“Though the fig tree may not blossom,Habakkuk Ch 3 v 17 – 18
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labour of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls –
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
This short paean of affirming faith in God in the face of seeming evidence to the contrary, cuts to the heart of the matter as to how we respond to God in the face of judgement.
The land and the people of Judah were coming under judgement. The instrument of judgement was the Chaldean army, which was spreading out from Babylonia like lava spewing out from a volcano. Nothing could stop them, and such was their unstoppable power, that nations and cultures in their path were liable to be extinguished for ever. Through the prophet Habakkuk, God unequivocally confirms what he is doing.
“For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans,Habakkuk Ch 1 v 6 -10
a bitter and hasty nation
which marches through the breadth of the earth,
to possess dwelling places that are not theirs.
They are terrible and dreadful;
their judgment and their dignity proceed from themselves.
Their horses also are swifter than leopards,
and more fierce than evening wolves.
Their chargers charge ahead;
their cavalry comes from afar;
they fly as the eagle that hastens to eat.
They all come for violence;
Their faces are set like the east wind.
They gather captives like sand.
They scoff at kings,
and princes are scorned by them.
They deride every stronghold,
for they heap up earthen mounds and seize it.”
In the light of such judgement, how is Habakkuk able to say that, though everything fails, yet he will rejoice in the Lord? After declaring God’s judgement, Habakkuk also declares God’s remedy “The just shall live by his faith”(Ch 2 v 4)
Whatever the human situation, there is only ever one remedy; look expectantly to the Lord to fulfil his ultimate promises. The ‘just’ or righteous, are only ever just because they do not trust in themselves, but in the Word of God. Human failure is always the result of trusting in human ability.
As we listen to the news, we cannot but be struck by the continued emphasis of politicians and national leaders that they have things under their control and that they will sort out whatever situation or disaster prevails. All they need is a bit more time, a bit more money or a bit more cooperation and confidence from the rest of us. If they are people of good intention then they are deceived, if they are people of wrong intentions, then they are liars. In either case, our responsibility is to disbelieve them and to fix our hopes upon God.
Judgement is not the first reaction of an implacable deity, but the final response of a longsuffering merciful God whose people have refused to hear and receive the words that would have led to life. The scriptures say that judgement begins first at the house of God (1 Peter Ch 4 v17). If we acknowledge that the breakdown of society happening on a worldwide scale is indeed judgement, then we are in a better place than any to repent, get right with God and to put our own house in order. If we harden our hearts and imitate the worldly attitude that we have the capability to sort out whatever is needful, then we put ourselves in the frontline for judgement.
Habakkuk did not end his prophecy with words of confidence because he had any expectation that the Jewish nation would be able to overcome the Chaldean hordes: he knew that Judah would be defeated. However, he also knew that God had promised future deliverance and rather than trusting in present resources, he firmly fixed his eyes on the dawning of God’s approaching Messianic Kingdom.
When Paul was returning from one of his missionary journeys, he revisited churches on the way “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts Ch 14 v 22). Paul’s intention was to strengthen Christians by emphasising the hardships they would face. Too many church leaders today are weakening Christians, by presenting a journey lined with the warm fuzzy feelings of aspiration rather than the hard facts of faith.
I have been meditating over the past few days on Martin Luther’s hymn “A mighty fortress is our God”. The language is a bit dated and obscure (it was written nearly 500 years ago), but the words resound with resolute faith in the face of adversity. Luther probably wrote this hymn in 1527 -29, at the time when parts of Europe were experiencing another outbreak of plague. The city of Florence reputedly lost a fifth of its population at that time. Pandemics, such as the present one with Covid 19, have been part of virtually all periods of human history; such periods are always opportunities to discover new depths of faith in God. May God give us the grace to respond and to return to him again with the confidence of a Habakkuk or Luther.