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This is Part Two of a two-part series of meditations on the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk. Read Part One here. Habakkuk is one of the shorter books in the Bible and can easily be read in one sitting. I encourage you to read it today or sometime this week. You can do so here. For a very helpful overview of the Book of Habakkuk, check out this video from the Bible Project.

Part II – Habakkuk 2:1-3:19  

Our meditation on Part I ended with the LORD declaring to Habakkuk that the righteous shall live by faith (2:4). The righteous are those, like Habakkuk, who trust in the LORD’s secure embrace in an otherwise insecure world. This trusting obedience and patience is summed up in the word ‘faith’ – faith that God’s good and loving purpose for His people will triumph in the end, though His ways of achieving it are mysterious and perhaps not always comfortably benign.  

Fortified by this faith, we can courageously take our stand as watchmen to observe the current tumult of the world, as Habakkuk did in his day. We do so submissively awaiting the LORD’s answer to our complaints, being open to having our pre-conceived notions of God’s ways corrected (2:1 NKJV). This posture of courageous humility stands in contrast to that of the proud, whose souls are not upright within them (2:4), because they have no fear of God nor regard for His commandments.  

The turmoil being wrought by this pandemic is no respecter of persons, it shows no partiality, observes no national borders or class distinctions. (Though the poor will be disproportionately affected, the rich and powerful have certainly not been immune). Complacent politicians who downplayed its threat may not win re-election. Stock markets are tanking. The structures of the world’s political, economic and social systems will come under God’s judgment insofar as they allow for injustice and encourage a prideful spirit of independence from Him.

Through all of this, we pray that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (2:14 ESV). In the end, God’s strength and majesty will be made so powerfully manifest that all humanity will know the LORD, live in accordance with His will and stand in awe of His sovereign presence: The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him (2:20 ESV).  

Habakkuk breaks the great silence with a prayer of lamentation and supplication that recalls the LORD’s mighty deeds of the past, namely the Exodus, which involved both judgment (on proud Pharoah and Egypt) and the deliverance of His people Israel.  

O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy (3:2).  

The prophet prays that the LORD would make haste to revive His saving power once again in the tumult of the present. In wrath remember mercy encapsulates the entire message of the book and is a classic statement of faith in the LORD who is ever-just and all-compassionate.  

Habakkuk’s prayer ends with a hymn of praise that is, at least for me, one of the most moving passages in all of Scripture. I clung to it during a difficult season in ministry in my previous parish when the church was not growing and my labours seemed to be yielding no fruit.  

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. (3:17-18 ESV)  

This is likely a description of actual agricultural devastation inflicted by the Babylonian conquest around 586 B.C. That being said, we know from the parables of Jesus that agricultural images in the Bible have a deeper symbolic meaning. Think of the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), where the seed represents God’s Word and the various soil conditions are the ways in which the human heart can reject or receive the Word. Thus we are invited to interpret Habakkuk’s hymn in light of what its imagery symbolizes throughout the rest of Scripture:

  • The fig tree represents the pleasures of settled domestic life, prosperity, and economic self-sufficiency afforded by God’s blessing (Is. 36:16). Conversely, a withered fig tree is a symbol of God’s judgment, especially on the temple (Mark 11:12-14).
  • Fruit is the produce or outcome of an action, disposition or word. It normally has a positive connotation: for example, the fruit of good works (Col. 1:10), fruit of righteousness (Phil. 1:11; Heb. 12:11) and fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22). Jesus is the true vine in whom we must abide to bear much fruit, for apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
  • Olive oil was a valuable commodity used for many purposes: anointing royalty, cosmetics, food, healing and lighting. In all of these ways, oil is an image of the Holy Spirit. In the garden of Gethsemane (meaning ‘oil press’), Jesus is the true olive tree, who is pressed in His suffering to bring forth the manifold blessings of the Spirit, which are poured out upon us (Is. 61:1; Mark 14:32; Acts 10:38).
  • Fields, together with the associated images of planting and harvesting, represent the Church’s missionary activity (John 4:35).
  • The flock of sheep is the gathered congregation of God’s people (1 Pet. 5:2-3); the herd refers specifically to cattle, bulls or oxen – a sign of wealth and power.  

Though many of the things listed above may seem to be withered or lacking in this time of pandemic, together with Habakkuk we can nonetheless rejoice in the LORD and take joy in the God of our salvation. 

Why? Because Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the true and better Habakkuk. On the cross, in our place of abandonment and God-forsakenness, His cry of utter despair went unanswered. (While Habakkuk cried, 'O LORD, how long?', Jesus cried, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). There on the cross Jesus stretched out His arms to gather the whole world into His saving embrace.* Now risen from the dead, He ever lives to make intercession for us at the Father’s right hand in heaven, while all things are being put into subjection under His feet. He will come again in glory on the last day to usher in a new creation that will be perfectly free from fear, anxiety, isolation, distancing, plague and Death – these former things will have passed away.  

Knowing this, we can boldly proclaim: GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places (3:19 ESV). That is to say, our faith gives us a sure-footed confidence here and now to traverse the world’s rocky and uncertain terrain.


* The name Habakkuk is quite possibly related to the Hebrew word חבק ‘embraced;’ thus his name may mean ‘Embraced by God.’

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