The following words were spoken to the people of Israel in 1406 B.C. as they prepared to finally enter the Promised Land that God had prepared for them.
“25 After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God and arousing his anger, 26 I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. 27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you. 28 There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. 29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. 31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:25-31)
In the midst of all that God had done and would do to bring the children of Israel into the Promised Land these ancient words were to be a warning, but they would be forgotten. As if covered by the sands of time, as centuries passed these words of warning and discipline no longer held their place in the minds of the children of Israel. We then come across the book of Habbakuk.
It was now 800 years later and the children of Israel had now turned against God. It was time for God to fulfill His ancient promises.
Habakkuk was a prophet who lived in Judah around 600 B.C. He lived at the same time as the prophet Jeremiah. In comparison to the larger picture of world history it was about 250 years before Alexander the Great.
The book of Habbakuk has only three chapters. When you read it, it is like taking pages from his personal journal. In these three chapters we see Habbakuk wrestling with God because of the situation that was taking place around him. Like us, he was tempted to look at the work of God only in the present, when in reality the work of God was part of a larger story whose beginning dated back to creation and whose ending would come about at Christ’s return.
The people of Judah were a part of the larger group known historically as the nation of Israel. They were descendants of Abraham and were a people who belonged to God. They were to walk with God. As God worked in and through them their devotion to God and His blessings would serve as an example that would point the nations of the world to the one, true God. That was the promise and their purpose, but during the time of Habbakuk the opposite was being done. The people of Judah had turned away from God. Habbakuk 1:2-4 described the godlessness of Judah in these words.
How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
In these verses Habbakuk is crying out to God with a huge question. How long will God tolerate and turn a deaf ear to the suffering and injustice of Judah? God listens and then answers by telling Habbakuk that He is going to respond by sending the Babylonians to conquer the people of Judah. This will be God’s response to His unrepentant people.
Shocked by God’s response Habbakuk asked another question. How can God discipline Judah by allowing them to be conquered by a nation that is even more wicked than they are?
God then told Habbakuk of the destruction that He would bring on Babylon in the end. Habakkuk 2:16, speaking of Babylon, says it this way, “You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.“
We can see an even fuller picture when we look at the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a contemporary of Habbakuk. In Jeremiah 50 he is led by God to write down what would eventually happen to the Babylonians. The Babylonians would be conquered by the Persians and other nations from the north. They would “lay waste to Babylon and it would be left completely desolate.” Jeremiah 50:18-20 then described the outcome with these words.
18 Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
“I will punish the king of Babylon and his land as I punished the king of Assyria.
19 But I will bring Israel back to his own pasture and he will graze on Carmel and Bashan;
his appetite will be satisfied on the hills of Ephraim and Gilead.
20 In those days, at that time,” declares the Lord, “search will be made for Israel’s guilt,
but there will be none, and for the sins of Judah, but none will be found, for I will forgive the
remnant I spare.
Babylon will be destroyed, but God will bring Judah back to Himself. Through God’s discipline of Judah they will turn from their sin and return to God.
At this point Habbakuk has asked two questions and God has answered both. We then read chapter 3 which starts with these words:
2 Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.
3 God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps.
6 He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal.
Habbakuk’s words that had at times sounded almost defiant in the first two chapters now seem to have taken on a different tone. We now read words of awe, worship, and reason even though the ways of God are still beyond him. Habbakuk now recognizes the role of wrath and mercy. He acknowledges the almighty, sovereignty of God. And in verse six Habbakuk concedes that God’s ways are eternal. That in itself is important. Any of us can argue for what we think is best for our present when that is all we can see, but God is eternal. He is making decisions from the perspective of eternity.
As we read farther along in chapter three we find these significant verses.
16 I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes 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,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
How is that last verse even possible? Where does his ability to rejoice in the LORD come from? Though I lose everything yet will I rejoice in God. Habakkuk had become utterly convinced that God was trustworthy. That God was in control. That God is more precious than anything this world can offer. That his eternal God would lead His people to an end where God and those who belong to Him would be vindicated and things would be made right. This type of joy realizes the circumstances of the present but clings to the goodness of God and the final outcome.
In scripture joy is rooted in God. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Regardless of the external circumstances around us we are called to a joy that comes from God’s Spirit within us. The biblical joy cannot be taken away by external circumstances because that is not where it came from. It is above circumstance. Psalm 5:11 conveys this God-centered joy. “Let all those that put their trust in You rejoice.” Psalm 16:11 declares that” in Your presence is fullness of joy.” That is the joy that Habakkuk had found.
We see this kind of joy elsewhere in scripture.
In his letter to the Christians in the city of Philippi the Apostle Paul, who was in prison at the time, wrote of his possible persecution, suffering and even death, but throughout the book of Philippians Paul also called the Christians of Philippi to a joy that endures.
As he wrote the book of Philippians Paul was rejoicing in the Lord. He was not rejoicing in his freedom, because he was not free. He was not rejoicing in his riches because he had nothing. He was not rejoicing in his conflict free life, because others were coming against him. He was not rejoicing in a secure life, because he had no idea what was awaiting him at the end of his time in prison. He rejoiced in the Lord, the only eternally secure and blessed one in his life. He was rejoicing in the presence and the plan of God.
Philippians 4:4-5 shows us the source of his joy. “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” It was the presence of the Lord and his confidence in the plan of God, that made Paul joyful.
It is the presence of God that is to usher us into joy. A slight picture of this truth might be found as those married think back to when they were courting their beloved. It really did not matter what they were doing, as long as they were together. Or the child who joyfully runs to the door every time Dad comes home. Or grandparents who are overjoyed when their grandchildren come to visit. It is not a joy based on circumstance, but a joy based on presence. The joy of being together.
John 15:9-11 describes this source of joy by talking of remaining in Him. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
Our joy is found in the presence and the plan of God. The pathway to this joy in God is found in a right relationship with Him. Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? If you are a follower of Christ, then you are rightly related to Him, but how intimate is that relationship?
All who have turned from their sin and put their faith in Jesus have been adopted into the family of God. We are His and He is ours but are we walking in right relationship with Him? An adopted child is now rightly related to their parents, but it is now their responsibility to walk in submission and obedience. As they do, they will experience the complete joy and benefit of their newfound relationship with their parents.
As you and I seek to receive the joy of God, are we walking rightly with God. Is there anything in our lives that is keeping us from God’s best? Is there a command that we refuse to obey? Is there a person we refuse to forgive? Is there a sin from which we have not turned away? Is there a struggle that we have not yet surrendered? Is there a truth we have yet to believe? Is there a care that we have not yet cast before God? Does our pride keep God at a distance? Are we bitter towards God for the pain life has caused us?
If so, today let it go. Like a raccoon caught in a trap, who reaches in to take hold of the prize. If he would let go, he could pull his hand out and run free, but he holds on, losing his freedom and possibly his life. May we put off all that separates us from God and may we draw near through His Word, through prayer and communion with other believers.
Even in the midst of the difficulties of life, God offers us joy that focuses on God’s plan that awaits us. As we see in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus knew that joy would come. That hope of the eternal future gave Him the strength to endure even when facing the cross. That is our hope as well. It is in the presence of God and our confidence in the plan of God that grants us a joy that endures.
Regardless of how your life is going right now, as children of God, we can never forget that we are not of this world, but our day of vindication is coming. It will be a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Where the struggles of this world will pass away. When Christ will come back to claim us as His own. Faith will no longer be necessary because we will see Him face to face.
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Romans 21:4-7) Jesus promises us that He will make everything new. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
It will be our eternal happy ending when that glorious day arrives. As we abide in His presence and remember His plan He will give us all that we need to endure in His joy.
Let us close with this. A story is told of a man who lived in the third century, when the early Christians were first persevering in the midst of the pagan Roman Empire. As he anticipated his coming death he wrote these final words to a friend,
“It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians; and I am one of them."
Today may we draw near to God, rejoicing in His presence and confident in His plan. In this we will find a joy that endures as we wait for His return.