I have always been intrigued and enthralled by the poetic and literary beauty of the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, particularly because of its spectacular concluding notes of the last three verses. A cursory reading reveals that Habakkuk is a book parked full of hope in the midst of despair; faith in the midst of defeat; courage in the midst of desperation, and strength in the midst of destitution.
The last three verses states,
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places…” (Chapter 3:17-19).
I love the beautiful way the author crafted in those two underlined words, ‘Although’ and ‘Yet’. Let us look at each of these words very carefully in order to discover the wonderful truth they reveal to the discerning heart:
In grammatical usage, ‘although’ is an admission that things most probably or very obviously did not go very well as planned, or granting that the overall outcome was not really a desirable one. It is a conjunctive, synonymous word which does almost the same work as ‘in spite of’.
In the above passage, using very descriptive, pictorial bleak terms, the author admits or discloses that certain expectations did not come true in his lifetime, and certain prophetic declarations, (particularly the one cited in Chapter 2:1-3), were taking a little longer to manifest, (and all of these viewed from their conspectus reality can push one into the slough of despondency and discouragement).
Let us look at what he alluded to:
* The fig trees failed to blossom
* The vines failed to yield fruit
* The olive harvest was wasted
* The fields failed to yield foodstuff
* The livestock perished unaccountably
* The stables and stalls were empty of herd
By the standards of today, the above would normally and naturally amount to a monumental waste of resources indeed. The author did not attempt to deny the reality of things, or cover it up with some faith mantra or jargon. He did not try to hide under the guise of some faith-sounding spiritual stuff or pretend that it never really happened. He simply admitted the tragedy that had taken place. And he painted the picture as bleakly as he could. But thank God that he did not stop there!
We too can borrow a leaf or two from the foregoing. When things go awry and very bad, (as they sometimes do), we too should not be so ashamed to admit it, or to confront it head-on. I am so glad that even though the author started by painting a bleak picture of gloom and doom, it did not end there!
This is the bottom-line – the home truth, the moment of ethereal and surreal reality. Yes, things certainly went from bad to worst, but that is not where the story should end! Yes, though we are flat out on our backs now, but we don’t have to remain indefinitely down! It is time to rise again, dust up ourselves and forge ahead – having learnt the intended lesson.
‘Yet’ is an adverbial term which indicates that in addition or further to what might happened, (that is, in conjunction with a comparative), we are still determined to press on, to forge ahead, and to make unimpeded, unstunted, and unstoppable progress. Please note the area where we have been called upon to forge ahead – it is in the area of sheer joy!
Joy is that elixir without which life would simply come to a standstill; but like any one of us would have found out, joy is not normally dependent on what happens ‘to’ us, but what happens ‘in’ us. Joy restores lost strength, it imparts grace for rejuvenation and recuperation, and it inspires courage for conquest. Without joy, you have no reserve strength to forge ahead, no hope to cling to, and no faith to build on.
How could Habakkuk hope to ever rebuild his life and multiple streams of income again without the help of God? His experience teaches us the spirit of resilience, (in line with the proverbial statements that at the end of the storm, comes a great calm; and behind every dark cloud, there is always a silver lining); which is quite similar to that of the Patriarch Job.
In this second segment, please, note what happened to Habakkuk shortly after he shifted his sights to the Almighty God and began to rejoice in Him: sudden joy and inspirational hope surged into him! With hope rekindled, his earlier ode of despondency soon became a lovely paean of indescribable joy! Picture with me how immediately Habakkuk’s sights got shifted from his mundane predicaments, he suddenly became at one with nature, fancying himself leaping and jumping in the company of wild-dwelling and high-climbing hinds (female deer or stags), who are never daunted by the challenge of heights or the dangers posed by wilderness mountains.
This is also what happens when we too learn how not to dwell only on our ‘Although’, but instead, also learn how to shift our attention to our more forward-looking and hope-clad ‘Yet’.
Habakkuk concludes by reminding us that as we learn to laugh at ourselves, and as we learn to rejoice in the Lord’s salvation, we shall always discover, in the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 33:27a that, “The eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”; and that He is also our everlasting strength, and the One Who always causes us to walk on our high places of victory and triumph.
- Friday, January 18, 2008.
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