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Habakkuk 3:17-19 Devotional

habakkuk quicklink

Today I want to encourage us with one of my favorite verses and books.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

If we are going to truly grasp and glean all that is these verses, we need to start with a wide angle look at the Book of Habakkuk so that we get the context and import of what we are seeing. The first chapter of the Book of Habakkuk is dominated by the protests of the prophet. He is greatly distressed by the sins of his nation, and even more distressed that God seems to be doing nothing about it. Habakkuk accuses God of failing to do His job, as the prophet perceives it. God answers Habakkuk’s protest (1:5-11), but this only provokes a rebuttal from the prophet (1:12—2:1).

If we are honest, all of us have probably been here, or near here, as we walk thru circumstances, either personally or that of our loved ones. Wondering what in the world is going on, wondering if God was going to do anything about it, etc…. Habakkuk was in this spot.

I get asked often and so I will speak to this again … “Is it ok to ask God questions?” My answer is that it depends on how you ask. Habakkuk would be an example of wrongly asking in my opinion, and here is why I say that:

(1) Habakkuk is angry with God. He does not question God in humility, but in rebuke. In Habakkuk’s mind, God has not acted promptly enough in judgment, and thus He is rebuked for being passive.

(2) Habakkuk is arrogant. His words sound like a man with his hands on his hips, rebuking his God.

(3) Habakkuk is wrong for assuming that God is doing nothing about Judah’s sins. The prophets had spoken of it, and it was only a matter of time. Habakkuk assumes that God is doing nothing because he is unable to see or to grasp what God is doing.

(4) Every one of Habakkuk’s arguments against God’s use of the Babylonians is flawed. How can a man who is wrong be right in his protest?

(5) There is a dramatic change in chapter 3. Habakkuk repents and humbles himself before God. He accepts the coming judgment, and he praises God. The words of chapter 3 are a psalm, recorded for Judah’s use in worship. Here, at last, is a Habakkuk whom we can follow.

That brings us to chapter 2 of Habakkuk. With the exception of the first verse, chapter 2 is a divine declaration of foundational principles (2:2-5) and of woe’s pronounced upon the wicked (2:6-20). This is God’s response to Habakkuk’s questions and even accusations. God responded and corrected Habakkuk. And God makes it clear that His plans prevail.

The third chapter reveals a radical change in Habakkuk’s heart. In chapter 1, the prophet demands justice; in chapter 3, the prophet pleads for mercy. In chapter 1, the prophet challenges God’s way of dealing with the wicked; in chapter 3, the prophet finds himself on his knees in prayer. In chapter 1, Habakkuk is protesting against God; in chapter 3, he joyfully praises God.

Something very dramatic happens to the prophet Habakkuk in the course of the book. He is not the same man we saw in chapter 1. The key to understanding the message of Habakkuk is to understand the process by which God changed the prophet’s attitudes and actions: God made it clear that as God’s people, WE LIVE BY FAITH NOT ANSWERS.

Habakkuk looked around at sin and its effects and the injustices and such that were rampant, prayed for God to do something, and yet seemingly nothing was being done. It seemed that God was not answering Habakkuk’s prayers. It seemed God was letting people get away with their sin, not holding up His end of the bargain so to speak. Not being faithful, or so it seemed.

We see this in Hab. 1:1-4. Most of all, Habakkuk fumes with anger because God appears to be doing nothing about evil, and that is His job! That is the essence of the prophet’s protest: “God, I have persisted at urging you to deal with the sins of this people, and you have been strangely silent? Don’t you care?” “God, if you are a just God, why is there no justice?”

To which God responds in Hab. 1:5-11. Please look at 1:5. Profound. I would encourage everyone to memorize this truth found here in Hab. 1:5 and go back to it when we don’t understand what is going on around us, or when it seems God is not doing anything.

One might paraphrase, even vv. 5-11, this way: “Take a good look around you, Habakkuk, and keep your eyes open. I am already at work, raising up the Chaldeans (the Babylonians). The problem is not that I am doing nothing, but that what I am doing is so beyond your grasp you would not even believe it if I revealed it to you.”

Think about that. It is not that God is not working. It is not that God is asleep. It is not that God is aloof. The silence is due none of these things. The silence is that God is God and we are not. The silence is that God does not owe us explanations. The silence is that even if God told us what He was doing, we couldn’t comprehend it.

Did Habakkuk think that God had been “asleep at the wheel,” that He either did not know or did not care that His people were acting wickedly? Well, contrary to Habakkuk’s perception, God was at work. It was just that Habakkuk couldn’t comprehend what God was doing. Again, God’s people live by FAITH, not ANSWERS. You wouldn’t believe it even if I told you …

We see this clearly in Hab. 2:4-5. These verses are the very heart of the book and even the gospel itself, verses that are quoted at least three times in the NT:

  • For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “the righteous by faith will live” (Romans 1:17).
  • Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith (Galatians 3:11).
  • For just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:37-39).

It was not God who needed to change His plans (as Habakkuk supposed), it was Habakkuk who was wrong and needed to change how he viewed things. According to verse 4, there are two kinds of people: (1) those who are proud, and whose souls are not right and demand answers; and, (2) those who righteous, and who live by faith, and trust God. Which are you?

It looked to Habakkuk as though God was not doing anything. That God was aloof, not being faithful, contradicting His own character. The vision Habakkuk received was a promise that God would judge those who were proud and arrogant, and who were sinners. What Habakkuk received was also a reminder that God’s promises to His people would be fulfilled. God would save a remnant of the righteous, as other prophets had indicated. Habakkuk had to believe this by faith, and he needed to endure the days ahead by walking in obedience to God’s Word.

The writer to the Hebrews (10:37-29) is applying Habakkuk 2:4 in a way that is very similar to God’s dealings with Habakkuk, and maybe even to where we are or will be in days to come. Days of tribulation and trial were coming upon the Hebrew saints. Some were tempted to “bail out” by returning to Judaism. They were tempted to cast off the New Covenant and live once again under the Old. Like God (Habakkuk 2:2-3), the writer to the Hebrews assures his readers that days of tribulation are soon to come on them, but that these will serve to prepare the way for our Lord’s return. Until He comes, they are to continue to “walk by faith,” just as they were saved by faith. The righteous are thus preserved (“saved”) through the days of trouble as they persevere by faith.

All of that leads us to Chapter 3. This chapter is different and shows Habakkuk got the message God was teaching Him. No more questions, but only praise. Look at Hab. 3:2: “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear.” It is as though he has said, “I get the message, Lord. These things were not only written for others, but for me” (see 2:2).

As Job’s questions were silenced by God’s sequence of questions (see Job 38 an following, culminating in Job 40:3-4); as Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before the sovereign God of Israel (Daniel 4); and as Asaph’s protests were squelched in Psalm 73 (compare verse 17 with Habakkuk 3:1-2ff.), so Habakkuk is humbled by God’s words in Habakkuk chapter 2. He no longer protests against God’s apparent inactivity; He now praises God for what He has done, and what He will do, in His good time.

I say all of this in order to lead us to rightly grasp and understand and appreciate Habakkuk’s words in 3:17-19. There is something incredibly beautiful about the closing words of Habakkuk. I pray that we would have the same attitude towards our God that is reflected in Habakkuk thru these verses. I pray this would reflect our hearts today and always:

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds' feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.

I think that given all that we have seen lately, and have seen in the past, and probably will see more of in our coming days if the Lord tarries, we could certainly paraphrase these thoughts in more contemporary terms, since most of us do not measure our well-being in terms of figs, fruit, and flocks.

We might say today ….

Though the Social Security fund is depleted,
Though the stock market crashes,
Though my insurance company goes bankrupt
and my IRA account vaporizes;
Though I lose my job or my business fails,
I will rejoice because of the Lord.

The righteous shall live by faith no matter what we face. God remains faithful no matter what we face. God is working, no matter if we see it or comprehend it. Believe this.

Everybody can worship God when everything is in place as it should be, at least in our eyes. When barns are full, stalls are full, orchards are full. But what about when these things are empty? What then? How will we react then? What might this tell us about where our trust was truly placed? Like the warning of 1 Tim. 6:17 – “instruct those who are rich in this world not to be conceited or to FIX THEIR HOPE on the UNCERATAINTY of riches …” Only God and His character are eternally certain. May our faith be in Him alone no matter what we face.

These final words of Habakkuk remind me of the closing words of the psalm of Asaph in Psalm 73:

22 I was ignorant and lacked insight;
I was as senseless as an animal before you.
23 But I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me by your wise advice,
and then you will lead me to a position of honor.
25 Whom do I have in heaven but you?
I desire no one but you on earth.
26 My flesh and my heart may grow weak,
but God always protects my heart and gives me stability.
27 Yes, look! Those far from you die;
you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, God’s presence is all I need.
I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter,
as I declare all the things you have done (Psalm 73:22-28).

Habakkuk’s peace and joy no longer were dependent upon his circumstances. No matter what happened nor what God chose to do, Habakkuk could still rejoice, for his hope and faith and joy were in God alone. In His time, God would deliver the righteous and fulfill His covenant promises. Until then, God was the source of His strength, strength which would sustain him in the dark days ahead. A humbled Habakkuk now realized that it was God who lifted him up and gave him sure footing in hard times.

May this be us in this time and all times to the Glory of God. May we boldly yet simply live by faith, rooted in the character and promises of God. Therefore we can hope and have hope no matter the circumstances. May we be able to honestly state as Habakkuk did in 3:17-19, that our hope is in God alone and not the things of this world.  May we always exult in the Lord and rejoice in the God of our salvation.