerful text as we deal with the difficulties of the pandemic. What are brothers in Christ for, but to remind us of what God has said?
Verse 17 – These horrific times of trouble do come upon all people, including the people of God. In Habakkuk’s day, the economy is so shot that a piece of TP is more valuable than a dollar bill, the grocery store shelves are empty, the rich and the poor stand together in soup lines, a retirement account is unheard of. And nothing, not even prayer, changes that…at least for the immediate future.
Even if the supply lines could get the food to market, there is no food to get. Earlier in the book, Habakkuk was wrestling with God’s goodness, His fairness. Why were good people suffering along with the wicked? And why would a holy God use a wicked army to bring judgment on the Israelites, who were less wicked than the Babylonians?
Things were bad. The economy was wrecked, the food was gone, but, worst of all, it seemed God was gone, too. We see the realness of the Bible—it addresses the painful realities of life without sugarcoating them.
When the pandemic hit London in 1665, and the children’s rhyme, “Ring around the Rosie” was composed, the 70,000 people falling down in death to the Great Plague was made up of Christians as well as unbelievers.
How could that be fair? Where was God? The good God who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just as well as on the unjust? What was God’s purpose in this and other plagues?
Much of the time, we’ll not know those answers, at least completely; but we do know that Christians have not been exempt from any of the great pandemics that have ravaged the nations through history. But in them, we are given the perfect opportunity to show how real our faith is.
Verse 18 – In the worst of times there are reasons and a way to have a genuine joy…to celebrate, to rejoice with confidence. It’s all in how we look at our circumstances. When I can’t imagine having anything to smile about, my eyes are opened to see life differently. Here marks the difference between those who have their hope in the Lord and those who do not.
If I can see the threatenings of life against the backdrop of the sovereign Lord of eternity, then fear and misery are diminished. But I must resolve to have His joy for myself, to celebrate in the Lord…though that joyful confidence stands against all human reason. Notice the double “I will” of verse 18. By an act of my volition, I have to choose the course I must take with my life.
Will I, by faith, hook my wagon to the eternal God and to His unfailing love and promises, or will I choose to face the unknowables of life in my own intelligence and strength? I join Habakkuk; it is Jahweh (the LORD) for me!
Verse 19 – The LORD GOD is my strength. Where does real hope and real help come from? Habakkuk realized it comes from the powerful God of all creation (Elohim, the only title for God in Genesis 1). It comes from the LORD, the great I AM (Jahweh), the unchanging God who inhabits eternity. It comes from the Lord (Adonai) who reigns as sovereign King over all our days, who gives us hope; in His good hands we are safe and secure against the elements of this merciless world.
It is in Him that I take joy. He alone fills my heart with happy confidence as I navigate the painful realities of uncertainty and loss. In fact, He fills me with an uncommon agility, like that of a surefooted deer that climbs on the jagged heights of the worst of times.
He is my salvation and my strength. Behind my tears is a cornerstone confidence…I shall not be moved! I personally possess a mighty God. He’s my God who possesses me, who keeps me and comforts me through it all. I can read His love letter to me (what else— the Bible), and my soul is fortified with His character and promises.
I can talk to Him when I can’t talk to anyone else. I can unbosom my soul to Him and find a friend that sticks closer than a brother. What a mighty and good God He is! Pity the person who does not have Him! I rejoice in Him. I celebrate in Him. Not in myself, but in Him.
In myself, I am overwhelmed and doomed. But not in Him. He is where I go for joy. I dip my pail down into His well and it comes back up filled with joy. Let it be the best of times or the worst of times. Let it be war, let it be peace. Either way, I shall not be moved (Psalm 46).
I know in my heart of hearts that Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of Yahweh forever (Psalm 23:6). Did you catch that? “All the days of my life!” Joyful confidence, no matter what!