When emptied and poor

Habakkuk 3 is the end of a rather troubling book. After prophesying unprecedented defeat and disaster for Israel, the prophet prays that, eventually, God would come and restore His people. But there is no hint given about the timeframe for that. And to be quite honest, if I were in his shoes, I think I would be praying that God would just forego the whole judgment thing altogether.

I suppose that’s why I’m not a prophet of Biblical proportion.

At any rate, even in the face of impending doom, the final words of Habakkuk’s prophecy are challenging. He says, starting in Habakkuk 3:16,

I heard, and I trembled within; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness entered my bones; I trembled where I stood. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights.

I am struck by the reality hinted in verse 16: the day of judgment and doom is imminent. Habakkuk knows that it is coming, and there can be no escape. He is left with no option but to wait – quietly, if you can believe that! – for the invaders’ own day of distress to come.

And yet, in the meantime, the prophet resolves, in essence, that no matter how bad it gets, he will still triumph and rejoice in God!

Triumph and rejoice in God at a time characterized by fear (“I trembled within”), terror (“my lips quivered at the sound”), “rottenness” in the bones, and horror (“I trembled where I stood”) (vs 16)?

Even in that moment, triumph and rejoice?



As Habakkuk understood, whether the fig tree buds or the olive crop overflows or the grain bins burst is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if there is plenty of everything or absolutely nothing at all. God is still Yahweh, the self-existent, self-sustaining I am. He is still the God of my salvation, capable and resolved and faithful to rescue His faithful remnant. He is still the source of my strength and joy, able to make my feet like those of a deer.

I’ve seen the feet of deer. And if there is one thing I know, I honestly don’t know that there is a more graceful creature. The things can spring high up into the air and float there as though the laws of physics simply don’t apply to them. They seem weightless, and so it’s no coincidence that Habakkuk uses them here. As bad as things may be, Habakkuk entrusts his burden – his weight – to the Lord. And so is able to have joy, even in times of unprecedented trouble.

Indeed, as 18th century Bible commentator Matthew Henry said in his concise commentary on these last few verses of Habakkuk, “Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease. But those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God.”

Oh, that I would have the faith and trust and joy of Habakkuk.


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