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!
For the choir director on stringed instruments.
I read once that if you’re struggling with worry, the best thing to do is to imagine the worst possible scenario of your worry. It’s a pretty good strategy, although I have a very active imagination. In my conversations with people these days, I see this mentality. The mentality of buckling down and preparing for the worst. Habakkuk’s mentality. Or is it?
For a few days I’ve had this passage in mind to write about for this newsletter. Today, the opportune moment came. Babies are napping, the house is quiet. I’m going to write about Habakkuk and about how in the midst of his worst possible scenario, he’s trusting the Lord. It’s not a bad take, but it’s far from the whole picture. I only know this, because I went ahead and read all three chapters of Habakkuk before I started to write. Extreme prep, I know, but like I said, the babies are asleep. The silence goes to my head.
It’s different from how it was in my head, and I’ve read Habakkuk before. Habakkuk starts out with
“How long, Lord, must I call for help
and you do not listen
or cry out to You about violence
and You do not save?
Why do You force me to look at injustice?
Why do You tolerate wrongdoing?
Oppression and violence are right in front of me.
Strife is ongoing and conflict escalates.”
Wow, right? Talk about relevant. This is a prayer I could pray right now, word for word. The amazing thing is that God actually answers Habakkuk and gives the big picture view that Habakkuk is asking for in order to understand. God says:
Look at the nations and observe—
be utterly astounded!
For I am doing something in your days
that you will not believe
when you hear about it.
Look! I am raising up the Chaldeans…
I’m pretty sure this is why the Lord rarely tells us what He is doing. It’s because we would be scared spitless. In response to Habakkuk’s plea for justice, the Lord says He is raising up the Chaldeans. Great! Good plan! Um... who are the Chaldeans? Habakkuk would most likely have already heard frightening rumors about this fierce new empire spreading its borders ever closer to Judah. The capital city of Chaldea was Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar would be the Chaldean king who would later invade Judah, just as God is telling Habakkuk, and who would destroy Solomon’s temple, lay waste the land, and carry off the vast majority of its inhabitants into slavery (among them Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).
Habakkuk is understandably shaken by this revelation. He asks:
Is he then to keep on emptying his net
and mercilessly killing nations forever?
God, what about the Chaldeans? What about justice for them? Part of the Lord’s answer sounds familiar because it is quoted by Paul in Romans:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end — it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
Behold his (Chaldea’s) soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
Woe to him (Chaldea) who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long?
and loads himself with pledges!
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
God tells Habakkuk that the fulfillment of the prophecy may seem slow, but it is surely coming. God’s judgement on Judah for her injustice, violence, and wrongdoing, is surely coming. And God’s judgment on the Chaldeans for their viciousness, their cruelty, their idolatry, is surely coming. And in the midst of all this, God’s people are going to live by faith. They’re going to have to trust God’s promise that He is bringing about justice, that He is not slow, that He is not delaying, that He is at work in the movements of the greatest empire on earth at the time.
The third chapter of Habakkuk is his final reply to the Lord. It’s filled with imagery of God working in history and doing mighty deeds. Here’s the conclusion Habakkuk reaches: It’s one thing to read through the Bible and pass from Genesis to Exodus and think “Huh. 400 years of slavery. Interesting.” It’s another to be a brickmaker at the 200 year mark of slavery and trust as you work for the glory of Pharaoh that great-great-great-great uncle Joseph had it right when he said that God would certainly bring your people into the land He swore to give to Abraham. It’s one thing to hear a Sunday school lesson about Moses and the children of Israel having to paint the blood of a lamb over their doors. It’s another to kill the lamb, paint the door, and trust, as you hold your sleeping firstborn son in the blackness of night, that the angel of death will pass over him. It’s one thing to hear about the Red Sea parting. It’s another to wake up in a vast encampment of terrified refugees with the rumble of Pharaoh’s chariots behind you, and an impassable sea ahead of you. Habakkuk is now seeing God work in mighty ways, which before he had only read about. Here's how he feels about it.
O LORD, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O LORD, do I fear.
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.
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.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
First of all, Habakkuk's response to God's terrifying plan, is to write a worship song. I love thinking about Daniel and his friends singing this song years before their captivity in Babylon. Somehow facing the worst things head on, even singing about them, takes the sting away. Christ was singing about the cross long before he was making his final trek to Jerusalem. We can sing about the worst things because if they're part of God's plan, then the worst things will ultimately be redemptive.
If I were to write a song about my worst case scenario, it would be something far less poetic:
though there is no end to Covid’s ramifications
though the world governments become more power mad
though the price of everyday necessities go ever up
though the battle on the family is lost...
Well I guess those who can't write songs... write newsletters.
We were watching Planet Earth the other day with the kids, and there was a section on mountain goats. Nimble is a feeble word to describe how agile they were on cliffs and precipices. That was what brought Habakkuk to mind in the first place because suddenly
“He makes my feet like the deer’s;
He makes me tread on my high places”
became so much more than just a pretty mental picture. Far from being a reiteration of Psalm 23, Habakkuk is saying 'God makes me able to endure in the harshest circumstances.' Whatever your worst case scenario song is, even if it comes true down to the jot and the tittle, God’s righteous ones will live by faith. We trust that He is bringing about His ultimate plan of redemption. We trust that He loves us because we keep the cross of Jesus in mind. We trust that even if things worse than our imaginations were to take place, He would make us able to keep our footing in that wasteland. Above all, we trust that though we ourselves deserve His judgment, in Jesus, that judgement is absorbed.
He'll keep us standing, both on the precipices now, and before His throne on that great day.
Keep on your toes,
Miles & Martha