“Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The news lately seems to be getting worse every day. I see the daily infection rates and the growing death count and my heart sinks just a bit each morning. It breaks for the tragedy these families are facing. It breaks for the hopelessness that has to be clawing at the hearts of the healthcare workers who are bearing the load of seeing patient after patient die in spite of their best efforts. It breaks for the children—including mine—who don’t understand social distancing and just long to play with and see their friends again. What do we do when chaos seems to reign just a little bit more each day? Here at the end of his collection of prophecy, Habakkuk offers us a way forward.
Think about the burden Habakkuk had to be carrying at this point. He knew Babylon was coming. They were going to come and destroy Jerusalem. The temple was going to be obliterated. Everything about the way of life his people had known for hundreds and hundreds of years was about to be thrown down, cast aside. Their world as they had known it was coming to an end.
He cried out to God at the injustice of it all, and the Lord responded with the assurance that His justice was not failing. Even as He was going to use Babylon to bring judgment to Israel, they were themselves going to be judged. God was going to come in power and fury—a truly fearsome sight as the previous several verses highlighted—and crush the leader of the oppressors.
This was good news to be sure, but it didn’t mean the judgment coming to Israel wasn’t still going to arrive. Israel was still going to face destruction unlike anything it had ever known before. Chaos, for a season, was going to seem to reign.
There was only one thing left for Habakkuk to do. That’s in the verse just before these two. Look at this: “I heard, and I trembled within; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness entered my bones; I trembled where I stood. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us.”
What’s this? What is Habakkuk going to do with this great and terrible news? The only thing he can. He’s going to wait quietly to see Babylon get their due. The invaders are going. Destruction is going to hit like a tidal wave. But that wave will be stripped of its power. It will be cast back out to sea and spread over the surface until it is no more. That is a promise from the Lord. But so is the judgment it will bring first. Justice, real, holy and righteous justice will reign at the end. The only thing to do is to quietly wait for it with hope.
Actually, that’s not quite the only thing to do. Look at these two verses again. Habakkuk doesn’t just sit quietly and wait for justice to arrive. What else does he do? Although everything he knows is going to fly apart into pieces and seem to fail, what will he do? In spite of the stripping away of everything he has ever known to rely on to tell him that tomorrow is still going to come and that things will be okay, what will he do?
“…yet I will celebrate in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!”
Or perhaps as Job put it, the Lord gives and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
That’s it? That’s his reaction? I’ll just celebrate as the world burns? Isn’t this just whistling past the graveyard? No, it’s not. This is faith in action. Faith in action? How?
What did Habakkuk know? His situation was going to get bad. Really bad. Destruction on a scale they had never imagined was coming to his people. What else did he know? Justice was going to reign in the end. God was not cashing in on His character. He was still going to be the same God they had always known Him to be. He was still just and righteous. He would bring mercy once again by destroying the destroyers. Let me put that another way: the fruits of sinfulness we’re going to come to bear, but God was going to pull them up and sow new seeds that would bear the fruits of righteousness in the end. For that He was worthy of praise. At the end of the day He was going to be God and that was enough for those who trusted in Him.
Friends, this is an attitude, a state of the heart, that we would do well to adopt. All we know is in chaos and uncertainty. Our world is changing and will be changed and we cannot see or even yet imagine the full extent of what our world will look like when this is all done.
And yet God is still good. He is still working to bring hope and grace in the midst of the evil and destruction. His salvation will be the thing that remains at the end of this for all those who have received it. There is still a day coming when death will be no more; when there will be no more crying or mourning or pain, for the old order will have passed away in favor of the new of the kingdom of God. This chaos may—will—change the world as we know it, but it will not change what cannot be changed. Let us worship the Lord for that is the thing that will last. That will remain when all else has ended. Let us worship and trust that He will not change. His promises are still forever. This virus isn’t. Sink your hope in what will last and don’t be laid low by what will not. God’s got this.