Singing While the Bombs are Falling (Habakkuk 3:17–19)

This post was originally published on January 12th, 2015. It was lightly revised and republished on April 19th, 2020.

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I think anyone can get the general sense of Habakkuk 3:17 from an initial reading, but reading that verse in light of the entire Old Testament and then seeing what Habakkuk goes on to say is like hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus,” within the entirety of Handel’s Messiah—it makes it soar.

Figs, grapes, and olives were the choicest produce of the land. They’re iconic; frequently used in the prophetic corpus. There seems to be an increasing severity to the images Habakkuk uses. The absence of figs by itself hardly suggests privation. From grapes they received their daily drink, but these wouldn’t be essential for life. From the olive they resourced oil not only to anoint their faces, but to fuel their lamps and cook their food. The fields yielding no food transitions from frills to necessities. The flocks being cut off not only means the absence of another food source, but also of clothing. Finally, the cattle being absent from the stalls suggests not so much that beef isn’t now an alternative to mutton, but that their tractors have been stolen. Now there is not only no food, there is no possibility of food. David Prior paints the canvas well:

Everything has been destroyed. There is no grain, oil or wine. There is no meat or wool. There is no food of any kind—fruit, vegetables, cereals, milk, meat. It is not simply a devastated economy. It is the end of everything that can keep body and soul together. There is nothing, absolutely nothing—and an invading army takes possession of the land, pillaging and raping with indiscriminate violence. It is Bosnia, Vietnam and Rwanda rolled into one. ‘How could life be sustained at all in such conditions?’ Nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to wear. Not just poverty, but the enemy stalking the land. Nowhere to hide.

But this is only the general sense that a good reading of the text itself can give us. There is a much deeper significance. Our story begins in a garden of plenty and peace. It is the story of a kingdom: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Man rebels against God’s rule and is driven from the garden, separated from God—not His people. The earth is cursed. Thorns grow. But God calls Abraham out for Himself. He promises to make from Abraham a people for Himself, to give them a land, and to bless them—to reverse the curse.

Habakkuk gives us a picture of the curse gone full bloom, consuming all so that nothing blooms. Habakkuk is saying that though there is not one tangible evidence to His senses of the covenant God made with His people, yet he will rejoice in Yahweh. When the only part of God’s promises that you have is God Himself, that is all you need. Just like Abraham, Habakkuk can’t see the promises, but greets them from afar (Hebrews 11:8–16).

Picture a devastated village within German occupied territory during the second great war receiving news that the tide has turned. The war isn’t over, but they believe it will be soon. In the midst of the bombed out buildings and stripped gardens, with tattered clothes they sing and dance with joy. When there is not one tangible sign of the kingdom come, when all you have is the Scripture’s declaration of Christ’s victory, this is all faith needs to rejoice because it is all that faith ever has. When faith sings in the midst of darkness it demonstrates that the joy of the kingdom isn’t in the people, the place, or the rule (peace and righteousness) themselves in isolation from God as though that were possible. The joy of the kingdom is that it is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

The Threat of Security (Habakkuk 2:6–20)

This post was originally published on December 29, 2014 and was revised  on April 3, 2020.

Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.

—Habakkuk 2:9–11

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When threatened, picking up a sword could be the most dangerous response. Reaching for a gun when an officer has commanded “Freeze!” is a fool’s act. Sometimes, the supposed wisdom of security is really the folly of unbelief. All our attempts at security might be nothing more than thinly veiled self-reliance and idolatry.

Nebuchadnezzar built an eagle’s nest where he thought his dynasty and kingdom would be safe. Walls were erected wide enough for a chariot to travel on. Much was invested in security, but all this was counterproductive because the most crucial factor in any building program wasn’t heeded—the One who holds the atoms of every stone, brick, and piece of lumber together—God Almighty.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
—Psalm 127:1

All that was for safety only testified against Babylon. The materials gained by evil means antiphonally cry out against her (2:11), just as Abel’s blood cried out against Cain (Genesis 4:10; Habakkuk 2:12). Where men see glory, God sees sin; and He isn’t intimidated. Babylon was a city built with blood and sin; and thus, it was not a city to flee to, but to flee from. Worse than building their own prison, they’d constructed nothing more than a giant lightning rod to attract the unbearable storm of God’s wrath.

Your efforts at security may not be mortared with blood, but if they’re an expression of self-reliance and idolatry, then it’s still bonded with explosive-laced sin and a fire is coming. Tis far better to be Habakkuk in certain-to-fall Jerusalem, confusingly trusting in the Rock (1:12). The righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).

When Trees Feel Like Wheat (Jeremiah 11:18–12:6)

“The LORD made it known to me and I knew;
then you showed me their deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the slaughter.
I did not know it was against me
they devised schemes, saying,
‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
that his name be remembered no more.’
But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously,
who tests the heart and the mind,
let me see your vengeance upon them,
for to you have I committed my cause.” —Jeremiah 11:18–20

field-1971873_1280.jpgDavid said that the righteous man, who delights in the law and meditates on it day and night, is like a tree plated by streams of water. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away (Psalm 1:2–4). Sometimes though, trees feel like chaff and the chaff appears as solid as a redwood (Jeremiah 12:1–2).

The saints, this side of the curse, lament the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked, but it is easy for their lament to give way to doubt and despair. Such despair is rooted in ignorance and unbelief.

We’re ignorant. We forget that we’re not home yet. We’re exiles and enemies surround us. We’re on their turf. Many are not wise to the world because they’re worldly-wise. We remain ignorant because we’ve enrolled in their school. The church has opted into the program. Nice and naive—that’s how they raise us. We’re still led like sheep to the slaughter, but with a dumb look on our face. We’re children taking suckers from the strangers of this world when our Father has taught us better. Then we accuse our Father when those suckers are poisonous. We need to keep the innocence and lose the ignorance.

We don’t believe. Our Father has spoken but we’re all Romans 14 and no imprecatory psalms. We disbelieve one portion of God’s Word by pitting it against another. There are times to shake off the dust from our shoes as well as times to bless those who curse us. Let the reader understand. When Paul exhorted us to “repay no one evil for evil” and to “never avenge yourself” it was with the truth that vengeance is God’s. This is exactly what Jeremiah prays for here. David was able to extend mercy to his enemies because he trusted God would avenge.

Do not be ignorant of the wicked. Believe in the righteousness of God. Then you’ll see that it’s not that the ship of the church is sinking, but that the ocean is in such turbulence because it is being drained. In the midst of the tempest, faith knows that the ship remains solid, while it is the world that is fading away. We’ve got the wrong reference point. The wicked only appear to be rooted, because they are rooted in this world that is fading away. When our eyes are on the Son, we’ll see that it’s not that we’re being blown away, but that this present world is, and the wicked along with it.

A Drink from Brooks: Christ the Greatest Good

“Christ is the greatest good, the choicest good, the chief good, the most suitable good, the most necessary good. He is a pure good, a real good, a total good, an eternal good, and a soul-satisfying good (Rev. 3:17, 18). Sinners, are you poor? Christ has gold to enrich you. Are you naked? Christ has royal robes, he has white clothing to clothe you. Are you blind? Christ has eye-salve to enlighten you. Are you hungry? Christ will be manna to feed you. Are you thirsty? He will be a well of living water to refresh you. Are you wounded? He has a balm under his wings to heal you. Are you sick? He is a physician to cure you. Are you prisoners? He has laid down a ransom for you. Ah, sinners! tell me, tell me, is there anything in Christ to keep you off from believing? No! Is there not everything in Christ that may encourage you to believe in him? Yes! Oh, then, believe in him, and then, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool’ (Is. 1:18). No, then, your iniquities shall be forgotten as well as forgiven, they shall be remembered no more. God will cast them behind his back, he will throw them into the bottom of the sea! (Is. 43:25; 38:17; Micah 7:19).” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices

A Drink from Brooks: Sin is a Straight Flush, but Faith Is a Royal Flush

“Sin always dies most where faith lives most. The most believing soul is the most mortified soul. Ah! sinner, remember this, there is no way on earth effectually to be rid of the guilt, filth, and power of sin, but by believing in a Saviour. It is not resolving, it is not complaining, it is not mourning, but believing, that will make thee divinely victorious over that body of sin that to this day is too strong for thee, and that will certainly be thy ruin, if it be not ruined by a hand of faith.” —Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices

When Confidence Cries (Psalm 27)

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, ‘Seek my face.’
My heart says to you,
‘Your face, LORD, do I seek.’

—Pslam 27:1, 4, 7

We often see psalms of lament give way to a resolution of confidence. Lament is fertilizer for faith to come into vibrant bloom. But here, in the 27th Psalm, we see confidence give way to lament. Does this psalm then progress or regress?

As confidence can be an expression of cockiness and not faith, so lament can be an expression of faith and not doubt. Lament should lead to confidence, but confidence may also lead to lament.

David’s confidence is that Yahweh, the eternal, self-existing, immutable, sovereign covenant Lord of His people, is his light and his salvation and his stronghold. The stronghold David is sure of is also the one thing David desires. The stronghold is the dwelling place of God. The greatest joy of taking refuge in God is the God in whom we take refuge. It is not the castle walls, but the throne that we love most. The greatest blessing of this fortress is not what you are protected from, but what you are protected unto. Being protected from enemies is a blessing, but being protected unto God is blessedness.

David’s joy is then expressed as a longing. Faith that is confident that God is our salvation will lament for that salvation in the full that we may see the glory of God cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Therefore, lament not only leads to confidence, but confidence may be expressed as lament. Lament expresses our longings; longings we are confident are ours in Christ. If you’re still not convinced, read Romans 7 and 8 and see how longing and confidence are as intertwined in Paul’s heart as they are in David’s.

Running Well by Standing Fast (Galatians 5:7–12)

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” —Galatians 5:7–9

The race of faith is one in which if you are cut off, you take the blame. If you’re tripped, you’re at fault for not being ready. If you’re not running well, it’s because you’re not standing fast (Galatians 5:1). Enemy interference is expected. This is no gentleman’s race. It is a race for warriors.

The word translated “hindered” can carry the connotation of being cut off. It’s hard to avoid the double entendre. By circumcision the Judaizers were trying to cut the Galatians off in the race of faith. The knight cannot reason that he committed treason because his opponent had a bigger sword.

If you are duped by a false teacher, the blame falls on you. If you eat the apple, you cannot blame the serpent. Tolerated lies are soon digested. Stand firm. Do not submit. Give no quarter.

Rest assured, the serpent and his spawn have been crushed under the crucified foot of Christ. Our Lord will manifest this victory when He returns in glory and the serpent is crushed under the feet of the saints (Romans 16:20). But the saints are those who persevere in the faith. So, paradoxical as it may seem, if you are to run well, you must stand fast.