These familiar verses have been spoken many times to me over the years, but I have only recently begun to understand their beauty – and their weight.
“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
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.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Habakkuk was facing no small thing – the enemies bearing down on his people were ruthless, merciless, vile perpetrators and the terror they induced was real and justified. He was not exaggerating in his complaints to God, and it is perfectly understandable that he would want God to intervene.
He called upon the character of the God he knew – the God he served and trusted – but who seemed silent and distant in the face of unimaginable horrors and carnage advancing upon him. You can almost hear him pleading, “I know you’re there – where are you?!?”
Mercifully, we have the record of God’s response. But when we already know the outcome of a story, it’s hard to absorb the weight of how it unfolds.
Habakkuk is bewildered why God isn’t doing something to correct the evil of his own people – the evil God abhors and he knows needs to be corrected. Bit why, he laments, can’t God just take matters into his holy hands rather than putting them into the hands of ruthless, vicious men? Couldn’t he do something a little less destructive to call his people back to living the way they should have been living? Why did it have to be so unbelievably severe?
God reminded Habakkuk of who he is. He reminded Habakkuk of his character, justice, power, and might. He reminded Habakkuk of his promises and of his faithfulness. He validated that the desolation that Habakkuk saw coming was accurate and true.
And then he did nothing.
Absolutely nothing changed… except Habakkuk.
Like Job, Habakkuk meets the God he loves and trusts in a way that knocks him off his feet and back to his knees in wonder and praise. Like Job, Habakkuk realizes that there are many, many things about God and his purposes that he cannot begin to fathom. And like Job, Habakkuk shows us that we need to encounter God the same way.
The terror was real – the nation that was coming for them was despicable in every way. The destruction of everything they knew was bearing down hard on them and there was nothing Habakkuk could do about it. And now he realized that there was nothing God was going to do about it, either. It would happen, as God said it would, and that was that.
But knowing the character of the God behind all the carnage made Habakkuk praise him anyway. How could this be? How could someone clearly see destruction and waste just ahead of him and yet… rejoice?
The answer, of course, is that he was able to rejoice in God – not in his circumstances or even in what they would produce. Habakkuk laid out all the impact that was coming – no food, no income, no provision at all. And said, “yet.”
I might lose everything, yet…
I might be starving, yet…
Everything might look hopeless and desolate, yet…
I know you, God. I trust you. You have proven again and again that your faithfulness is unbreakable. You love your people. You will do right by them. These circumstances are terrifying – they’re dire – and yet…
I will rejoice in YOU.
I will take joy in YOU.
YOU are my strength. YOU are my provider. YOU will offer defense. YOU will raise me up and I will live with YOU forever.
Habakkuk got to the place of not only knowing that he should praise and rejoice in God in the midst of pain and fear, but why he could. We all need to get to that place, because that is where we plant our feet squarely on the rock-solid foundation of faith and realize that it is strong and secure.
We are blessed when we are able to join Habakkuk (and so many other faithful saints who have gone before us) in saying,
“Even when everything around me looks utterly hopeless and there is nothing about my circumstances that points to deliverance, yet…
“Even if all the gifts you’ve given are taken away, yet…
“Even if I have no idea how this will all work out – or IF it will all work out, yet…
I will rejoice. I will take joy – in YOU, God, who are my strength. In YOU who are my defender. In YOU who are my fortress and strong tower.
Even if everything around me points to destruction and desolation, if You give me YOU, all will be well, for I will have everything.