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,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
The last three weeks may have convinced you that Habakkuk was a prophet of doom, not hope. After all, his nation is corrupt to the core and God is about to punish them through the Babylonians. Habakkuk’s job is to tell Judah of impending disaster and then wait in faith and faithfulness. But surprisingly, Habakkuk’s oracle ends on a note of confidence, joy and hope. Even triumph. Is Habakkuk’s hope just wishful thinking or naïve optimism? I don’t think so. The prophet’s beautiful closing hymn is realistic about the coming desolation of his homeland. He knows that the land’s barrenness is the outcome of Judah’s sin. But Habakkuk’s hope is based on Yahweh himself. The Lord is his salvation… his strength…his joy. Though crops and everything else may fail, the God of his salvation will never fail.
The source of Habakkuk’s hope
Habakkuk’s hope springs from Yahweh’s character, his acts and promises. He rehearses God’s great acts of salvation in the past (Hab 3:2). He catches a glimpse of the holy Judge and Ruler of the earth, before whom all humanity is accountable (Hab 2:20; Hab 3:16). He is convinced that God will show mercy to his believing remnant (Hab 2:4; Hab 3:2). And he is assured that the whole earth will one day be filled with the Lord’s glory, as extensively as waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). Despite desolation, the prophet draws joy and strength from his certain hope in the God of his salvation (Hab 3:18-19).
Judah’s curse is universal
Although Habakkuk’s message is deeply rooted in Judah 600AD, it has timeless value for God’s people in every generation. Like Habakkuk, we too live in a world where things have gone horribly wrong. Pete and I often joke that Habakkuk 3:17-18 should be adapted for marriage vows or business partnerships– a vivid picture of “for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health!” Earthly prosperity and human flourishing is fragile at best.
Habakkuk 3:17 is the antithesis of the blessings Yahweh offered His people if they walked in his ways (Deuteronomy 28:1-12). God’s blessings and curses were demonstrated in the land of Canaan, the homeland of milk and honey promised to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 15:18-21; Gen 26:3; 28:13; Ex 23:31). It was supposed to be a land of fruitfulness, fertility, freedom and favour.
But Habakkuk pictures a land that is nothing like the bread basket of Judah and Israel under king Solomon (1 Kings 4:20-21). Instead, it is a basket case, in bondage to ruthless enemies, marked by frustration, failure and famine. Despite all this, Habakkuk ends his oracle on a note of confidence and joy—even triumph (Hab 3:18-19). The prophet’s hope in suffering sounds a lot like Paul’s in Romans 8:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience….37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:18-25; 37-39).
Earth’s curse and a hopeful longing
Just as the first human stewards of the earth fell in Genesis 3, all Creation fell with them. Paul isn’t just being dramatic or pessimistic about the earth groaning as if in labour, captured in the continuous cycle of death and decay. He is realistic about his world, just as Habakkuk was about his homeland.
Personally, I love the beauty of this world. I love marriage, family and friendships. I love good food and laughter and my dogs. I have hope for the future. But I know that this world will never meet the infinite longings of my heart. Bodies get sick and die. Good people lose everything. Work is hard, and hard workers lose their jobs. Nature is threatened by man’s poor stewardship, and natural disasters strike back.
Christians who pretend that we will experience only victory and abundance in this life pour salt on the wounds of real people. Augustine reminds us that so much of our restlessness and disappointment is the result of trying to convince ourselves we are already home.
Curse in reverse
But Paul’s conquering spirit arises from his hope of future restoration. He imagines the labour of creation culminating in new birth. The Bible speaks of the dramatic, visible day of the Lord, when every inch of creation, including our bodies, will be fully liberated, resurrected and re-created (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16)! The blessings we enjoy now on earth as children of God are just a foretaste of the abundant harvest that awaits us when the sons of God are revealed (Rom 8:19; 23). It is good to think about our homeland and to know that the best is yet to come!
Living with hope
Our hope for the future is not built on wishful thinking, but on the blood-bought certainty that God has never abandoned his plans for us and the earth. The God of Habbakuk established His rule among men through His Messiah-King 2000 years ago. Christ defeated Satan and is bringing reconciliation, redemption and restoration to the earth, one heart and one life at a time. He is gathering His redeemed people from the four corners of the earth and transforming them into His image, by his Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). Restoration is taking place under our very noses, though it is often silent and subtle. And God uses his redeemed people as his tools of restoration.
That’s why William Wilberforce made it his life’s work to end slavery and reform healthcare, education and prisons in the 18th century. That’s why Helen Roseveare left England to start mission hospitals and training colleges in the Congo in the 20th century. It’s why Love Trust and Nokuphila schools exist today in Tembisa. It’s why we pray and labour for revival in our time, as Habakkuk did (Hab 3:2)
And it’s why we wait with longing and expectancy for the Lord Jesus to return at the close of history (Rom 8:19). On that triumphant day, Christ will fully and finally destroy his enemies and deliver his people and all creation from evil. He will establish his eternal rule in the new heavens and new earth where only righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). The holy city, the new Jerusalem will come out of heaven and God will dwell with his people on earth. They will be His people and He will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and bring a final end to death and pain (Rev 21:1-6; Rev 21:22-29).
As Greg Beale puts it, “New creation is the goal or purpose of God’s redemptive-historical plan. New creation is the logical main point of Scripture.”
I love reading the final hymn of Habakkuk alongside Romans 8, because it unites tragedy with triumph for those who have placed their faith in God’s Messiah–the “adopted heirs” of God (Rom 8:15-17). The heaviness of our worst suffering is outweighed by the infinite mass of eternal glory. Faith in God’s Saviour is the only basis for true hope.
Randy Alcorn’s book, titled Heaven, urges us to think more of our new homeland on earth, where our hearts will be fully and finally satisfied in the God of our salvation. This was Habakkuk’s hope, and it’s ours too.
Listen to There is a Day by Lou Fellingham, based on 1 Cor 15:52:
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
Extracts from Heaven, by Randy Alcorn:
“In Genesis, the Redeemer is promised; in Revelation, the Redeemer returns. Genesis tells the story of Paradise lost; Revelation tells the story of Paradise regained. In Genesis, man and woman fail as earth’s rulers; in Revelation righteous humanity rules the new earth, under King Jesus. The river of the water of life, flowing from the throne of God, and the tree of life, now a forest of life, growing on both sides of the river (Revelation 21:1–2). That’s a picture of the New Eden, located in the heart of the New Jerusalem. Satan and sin will not thwart God’s plan!
In Acts 3:21 Peter said that Christ must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. What does it mean that one day God will restore everything? Read the prophets: you’ll see how God promises to restore earth itself to Eden-like conditions (Isaiah 35:1; 51:3; 55:13; Ezekiel 36:35)…
I am convinced that the typical view of heaven — eternity in a disembodied state — is not only completely contrary to the Bible but obscures the far richer truth: that God promises us eternal life as totally healthy, embodied people more capable of worship, friendship, love, discovery, work, and play than we have ever been. Don’t wait until you die to believe that. Believing it now will change how you think, how you view the people around you, and what you do with your time and money, which are really God’s…
The bucket-list mentality reveals an impoverished view of redemption. Even Christians end up thinking, If I can’t live my dreams now, I never will. Or, You only go around once. But if you know Jesus, you go around twice — and the second time lasts forever. It’s called “eternal life,” and it will be lived in a redeemed universe with King Jesus. We do not pass our peaks in this life. The best is yet to come.”