Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor 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 the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord 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.
The book of Habakkuk is a book that is little known and, accordingly, little is known about its contents except perhaps chapter 2:20, which is commonly used in worship services to call God’s people unto silence and awe before the holy God in His holy temple.
Yet it is a book replete with precious instruction, an example of which is found here in these verses that conclude the book. With a burning and shining zeal for the Lord that he demonstrated throughout the book, Habakkuk ends his prophecy with an astounding confession made in the midst of deep adversity. It is a confession of true and joyful thanksgiving, containing precious instruction that we do well to give heed to, especially in anticipation of the national holiday and celebration of Thanksgiving.
“Yet I will rejoice”! is the astounding confession of joyful thanksgiving by the prophet. The striking character of Habakkuk’s joyful thanksgiving at once comes to light when we consider the occasion in which it was made.
What was the occasion? This was the time in the Old Testament church when the prophet served the Lord during the early kingship of King Josiah in Judah. Josiah’s father, Ammon, was a wicked king who led the nation into terrible idolatry and apostasy. In contrast, Josiah was a godly king, who did much reformation work for the nation throughout his lengthy reign. However, he had ascended the throne as a young boy and it was during that time that the prophet Habakkuk was in active ministry. The occasion, therefore, under the terrible religious circumstances in Judah, was that of heavy chastisement by the Lord for the sins of His people. They would eventually be carried away captive by the Chaldeans.
But they would also suffer a terrible, all-comprehensive economic disaster. This the prophet tells us in verse 17: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fall, 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.” In the land of Israel, the fig tree and olive tree represented very basic food for the people. Figs were used to make bread and cakes, and the oil from the olive was used for baking and a host of other food preparation methods. So when there are no figs and no olives; and when, in addition to that, the fields are barren so that there is no crop and agriculture fails; and when there is also no livestock, the entire nation is in an economic disaster that is deep and wide.
Under such circumstances, how would anyone exult in joyful thanksgiving? Dear reader, how is it with you? During this holiday season of Thanksgiving, will you exult in joyful thanksgiving? Perhaps like the prophet, you are experiencing great economic difficulty. Or perhaps, other troubles are plaguing you at this time: a serious illness, the death of a spouse or child and its lingering effects, great uncertainty over your future, or division within the family and close extended family brought about by schism in the churches. Whatever the circumstance, you are saddened, troubled and even overwhelmed by it. Will you exult in joyful thanksgiving?
Remarkably, this is exactly what Habakkuk did: “Yet I will rejoice”! That was the sound of joyful thanksgiving the prophet uttered to God from the heart! Astounding confession this is! To be sure, he had struggled with God’s revelation of chastisement—a struggle well documented in the preceding chapters of the book. But here and now in these verses, Habakkuk had experienced peace within his heart. He was content with God’s difficult but right and good way for him and for the people he loves dearly.
“Yet I will rejoice”! This cry of joyful thanksgiving from the prophet teaches us two things about true thanksgiving. First, it teaches us that true thanksgiving is not dependent on our external circumstances. Those circumstances may be so very bleak, as was the case with Habakkuk. Or perhaps those circumstances may be so very bright: when we have peace, health, and enjoy much in earthly abundance. Either way, it does not matter. True thanksgiving is not dependent on our external circumstances. The prophet’s confession of joyful thanksgiving demonstrates this. And if that be the case, then second, his astounding confession also teaches us that true thanksgiving is for all times and all seasons. For if true thanksgiving is not dependent on our external circumstances in any way and especially endures in the bleakest of circumstances, then it stands to reason that there will not be a time or season in which thanksgiving ceases. It ever abides! “Yet I will rejoice…”!
True thanksgiving is joyful thanksgiving! True thanksgiving is not dependent on our external circumstances! True thanksgiving abides through all times and all seasons! Such was the nature of the prophet’s astounding confession.
What explains such a confession? There is but one explanation and it is set forth in verse 18: “I will joy in the God of my salvation.” There are two parts to this answer. To begin with, take note that the idea underlying the word “salvation” in the original is “freedom.” Salvation is freedom! Freedom from what? And freedom unto what?
This is a freedom from the bondage of sin. That is right: sin is bondage! Be not deceived by the devil: sin is not pleasure! It is bondage! Sin takes hold of us, takes us captive, and makes us slaves to it. It is a corrupting power! And with that corruption and power, there is also the guilt that afflicts the one who is sinning. This is due to the fact that we know what is right and wrong, and when we sin, we know that what we are doing is wrong. Accordingly, our souls are smitten with the guilt of our sin. Salvation frees us from both the corruption and guilt of sin. This is what the cross of our only Savior Jesus Christ does. The blood of Jesus Christ atoned for our sins through and through! It washed away the guilty stains of our sins once and for all! And more and more, by the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, the sinful but elect sinner overcomes the corrupting power of sin. More and more, we become like our holy Savior and live in greater love unto God and unto our neighbor. We are freed from the bondage of sin.
But more, such is the greatness of our salvation that we are also set free unto communion and life with God. We are freed to live as friends with our absolute Sovereign and Friend, the covenant God of friendship. In Christ we are freed to love Him, serve Him, and walk with Him in His ways. The bondage of sin only makes us to flee from Him. But the greatness of God’s grace is such that it causes us to do just the opposite: to seek Him, flee unto Him through His Son for all we need, and cleave unto Him as friends with Friend for our help, our refuge and our strength.
We have God; we have Him living in us and taking our hand by His hand. He is leading and guiding us through life—even in adversity—onward and upward to heaven! In this God with whom we are freed unto sweet communion and friendship we exult in joyful thanksgiving that is ever-abiding, steadfast, and sure! For this covenant God who holds us in His hand and guides us through life is the almighty God. The almighty God who made all things by His absolute power! The almighty God who continues to uphold and govern all things in heaven and on earth! The almighty God who causes sinners whom He chooses of His eternal, good pleasure to come irresistibly to Him and holds them safely through all life—even through adversity—so that no one can pluck them out of His hand. The almighty God who reveals to all His friends that He is their Lord—the great I AM and covenant God of friendship, who in His unchanging love towards His sinful people declares to them, “For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6).
Because of this unchanging Lord of covenant love and faithfulness, Habakkuk makes this astounding confession of joy and thanksgiving: “Yet I will rejoice…”! Is this not what the prophet himself tells us in verse 19: “The Lord God is my strength, and He will…”? Such is the strength needed for our souls to be lifted up when under great adversity! Human strength, however strong, will fall short and fail miserably. Only supernatural, divine strength and power will do! God’s strength alone can and does lift us up from sadness unto joyful thanksgiving. In His abiding love and great faithfulness, the Lord gave that strength to Habakkuk so that he could exult in joyful thanksgiving. What He did for Habakkuk, He does for every one of His dear children—even for you and for me!
But there is more. That astounding confession is but part of what divine strength and power brings to all of us who receive it.
It goes on unto a most blessed activity of faith. Note the blessed response of faith that the prophet gives expression to: “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet and he will make me to walk upon mine high places” (v. 19b); and “To the chief singer of my stringed instruments” (v. 19c). In a word, the prophet confesses that he is not only lifted up out of sadness and gloom, he is also and even more, lifted up unto zealous, hopeful, and energetic living unto and praise of his God. Let there also be such a blessed response of faith arising from within us during this season of Thanksgiving and always!