“Although… Yet…”: A Meditation on Faith, Vision and Prayer in Habakkuk 3:17-19
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in YHWH, I will joy in the God of my salvation. YHWH God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
These are the closing words of Habakkuk’s prophecy in the book that bears his name. Notice the two key words of this passage: “Although” and “yet.”
Habakkuk’s proclamation is a proclamation of trust and rejoicing even in times of grim circumstances. I doubt that most Americans can really comprehend and appreciate these words of Habakkuk, because most Americans do not get the majority of their food from their own personal fields and flocks. Even if we have a garden that fails to produce a harvest, we can still obtain food from some other source. But Habakkuk lived in an agricultural society that depended on its fields and its flocks for its survival. They did not have alternative food sources like Sam’s Club, soup kitchens, food pantries, and government food stamp programs.
The first chapter of Habakkuk describes the Babylonian invasion that was soon approaching, so these final verses are a description of the probable devastation and famine that would result from the Babylonian invasion.
How could Habakkuk, foreseeing the coming devastation and famine, still proclaim that he would rejoice in YHWH and joy in the God of his salvation even when the fig trees, the vines, the olive trees, and the fields and flocks all failed?
Most Americans have a difficult time handling even minor disappointments, let alone something like nation-wide devastation and famine. People let themselves be permanently crippled by minor disappointments and setbacks. They undertake a project and discover that their initial expectations are not happening, so they give up. They quit and then sit in idleness feeling sorry for themselves.
For example, some people decide they want to play a musical instrument. They buy an instrument, take two or three lessons, then say, “It’s too difficult. It’s not for me.” Or they sign up for a Hebrew class and quit after just two or three lessons. Or they encounter a problem at their job, so they quit without giving the Lord an opportunity to solve the problem. Or their spouse doesn’t meet their expectations, so they end their marriage. Or they decide to read through the entire Bible, but quit when they get bogged down in the bloody sacrifices in Leviticus. Or their church or their pastor disappoints them, but they refuse to talk things over. They blame their lack of joy on others and simply leave the congregation, instead of saying, “Yet I will rejoice in YHWH, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
It’s true that not everyone is musically or linguistically inclined. Not everyone is equipped for certain types of jobs. Not everyone has a wonderful marriage. Studying the Bible is easier for some people and more difficult for others. Every church and every pastor will eventually disappoint you in some way. Life is full of disappointments and suffering, even for God’s children. Get used to it.
Sometimes I think that unbelievers accept disappointments and suffering better than most Christians do. Perhaps this is because many Christians have the mistaken notion that if we are God’s own children, everything is going to go great, and we are somehow going to be immune from pain and suffering in this world.
About ten years ago I read an article about Buddhism in Christianity Today. The article said that Buddhism is built upon a foundation of “four noble truths.” I don’t remember all of the four noble truths, but I do remember the first noble truth: Suffering is real. Or, as the Buddha himself worded it, “Life is suffering.”
Buddha can’t tell people the way to eternal life, but he was right about the reality of suffering.
There was a book that was very popular a few decades ago. The book was The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck. It was a secular, non-Christian book, but it contained some common-sense wisdom that many Christians could use. The book begins with these words:
Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we know that life is truly difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?
Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing.
I would qualify this author’s remarks about discipline by saying that the discipline we need is discipline that grows out of faith and vision and prayer. The reason I say this is because before Habakkuk said “Although… yet…,” he first spoke about faith: “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4), a verse that is quoted three times in the New Testament. Habakkuk also spoke about vision. Indeed, his entire book is a vision: “the burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see (Hab. 1:1). Habakkuk also spoke about prayer. Chapter 3 is called “A Prayer of Habakkuk the prophet” (Hab. 3:1). Habakkuk was able to say “Although… yet…” because he lived by his faith, he had vision, and he prayed.
Praying people with faith and vision do not easily give up when disappointments come. If William Carey, the father of modern missions, had not been a praying man of faith and vision, he would have given up his work. Carey went to India, where he spent years working hour after hour translating the Bible into many of the Indian languages. One day while Carey was away, his printshop burned to the ground and totally destroyed years of Carey’s work: “his massive polyglot dictionary, two grammar books, and whole versions of the Bible…sets of type for 14 eastern languages, 1,200 reams of paper, 55,000 printed sheets, and 30 pages of his Bengal dictionary.” When a co-worker told Carey about the loss, Carey whispered, “The work of years – gone in a moment.”
Most of us would probably have given up, left the mission field, returned home in disgrace with our tail between our legs, and wallowed in self-pity for the remainder of our days. Not Carey, though. He wrote:
The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease and certainty than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value. We are not discouraged; indeed the work is already begun again in every language. We are cast down but not in despair” (Robert J. Morgan, On This Day [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997])
What gave Carey his resiliency and perseverance? The just shall live by his faith – his faith in God, not in men, methods, or machines. If you are truly persuaded that God wants you to do something, start doing it and trust God for the outcome.
If you are having problems and disappointments, trust God to solve the problems and get you through the disappointments. Re-read Habakkuk’s declaration of faith, but insert the terms relevant to your personal situation. If you are having problems in your marriage, for example, read Habakkuk’s declaration after this manner:
Although my relationship with my spouse is not blossoming, neither are we seeing the fruit of the Spirit in each other; although our labour faileth to pay the bills, and my overtime pay improveth not the situation; although our children sometimes drive us crazy – Yet I will rejoice in YHWH, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
Then continue to read the remainder of Habakkuk’s declaration, and make it your declaration of faith: “YHWH God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.” Then use those feet like hinds’ feet and “be thou like to a roe or to a young hart [even if you’re old!] upon the mountains of spices” (Song 8:14).