Lesson 7: The Lord is My Strength Habakkuk 3:16-19
In the last days of the corrupted Judean nation before its captivity, Habakkuk cried out in confusion to the Lord. How can evil and immorality continue to go unpunished? How can the ungodly Chaldean nation oppress Judah, the people of God?
The Lord answered assuring him that God was still in control even over the Chaldeans (1:6). They were being used by God to chastise His rebellious nation. But His use of this evil nation in no way approved of its evil (1:11).
The advice the Lord gives Habakkuk begins in chapter 2. The soul of the arrogant and proud is not right within them (2:4). In contrast, the Righteous live by their faithfulness. They live with a firm uncompromising confidence in the divine promises. For the moment, the reasons behind the particular sufferings may remain hidden. We were created to trust in the sufficiency of God’s word, not in circumstances as they appear to us.
After a poem of judgment given as a warning to the oppressors (2:6-10), Habakkuk offered a prayer in response in Chapter 3.
From the style we see that it is in the form of lyrics to a song. It follows the style of Hebrew poetry, and is a “shig-yo-nowt” (שׁגּינה), which is a song sung enthusiastically with accompaniment. The song ends in verse 19 with a typical musical subscription like those we often see at the end of Psalms. There it tells us that this was written for the choir director, which means it was probably intended for use in public worship. It was written to be accompanied by a stringed instrument.
As the song unfolds, we see that it addresses three different groups of people. One is the superficial people of Judah who had offended their God with their evil ways. These were those who claimed to be God’s people but were not inwardly trusting in Him. Another group is the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Chaldeans. This evil nation had boldly and arrogantly oppressed God’s people. It also addressed the faithful people of Judah. They remained humble, confessing their own weaknesses and sin, resting only in the Lord’s provision for salvation and blessing. Though they needed God’s chastisement to make them grow in their faith, they would see the Lord’s coming in judgment as vindication of His Sovereign power.
In this final section of the book (3:16-19) Habakkuk records his own response to the Lord’s message.
The Prophet resolved to wait for the LORD to come as Judge and Savior.
Habakkuk 3:16-17, When I heard, my body trembled; My lips quivered at the voice; Rottenness entered my bones; And I trembled in myself, That I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, He will invade them with his troops. Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls —
There are three actions described in verse 16. It sometimes helps to look for the verbs, or phrases that describe what’s going on.
First, there was something Habakkuk heard. He heard the report of the Lord, the report of His coming as Judge and as Savior. It was more than just hearing words. The concept here is a hearing with understanding, meditation and appreciation of what God said.
Second, there was something that made him tremble. He trembled at the message of Jehovah. His whole person was involved in this awesome fear. He felt it in his inward parts. The word means his stomach and intestines as they are often where we feel the effects of strong emotions. His lips quivered. He felt decay (rottenness) in his bones (an inward feeling in the very center of his bones which seem to be frozen up with fear). He says he trembled in himself. He was about to experience the awesome power of the almighty God as it brings judgment all around him.
Third, He knew there was something that would give him the rest he longed for. He knew he should wait quietly for the day of trouble (distress, tribulation) when the wicked nation raised up by God will invade. In God’s good time His promised wrath and chastisement will be brought to pass.
As his contemporary Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah in Jeremiah 38:3. “Thus says the LORD: ‘This city shall surely be given into the hand of the king of Babylon’s army, which shall take it.’ ”
A time of covenant cursing had come (3:17). The fig will not blossom. There will be no fruit on the vines. The olive crop will fail, there will be no food, the flock will be cut off, and there will be no cattle left in the stalls. All this will be the results of Israel’s Covenant disobedience.
God’s Covenant involves our daily lives.
There are the blessings of covenant obedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). God promises blessings on your children, your crops, your cattle, your flocks, your bread, your barns. He will give you victory over your enemies, they will fear and honor you. You will abound in prosperity.
If we live as the Creator designed us to live there will be natural co-operation and harmony with the way the universe was designed to work. We become part of the display of God’s goodness and purity. There will be blessing for our obedience when it is done to honor the Lord, giving him all the glory for moving our hearts to desire and to do what is right.
There are also the cursings of covenant disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). God warns of cursings upon your cities, your bread, your children, your crops, your cattle, your flock, and your health. You will be defeated by your enemies. They will oppress and mock you. You will lack what you need and want, and your efforts will yield very little.
If we live contrary to the way we were made to live there will be conflict with the natural created order. There will be consequences which earn the chastisement of our loving and concerned Heavenly Father. We will stir the just anger of our offended Creator.
The Lord said in Haggai 1:6-7, “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Consider your ways!”
Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). We are to pray for covenant blessing which implies praying for God’s work in us to live in ways that honor him. It is not our obedience that stirs God’s grace. It is God’s grace that stirs our obedience and our desire for it. Our responsibility is to humbly seek the Lord’s strength and to determine to sincerely live in ways that honor Him.
Through times of oppression, failure in business, loss of health and threat to our national security, how are we to live? We remember the initial advice given in Habakkuk 2:4, “… the just shall live by his faith.” We need to trust in what God has revealed about our daily thoughts, words, and actions. We need to return to those things which please him morally, and which give him glory.
Proverbs 14:12 warned us, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” In Proverbs 3:5-6 we are told, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”
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Through all this the LORD remains our joy and strength
Habakkuk 3:18-19, Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments.
There is great joy in living faithfully for the Lord. “Yet I” is a turning point of this Psalm of Habakkuk. While there is suffering and ominous threats of invasion, while tempted to question things or to doubt, he is wise to trust in what God had already made known, to live faithfully to what he knows is true and sure. The result of living faithfully is joy and a secure standing by the power of his Creator.
Joy is one of God’s covenant promises to his people. It is only possible when they live in harmony with the way our Creator made us to live. The joy of the believer far exceeds the superficial and temporal joy of those living out of harmony with the Creator. The world substitutes poor imitations for true joy.
The Chaldeans took what was not theirs. They engaged in idolatry and in subjugating the innocent from other nations. Drug users look for pleasure in chemically induced moments of calm which in the long term it destroys them. False religion offers false promises. Sexual perversions indulge the body and mind with disregard to the law of God. None of these bring the inward lasting peace the Creator offers. There is a “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
Where can a person find joy in his heart? the kind of joy that will not depart?
If it comes from our music, surroundings, or play,
then how can we find it when they go away?
If it comes when things happen about which we boast,
it will not be there when we need it the most.
If we feel it from substances fooling our soul
one day their lies will have taken their toll.
When it comes from the promises made by our King
it lingers in blessings about which we sing.
Living by faithfully trusting the Lord brings us strength. God’s true covenant people will endure and survive victoriously.
God makes the feet of his children to be like deer’s feet. The imagery is of those swift and shurefooted deer as they run along the twisting and dangerous mountain paths. The analogy comes from David’s Psalm of praise in 2 Samuel 22:34. There he said, “He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places.”
How will we make it along the winding paths of life here in the lost and strugging world? The Lord is our strength. The infinite Creator enables us because of the Covenant promises made eternally to those he would redeem to be his own.
He enables us to walk on our high hills. We will not hide in the valleys in fear of oppressors or invaders. We will manage the steep and twisting paths without fear of slipping or falling. God’s people will endure and rise up in victory when God’s judgments fall upon those who dare to harm the Redeemer’s children.
Psalm 18:46-47, “The LORD lives! Blessed be my Rock! Let the God of my salvation be exalted. It is God who avenges me, And subdues the peoples under me.”
We learn to say with the Psalmist: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)