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. – Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV
What kinds of conditions do you put on your worship of God? What does He have to do to get you to love and honor Him? Maybe you expect your life to be easy-going and care-free. Perhaps you demand that things always go your way or that your life be marked by happiness and contentment. You silently hope for no pain, sorrow or disappointment. And if any of those things show up in your life, you tend to wonder what God is doing or why He has it out for you. But in the prayer of Habakkuk, found in chapter three of the book that bears his name, we see a slightly different perspective – one we could all stand to incorporate into our lives as believers.
Habakkuk was a prophet. Like all prophets, he had been given an assignment by God to tell the people of Israel about the coming destruction from God because of their sins. He was to call them to repentance. But at the very outset of the book of Habakkuk, we read his words of complaint aimed at God. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV). It sounds like Habakkuk was less than satisfied with how God was handling the situation in Israel. From his perspective, God was oblivious or indifferent to what was going on all around Habakkuk. The nation of Judah, where Habakkuk lived, was out of control. Sin was rampant. Evil was everywhere. And it appeared as if God didn’t really care. The righteous were suffering and injustice was more commonplace than justice. Yet God seemed strangely silent. But nothing could have been further from the truth. God assured Habakkuk that He was anything but complacent about what was going on in Judah. He told His perturbed prophet, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV). Basically, God told Habakkuk that He was doing some incredible things, but Habakkuk wouldn’t believe it if he heard it. God was going to deal with the injustice and rebellion in Judah. He was going to raise up the nation of Babylon to bring judgment on His people. The nation of Judah would suffer the same fate as that of the northern kingdom of Israel: destruction and deportation.
Now that God had told Habakkuk what He was going to do, Habakkuk had second thoughts. He complained again, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 ESV). How in the world could a just and loving God allow a perverse, pagan nation to destroy the people of God? What was up with that? God answered Habakkuk. In the very next chapter, God reveals to Habakkuk what He has planned for the Babylonians. Yes, He will use them to punish Judah, but then God will mete out justice on them. In His time. In His way. Habakkuk didn’t need to understand it all. He simply needed to trust God. And God closed out His answer to Habakkuk with these words: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20 ESV). In other words, God was telling Habakkuk not to forget the fact that He was sovereign and in complete control, whether it looked that way to Habakkuk or not. Rather than complain, Habakkuk needed to wait and watch. And Habakkuk replies in humility, “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us” (Habakkuk 3:16 ESV). He didn’t get it. He didn’t even like it. But he was learning to see it as coming from the hand of God. Which is what led him to say, “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.” Even if things didn’t quite look like what Habakkuk was expecting, he would rejoice in God. Even if events took a turn for the worse, he would take joy in the God of his salvation. He would trust God. Why? Because “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:19 ESV).
In spite of all that was taking place around him, Habakkuk determined to rejoice in the Lord. He was going to find reasons to praise God whether the evidence existed or not. Because he believed his God to be trustworthy, sovereign and faithful. Too often my praise is predicated on my preconceived expectations. I rejoice only when things turn out the way I envisioned them. If God meets my conditions, He can have my worship. But Habakkuk would have me understand that God deserves my praise whether I agree with His methods or not. I don’t have the full picture. I don’t understand what He is doing behind the scenes. So I must learn to trust Him and say, “Yet I will rejoice.” Because He knows what He is doing.