Summary: This text encourages us to trust God in spite of circumstances that suggest that He has abandoned us.
17Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. 19God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
This text is extracted from the section of the Hebrew Bible known as the Minor Prophets. This designation was based on the length of the writings vis-à-vis the content of writings. Habakkuk is writing in the 6th century BC, just prior to the period of the Babylonian Captivity (circa 587 BC). If we listen carefully at his words across all three chapters, we can hear three points of tension. The first tension point is his concern about the unrighteousness within his community. The covenant established between God and Israel via Moses had long been violated and violated many times over. Throughout a 700 year period, the sons and daughters of Abraham had experienced their own prodigal cycles. Unfortunately their tendency of self-destructive behavior has now incurred severe judgment from God.
The second tension point is that Israel’s internal sins will be judged by an external enemy; Israel’s wickedness before God is reflected in the nation that will take them captive. Think of the irony – a nation that never knew God was being used to judge a nation that chose to forget Him.
The third tension point is his internal struggle to reconcile his own theology. This prophecy is expressed as a dialog between Habakkuk and God. And in this dialog, we hear Habakkuk attempting to make sense of God’s actions or lack thereof. This call and response, give and take, ebb and flow takes us on a journey of Habakkuk’s spiritual formation. The Habakkuk we hear at the beginning sounds like a different man at the end.
In effect, Habakkuk saw conflict on three fronts: (1) within his community, (2) between Israel and Babylon and (3) between himself and God. This three-front struggle is seen across the scriptures. David was at variance with the Philistines, King Saul and his own flesh. Paul wrestled with Jews/Christians, Romans and his own weaknesses. Jesus had to manage conflict among the disciples, criticisms from the Jewish leaders and whether to drink from the cup of suffering in the garden.
It is in this context that our text shines as a point of theological contrast. Habakkuk proclaims that if the economy collapses, if agribusiness goes out of business, if everything goes wrong, ‘yet’ he will rejoice. This is known as ‘yet’ faith. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego proclaimed that they would be willing to die for their faith – that was ‘yet’ faith. When Paul said that he would be willing to sacrifice his pedigree and heritage to gain the knowledge of Christ – that was ‘yet’ faith. When Christ cried out ‘My God, My God – why have you forsaken me?’ and then said ‘Into your hands, I commend my spirit’ – that was ‘yet’ faith.