Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Was your anger against the rivers,
or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows.
– Habakkuk 3:8-9a (ESV)
Habakkuk 3 is a breathtaking chapter. It’s a poem, really; a cry for deliverance and a promise of patience.
Habakkuk lived and prophesied at a time of crisis. We often use the word “crisis” to describe the temporal hardships and heartaches in our own lives, but what the people of Israel faced in Habakkuk’s time was nothing short of national extinction. The Babylonians were coming.
“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.” – Habakkuk 1:6
The state of Habakkuk’s troubled mind, I would imagine, was something akin to the way a young soldier in World War I would have felt as he crouched in terror and watched, powerless, as his enemy overran his trench, killing his friends and eventually killing him. Habakkuk was waiting, in great fear, for the arrival of the juggernaut.
Yet Habakkuk, the questioning prophet, the one who pled his case before God, knew who his Deliverer was. His God was the one who had delivered His people before, the God who uncovers his bow and calls for many arrows, who mounts His chariot of salvation and rides to the rescue. Habakkuk’s prayer was that God would deliver again, and he boasts of the power of his God:
The sun and moon stood still in their place
at the light of your arrows as they sped,
at the flash of your glittering spear.
You marched through the earth in fury;
you threshed the nations in anger.
You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
– Habakkuk 3:11-13a (ESV)
So far so good; I am staying with the prophet up to this point. Yes, Lord, come save!
But then Habakkuk does something unexpected; something that leaves me in his dust. Habakkuk silently, at the end of a thought, weighs the justice and goodness of God against the wickedness of his nation, and the calls for quick deliverance die on his lips. There is no quick fix for the predicament that his nation has brought upon itself.
Yet in this dreadful knowledge Habakkuk rejoices! It is the realistic rejoicing of a man who knows that disaster is about to strike but who has chosen to wait patiently for His Lord anyway, knowing that the calamities wrought by God are far better than the pleasures of the world apart from Him.
I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
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.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
– Habakkuk 3:16-19 (ESV)
Thus the prophet who began his oracle asking God “How long until You deliver us?”, “Why won’t you help?”, comes to the end of all his complaints and questions, and rests in the patience and strength of his Lord. And in that strength he ascends to a high place of relationship with God that few of us ever attain.
And there he waits for the Lord to come riding on His chariot of salvation! The timing may not be to Habakkuk’s liking, but it is the timing and wisdom of God that he now desires.
And that is joy!