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Habakkuk — A Book for Times of Crisis

Category Articles
Date April 3, 2020

Habakkuk asked God to remove wickedness and injustice from a nation that professed to believe in the High and Holy One who inhabits eternity. He was told of God’s purpose to chastise severely this wayward people. The rod with which the Lord would correct them would be a violent invasion by a cruel and bloodthirsty enemy. The aggressors would destroy the ‘land’ which God had given Israel and would carry large portions of the Jewish population into captivity.

When it became certain to the prophet that there would be no escaping the ferocity of the Babylonian enemy his entire being trembled.

‘I hear, and my body trembles;
My lips quiver at the sound;
Rottenness enters into my bones;
My legs tremble beneath me . . .’
Hab. 3:16

This ancient saint fully shared the weakness of human flesh, experiencing to the depths fear in the face of extremity.

The people of God often cannot escape the coming to pass of their greatest fears in this life. It may be national collapse as they are vandalized by conquering enemies. It may be death at the stake for those most prominent in declaring the unwelcome gospel. It may be a very personal struggle that is lost when seeking to escape the long-felt pains of dreaded incurable disease. Some are called upon to come to death in many unwanted circumstances.

Recognition of Coming Loss

In prayer Habakkuk’s imagination ran to the survey of consequences from the coming brutal invasion of the land by Babylon. Like a horde of locusts the heathen army would strip Israel of its beauty, productivity and pleasure.

‘The fig tree would not bud.
No fruit would appear on grape vines.
Olive trees would bear no crop.
From the fields would come no grain.
Flocks would be cut off.
Stalls would stand empty, having no herd to inhabit them.’
(From Hab. 3:17)

The army of Nebuchadnezzar would consume all that supports life, leaving behind a hungry nation, a broken economy and an unproductive, barren landscape. Fruitfulness of the earth, the sign of God’s blessing and the joy of Israel, would disappear.

This is not an unrealistic description of a region over which there have been major military operations. War and oppressive government bring about more famine than do natural conditions. Jeremiah was not the only prophet to lament Jerusalem’s fall. The sad moan of grief is well expressed in Habakkuk 3:17.

Joy in God during Times of Deepest Privation

In his struggle with God in prayer about revealed future events the great prophet came to an inward resolution of his discontent.

Man is like the beasts of the earth. We do have bodies, ours having been made of the dust of the ground, which crave material sustenance. Physically we need the fruits of the earth and animal products to live. Yet humans are unlike the other earthly creatures. God breathed into us living souls. While we do have common physical interests with the animal kingdom, we have a much higher community of welfare with spiritual realities and beings.

It is this fact which Jesus had in view when, during hours of intense hunger from lack of nourishment for his body, he told Satan, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matt. 4:4). Again our Saviour spoke of spiritual nourishment when he told his disciples, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about’ (John 4:32).

In like fashion, when Habakkuk sees — for he was a ‘seer’ (Hab. 1:1) — the land stripped of all that nourishes the body, he exclaims:

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
Hab. 3:18

This is the conclusion of one thought, which includes verse 17 above. He began, ‘Although’ the land is stripped of all that brings the body subsistence, ‘Yet’ I will have joy in God. There is great satisfaction for God’s people to find in God himself in times of severe want. It is sad that Christians too seldom fast. One of the lessons of fasting is that when the body is denied its pleasures spiritual satisfactions in God alone may increase greatly. When the material world lures us to intemperance and luxury it is so easy to forget the Lord, neglect communion with him and fail to depend on him alone. In the modern western nations, religion has commonly been turned into a quest for material things: the healing of the body, economic prosperity, etc. Did not Jeremiah say, to the contrary, ‘You shall seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’ (Jer. 29:13)?

When Jesus gave bread miraculously to thousands (John 6), crowds swarmed around our Lord looking for more bread. Christ rebuked them for not seeking him who is the bread of life. Habakkuk is meditating in the spirit of Romans 8:35–37. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ – not tribulation, persecution, famine or sword. Paul then says, ‘ . . . in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (verse 37).The apostle does not say that we shall never pass through extreme material and physical deprivation. On the contrary, he says that in all these circumstances of suffering loss we continue to possess the love of our God.

As we read the concluding words of the prophet Habakkuk, we perceive that there are haunting questions for all of us. Is the Lord your portion and your delight? Do you find earthly delicacies tasteless when the Lord has withdrawn the light of his countenance (‘When Jesus no longer I see’)? Are food in the pantry and money in the bank account your true props? Or do you lean upon the Lord?

You must learn to rejoice in the Lord! All the sweet material things of earth will forsake you. A day will come when you must say goodbye to all of earth’s pleasures. You will have to say farewell to friends on the earth. Through faith God will be sweetest in the hours of bitterest partings from earthly joys. ‘All flesh is grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever’ (1 Pet. 1:24–25). What are you clutching to your heart? Is it something you cannot hold? Or is it God and his promises?

From this portion of his book we know that if he remained alive at the invasion of Babylon and its aftermath, Habakkuk had already learned that he would nonetheless have ‘joy in the God of my salvation’. No enemy or circumstance could deprive him, and none can rob any saint of joy in God.

A Celebration of Triumph

Having called Jehovah ‘the God of my salvation’ (verse 18) the prophet boasts in the ultimate triumph that the Lord will give him. The poetry of verse 19 is in reality the language of war.

He makes my feet like the deer’s.’ God enables his people to move swiftly and deftly through earth’s tribulations. As the deer, darting through the forest, neither crashes into trees nor slips on rocks so shall the believer remain unharmed in the face of earth’s emergencies and of death itself. Though hunted by Satan or stalked by the world and our own flesh we run our course by faith.

We are running amid the arrows of this life, some very poisonous. However, because of ‘the feet of deer’ which God has given us we always evade the final, fatal blow. How did Israel survive the successive brutalities of Babylon, of Persia, of Greece, and of Rome? For millennia true faith has survived on earth — only God knows how. The saints came safely to their appointed rest. All have had the gift of ‘feet like the deer’s’.

Another line of triumph in the poem is, ‘He makes me tread on my high places.’ It is astounding that Habakkuk felt this truth in the hours of the impending disasters of war. To tread upon high places is the privilege of victors. Warriors would run along the highest ridges overlooking the valleys in which their battles had been won. Later they would ride chariots along the heights. It was very similar to the victory lap in an Olympic race. All this was done to demonstrate their dominance over what lay below them.

No revelation is given of the final state of the Jewish religion in this book. We read no specifics of the hour of triumph. Yet it is our awareness that there is such an hour that enables us to face our most alarming and dangerous circumstances along the narrow road that leads to life. ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors’ (Rom. 8:37). More than conquerors! It is ‘through him who loved us.’ It is from this personal embrace of God’s love that nothing whatever can separate us. ‘Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 15:16). This last verse is considering our resurrection which is to follow death when the Lord Jesus comes again.

Our souls are anchored on these certainties. The truth is that our Saviour triumphed on the other side of a horrid death on the cross. We have not been promised that we would never suffer as he did. To the contrary, we are explicitly told that the servant is as his master. But beyond any injury we bear for the moment, we shall rise with him and share a glorious new heaven and new earth with him.

Do all of these words of the prophet trouble you? Is the reality of God’s fellowship no source of joy and sustenance in dark hours? Can you face even the ravages of war and be certain of final triumph? Have you faced the deepest realities of God who is Spirit and of your need of spiritual renovation in Christ?

Do you know of the highest joys and most secure blessings in Christ through the forgiveness of your sins? Have you a hope beyond your home and travels and present friends? Where are you going? For what are you living?

Ponder the great statement of faith in Habakkuk 3:17–19. This is faith in an hour of adversity. And the Bible’s great theme is stated in Habakkuk 2:4b, ‘The righteous shall live by his faith.’

Call on the Lord Jesus for mercy in the face of your sins. Ask him for everlasting life. Only in him is this triumph of which Habakkuk spoke.


This article was first published in the December 2007 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.

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