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,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 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. – Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV
Habakkuk has expressed his concern to God about the state of affairs in Judah, describing it as a place where the wicked outnumber the righteous, creating an atmosphere of injustice and violence. He was shocked by God’s surprising admission that He would use the pagan nation of Babylon as His instruments of judgment against Judah. Habakkuk had been looking for a spiritual revival in Judah, but God had plans to bring about their destruction and captivity.
Upon hearing God describe the divine retribution He had planned for Babylon’s role in Judah’s punishment, Habakkuk found himself encouraged and comforted. He reflected on God’s past acts of deliverance on behalf of the people of Israel and concluded that, in spite of all that was about to happen, he could trust God to do the right thing. The sovereign plan of God was just, right, and perfect in every detail.
I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us. – Habakkuk 3:16 ESV
Now, Habakkuk closes his book with a statement of complete confidence in God. This is not some pollyanna, positive-motivational claptrap intended to score brownie points with God. He is expressing his sincere belief in the greatness and goodness of God. He fully realizes that Judah’s immediate future is a grim one. There would be no miracle of national revival like the one that took place during the reign of King Josiah. Injustice, immorality, and wickedness would continue to plague the nation of Judah until the judgment of God fell upon them in the form of the Babylonian army. Conquest and captivity were the inevitable fate of God’s people because of their long history of rebellion and unfaithfulness.
Using a series of metaphorical comparisons, Habakkuk clearly reveals his understanding of Judah’s fate. He harbored no delusions that things were going to improve. In fact, he seems to have in mind the curses God had promised to bring on the people of Israel if they failed to keep their covenant agreement with Him.
“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.” – Deuteronomy 28:15-18 ESV
Their decision to disobey God would result in His discipline of them, in the form of tangible loss and devastating suffering.
“The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The Lord will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew.” – Deuteronomy 28:20-22 ESV
Among the many curses that Moses outlined to the people of Israel were those affecting their crops and flocks.
“You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off.” – Deuteronomy 28:38-40 ESV
And Habakkuk appears to take all these devastating signs of God’s disciplinary hand and boils them down into a few representative examples. He describes a fig tree that has failed to blossom, a sure sign that no fruit could be expected. It would be barren and of no value. He foresees barren vines, devoid of fruit, and guaranteeing no wine production. He envisions the annual olive harvest as failed, the fields lying barren and empty. And the subsequent famine has a devastating impact on the flocks and herds.
But although Habakkuk paints a bleak and depressing scenario, he expresses his firm intention to remain confident in the goodness of God.
…yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. – Habakkuk 3:18 ESV
Even if all these terrible things take place, which God had indicated they would, Habakkuk is determined to trust in God. His words are reminiscent of those spoken by Job.
Though he slay me, I will hope in him… – Job 13:15 ESV
Job was a man who had suffered great loss and, unlike the Israelites, he had done nothing to deserve it. He was completely innocent and yet, in a devastating series of catastrophic events, he lost all his flocks and herds, and received news that his children had been killed in a freak accident. And yet, his response to all of this undeserved and inexplicable loss was to say:
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!” – Job 1:21 NLT
But things only got worse. Job soon found himself suffering from a debilitating and painful skin disease for which there was no cure or no hope of relief. At that point, his own wife, assuming that Job had done something to deserve all this suffering, encouraged him to curse God and die. To which Job responded, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10 NLT).
Habakkuk, like Job, was convinced that his God was good even when everything around him looked bad. He was not going to judge the goodness of God based on the nature of his circumstances. And yet, how easy it is for the children of God to “accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad.” And while we should always be grateful to God for His many blessings, their absence should never cause us to assume a lack of God’s presence.
It is right and proper to voice appreciation of God’s goodness when he bestows all that is necessary for life, health, and prosperity. But when these things are lacking, to rejoice in God for his own sake is evidence of pure faith. – Bruce, F. F. “Habakkuk.” In The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expositional Commentary
Habakkuk was prepared for the worst, but fully confident in God’s best. He was placing his hope in the goodness of God. And this reflects a major shift in the prophet’s mood. He had started his book in a state of despair, complaining to God about the dismal conditions in Judah. But now, after having heard from God and being assured of His divine plans, Habakkuk was filled with confident assurance in his faithful, sovereign God.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights. – Habakkuk 3:19 NLT
Habakkuk knew that he would be able to endure all that was to come because his good God would give him strength. Like the apostle Paul, Habakkuk was relying on something greater than himself to face the ups and downs associated with this fallen world.
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13 ESV
The days ahead would be difficult. The discipline of God would be painful and purging. But Habakkuk was willing to put his confidence in Yahweh because He had always proven Himself to be trustworthy and true. The conditions in Judah were going to get worse before they got better. The Babylonians were coming, whether Habakkuk liked it or not. And it was all part of God’s divine plan for the future redemption of His people.
As followers of Christ, we face a similar situation as that experienced by Habakkuk. We live in a fallen world where sin and wickedness abound. The people of God are under constant attack with the enemy focusing all His efforts on the destruction of the body of Christ. And yet, Jesus warned us that these days would come. And He also told us to remain firm in our faith and full of peace because He has it all under control.
“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:32-33 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.