Banking your hope on God no matter what


John Piper on Habakkuk:

The last chapter of the book is Habakkuk’s response to what he has heard. But it is more than his own personal prayer. It is intended as a psalm to be used in worship. When it says in verse 1, “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth,” it means that the prayer is to be used to musical accompaniment with a spirit of excitement and triumph. This is confirmed by two things: 1) the very last phrase of the book, “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments,” and 2) the use of “Selah” at the end of verses 3, 9, and 13. The reason this is important to see is that Habakkuk wants us to be able to sing this prayer with him. It is not here to merely inform us about Habakkuk’s piety. It’s here to show us how we should face the judgment of God. The Chaldeans are coming against Judah for sure. How should the godly prepare for this tribulation and calamity? We should ask the same question. Tribulation is coming upon the world, as Jesus said (Matthew 24:21). How should we prepare for it? How shall we endure it?

First of all, in 3:2 Habakkuk prays, “O Lord, I have heard the report of thee, and thy work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years renew it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk has a sober and healthy fear of the judgment of God. So he prays that in the midst of wrath God will have mercy on him. Then in 3:3–15 he sings the greatness of God’s power, and especially his power to save. For example, verse 13: “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, for the salvation of thine anointed. Thou didst crush the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.” The prophet knew God’s power from his work in the past, and so he counted on his ultimate victory in the future. So verse 16 says that even though his body trembles at the thought of the invasion, he “waits quietly” for what must be.

And finally, in 3:17–19, Habakkuk breaks out into a wonderful song of faith:

Though the fig tree do 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 joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds’ feet, he makes me tread upon my high places.

In other words, no matter how severe the tribulation when the Chaldeans invade the land, Habakkuk will never stop trusting God. Even though God himself has roused this “bitter and hasty nation” (1:6), Habakkuk is confident that in wrath God will show mercy to those who trust him and rejoice in him alone when all else fails.

When a man and a woman marry, they pledge their love and faithfulness to each other “for better or for worse, whether rich or poor, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.” And if that’s true between husband and wife, how much more between us and God! That consecration is so important to Noël and me that we used Habakkuk 3:17–19 as a wedding text 14 years ago. We are each other’s, and we are God’s, no matter how severe the tribulation. We trust each other, and we trust him absolutely.

The Main Point of Habakkuk

Now as we step back from our survey, it shouldn’t be too hard to see what the main point of this little book is. Negatively it is this: Proud people, whose strength or ingenuity is their god (1:11, 16; 2:4, 19), will come to a woeful end, even though they may enjoy prosperity for a season either as God’s chosen ones in Judah, or as the victors over Judah. All the proud, whether Jew or Gentile, will perish in the judgment. But Habakkuk stresses the positive side of his main point, namely, “the just shall live by his faith.” He states it as a principle in 2:4, and then he celebrates it as his own song in 3:16–19. When Habakkuk says, “Even when all the fruit and produce and flocks and herds are destroyed and my very life is threatened, yet will I rejoice in God,”—when Habakkuk says that, he shows us what he means by faith in 2:4: “The just shall live by his faith.” He means banking your hope on God no matter what.

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