When God did answer it threw Habakkuk into a tail spin mentally and emotionally. God’s reply was not that He was going to send revival, but instead that He was going to send judgment. God was going to send the Chaldeans to invade and conquer Judah as a penalty for their sin. There was no hope of rescue, revival, or repentance. Judgment was unavoidable.
Habakkuk questioned God again. He wanted to know how a Holy God could use such an unholy people to judge His people. How could God bring a holy result out of such utter disregard for all that is holy?
God assured Habakkuk that He would accomplish His purposes of judgment and also after that hold the Chaldeans accountable for their sins as well. In fact, their judgment would be much worse than what Judah suffered. The truth was that God was holy and also just and He could accomplish good through the midst of all this bad that was about to happen.
After having waited for the answer to his questions and having heard the Lord’s reply, Habakkuk proclaimed that God was good and that He would be glorified through this impending judgment. He wrote a poetic prayer set to music and used it to teach the truth about God’s greatness, mercy, and holiness. In fact, he specifically shows us how to face any fear and overcome it by remembering God’s glory, His power, His faithfulness, and His promises.
In concluding his prophecy, he closes the poetic prayer with some of the most well known verses in the Bible. In Habakkuk 3:17-19 he wrote:
17 Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls— 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. 19 The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments.
Here in these final verses we see the beauty of triumphant faith and the Great God that Habakkuk is trusting. He begins by saying that “even though” all sorts of very bad things were about to come to pass, he could still rejoice.
The description is vivid and frightening. There is a certainty to this prophecy. Habakkuk has not said that he will rejoice even if these things happen. He has said, “Even though.” He knows that these things are about to come to pass as God judges Judah. He has had a vision and has seen what it approaching.
What is it that he sees? The judgment coming from God is not in the form of a natural disaster where crops are destroyed and lives lost through a storm, earthquake, flood, or some other “act of God.” The judgment coming is coming through the hands of invaders as they bring war and conquest to the land. There will be death, destruction, and despair all around.
He tells us first that there will be a loss of the choice produce of the land. Those extra special blessings, those optional luxuries that people come to depend upon and love and even crave. He says that the fig tree will not blossom, the vine will not produce grapes, and the olive trees will fail. These things are useful and beneficial, but they are not necessary for life or health. They will be lost.
Figs were and are a significant fruit in Bible lands. They are mentioned prominently in the Scriptures, listed as one of eight specific fruits in the Promised Land (Deut 8:8). They were eaten fresh or dried into cakes (1 Sam 25:18), used in medicines (1 Sam 30:12; 2 Kings 20:7), used to signify security and abundance (Micah 4:4), and a lack of figs were equated with sadness and despair (Joel 1:7, 12). There is even a reference where figs are used to denote beauty and romance in Song of Solomon 2:12-14.
Grapes are the most mentioned fruit in the Bible. They were eaten fresh or dried as raisins, and of course were used to make wine. Wine was given to the Lord in the form of a drink offering (Ex 29:40), given to men by God as a gift to make them happy (Psa 104:14-15; Prov 3:9-10), can be used for good and to promote health (1 Tim 5:23), but can also be deceptive (Prov 20:1; 23:21, 29-33). Drinking wine is never condemned in Scripture but drunkenness always is (Eph 5:18; Prov 21:17; 1 Tim 3:2-3). And lest we forget, Jesus did turn water into the best wine at the wedding feast in Cana and He Himself drank wine and will do so again in the future (Luke 7:33-34; Mark 14:25: John 19:29-30).
Olives grow on sturdy trees that live hundreds or even thousands of years. Olives and their oil were used throughout the Scripture to provide light (Ex 25:6), in perfumes (Psa 23:5), for food (1 Chron 12:40), for making bread (1 Kings 17:12), for treating wounds (Isa 1:6; Luke 10:34; Mark 6:13), as an offering to the Lord (Lev 2:1-7), and for anointing kings and priests (1 Sam 10:1-16; Ex 20:22-33). The absence of olives and olive oil is equated with sadness and destitution (Mark 6:17). And olive oil was used to anoint Jesus on several occasions and is considered to be holy (Matt 26:6-13; Psa 89:20).
Psalm 104:14-15 tells us:
14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, That he may bring forth food from the earth, 15 And wine that makes glad the heart of man, Oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart.
The loss of these things means that times are bad, people are beginning to suffer, and there is no joy or gladness.
Further Habakkuk tells us that the fields will not yield fruit (grain), the flocks will be scattered, and the herds will be lost. These are not luxuries. These are basic necessities for life and health. Without grain there is no bread. Without sheep and goats there is no milk or meat, or wool for warm clothing. Without cattle and oxen there is no meat, no leather, and no milk. Without these things the people will starve.
Bread is the most basic of foods. The nutritional value is crucial. In just one example, Joseph stored grain in Egypt during the plentiful years in order to be prepared for the coming years of famine. By storing grain he was able to provide food for Egypt and all the nations around them (Gen 41:49, 57). Grain was so important and fundamental to life that it was offered to the Lord as a “grain offering” at times of dedication, celebration, and consecration (Lev 2:1).
Sheep and goats are also vital and to be diligently watched over (Prov 27:23). Sheep were used as sacrificial animals (Ex 20:24), and were of such value that if a man stole 1 sheep he had to pay restitution by giving back 4 sheep (Ex 22:1).
Herds of cattle were also used for offerings (Lev 1:2), signified wealth and blessing (Psa 107:38), and are specifically said to belong to the Lord (Psa 50:10).
Losing these things did not mean times were bad. It meant that they were terribly deperate. The hour was dark and soon the people would be past a point of recovery. Death was imminent.
2 Chronicles 32:27-28 show us the significance of these things through the example of Hezekiah:
27 Hezekiah had very great riches and honor. And he made himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of desirable items; 28 storehouses for the harvest of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of livestock, and folds for flocks.
And what is Habakkuk saying? If every outward circumstance of life has become so desperate, so dark, and so uncertain…when all luxuries are gone and even necessities have been removed…even if there is no reason to hope that life will go on for another day or another moment…even though, he says, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”
Habakkuk shows us that no matter how bleak our situation we still have a holy, just, faithful, merciful, loving God who has saved us! In the face of such catastrophe as God judging His people for their sin and taking from them every comfort and necessity of life we should still rejoice because we are His.
To rejoice is to be joyful, to be glad. Can you imagine the faith necessary to be glad when luxuries have been taken from us? We complain when the air conditioner or heater in the car doesn’t work! And yet, what about the times when we are hungry and cannot find food? I doubt any of us have ever been in that desperate of a circumstance, but if we had nothing – no hope, no sustenance, no help – and we were hungry, thirsty, and all alone, would we be glad because we had God? He says we must rejoice in the Lord, that is, we rejoice in Him, because of Him.
Not only is Habakkuk going to be glad in the face of despair, he also says, “I will joy in the God of my salvation.” This means he will delight in God even if God is all he has.
So often when we are uncomfortable or think our needs (which are usually actually just wants in disguise) are going unmet, we immediately question God as to where He is and why He has not given us what we “need.” Suddenly we doubt His goodness, wisdom, and sovereignty. Yet Habakkuk says that it is when we have nothing but God that we have the most to be glad about!
He closes by reminding us that the Lord is our strength (Ex 15:12; Psa 18:2; 28:7), He is our surety (Psa 18:33, 36; 116:8; Heb 7:22), and He is our Savior (Psa 24:1; Matt 5:5). He has shown us in these verses how it is that the just do live by faith (Hab 2:4).
The postscript to verse 19 shows that this chapter was a song used in worship. We note as commentator O. Palmer Robertson wrote:
Integral to living a life of faith is the singing of songs praising the redeemer and sustainer of life.
When things seem beyond hope, the hour is most desperate, and it seems that there is no surviving the circumstances of life in this fallen world, remember, as long as we have God (and He has us), we can rejoice, be glad, and sing His praises! He is truly all we need. Do we believe it?
To close, here are the words from the hymn “Joy and Peace Believing” by William Cowper, which were inspired by Habakkuk 3:
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises
With healing on His wings;
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
To cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say,
E’en let the unknown to-morrow
Bring with it what it may!
It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing,
Will clothe His people too;
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He who feeds the ravens
Will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.
Join us this Sunday, December 19, at 10:30 AM for worship. This week is the last message in our series “Triumphant Faith” from the book of Habakkuk, a message titled “A Hymn of Faith” from Habakkuk 3:17-19.
Remember, if all you have is God, that is more than enough!