Holding on to Our Joy in the Lord

We don’t often give the minor prophets much attention, beyond telling the story of Jonah or studying some sections if you’re curious about future and fulfilled prophecies. I find, though, that when I do study them or run across a verse from one in word searches that their messages are often surprisingly relevant for today. The section of a minor prophet’s book to most recently catch my eye is a verse at the end of Habakkuk.

The short book of Habakkuk records an exchange between the prophet and God, then ends with a psalm/prayer. At the beginning, Habakkuk looked at the nation around him and cried out to the Lord about how “the law lacks power, and justice is never carried out” (Hab. 1:4, NET). He wants God to intervene and make things right, as so many of us want today. However, when God answers it is not the way Habakkuk hoped or expected. God says He’s going to “empower the Babylonians” (Hab. 1:6) to take over Israel.

Habakkuk is so horrified that he argues with God (Hab. 1:12-2:1). God is not obligated to explain Himself to people, yet in this case he does. He talks about how people of integrity ought to live (“the righteous will live by his faith,” see Hab 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), and contrasts how He relates to those people with what awaits the wicked. He proclaims, “Woe!” to those who’ve rejected Him and promises that “recognition of the Lord’s sovereign majesty will fill the earth” (Hab. 2:14, NET). It’s quite a lengthy response (Hab. 2:2-20), and Habakkuk seems satisfied with it since the next part of the book is a prayer, likely set to music, praising God. That’s where we’ll focus today.

Receiving Good and Evil from the Lord

Earlier, Habakkuk protested the Lord’s plan to punish His people, but now after talking with God the prophet’s perspective changed. In the prayer recorded at the end of this short book, there’s an odd mix of talking about destruction and salvation. People today often struggle to reconcile the idea of a God that would allow suffering with a God that is salvation, deliverance, and love. Habakkuk doesn’t seem to have that trouble.

Yahweh, I have heard of your fame.
I stand in awe of your deeds, Yahweh.
Renew your work in the middle of the years.
In the middle of the years make it known.
In wrath, you remember mercy. …

Plague went before him,
and pestilence followed his feet.
He stood, and shook the earth.
He looked, and made the nations tremble. …

You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the land of wickedness.
You stripped them head to foot. Selah.

Habakkuk 3:2, 5-6, 13, WEB

This reminds me of a question Job asked his wife: “Should we not receive what is good from God and not also receive what is evil?” (Job 2:10, NET). If we believe God is sovereign and that He is responsible for all the good things that happen in our lives, then we ought to trust Him through the bad things as well. There could be something going on that we don’t know about, such as Job suffering as part of God showing that one man’s faith, tested by fire, could make a cosmic difference. Or maybe God is punishing an unfaithful nation and we get caught up in that even though we’re faithful, as happened here with Habakkuk. Or maybe He’s allowing suffering in order to test, refine, and strengthen us (which is the context that the New Testament writers usually mean when they talk about God testing or trying us. See, for example, 1 Pet. 1:6-8; 4:12-13). Whatever the reason for the suffering, the message Habakkuk holds onto is that God is still worthy of trust. He has a plan. He will take salvation action. The timing for that might not make sense to us (yet), but that does not cancel-out the fact that we can have faith in the Lord’s plan and His goodness.

Holding on to Joy

At the end of the prayer, Habakkuk voices some very understandable nervousness. He talks of trembling, knowing that he “must wait quietly for the day of trouble, for the coming of the people who will invade us” (Hab. 3:17, WEB). He has talked with God about what will happen in the future, accepted the Lord’s response, and decided to trust. He is still nervous, but then he makes a very powerful statement of radical faith.

For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish,
nor fruit be in the vines;
the labor of the olive fails,
the fields yield no food;
the flocks are cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls:
yet I will rejoice in Yahweh.
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength.
He makes my feet like deer’s feet,
and enables me to go in high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19, WEB

Even if the food supply collapses and the country is overrun by invaders, Habakkuk intends to rejoice. He is not rejoicing because those bad things happen, but because they have no power to take away the true cause of Habakkuk’s joy. God is sovereign! He is salvation and strength! That’s not going to change, and holding on to that truth lets us rejoice in Him and claim Him as our savior. No matter what comes, we can imitate Habakkuk’s faith and boldly say, “I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

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