Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
I have several people in my thoughts and prayers today who are facing, or are about to face, difficult times. It’s very hard to remain upbeat in the face of pain and suffering. So, when I came across this scripture today, it made an impact.
I am not a great fan of the minor prophets, of which there are twelve: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Most of these prophets foretell doom and catastrophe for the Israelite nation. They tell of impending judgment on *somebody*. It’s important to have them for the historical record, but rarely do I glean anything from them. Until today.
Habakkuk (what a mouthful!) falls right after Nahum. And we all know where Nahum is, right? Kidding. I’ve never heard a sermon preached out of Nahum. Habakkuk, and Nahum for that matter, are very small books containing three chapters each. Habakkuk cries out to God about “violence everywhere” (1:2). He laments the miserable state of his country, where the law has “become paralyzed” (1:4). Sounds a bit like home, doesn’t it? Habakkuk doesn’t just cry out to an uncaring God; our compassionate God answers back. He tells Hab that the Babylonians are coming. Old Hab is none too pleased. “O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal – surely you do not plan to wipe us out?” (1:12). He tells God the Babylonians only come to correct, not wipe out the nation. God has a response to that, too. The Babylonians bring God’s judgment. God has spoken to his people numerous times about their idolatry and treacherous ways with each other. This is the last straw.
Habakkuk prays one last prayer. He realizes God’s purpose cannot be stopped. But he reminds the Lord of his mercy. He recounts the Exodus. He settles his spirit within him, taking a deep breath – “I will wait quiet for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us” (3:16). Touching God’s people will bring consequences. Then, those beautiful verses at the top of this page. Can we trust God when our lives get turned upside down, sometimes (but not always) even out of our own poor choices? Will we remember his love and mercy, that it endures forever (Psalm 136)? From another minor prophet, Zechariah 2:8, “Whoever harms you harms my most precious possession”. I’m reminding myself of this today, too. He will always make a way for us.