Opening illustration: Tennis superstar Arthur Ashe died of AIDS, which he contracted from a blood transfusion during heart surgery. More than a great athlete, Ashe was a gentleman who inspired and encouraged many with his exemplary behavior on and off the court.
Ashe could have become embittered and self-pitying in the face of his disease, but he maintained a grateful attitude. He explained, "If I asked, ’Why me?’ about my troubles, I would have to ask, ’Why me?’ about my blessings. Why my winning Wimbledon? Why my marrying a beautiful, gifted woman and having a wonderful child?"
Ashe’s attitude rebukes those of us who often grumble, "Why me? Why is God allowing this to happen?" Even if we’re suffering acutely, we must not forget the mercies God pours into our lives—such things as food, shelter, and friends—blessings that many are deprived of.
And what about spiritual blessings? We can hold the very Word of God in our hands and read it. We have the knowledge of His saving grace, the comfort of His Spirit, and the joyful assurance of life everlasting with Jesus.
Think about God’s blessings and ask, "Why me?" Then your grumbling will give way to praise.
Introduction: Recall that Habakkuk is writing about 18-20 years before Jerusalem is destroyed in 586 BC. Quite possibly he was alive to see that destruction – he may have been killed in the battle, or he may have starved during the siege; he may have lived through it. We don’t know. But we do know that Jeremiah experienced all the terrors of that time. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon surrounded the city and besieged it for two years, starving the people into submission. Eventually the King of Judah and his army tried to escape through a hole in the wall at night, but they were caught and slaughtered. The Babylonian army then entered the city, looting, murdering, plundering, and destroying.
This followed with crop failure and the death of animals would devastate Judah. But Habakkuk affirmed that even in the times of starvation and loss, he would still rejoice in the Lord. Habakkuk’s feelings were not controlled by the events around him but by faith in God’s ability to give him strength. When nothing makes sense, and when trouble seems more than you can bear, remember that God gives strength. Take your eyes off your difficulties and look to God.
The very things Habakkuk had complained about—the fig tree wasn’t blossoming, no fruit, no herd in the stalls—were still not there, and yet he was rejoicing. He wasn’t complaining now. What changed his mind? Understand that it is acceptable to acknowledge the difficulty of our situation. However like Habakkuk, focus our attention on God rather than on our circumstances.
In the midst of these challenging current events, we sometimes forget that people in the past have faced similar difficult periods of distress. Throughout our history as a country, perilous times have ben experienced economically and internationally. A visit with the Old Testament prophets will awaken a greater understanding of such times of depression and chaos in society. The children of Israel had a Ph.D. in captivity and bondage.
Remember that circumstances will change but God will not. Put your hope in His ability to save you. He is present with you in even the most difficult of times. Choose to rejoice in the Lord, regardless of the way you feel. Trust that He will enable you to overcome. (I can do all things …)
How do we find consolation in the Lord?
1. REJOICE in the Lord (v. 18a) – Joy again and again …
• The prophet Isaiah 61: 10 reiterates by saying, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God;”
• Paul exhorts the Philippians 4: 4 by telling them to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!”
Note here three reactions Habakkuk avoids (natural reactions):
(a) He does NOT lash out at God in anger: He does not say, “God, you have no right to destroy your people! You are a faithless God!”
(b) He does NOT pretend that the evil won’t happen. He doesn’t withdraw into a fantasy world, saying, “That’s too terrible to think about. I will close my eyes and think of something else. I’ll sit in front of the TV and get distracted.”
(c) And, note carefully, he does not even say, “Despite all this, I will endure! I will keep a stiff upper lip and stick it out! I will still wait for the Lord! I will remain faithful!”
No. Habakkuk is not the Little Train that could, puffing up the side of the mountain saying, “I think I can, I think I can.” Instead, what does he say? “I will EXULT in the Lord, I will REJOICE in the God of my salvation!”
How can he say that? Looking ahead to the terrors of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege, how can Habakkuk rejoice in God?
The prophet Habakkuk embodies this spirit in verses 17-19. He is not naïve. He knows that there are rough times ahead. His personal circumstances and those of his fellow countrymen are about to take a dramatic turn for the worse. But it doesn’t matter. Even if everything goes to pot (vs. 17), he will still rejoice in the Lord (vs. 18).
Now how can he do that? What exactly is there to rejoice about? Well, he can rejoice always because God is the God of his salvation (vs. 18). God will save him, even in the midst of judgment. God will protect him and watch over him. God will be his strength and see him through (vs. 19). The righteous shall live by his faith (2:4).
And this is why we can rejoice in the Lord, regardless of our circumstances, even when things are terrible. We shouldn’t fool ourselves. We will go through difficult times. We are sinners and live in a sinful world. Consequently, we will experience the various miseries of this life, including the ultimate one: death. We might suffer hardship due to our personal sins; due to other peoples’ sins; due to our country’s sins (as was the case for Judah and Babylon in Habakkuk’s day); or because of the simple fact we live in a fallen world where things do not always work right. The point is that there will be times in our lives when the fig tree will not blossom and the produce of the olive will fail. Thus, we will to one degree or another experience God’s wrath over sin. And all of the temporal judgments that we experience teach us how awful sin is and how much God hates it. They also remind us of the future Day of Judgment when God will fully punish people for their sins. Then the punishment will be unbearable and eternal.
Habakkuk not only foresees the possibility that he could lose everything; he foresees the certainty that the world as he knows it – along with everything and everyone he loves – will be destroyed terribly. And in this extremity he says not only, “I won’t accuse God of being unfaithful,” but, “I will REJOICE in God.”
2. JOY in the God of Salvation (v. 18b)
• The prophet Nehemiah 8: 10 tells us that “… for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
Why is joy important? Because the "joy of the Lord is your strength!" Joy produces strength. And strength is needed to fight. You are called to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6: 12). I sense in my spirit that many people in the body of Christ are tired of fighting the good fight of faith. They are struggling to fight because they have lost their joy.
You see, Habakkuk had no intention of staying defeated. He may look defeated, but he is not going to stay defeated. The difference between the person who is defeated and the person who is victorious is their attitude. An attitude of gratitude will put you over in life. This is the kind of attitude that this prophet had. Even though nothing good was happening in his life - no fruit, no crops, no sheep, no cattle - yet he rejoiced.
In our modern world, Habakkuk might have said it this way: "Though there is no food in the refrigerator, and there is no money in the account, though the sickness gets worse, and the pain persist, though my children are on drugs, and my spouse does not appreciate me, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior."
Regardless of the circumstances, you can be joyful!
3. STRENGTH in the Lord God (v. 19a)
• The prophet Zechariah 12: 5 says, “The inhabitants of Jerusalem are my strength in the LORD of hosts, their God.”
God gives his followers surefooted confidence through difficult times. The Lord God is my strength ... The author and giver of natural and spiritual strength, as he is to all his people; he is the strength of their hearts when ready to faint and sink, and of their graces, faith, hope, love, patience, &c. and continues and increases them, and draws them forth into lively acts and exercise; and of their lives, natural and spiritual, which he supports and maintains, secures and defends; from him they have their strength to perform the duties of religion; to oppose their spiritual enemies, sin, Satan, and the world; and to bear them up under all trials and afflictions, and carry them through them, and deliver out of them, and which is principally intended here: the church, though in distress, and pressed with sorrows, yet believed the strength of Christ would be made perfect in her weakness, and she should be upheld by him under all, and brought out of it:
What kind of strength?
(a) Deer’s feet – they will run like deer across rough and dangerous terrain. If Habakkuk had lived on this continent, he might have said, “like those of a bighorn sheep.” Many a times Maureena and I would go to worship God and have our devotions in the Hajjar mountains of the Middle-East. Frequently we would look up at a rocky, seemingly inaccessible peak – and there near the top we would see bighorn sheep. They would climb to the uppermost crags, and run over rock fields as easily as we would run on the beach. Why are bighorn sheep able to do this? Because of their feet – their tough, cloven hooves. These hooves aren’t hurt by sharp rocks, but are able to grip even small outcrops. God designed their feet for climbing. They don’t slip. They don’t fall.
Note that the point is not the power of the sheep, but the design of the sheep’s foot. Habakkuk uses the word for the female deer, not the male, to make this point. The female deer too is able to climb to the highest heights, to run over rocky fields, because of her special feet. So Habakkuk rejoices that his feet are made like deer’s feet, like the feet of bighorn sheep – designed by God to travel over the most difficult ground.
(b) Walk on High Hills – at the proper time, God will bring about His justice and completely rid the world of evil. In the meantime, God’s people need to live in the strength of His Spirit, confident in His ultimate victory over evil.
In the year 2001, the phrase “walking on high places” connotes recreational mountain climbing: Go out on a beautiful day, climb to the highest peak, experience a great view, exercise your body, get back to nature. But these are primarily 19th and 20th century ideas. In Habakkuk’s day, no one exercised for the sake of exercise. Recreational mountain climbing was still a few millennia in the future. And the idea of rock climbing was never ever imagined.
Instead, in this term “high places” connotes a difficult, challenging place. A place one would not want to go unless it is absolutely necessary. You might climb to a high place to gain defensible ground in a battle, but you only go there if you can’t avoid it. So “high places” here means a difficult, challenging place.
Application: Habakkuk has provided an example for us. He has showed us how to rest on God’s promises when we are personally devastated and also to rejoice in the Lord and His provision when our circumstances are devastating.
Are you looking for the vine to blossom before you can rejoice? Are you waiting for the raise in pay? Or for that answered prayer? Are you waiting for everything to fit in before you start praising the Lord? If that is so, then turn in your badge now and give up. As Proverbs 24: 10 says, "If you faint in the day of adversity, Your strength is small." (NKJV).
Like Habakkuk, you will be given grace to trace the rainbow through the rain.