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Habakkuk 3:17-20

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 30 May 2020

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Victory in the Worst Times

17 Though the fig tree may not flourish, and no fruit be on the grape-vines; though the labor of the olive tree fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock be cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls: 18 yet I will triumph in ADONAI. I will rejoice in God, my Salvation! 19 ADONAI, the Lord, is my strength. And He will make my feet like a deer, and will make me to walk on high places. For the music director, on stringed instruments. (Hab 3:17-29 BR) 

 

Calendar Note: In traditional Judaism Havakkuk 2:203:19 is the Haftarah reading on the second day the Festival of Shavuot in the Diaspora. The connection with Shavuot appears in the first part of Chapter Three where the language recalls the revelation at Sinai (3:3-4).

For an explanation of this passage and its background see my commentary here.

 

Charles Dickens began his famous novel "A Tale of Two Cities" with the line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Which of those you experienced in his story depended on your location and social class.

According to Jewish tradition the ministry of Havakkuk occurred in the last years of King Menashsheh [Manasseh], who was arguably the worst king in the history of Israel and Judah. For Havakkuk it was definitely the worst of times. The government supported killing children and tolerated every kind of perverse behavior the mind of man could imagine. Torah standards of righteousness and holiness were mocked.

The book of Havakkuk is unique in that it is really a journal of a long conversation the prophet had with God, beginning with his complaint about the evil societal conditions. Havakkuk's complaint implies a petition to God. "What are you going to do about it?" God quickly replied. "Now that you mention it I do have a plan, but I'm afraid you won't like it. I'm going to send the Babylonians and they will destroy the wicked in the land." Havakkuk was not happy with this plan and argues at length how unfair it is. After all, he says, the Babylonians are worse than us.

God refused to change his sovereign plan for destruction, although in the end it was postponed. Havakkuk had a choice. How would he react? Chapter Three reveals how he came to terms with reality.

The first thing he does is pray for revival and mercy (verse 2). Like God he took no pleasure in the death of the wicked. In the Tanakh God has a habit of answering the prayers of his anointed prophets. Havakkuk's prayer for revival would be answered in the reign of the next king, Yoshiyyah [Josiah] who would restore devotion to Torah standards. Then in the next 13 verses Havakkuk recalls the great things God had done in the history of his people beginning with the Exodus from Egypt and the revelation of His glory at Mount Sinai. Having reminded himself of God's past acts of power and justice he can say in verse 16 that he can wait for God to carry out his sovereign plan.

In verse 17 Havakkuk describes the anticipated outcome of the Babylonian invasion. All of the items of field and flock listed here were not only staples for living, but for celebrating the appointed times in Jerusalem and presenting first fruits offerings at the Temple. Havakkuk knew the Babylonians would ravage the land to feed the army and then take his people into captivity. The land would be left desolate. After all, there can be no agricultural production if there are no farmers to do the work. How do you keep the appointed times in exile without the means to conduct the offerings required in the Torah?

A similar conundrum faced the talmidim of Yeshua when he prophesied that the second temple would be destroyed [John 4:21]. How do you worship with you can't meet at the designated sacred building? Yeshua called for a change of perspective by saying that true worship occurs in the heart, in spirit and truth [John 4:23-24]. This is the perspective of Havakkuk in verses 18 and 19.

Knowing what's coming Havakkuk determines that he will not turn away from God, but he will turn toward God. That's your choice in tough times. Havakkuk affirms his submission to the Lordship of God and then declares that ADONAI is his strength. ADONAI is his salvation. ADONAI will send revival first to his spirit so that he may scale spiritual heights. God will give him victory.

You have read "nothing can separate us from God's love." BUT, is there something that could separate you from your love for God? The worst of times reveals the strength of a person's character. God repeatedly warned in Scripture that the faithful remnant would face tribulation. There is no such thing as a trouble-free life with God. In those circumstances God's people realize more than ever their dependence on Him. Let us in these difficult times follow the example of Havakkuk! Draw closer to God. Name the blessings and benefits you have received from the Lord in your life and "Rejoice in the Lord always; I say again rejoice" [Php 4:4].

Barukh Hashem.

Copyright 2020 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.