In a weekly email update for St. Etienne Cathedral (Kigali) I have been working through a series of messages looking at the book of Habakkuk for strength to hold on in uncertain times. These are the final two messages, slightly revised.
In the complaints and responses of Habakkuk chapters 1-2, we see God in His sovereign faithfulness. God is controlling events for the good of his people, even when circumstances seem to suggest the opposite. Here (Part 3) we turn to Habakkuk’s response to God.
Habakkuk’s first response is confidence. We see this in his prayer (3:1-16). Actually, Habakkuk was already praying, his complaints are a form of prayer called “lament.” Now in response to God he turns from lament to petition. Habakkuk realizes that in God’s sovereignty His plans must be carried out. God will punish the sin of his people. But even as he accepts that this is God’s sovereign plan, he asks God to have mercy: “in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). Although judgment is sure, Habakkuk looks for mercy, waiting for the destruction of the enemies of God’s people (3:16).
Habakkuk can be confident of God’s mercy because he knows God’s work of salvation in the past. Verses 3-15 recall God’s former acts of salvation, especially the exodus from Egypt. God was like a warrior, fighting the enemies of his people (see Exodus 15:3). Habakkuk wants God to save his people in the present the way he did in the past. He has heard of the mighty deeds of the Lord, but now he wants to see them for himself (3:2). In anticipation of God’s mercy Habakkuk has moved from complaint: “how long, O Lord?” (1:2), to confidence: “I will quietly wait for the day of trouble” (3:16).
Quiet confidence in the mercy of God is a source of strength to hold on in times of uncertainty. Generally, confidence grows as something or someone is proven worthy of trust. Confidence in God grows by continually reminding ourselves of God’s past faithfulness, reassuring ourselves that he can be trusted. Waiting for the Lord is an exercise of our trust and a source of strength: “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
This brings us to the final verses of the book, and the other part of Habakkuk’s response to God. In his final poem (3:17-19) Habakkuk responds to God with joy. This may come as a surprise, since Habakkuk has accepted God’s sovereign plan to punish his people. There are dark days ahead. The prophet describes the loss of life’s basic necessities: figs, grapes, olive, wheat, sheep, cows (v.17). Although this loss could be hypothetical, for Habakkuk this is a reality that is soon to happen. The Babylonians are going to cut of supplies and ravage the land as they carry out God’s judgement. God’s people are going to experience suffering and exile.
In spite of such catastrophic loss Habakkuk chooses joy instead of despair: “yet I will rejoice in the LORD” (v.18). Even when all of God’s blessings are removed, Habakkuk will rejoice in the Lord. Habakkuk’s response is a stubborn refusal to despair and a determination to “take joy in the God of my salvation,” even if he does not save in this situation. Habakkuk chooses joy in spite of circumstances, and in this way finds God to be his source of strength: “GOD, the Lord, is my strength” (v19).
Joy in the Lord is a source of strength to hold on in times of uncertainty. So often we look for joy in our circumstances, but Habakkuk reminds us that joy is a choice we can make in spite of circumstances. We have watched Habakkuk go through a transformation, from complaining to confidence and joy. In our times of uncertainty God wants us to experience a similar transformation, to be a people of confident trust and determined joy. When times of uncertainty come our way God himself will be our strength to hold on.