When Bad Gets Worse (Habakkuk 3:16-19), a sermon preached on March 29, 2020

Maybe you saw the title to my sermon and thought, “Why is he being a Debbie Downer, we need some hope and encouragement.”

Well, our faith and hope are really nothing if it cannot stand up under the pressure of our current situation, with all its dangers and fears and confusion.

So I DO want to offer you hope and encouragement, but by facing the realities of life.

Tragedy is hard to understand, hard to explain, and hard on our faith.  Some people lay the blame at the feet of God and become bitter and cynical toward Him.  They may ask for an explanation, but get silence.  They ask for understanding, and are baffled.

It takes faith—a deep, robust faith–to trust God when unexplained tragedies are happening.

Perhaps the greatest expression of undaunted faith ever penned came from the Old Testament spokesman, Habakkuk.  Most prophets spoke to the people for God.  Habakkuk spoke to God for the people.

He lived in times that were hard on faith.  He saw the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering.  He asked God the two questions we often ask: “Why?” and “How long?”

Why are these things happening?  How long will it be before things will change for the better?

Aren’t those the questions we are asking today, in light of the coronavirus?

God revealed to Habakkuk that the Babylonians, the epitome of everything Habakkuk (and God for that matter) detested, would become God’s instrument of judgment on Judah.  Habakkuk did not understand.  He could not explain it.

For a time, evil would win over righteousness, and hatred would win out over love, and bad things would happen to good people.

God’s hand would not move.  His face would not be seen.

Yet throughout this time of punishment, God reminded Habakkuk of correct living: “The righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).  “The righteous will live by his faith.”

Turn to the book of Habakkuk.  Habakkuk is one of the Minor Prophets, tucked in there between Nahum and Zephaniah.  Habakkuk was a prophet to the southern kingdom, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

The Northern ten tribes had already been taken into captivity by Sennacharib in 722 B.C. because of their idolatry, immorality and injustice.  And Judah hadn’t learned a thing.  They were following in the footsteps of their brothers.

So God revealed to Habakkuk that his country was about to be invaded, pillaged and ransacked. Habakkuk and his people would lose everything that they had built up over the years, everything they had worked for. It would all be gone.

In this book we can trace Habakkuk’s own personal journey from a place of questioning, doubt and confusion at the beginning of the book to a place of faith, hope and confidence by the end of the book.  And I hope that you and I will take that same journey this morning.

As J. Vernon McGee says, Habakkuk “begins with a question mark and closes with an exclamation point.”

The key verse of the whole book is found in Habakkuk 2:4 “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Three different writers of the New Testament realized that this quality was central to the life of a Christian. Each focus on a different part of the life.

  • Romans – The JUST shall live by faith.
  • James — The just SHALL LIVE by faith.
  • Hebrews – The just shall live by FAITH.

Habakkuk realized that though he did not understand God’s ways or timing, he could not doubt God’s wisdom, love, or reliability.  Then Habakkuk wrote his great affirmation of faith.

In this closing passage Habakkuk makes one of the strongest statements of faith you will find in all of Scripture.  It makes a fitting climax to the book and a strong encouragement to us today.

16 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. 17 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.

That last verse, along with the first verse of chapter 3 and the presence of “selah” after verses 3, 9 and 13 indicate that this was a song intended to be sung with a triumphal tone.

If Habakkuk were speaking today, he would say, “Though my health is endangered, though my retirement accounts are all but wiped out, though I can’t see my friends or finish my senior year, though my daughter is pregnant out of wedlock, yet I will rejoice in the LORD.”

Habakkuk shares with us three things that he did, even when he was facing the worst calamity of his lifetime.  Let’s look at these closing verses together and see what we can learn for the strengthening of our own faith.

  1. Wait patiently for God even when you are afraid (v. 16)

In verse 16 Habakkuk reveals his initial reaction to the bad news.  He said…

16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.

Essentially here Habakkuk recognizes that he was receiving a “no” to his prayers for his people.  Yet his faith-filled response is to wait upon God to fulfill His long-range promises for Israel.

You see, God had just told Habakkuk about the coming invasion by the Babylonians.  God had described to him the arrogance, violence and extreme cruelty of these invaders in chilling detail.

Of course, God had also told him about the great and awesome judgments he would bring upon Babylon and indeed upon all the nations of the earth that refuse to submit to God.

He may have seen all of this in a vision.

So initially, having heard of the horrible judgments to come, he is overcome by fear.  It hits him both emotionally and physically.  When Habakkuk says “my body trembles,” he uses a word which describes violent earthquakes.  He is shaken, falling apart.

His lips “quiver” and he is unable to form the words to express his dread.  He is in such shock that his feet are unable to move (something that will be changed in v. 19!)

Maybe the same thing has happened to you when you first hear news of some tragedy that hits close to home.  You are overcome by dread and sorrow and you feel drained physically.

Habakkuk was not just dealing with the possibility of an attack on his country that would wipe out everything, but with the certainty that it would happen.

You remember the first line of Dicken’s The Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”?  Well, this was the worst of times, and the worst of times.  It was the worst news you could possibly get.

It is quite possible that Habakkuk was still alive when the devastation of Jerusalem happened.  We do know that Jeremiah was, and expressed this devastation in the book of Lamentations.  Listen to these words…

Lamentations 2:1-6

1 How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud! He has cast down from heaven to earth the splendor of Israel; he has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger. 2 The Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the habitations of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers. 3 He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around. 4 He has bent his bow like an enemy, with his right hand set like a foe; and he has killed all who were delightful in our eyes in the tent of the daughter of Zion; he has poured out his fury like fire. 5 The Lord has become like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel; he has swallowed up all its palaces; he has laid in ruins its strongholds, and he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation. 6 He has laid waste his booth like a garden, laid in ruins his meeting place;

20-22

20 Look, O LORD, and see! With whom have you dealt thus? Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord? 21 In the dust of the streets lie the young and the old; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; you have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity. 22 You summoned as if to a festival day my terrors on every side, and on the day of the anger of the LORD no one escaped or survived; those whom I held and raised my enemy destroyed.

Even if Habbakuk didn’t experience this first-hand, he had seen it in a vision—starvation of young and old, cannibalism of children, the destruction of Solomon’s temple, the apparent end of his country.

How do you exercise faith in God during the worst of times?

Habakkuk says to wait patiently for God, even when you are afraid.  Did you notice the second half of verse 16?

Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.

There is no hoping that the invasion will be stopped and tragedy won’t strike.  But God had promised that He would eventually judge the Babylonians for their sin and would ultimately deliver His people.

That wouldn’t happen in Habakkuk’s lifetime, but he believed it.

This is the way some promises are.  They don’t always get fulfilled immediately, or in the next few months, in fact, sometimes not until after we die.

Are we willing to trust God that far?

The phrase “wait patiently” comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to rest, or to settle down and remain.”  It is what David expressed in Psalm 62:1 when he says, “my soul finds rest in God.”

Instead of allowing his heart to continue to be shaken by fear and anxiety, he chose to settle his heart on God’s promises.

Yes, a terrible reality was about to happen, but an even greater reality was coming too!

Last week we looked at the peace that God can give us when we turn our anxieties over to Him:

Philippians 4:6-7 says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Rest in God and in His promises.  That is where peace comes from.

Here is the second thing you can do

  1. Choose to rejoice in God even when everything else goes wrong (vv. 17-18)

17 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.

Here Habakkuk is depicting a series of escalating problems.  We could summarize these verses:  “I’ve lost everything, but I will still rejoice in God.”

Israel was an agricultural society.  What these verses describe is not merely utter financial ruin, but the impossibility of continued survival.  It spells famine and death.  It spells hopeless doom.

Now, agriculture would be divided into permanent crops, annual crops and livestock.  Notice that all three are obliterated here.

Figs, grapes and olives—permanent crops—they’re gone!

Annual crops like wheat and barley, the source of most of their calories—gone!

Their livestock—all dead.

The first scenario is:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,

Here Habakkuk is saying that not only is there nothing today, but the future has nothing either.

There were not only no figs on the tree, but no blossoms as well.  The blossoms on the fig tree and grapes starting to form on the vine refer to things that might benefit us in the future.  But there is no hope for the future!

Not only is today terrible, but tomorrow just gets worse!

Today stinks and tomorrow doesn’t look any better!

There are no visible signs that tomorrow will hold any promise.

Sometimes, don’t we just want a sign that things will get better?

David, in Psalm 86:17, asks, “Show me a sign of your favor…”

We all crave something that will give us hope that tomorrow will be better.  Habakkuk saw none.

Our problem is that we live in a quick fix society.  We want to relieve the pain right away so we go looking for a band aid when surgery is what is needed.  God alone can satisfy our hearts when everything in this world is taken away.

The second scenario is presented like this: “the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food…”

This refers to those things you are trusting right now.  They symbolize your present means.  But in this scenario what you are trusting has let you down.

The olive crop fails.  The fields produce no fruit.  All there is, is disappointment.

You’ve worked hard, blood, sweat and tears.  You’ve done everything humanly possible, but it all comes to nothing.

You get laid off after years of faithful service to the company.  You lose your job and have no current source of income.  Or, you invest all your money in a “sure deal” and the market goes bust.  You put years into a relationship with another person and it all falls apart.

Now, we will talk next week about a simple prayer that Jesus taught His disciples how to pray: “Give us today our daily bread.”  God understands our needs and wants us to depend upon Him to meet all our physical needs.

The third scenario is this: though “the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls.”

You know, the Bible is so honest.  It reminds us over and over again of the reality that we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world.  Bad things will happen to good people.

The sheep and cattle refer to those things you are trusting from the past.  This symbolizes your reserves, your savings account.

How many of you have watched your retirement slip away?  I refuse to even look!

In this scenario you have no reserves to fall back on.  Your credit cards are maxed and there is no money in the bank.  Your physical strength is tapped, you are emotionally empty and spiritually drained.

It’s easy to trust God when the fig tree is budding and grapes are on the vines, when the olive crop succeeds and the fields are productive, when sheep and cattle keep reproducing.  But are you really trusting God at those times?  Or are you just trusting in the things you have and would potentially have?

This is exactly the question Satan asked about Job.  “Does Job trust you because he really believe in you, or because you have blessed him so much?”

But Job showed his true colors when God removed the blessing and Job continued to trust, saying “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

So do you just trust God when He gives, or do you trust Him when He takes away as well?

Here’s another way of putting that question:  Which would make you feel more financially secure—having a million dollars in the bank or having a God who promises to meet your daily needs?

Be honest.  If you answer having a million dollars, then you are not really trusting God.

And you are not really more secure, are you?

So what do you do when everything, and I mean everything, that you have been counting on is taken away from you?  What do you do when all you have been depending upon is gone and there is no prospect of recovery?

Habakkuk says, “Trust in God no matter what.”

Habakkuk says, “Even if everything is taken away from me…18 yet, yet, YET I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

The pronoun is emphatic, “Nevertheless I will rejoice in the Lord.”  It is a strong assertion of faith.

Friday night Becky and I watched I Still Believe, the story of Jeremy Camp and his wife Melissa, who had an aggressive cancer that took her life four months into their marriage.  During her sickness they prayed, and got thousands of people to pray, for her healing.  A couple of times she appeared to be healed, but then cancer would return with a vengeance.

In the wake of her death Jeremy Camp had a crisis of faith.  He struggled with what he believed and wondered how God could let him down like this.

Yet a note from his now-deceased wife reminded him that God was good even in this.

Likewise Randy Alcorn, researching If God Is Good, I interviewed Scott and Janet Willis.

An unskilled truck driver who obtained his license through bribery allowed a large object to drop onto a Milwaukee freeway in front of their van.  Their gas tank exploded, killing six of their children.

Scott Willis said,

The depth of our pain is indescribable.  However, the Bible expresses our feelings that we sorrow, but not as those without hope.  What gives us our firm foundation for hope are the words of God found in Scripture…. Ben, Joe, Sam, Hank, Elizabeth and Peter are all with Jesus Christ.  We know where they are.  Our strength rests in God’s Word.

Now the Willis family’s story is exactly the kind that atheists feature as overwhelming evidence for God’s nonexistence.  Yet, when I interviewed this couple fourteen years after the tragic event, Janet said, “Today I have a far greater understanding of the goodness of God than I did before the accident.”  This might have taken my breath away, had I not already heard it from others who’ve also endured unspeakable suffering.

At the end of our two-hour conversation, Scott Willis said, “I have a stronger view of God’s sovereignty than ever before.”

Scott and Janet did not say that the accident itself strengthened their view of God’s sovereignty.  Indeed, Scott’s overwhelming sense of loss initially prompted suicidal thoughts.  Rather, their faith grew as they threw themselves upon God for grace to live each day.  “I turned to God for strength,” Janet said, “because I had no strength.”  She went to the Bible with a hunger for God’s presence, and he met her.  “I learned about Him.  He made sense when nothing else made sense.  If it weren’t for the Lord, I would have lost my sanity.”

I asked Scott and Janet, “What would you say to those who reject the Christian faith because they say no plan of God—nothing at all—could possibly be worth the suffering of your children, and your suffering over all these years?”

“Eternity is a long time,” Janet replied.  “It will be worth it.  Our children’s suffering was brief, and they have the eternal joy of being with God.  We and their grandparents have suffered since.  But our suffering has been small compared to our children’s joy.  Fourteen years is a short time compared to eternity.  We’ll be with them there, forever.”

French philosopher La Rochefoucauld may have best captured the difference between lost faith and the deepened faith of those like Scott and Janet Willis and Vaneetha Rendall Risner: “A great storm puts out a little fire, but it feeds a strong one.”

“Nevertheless I will rejoice in the Lord.”  I sincerely hope that you and I can say that, or come to have, that depth of faith.

Notice one more thing.  Habakkuk’s fear in v. 16 has now given way to faith in v. 18.  Fear is normal, we will all experience it–but it is something we can move through.  David expressed fear; so did Paul.  The key is to move through fear into faith.

Note here three reactions Habakkuk avoids:

(a)    He does NOT lash out at God in anger: He does not say, “God, you have no right to destroy your people! You are a faithless God!”

(b)   He does NOT pretend that the evil won’t happen. He doesn’t withdraw into a fantasy world, saying, “That’s too terrible to think about. I will close my eyes and think of something else. I’ll sit in front of the TV so I won’t have to think about it.”

(c)    And, note carefully, he does not even say, “Despite all this, I will endure!  I will keep a stiff upper lip and stick it out!  I will still wait for the Lord!  I will remain faithful!”

These are NOT the right ways to deal with our fears.

Habakkuk determined (notice the “I will”s) to rejoice in God despite visible circumstances, even if he did not see any visible signs of God’s presence or favor.

F.F. Bruce writes: “It is right and proper to voice appreciation of God’s goodness when he bestows all that is necessary for life, health and prosperity.  But when these things are lacking, to rejoice in God for his own sake is evidence of pure faith.”

You know, even when we don’t feel like it, we can will ourselves to rejoice in God and take our joy in Him.  We can remind ourselves that He made us to find our deepest joy in Him and is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied with Him.

This is a real mark of maturity in Habakkuk’s life.  Earlier in the book, Habakkuk had complained about God using a wicked nation to bring judgment on Judah.  He wants God to do his will; he wants to manipulate God.

But here he is allowing God to be God, and rejoices in Him.

Now, let me just say something here about joy.  The way you get to joy is by rejoicing, by verbalizing your delight in God—Who He is and what He has done for you so far, and His promises of what He will do for you.

You can’t just screw up the emotion of joy, or the attitude of joy.  You get to joy by rejoicing.

I’ve told my congregation at Grace that there are three words in the Greek New Testament that share the same root (char).  Grace is charis, joy is chara and I give thanks is eucharisteo.

And that helps us understand how to get to joy—by giving thanks for the graces God has given us.

Nothing has changed on the outside—Jerusalem would still be destroyed.

But Habakkuk has changed on the inside.

The only joy in the universe that cannot be taken from you is your joy in Jesus Christ.

When all else disappears, find your joy in the only thing that never fails…in God Himself.

Why? Because He is “the God of your salvation.”  He will save; He will deliver.

In His time and in His way, He will deliver you.

When Jesus is not our greatest joy, then we will not view loss correctly.  We will not view our suffering correctly unless Jesus is our greatest delight.

How do you exercise faith during the worst of times? Choose to rejoice in God even when everything in life goes wrong.

And that leads to a third believing approach to take…

  1. Find strength in God to scale the heights even when you are down (v. 19)

Look at verse 19

19 GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk had learned to find his strength in God, not in his own resources or ability.  This is another mark of spiritual maturity—refusing to place our confidence in ourselves.

Remember how Habakkuk said that initially, the tragic news of Jerusalem’s destruction had caused rottenness to enter his bones and his legs tremble beneath him? (v. 16)

Like Paul, Habakkuk was learning that in his weakness he could be strong in the Lord.

What does Habakkuk mean when he says, “he makes my feet like the deer’s”?

Most likely he is referring to what we would call a “bighorn sheep.”  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one at a National Park or on the Nature Channel, but these sheep are very sure footed and seem to be able to climb the highest rocks and run easily over mountain ridges.

Why are bighorn sheep able to do this?  Because of their feet – their tough, cloven hooves. These hooves aren’t hurt by sharp rocks, but are able to grip even small outcrops.  God designed their feet for climbing.  They don’t slip.  They don’t fall.

Note that the point is not the power of the sheep, but the design of the sheep’s foot.  Habakkuk uses the word for the female deer, not the male, to make this point.  The female deer, too, is able to climb to the highest heights, to run over rocky fields, because of the God-given design of her special feet.  These deer are steady and surefooted, uninhibited and unafraid, full of freedom and confidence as she scales the heights.

So Habakkuk rejoices that his feet are made like deer’s feet, like the feet of bighorn sheep – designed by God to travel over even the most difficult ground.

And what does Habakkuk mean by “treading on high places”?

We use the phrase “walking on high places” to refer to recreational rock climbing.  Most of us are quite amazed and wouldn’t be caught dead trying to climb a rock face.

But in that culture “high places” connotes a difficult, challenging place.  A place one would not want to go unless it is absolutely necessary.  You might climb to a high place to gain defensible ground in a battle, but you only go there if you can’t avoid it.  So “high places” here means a difficult, challenging place.

And yet Habakkuk says that God “makes me tread on my high places.”

The idea of the Hebrew verb is that God causes me to walk in difficult places that I normally would rather not go.

He strengthens me to go places or do things I wouldn’t normally be able to do.

Obviously, this means that I only do this by the strength He gives.

So let’s just notice what Habakkuk is saying.  There are some places that I would rather not go, places that are fearsome, yet God can especially equip me to go there, to a new place, a higher place.

Do you want to move on to the higher place in your life?

It may be that God needs to strip your life of the things you love and depend upon so that He is your only joy and delight.

It may be that God needs to take you places you would rather not go, but He will lead you and strengthen you if you let him.

The just shall live by faith.

Habakkuk is not talking about a pleasant afternoon of rock climbing.  He dreads what God has in store for him, he knows the path is very challenging, very dangerous.  In that sense, God is leading him to a place he does not want to go.

Yet God is his strength, and Habakkuk is confident that God will enable him to do what he could never do on his own.

And that is why he is joyful!  God led him to this very spot.  And though there is pain and difficulty here, he knows that God will either rescue him from the danger or allow him to die.  But even death is controlled by God, and only will come about if God so directs.

There is an old devotional book called Hind’s Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard.  Some of you may have read it.  It is an allegory like Pilgrim’s Progress.

It tells the story of a girl named Much-Afraid and her own journey from doubt to faith.  Her story begins as she leaves the Valley of Fear.  It is all she has ever known, but in faith she embarks on a new journey.  Her path is marked by much sorrow and suffering along the way, but through it all she learns to depend on God and to find her strength in him alone.  And as she learns to trust God no matter what, he leads her to the higher places of fellowship with him that she has always longed for.

Faith believes that…

  • God is too wise to make a mistake.
  • God is too kind to be cruel.
  • God is always in control.
  • God always knows the best and the best timing.

When we try to impose our timetable on God, we get into trouble.

For example, a man found a cocoon on a tree in his yard.  He was intrigued by it and decided to watch it change.  One day, he saw a tiny butterfly inside the delicate covering and he watched it struggling, trying its best to break out of its captivity.  Finally, the man became so frustrated that he decided to use a razor blade to make a tiny slit in the side of the cocoon, in order to free the struggling butterfly.  Soon afterward, the butterfly was free, but it could not fly and finally died prematurely.

There are times of trials, when we want to short circuit the maturation process.  We want to “bug out” or “beg off”, while God wants to prepare us for a great work or a new phase of life.  Like the butterfly, it is in struggles that we obtain strength.

So when you can’t trace his hand, trust His heart.

Too many Christians have a God of the good times.  They serve God and love him and praise him when all is going well.  But what will you do when hard times come? If all you have is a God of the good times, you don’t have the God of the Bible.  Your god is too small.

Sometimes the fig tree does not bud.

Sometimes there are no grapes on the vine.

Sometimes the olive crop fails.

Sometimes the fields produce no food.

Sometimes there are no sheep in the pen.

Sometimes there are no cattle in the stalls.

What do you do then? You can get angry with God or you can give up on God altogether.

Or you can choose to rejoice that you have God and in Him, everything you need.

Are you willing to trust God, no matter what?

We too can rejoice in our trials, have surefooted confidence in God, and live on the heights of His sovereignty.

Martin Rinkhart was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Germany from 1617 to 1649.  During thirty of those thirty-two years the Thirty Years War was raging all over central Europe, with Germany receiving the worst of it.

This war has been called one of the most brutal and devastating wars in all history.  Before the war, Germany had a population of 16 million.  After the war, the population was 6 million.  Ten million of 16 million Germans died in those 30 years.

If they did not die as soldiers in battle, they were as civilians hacked to death by invading armies, or, they died in famines caused by war’s the ongoing disruption of farming, or, they died by the disease that spread among fleeing refugees crowded into the towns.

Eilenburg, where Martin Rinkhart was the pastor, was a small city, but it had a wall around it, so many people fled there for safety from the armies.  Too many people and very little food led to ongoing hunger and starvation.  People would be seen in the streets fighting over a dead cat or crow.

Overcrowding led to disease, and then to plagues.  A high percentage of people died, only to be replaced by more refugees streaming in; and then many of them died.

One of the town’s pastors fled, two other pastors died, so Rinkhart was the only pastor left in Eilenburg.  At times, he was doing 50-60 funerals a day– 5,000 in all before the war ended, including that of his own wife.

Twice, he saved the city from even worse destruction by risking his life to go out and negotiate with the threatening army outside the city walls.

Finally the war ended, and one year later an exhausted Martin Rinkhart died at the age of 63.

In the midst of that war, around 1636, Martin Rinkhart wrote what has been called “the greatest hymn of thanksgiving ever written.”  He wrote these words…

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

One commentator, O. Palmer Robertson, calls these last three verses (3:17–19) “the most beautiful spirit of submission found anywhere in Scripture” (The Christ of the Prophets, 260).  He embraces the coming exile and its utter destruction and famine.  Because his trust is renewed in God, he can face the worst temporal pains and losses, knowing that God will rescue him eternally in the end.

He began disoriented and devastated, fearful and faithless.  And he took it to God, and God in his mercy showed himself to Habakkuk.  Now, Habakkuk walks in faith and patience, and perhaps most amazingly: joy. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”  Joy!  Not begrudging submission, but delighting submission.

On this side of the cross, how much more than Habakkuk can we say in our most trying of times — without minimizing the agony or repressing the pain — “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

 

 

 

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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