The book of Habakkuk probably finds itself among the least studied, or even read, books in the canon of Scripture. Beginning with a plaintive question and a despairing declaration—“How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save” 1:2)—it doesn’t invite the casual reader to continue reading. Habakkuk’s anguish is understandable in view of the fact that he ministered during the time of Israel’s greatest rebellion and apostasy and under the shadow of Babylon’s impending invasion. Those who read the book (often people who are in deep or inexplicable trials) have a tendency to jump to the end and both marvel at and take comfort in Habakkuk’s remarkable testimony: “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, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places” (3:17-19). The essential question is: What enabled Habakkuk to give such a testimony in light of the circumstances he faced? The answer is two-fold.
1. Habakkuk “saw” God. Nothing will substitute for personal acquaintance with God. Seeing Him for who He truly is is the antidote for all worry, fear, doubt, anguish, despair, and every other misery that we as humans must encounter. In poetic language, Habakkuk describes God as coming from the south (Teman and Mount Paran). He is the “Holy One,” a term acknowledging both the purity, righteousness, and perfection of His nature and also expressing His transcendent uniqueness—none is like Him; He is infinitely above everyone and everything on earth. Habakkuk further explains the same truth by exclaiming that “His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise” (3:3). The prophet recognizes that God manifests His glory everywhere throughout the universe. An infinite cosmos cannot contain the glory of God. “His radiance is like the sunlight;” the prophet marvels, “He has rays flashing from His hand” (v. 4). He anticipates John in the New Testament, who proclaimed that “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). All He is exists in radiant holiness, purity, perfection, and righteousness; all He does is open to complete scrutiny that reveals holy motives, pure purposes, righteous execution, and perfect ends. Habakkuk then explains that “there [in His radiant Being and brilliant works] is the hiding of His power” (v. 4). The light that reveals also conceals. It is impossible to actually see anything when looking directly into a bright light. And so to some extent, it is not possible to look into or fully understand the ways and purposes of God. They are greater than our spiritual capacity to see. But Habakkuk had seen enough to rest and to rejoice.
2. Habakkuk believed God. Although judgment was about to fall, God gave Habakkuk several promises. The first promise was that God would raise up the Chaldeans, “that fierce and impetuous people” (1:6) to conquer Israel. At first glance, that might seem like a promise that would cause dismay, not rest and rejoicing. But it gave confident hope to Habakkuk that he and his people were not at the mercy of a godless, bloodthirsty hoard of heathens, but in the hands of a righteous God who was chastening His people for their sin. A second promise from God was that “the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4). God is trustworthy; though trials come, He will not forsake those who trust in Him. Negative circumstances are no reason to forsake the Lord: He will be faithful to His people. God provided His besieged prophet with yet a third promise: “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). Though it appears that God’s people are facing annihilation, God’s purposes will be accomplished: He will establish a kingdom; He will rule with and through His people. He will establish an empire that spreads His glory throughout the earth.
And so, despite the horrendous devastation on the horizon, Habakkuk exults “in the Lord” and rejoices in the God of His salvation. Are we doing the same? Will we do the same?
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