Editor’s notes: I’m honored to introduce a new contributor to Light on the Rock blogs. Samantha Skiens is a graduate of Wheaton College with 2 degrees in Bible Theology and Ancient Languages with emphasis in Hebrew. She currently teaches Bible Theology at a private Christian college in WA state. But what I like most about her is that this 22-year old obviously loves Yeshua and desires to be obedient to his commands. She brings some great and mature points from the often-overlooked short book of Habakkuk 3 – points which are so timely with the Coronavirus issues we’re all facing. Welcome Samantha.
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Rarely do I write, and rarely do I post. But for some reason, inspiration has been striking me lately, and so I sit at my computer, typing away, when I should be grading the research papers my juniors just submitted this morning.
Some of you may be aware that this year has probably been the hardest year that I have had in a long time, if ever. I won’t go into all the details, but I want to share something the Lord has laid on my heart. Throughout this year, God has been high-centering me on a passage in Habakkuk—yes, one of those very small, rarely touched books of a collection called the Minor Prophets. Habakkuk was alive during the final years of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He saw the rising threat of Babylon approaching on the horizon and knew what it would mean for his community and the last of God’s people (since Assyria had already taken out the Northern Kingdom). I personally love Habakkuk because of this unique feature: the prophet does not accuse Israel of any sins or wrongdoings, as many of the other prophets did. Rather, Habakkuk openly and refreshingly wrestles through his personal journey about whether or not God is truly good amidst the evil and tragedy in the world. I say “refreshingly” because these are thoughts many of us often have.
In Chapter 3, Habakkuk begins by describing the gloriously terrifying presence of the Almighty. I’ll quote from the NIV.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
3 God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.[b]
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
6 He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.
After this humble acknowledgement of the power and presence of God, the prophet then appeals to God’s faithfulness. You can read Habakkuk 3:8-15 on your own. It shows the fury and ferocity of our God when He moves against or for nations.
By pausing to remember God’s power and faithfulness, Habakkuk concludes his short book with a message of hope. However, Habakkuk does not immediately rush to that hope; he acknowledges that hope is truly fostered in the space of trial, and it must withstand the immediate challenges he is about to face with Babylon. This is a crucial point!
16 I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the invasion and captivity are to come, that imminent trial does not have the final say. God is just and will bring his justice even to the invading nations. Habakkuk leads into the darkest hour for Judah’s history with a final message of hope and praise, with vital lessons for us all (Habakkuk 3:17-19):
17 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,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
Those verses can sound so nice when our lives are functioning with relative peace. Now, is the time to lean into the history and the lives of those who have weathered great winters before us. I close my eyes and imagine the situation of those during centuries past -- people in many different countries facing a range of atrocities and fears. That isn’t meant to glorify what generations past survived or diminish what we are experiencing today. The reality is that ALL go through difficult times. Rather, these moments of the present and those of the past are bound together by something deep; there is an inexplicable solace and hope found in the darkest of hours and deepest of pains.
I want to finish with one final note: Habakkuk mentions a thing called “joy.” He says in verse 18 that he will REJOICE in the Lord and be JOYFUL in God His Savior.
Though society portrays the two as synonyms, joy and happiness are two vastly different things from the viewpoint of God’s word.
Etymologically, happiness is based on one’s “happenings,” or the circumstances in one’s life. You might be happy because a situation is positive, and you might not be happy because it is negative.
Joy, on the other hand, is completely independent from one’s circumstances. Joy is accessed through something deep inside of us. It is eternal, not temporary; a huge difference.
Happiness comes and goes like the tide, but joy is constant. We, being very fickle and finite people, can find this eternal joy in one place, and one place alone: God. This explains why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:14, “I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction,” or in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” Happiness belongs to this earth. It can stem from the physical things of this world: food, drink, people, material items—maybe even toilet paper on the shelves at stores. Joy is of God’s Kingdom. Again, Paul draws this contrast in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Joy stems from a settled assurance that God is in control. Habakkuk was not happy during his present day, facing the invading Babylonians and questioning God’s goodness amidst the terror of it all. But Habakkuk shows us that we can truthfully be unhappy about what’s going on around us, but still have rock-solid joy in our hearts. Habakkuk shows us it was and is good -- to even question God in times of struggle; it is how we all must grow in our personal relationships with the Lord. In fact, relationship is of the utmost importance during this time. Religion will not stand when crisis hits; it is an institution (man-made), and underneath that definition, institutions can break.
Solid relationships, however, can withstand the shattering of society. Families and friends can stand by one another’s side when the world turns upside down, although even with human relationships, these can fracture in severe stress. However, a strong relationship based on a deep love for God can never be ripped, stolen, or removed from us. Never.
In this light, let’s read once more how nothing can and nothing will separate us from the love of God. Not personal problems, not anything in this world, not this Covid-19 virus – nothing can, when we have established that firm relationship with our Maker:
Romans 8:37-39 from the CJB: “No, in all these things we are super conquerors, through the one who has loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers, neither what exists nor what is coming, 39 neither powers above nor powers below, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which comes to us through the Messiah Yeshua, our Lord”.
My encouragement for us all today, and I am sure, for many days ahead, is to rest and find rest in our relationship with our Lord. Life is always ultimately about having the right relationships. For it is only through that relationship with our God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord that we can tap into the eternal joy that Jesus offers.
Like Habakkuk, we might not always be happy, but we can most definitely be joyful.