If you’ve ever played the well-known game Jenga, you know it doesn’t take long before the tower of wooden blocks is on the edge of disaster. With one wrong move, the entire tower collapses. The uncertainty and instability of the blocks is what makes the game fun, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable to live our lives like that shaky tower. I don’t know about you, but all too frequently it feels like I’m on the verge of total collapse. A bad day at work, a misunderstanding with a friend, financial challenges – it won’t take much to make me feel like my whole life has been upended.
Between personal struggles and the chaos of the world around us, it feels like a really unstable time to be alive. But Scripture teaches us that we don’t have to live in perpetual instability. Throughout the Bible, God is described as a rock and an anchor – our security and refuge.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 gives us a look into the life of an Old Testament prophet and how a change in perspective allowed his heart to move from the depths of despair to soaring confidence in God. Habakkuk was a prophet at a low point in Judah’s history. The nation was spiraling downward into complete moral depravity, and Habakkuk was appalled. The short book is the account of his back-and-forth conversation with God in which Habakkuk quickly learned that God is most certainly working, but not in the ways we expect. In Habakkuk’s case, the outcome of God’s activity was that the nation of Judah would be conquered by the brutal Babylonian army.
In light of that news, Habakkuk’s response in 3:17-19 is startling, but it also helps us understand how to live by faith (2:4) in an unstable world.
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,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Recognize Your Circumstances
As believers in Jesus, we don’t have to deny reality. We can keep our heads up and honestly assess our circumstances. Habakkuk models this in verse 17. When considering the implications of a Babylonian invasion, Judah’s future would be bleak. Economic disaster. Financial ruin. Non-existent security.
What’s going in in your life right now? What hard things are you facing? Is there a temptation to downplay what you’re dealing with? Or are you tempted to put on a happy face and pretend like everything’s fine even though you feel anything but fine? Habakkuk’s response to crisis is an example of being honest about our circumstances without being ruled by them.
Rehearse What God Has Done
The first word of verse 18 is like a hinge on a door. It swings the prophet from acknowledging his circumstances to obsessing over his God. “Yet” (as seen in most translations) is the key word in this passage.
As a conjunction, “yet” is essentially synonymous with words like “but”, “still”, or “nevertheless”. Habakkuk is saying, “Yes, my circumstances are bleak. No, I’m not sure how I’m going to make ends meet. Nevertheless, I will still rejoice.”
How does he move from despair to joy? If you scan the first sixteen verses of chapter three, you’ll see that Habakkuk chose to rehearse what God had done. He looked back through history and recalled how God had worked on His people’s behalf.
If you and I are going to live with a “yet” perspective – if we’re going to live by faith and with joy in a shaky world – we’re going to have to remember what God has done. Recalling what God has done in the past fuels faith in the present. So what has God done for you? How has He proven Himself throughout history?
Habakkuk recalled some of the major events in Old Testament history, and rehearsing how God worked in the past gave him tremendous confidence as he endured the present and anticipated the future.
Rest In Who God Is
In verses 18 and 19, Habakkuk focuses on God Himself. He identifies God as His source of joy, as His Savior, and as His strength. The character of God is the Christian’s sanity. Who is He? What is He like?
Because Habakkuk realized joy wasn’t found in earthly things like political stability or economic welfare, he was able to do the unthinkable. He scanned the landscape of reality and was honest – it wasn’t pretty. But Habakkuk didn’t stop there. He lifted his eyes to the Lord, the God of his salvation, who couldn’t be lost in the crisis. Therein lies what the apostle Paul later called “the secret” of contentment – that in every situation God gives His people the strength necessary to live by faith and in obedience (Phil. 4:12-13).
A “yet” perspective tells the world and reminds the Church that our foundation isn’t built on feelings or circumstances. In Christ, our foundation holds up and is secure because it isn’t established on something shaky or fleeting but on the unchanging character of our God. Because this is our hope, we can choose to rejoice even on the hardest days.
Yes, it’s tough to live with so many unknowns, yet we rest in what we do know because of God’s trustworthy character and the reliability of His Word. Instead of living on the brink of disaster like a tower of blocks that could collapse at any moment, the Lord has given us “sure-footed confidence” in Him, like Habakkuk mentions in the chapter’s closing verse.
Several hundred years after Habakkuk’s life, there was another seemingly hopeless situation. The Son of God was betrayed by a friend. After a complete failure of the Roman justice system influenced by the Jewish religious leaders’ corruption, He was condemned to die. Nailed to a cross and publicly humiliated, Jesus drew His final breath.
The biggest, most significant “yet” in all of history is that on the third day, Jesus came out of the grave victorious over death.
Because of that event, followers of Jesus can live with settled confidence no matter what we face. This world is a scary place to live, yet our God sits on the throne. We struggle with sin and are plagued by brokenness, yet our sins are forgiven on account of His name. We face unspeakable suffering and unexpected tragedy, yet, as a song puts it, “earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal”.
Our Redeemer lives, and because He lives, we too will live. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow full of confidence and hope because God is our joy and our strength. As we recognize our circumstances, rehearse what God has done, and rest in who God is, you and I have everything we need to live by faith in an unstable world.