(Part 23 in a series of posts on Habakkuk.)
How do you exercise faith in God even during the worst of times? The first thing you can do is wait patiently for God even when you are afraid. (verse 16) Secondly, you can choose to rejoice in God even when everything in life goes wrong. Look at verses 17-18:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
These verses represent one of the strongest expressions of faith you will find in the whole Bible, as Habakkuk determines to rejoice in God even when everything else in life goes wrong. Habakkuk paints three scenarios here. Each scenario contains a matching couplet of images.
The first scenario is this: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines.” The blossoms on the fig tree and the grapes forming on the vine refer to those things you are trusting for in days to come. They are a symbol of your hopes for the future. It is just a blossom, just a flower, and yet it is a tangible sign that the figs and the grapes are coming. But in this scenario there are no signs for the future. The fig tree does not bud. There are no grapes on the vine. There is no visible sign that these things will ever come to be.
Do you have hopes and dreams for the future, but no visible signs that they will ever come to fruition? Do you ever feel like saying, “God, please just give me a little sign, some type of hope that things are going to change, something to hold on to?” Then you know how Habakkuk felt. And Habakkuk would tell you, when you have nothing to hold on to for the future, hold on to God, and that will be enough. Habakkuk says, trust God no matter what. “Though I have no visible sign of hope for the future, nothing tangible that I can see or touch or grasp, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
The second scenario is this: “Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food.” The olive crop and the fields refer to those things you are trusting in the present. They are a symbol of your present means. But in this scenario, what you are trusting lets you down. The olive crop fails. The fields produce no food. They disappoint you. In fact the word “fails” in the Hebrew is a word that means “to deceive, to disappoint or to fail.”
The idea is this. You have planted and cultivated the fields, you have worked the land, tended the crops and now it is finally time for harvest, and the crops fail. The fields produce no food. It was all a deception. All that hard work, all that effort, and 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. You invest all your money in what looks like a killer portfolio and the market goes bust. You put years into a relationship with another person and now the relationship breaks apart.
What do you do when all that you are counting on in the present suddenly falls apart? What do you do when you suffer bitter disappointments in life? Habakkuk says, trust God no matter what. “Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
The third scenario is this: “Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls.” The sheep and cattle refer to those things you are trusting from the past. They are a symbol of your reserves. But in this scenario you have no reserves to fall back on. There are no sheep in the pen. There are no cattle in the stalls. Or, to put it in today’s terms, there is no money in the bank. There is no more equity in the house. Your friends and family have helped you all they can. Your credit cards are maxed out. Your physical strength is tapped. Your reserves are all used up.
What do you do when you have nothing to fall back on? Habakkuk would tell you, fall back on God, and he will hold you up. “Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
It is easy to trust in God when the fig tree is budding and there are grapes on the vines, when the olive crop succeeds and the fields are producing food, when you have plenty of sheep and cattle in reserve. But are you really trusting in God at those times? Or are you trusting in the things that you have?
Think about Job. This was exactly the question Satan asked God about Job. “Does Job trust you because he trusts you, or because you have blessed the work of his hands?” Job showed his true colors when God removed the blessing, and Job continued to trust him no matter what. Habakkuk challenges us with the same question. Do you really trust God, or do you only trust him when you know his blessing on your life?
Here’s another way of phrasing the 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? Stop and think about that one for a moment. Be brutally honest with yourself. If the answer is the million dollars in the bank, then you are not trusting God. And you know what? That million dollars could be gone tomorrow anyways. But if the answer is having a God who promises to meet your daily needs, then no matter what your situation, you can feel more secure than the person who has the million dollars in the bank! That’s pretty good! That is trusting in God no matter what.
Habakkuk determined 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.”
Habakkuk says, “Though you have no visible hope for the future, and what you were trusting in the present has let you down, and you have no reserves from the past to fall back on – still rejoice in the Lord, still be joyful in God.” Why? Because he is God your Savior who will deliver you in his time and will not let the righteous fall. We find a similar instruction in the New Testament in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which says, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
How do you exercise faith during the worst of times? Choose to rejoice in God even when everything in life goes wrong.
(Looking ahead: Tomorrow we will look at the third thing Habakkuk did to exercise faith in God in verse 19.)