This post was originally published on January 5th, 2015. It was lightly revised on April 13th, 2020.
Habakkuk begins with lament and ends with a prayer praise. Habakkuk is unique among the prophets, because instead of speaking for God to the people, he speaks to God for the people. In the last chapter the uniqueness is ratcheted up.
“A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.”
This isn’t just a prayer of Habakkuk; this is to be a prayer and song of praise for the people of God. “Prayer” here is a liturgical term to introduce this”psalm”, just as it is used in Psalms 17, 86, 90, 102, 142. As for “Shigionoth,” well, we haven’t the slightest, other than that this puts Habakkuk’s song in the same league as Psalm 7. “Selah,” occurs here three times; the only instances of the word in the Scriptures outside of the Old Testament psalter. Finally, Habakkuk ends the song with the subscript “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”
Because Habakkuk has cried, the people can sing. Because Habakkuk has lamented, and God has spoken, the people of God, His remnant, may prepare for exile with a song of faith on their lips. Habakkuk has lamented for the people; now he leads them to sing.
This is a song of joy born out of a lament of confusion. The fruit of joy grew out of the soil of confusion, watered by the tears of sorrow. This is always God’s way. On a hill called Golgotha, meaning “place of a skull,” and watered with blood, God grew the tree of life. This is a song for the darkness; a pure and holy light for the darkest of caves. This isn’t a song for the naive, the gullible, or the delusional. This is a song you can sing when a child dies, when cancer is diagnosed, and when riots plague your city. This is a song of rooted unshakable joy. This isn’t “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” This isn’t Pharrell’s “Happy.” It is William Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”
I’m afraid that just as many “church members” don’t know the joy of salvation because they’ve never known the sorrows of repentance, likewise, many saints don’t know rooted joy because they rarely lament sin and its devastation. They’ve ignored the sorrows meant to drive them into the depths of God. To often we are like Nebuchadnezzar, confident in the city of glory we’ve built for ourselves. If that is you, and you are God’s, prepare for suffering. And, I would admonish you, embrace it as a great mercy. God breaks our mute idols that we might worship the living God. He removes His rays of blessings that we might not be infatuated with them and turn our heads to the Sun of all glory. If you are God’s child know this: His taking is always a giving. You may leave the shallow joy of an imaginative children’s song behind, but you will find an eternal symphony of solid joy that you’ll never tire of. That symphony is the redemption of our Triune God.