Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. – Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV
Things don’t always turn out like we expect or desire. The circumstances of life have a way of showing up in surprising forms, both good and bad. Difficulties can appear suddenly and stay long past their expiration date. These are all truths we know from experience. They are part of the reality of life on this planet. They come with having to lie in a fallen world, mired by sin and under God’s curse and condemnation. But the one thing we tend to forget is that the very same God has provided a way for men and women like us, to escape the long-term effects of the curse and be exonerated from the just condemnation of God. God sent His own Son. He sent a Savior. And those who place their faith in that Savior, believing that He came, He died and that He rose again, are provided with the assurance that their sins are forgiven and their future is secure. They are guaranteed abundant life here and now, and eternal life to come. And it is that promise on which they are to hope as they endure the pain and suffering that comes in this life. Salvation does not provide us with escape from the difficulties of life. It is not some kind of spiritual immunization, inoculating us from trials or suffering. But it does provide us with a new perspective, a radically different way of looking at our time on this earth. The apostle Paul puts that new perspective in words for us:
For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! – 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT
But what about Habakkuk? What was he to put his faith in as he wrestled with the news that God was going to judge the people of Judah for their sins and send the Babylonians as the means to accomplish that task? The Messiah had not yet come. The Savior had not yet been sent to redeem mankind from its sins. And yet, Habakkuk displayed saving faith. He knew that He could trust his God. His God had promised to provide for and protect the people of Judah, and Habakkuk took God at His word.
The closing lines of Habakkuk’s prayer contain some of the most powerful statements regarding faith in God that are found in the Bible. They are spoken by a man who has boldly, and somewhat dangerously, expressed his frustration with God over what appeared to be His lack of action. The prophet was frustrated with the unrepentant nature of the people of Judah. They refused to listen to his message. They were wicked and rebellious and Habakkuk wanted to know when God was going to act. And when God told Habakkuk that He was going to send the Babylonians to enact His judgment on the people of Judah, Habakkuk had the temerity to question God’s will and wisdom. And yet, once God explained Himself and reassured Habakkuk of His unwavering faithfulness to the people of Judah, Habakkuk had a change of heart. He literally sang God’s praises. This entire last chapter of his book are a song, composed to promote the goodness and greatness of God. And nothing had changed. Habakkuk’s circumstances had not been altered one iota. The people of Judah were still in rebellion against God. The Babylonians were still on God’s divine schedule to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. But in spite of all of that, the prophet was able to say:
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation – Habakkuk 3:18 ESV
And Habakkuk wasn’t talking in a future tense. The rejoicing he mentioned wasn’t some kind of post-salvation joy that would show up once God had destroyed the Babylonians and put everything back the way it was supposed to be. No, Habakkuk was talking in the present tense. He qualifies his statement by saying:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! – Habakkuk 3:17-18a NLT
Do you catch what he is saying? In spire of the circumstances, the negative circumstances, of life, Habakkuk was going to rejoice in the Lord. He was going to praise the God of his salvation. Before the fact. That is the essence of faith. The apostle Paul provides us with one of the most succinct definitions or descriptions of faith found in the Bible: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith shows up in the form of assurance or certainty in a good outcome, long before the outcome is clear. It is a conviction regarding events that have not taken place. It is a trust in God, a reliance upon His promises and a confident assurance in His goodness. Once again, the apostle Paul gives us some insight into what true faith looks like.
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:24-25 ESV
Habakkuk had hope in God, and he was willing to wait for God’s deliverance with confident patience. Even is the figs failed to show up or the vines were bare of fruit, he would keep trusting. If they ran out of olive oil or experienced a drought because of a lack of crops, he would keep patiently waiting. Why? He tells us:
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights. – Habakkuk 3:19 NLT
God would be his strength. His faith in God would give him the energy to endure whatever came his way. His trust in the goodness of God would provide him with the strength he needed to walk the paths of life with confidence and sure-footed stability. He knew God would not let him down. The Babylonians were coming. God had assured it. But Habakkuk was not worried. He knew God was in control and that He had promised to restore His people and remove the Babylonians. The days ahead were going to be difficult and full of unpleasant experiences, but Habakkuk was able to say, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord!” What a timely reminder for those of us who are Christ-followers, as we wait for our Savior to return. We too, live in difficult days. We are surrounded by those who would love nothing more than our destruction. The world hates us. The enemy is out to destroy us. And yet, we can rejoice in the Lord. We can have an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not yet see. All because we trust in God.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.