Habakkuk 3 – Living by Faith When the World Falls Apart

Habakkuk’s final response to God’s words of impending judgment is a prayer.  He is done arguing and done questioning.  He accepts God’s explanation that He will use the Babylonians to judge Judah and then judge the Babylonians themselves for their sin.  He knows evil times are coming but is willing to trust the ultimate Author of those evil times.  No more will he doubt God’s plans or His justice; he wants now to simply praise God’s power and sovereignty.  He will remember God’s miraculous works for Israel and use them as the basis for his confidence that God will not ultimately forsake His people.  He realizes how awful the coming times will be but chooses to rejoice in God. 

Habakkuk’s prayer is a picture of what it means to live by faith in the midst of suffering.

1-2 – Confession & Petition
The key to understanding Habakkuk’s prayer is the last statement God made in His second response.  He told Habakkuk that He is in His holy temple and that all the earth should be silent before Him (2:20).  Habakkuk seems to take this to heart.  He now knows (or now remembers) that God is completely sovereign – He controls the outcome for Judah and for Babylon.  Judgment is coming – for both countries – and will come in God’s perfect timing.  Though Habakkuk does not know when the promised events will happen, he knows for certain that God controls it all and is in fact just and holy. 

Habakkuk also realizes that sin is sin – and Judah is guilty regardless of Babylon.  Since God is in His holy temple, ALL fall short – and to argue that Judah does not deserve the judgment of Babylon now sounds absurd.  Habakkuk no longer looks at circumstances – he looks at God.

He says he has heard about the works of God and fears Him.  He is in awe of what God can do.  His fear is not so much of the impending judgment as it is of God Himself.  He has the same reaction everyone in the Bible does when they face God – an overwhelming sense of sin, unworthiness, and fear.  He sees God for who He is and the fight goes out of him.

He makes two requests (note that in this whole prayer these are the only requests he makes).  He first asks God to revive Your work in the midst of the years and make it known.  He wants God to work again in the life of Israel as He did in the past.  The works that Habakkuk has heard about and that leave him in awe are the ones he wants God to do in the coming years of judgment.  There also is a sense that he asks God to make what He is about to do effective – ensure the judgment does bring Judah back to Him.

His second request is for God to be merciful in the midst of His coming wrath.  Notice that he does not say to be merciful because Judah deserves it.  He simply appeals to God’s nature as a merciful God.  He effectively says, “Do not forget Your mercy as You righteously punish Judah for her sins.”  He accepts that what God is about to do is just but still appeals to God to be merciful – to spare Judah the worst of His wrath.

3-15 – God’s Mighty Acts
Habakkuk celebrates God’s power and His mighty acts on Israel’s behalf.  His figurative language in these verses seems to look back at God’s acts during the Exodus as well as look forward to how God will act again (notice the change in verb tense in verse 6).  These may be the acts that caused Habakkuk to fear God in verse 2.

These verses form the basis for Habakkuk’s confidence that he will express in verses 18-19.  God acted for Israel in the Exodus and He will someday act again (see Deut. 33:2-5).

The various references to water seem to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea.  Pestilence and plague in verse 5 are likely descriptions of the plagues in Egypt.  The quaking mountains could refer to the events at Sinai.  Throughout the passage Habakkuk seems to both celebrate the events of the Exodus AND describe how God can intervene in the world of man generally.

The sections are set off poetically by the beginning and ending verses.  Verse 3 lists Teman and Paran – both areas to the south of Israel.  Verse 7 then lists Midian and Cushan – also areas to the south.  All four words have a similar ending in Hebrew (“an” in English).  Verses 8 and 15 both reference rivers, sea, and horses – starting and ending the section with the same allusions – likely celebrating the crossing of the Red Sea.

16 – Emotions are OK
Habakkuk now reaches the application portion of his prayer.  He reverts back to first person and explains his own feelings and reactions.  He begins by describing his very human response to all that he has seen in the vision God has given him.  He effectively says in verse 16 that he is scared to death.  He says his inward parts (“bowels” in Hebrew) tremble; his lips quiver (possibly meaning he weeps?); decay enters his bones and his whole body trembles in its place.  He is so scared that he seems to have a hard time standing – he effectively cannot function.

But he says something else also – he says he must wait quietly for the destruction of his enemies.  God has promised to judge the Chaldeans but Habakkuk has no idea when it will happen.  All he knows is that God promised it and so it will occur, but in the meantime he must wait for God’s perfect timing.  Much like he did at the beginning of Chapter 2, he will now wait.  And he will wait quietly – confident that God will act as He said.  So while being so scared that he physically trembles and feels like his insides are about to implode, he also waits quietly for God to act.  Quiet waiting and desperate fear are apparently not mutually exclusive.

Consider: That means there is great encouragement in this verse.  Habakkuk freely explains that he is physically affected by the horrible news God has brought to him.  He does not hide his fear or his emotional response.  Similar to Job in Job 3, Habakkuk sees no problem with fear and anguish and grief.  And just as He did with Job, God does not fault Habakkuk for showing his emotions.  God does not create us with emotions and then forbid us from using them once we are redeemed.   It is OK to experience grief and confusion and fear and discouragement – God does not expect us to remain stoic in the midst of the trials He brings us through. 

17 – Troubled Times
In verse 17 Habakkuk describes just how awful things will be.  He describes a total social and economic collapse.  No crops, no sheep, no cattle, no vegetation at all – absolutely no wealth anywhere for anyone.  In an agrarian society with no paper money this is a complete destruction of a way of life.  Starvation and poverty become the norm.

This verse is an illustration of how God strips away everything that gets in the way of our depending only on Him.  God does not abide rivals for His children’s affections and so eliminates them – sometimes painfully.  Someone going through a 3:17 experience (the way we can now refer to trials) finds that in the end he only has God – and that God is all he needed all along.

18 – Choose to Rejoice
Verses 18 and 19 are Habakkuk’s final response to all that he has seen and heard.  He starts verse 18 with “Yet.”  Everything of any value is gone from his life and culture and YET he will rejoice in the Lord.  He will rejoice in Yahweh – the covenant-keeping God.  In the midst of the horrific circumstances of verse 17 he will rejoice and exult in God.  He will live by faith (2:4).

Do not miss how he says this.  Habakkuk says, “I WILL exult, I WILL rejoice.”  He CHOOSES to do this.  He does not say God will do this for him.  He does not say that God will spare him the worst of the hard times and therefore cause him to rejoice.  He simply says that he WILL do it (even while being distraught as he described in verse 16 – one does not preclude the other).

Consider: When faced with suffering and trials we have a choice.  We can choose to rejoice as Habakkuk did or we can choose to resent the trial and become embittered.  We can embrace verse 18 or rewrite it with the word “therefore” instead of “Yet.”  “Therefore I will become angry with God because I do not deserve this.  I will reject a God who allows this to happen to me.”  Suffering does not allow us to be ambivalent.  It will affect us either by pushing us to God or away from Him.  It either makes us more conformed to the image of the Son or drives a wedge between us and God.  Suffering truly exposes who and what we really live for.

18 – How to Rejoice
How can Habakkuk rejoice under these conditions?  He remembers.  Verses 3-15 are the basis for his joy.  By going over God’s actions and faithfulness in the Exodus Habakkuk reminds himself of who and what God is.  The deliverance from Egypt is the defining event of the Old Testament.  It is the precursor to the redemption of the cross.  By replaying all that happened, Habakkuk is really going over the “gospel” as he knows it.  He goes back to the gospel and puts his faith in the God who delivered Israel.  Note the last phrase of verse 18 – I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

He can also rejoice because he knows God.  He knows His nature – that He is just and loving.  In His last response in Chapter 2 God showed Habakkuk that He will not violate His nature even in using the Babylonians.  Habakkuk knows that regardless of what he does or does not understand or the horrors he will experience, God is in His holy temple and nothing is outside of His control.  And the God of Israel is a loving and just God who will not allow anything to happen that is not for the ultimate good of His people.  In the midst of sorrow and suffering and confusion Habakkuk can rejoice in this.  Knowledge begets joy.

[Where does knowledge come from?  Study of the word, prayer, teaching/preaching.  We have a huge advantage over Habakkuk because we have the whole revelation of God.  Without vigorous study and memorization of the word we can never know God enough to rejoice in Him.  I will meditate on Your precepts, and regard Your ways.  I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word (Ps 119:15-16).]

We, of course, are in a much better situation than Habakkuk.  We not only know the end of the story for Babylon and know God kept His promise to Habakkuk – we know the full and complete gospel.  The source of our joy in the midst of suffering is not only the deliverance of Israel from Egypt – it is the deliverance of all mankind from sin.  One of the many reasons we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day is so we can rejoice in the midst of trials.  We must go back to the gospel continually and remind ourselves of the incredible work of Christ on our behalf – and then see all of life through that lens.  We serve a God who justified us at the expense of His Son – we can trust Him and rejoice in Him when life falls apart.

The gospel is also what gives us hope.  It reassures us that we can trust God but it also gives us the vision to look beyond the present.  Because of the gospel we have eternal life.  When everything else leaves us and nothing in this world is remotely pleasant – we have the assurance of eternity.  We KNOW we have eternal life (I Jn 5:13).  That is the ultimate meaning of rejoicing in the God of my salvation.

The godly man is happy in whatever circumstances he is placed because of the spiritual privileges and advantages, joys and satisfactions, he actually enjoys while in this life. How great a happiness must needs [it] be to a man to have all his sins pardoned and to stand guilty of nothing in God’s presence: to be washed clean from all his pollutions; to have the great and eternal and almighty Jehovah, who rules and governs the whole universe, and doth whatsoever he pleases in the armies of heaven and amongst the inhabitants of the earth, reconciled to him and perfectly at peace with him.

How great a pleasure and satisfaction must it be to him to think of it, and not only that God is reconciled to him or has nothing against [him], inasmuch as all is pardoned; but also that this same almighty being who created him, who keeps him in being and who disposes of him and all other things every moment, loves him, and that with a great and transcendent love; and that He has adopted him and taken him to be His child, and given Himself to him to be his father and his portion, and that takes care of him as one that is very dear to Him, continually guides and directs him, and will lead him to the fountain of living waters.
– Jonathan Edwards – Christian Happiness

19 – What it Means to Rejoice
Verse 19 gives us the desired result of suffering and a picture of what it means to rejoice in the midst of suffering.  Suffering causes us to forget our own strength – because we are so weak – and hold on to God’s.  We end up with God Himself becoming our strength.  The Lord God is my strength.  It is what Paul means when he says “for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor 12:10).  It is a direct contrast to the Babylonians whose own strength is their god (1:11).

Suffering ultimately affords us a way to experience God at a level we never would otherwise.  And since our created purpose is to commune with Him and glorify Him, the suffering that causes us to fulfill our created purpose becomes a cause for joy.  Experiencing God is rejoicing in suffering – it is the experience itself that is our joy.  Our communion with One who IS love becomes deeper and greater and it ultimately becomes more valuable than any relief we might pursue.  When trials and suffering push us deeper into the arms of our heavenly Father we rejoice at His touch.

The end of verse 19 is further encouragement – He enables us to walk on our high places without slipping.  The high places are the best places to be in times of trouble.  They afford the best vantage point and are the easiest to defend.  Yet they also are the most dangerous places to walk – to slip off a mountain can mean death.  Habakkuk says God gives those who rejoice in suffering the ability to walk on high places without fear – they walk like deer.  God sustains and guides those who trust in Him in the midst of trials – He never deserts them.  The one who does not reject God but rejoices in Him will in the end walk confidently on the high places. 

Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me.
This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope.
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.

Lamentations 3:20-25

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