236.  Wisdom that laughs

She is clothed with strength and dignity,
    and she laughs without fear of the future.
  (Proverbs 31:25, NLT)

I don’t think it is easy to laugh about the future.  It might rather take a big effort not to cry about the future.  The world is evil… and violent… and uncertain… and dirty.  The list of wrongs could be very long, maybe as long  as in the days of Habakkuk.

It is worth it to read all three chapters of Habakkuk in one sitting.  The prophet reminds us that the question WHY? should be asked. He lays his why before God.  In the midst of all the evil and injustice around him and major political and military turmoil on the borders of the land, his conversation with God is written – precious and profound.  God’s answers make all the difference.

Why has God forsaken his people?  The prophet cannot see any evidence of the character of God in the nation of Judah.  Habakkuk lives in one of the most turbulent times in the history of Judah.  The wonderful reformation and revival of the time of Josiah is long forgotten and the people are backslidden and oppressive.  There is violence, harassment of the poor and a disregard for law and order.

The world around Judah is fighting and Judah is threatened.  Babylon is now the mighty empire, subjugating nations around Judah, like Assyria and Egypt.  Israel, the ten tribes, are long gone in exile to Assyria and their return to their land is unlikely.  Judah is what is left of the great Hebrew civilization under King Solomon.

Habakkuk’s writing most probably took place between the fall of Nineveh  (612 BC) and the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC).

The three chapters is written as a thought-journey in which the prophet  describes and bemoans the current state of affairs.  He asks questions of the Lord and then ascends to a new perspective in the third chapter and ends the book on a worship song that transcends time and place.  It is a pilgrimage of thought from doubt to faith to worship.

The musical notation in 3:19 could indicate that Habakkuk was a singing  prophet like Isaiah, maybe a worship leader who served in the Temple as part of the Levite tribe.  He has a very sober outlook on his circumstances and can simply not tolerate the growing injustice in the land.  It is natural for him to bring the big questions before the Lord.

The contrast between the beginning and the end of the book is majestic, to say the least.

In the first verses Habakkuk is overwhelmed with the conditions,  He thinks of little else than violence and discrimination.  He brings it to God (1:2) because he feels God is distant from his people.  He does not “see” God in his people.

God is nowhere – people rule without godly direction.  He uses words to describe what he sees:

iniquity…trouble…plundering…violence…strife…contention…law is powerless…justice never goes forth…wicked surround the righteous…perverse judgment proceeds.

The answer God gives is not soothing and comforting.  

I am raising up the Babylonians, [Chaldeans]
    a cruel and violent people.
They will march across the world
    and conquer other lands.
 (1:6)

This is a shock to the prophet.  Read the rest of Chapter 1 to understand the full force of a Chaldean invasion.  Again he asks: Why? Why does God not intervene in the godless, backslidden state of the people and spare them the cruelty of the conquering nation.

Here is the key to  Habakkuk’s triumphant worship-march in the third chapter.

He writes the vision.  

The presence or the absence of vision will determine whether or not people become lethargic, or cast off restraint, oblivious to the law (1 Samuel 3:1; Proverbs 29:18). 

Then the Lord said to me,

“Write my answer plainly on tablets,
    so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
This vision is for a future time.
    It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
    for it will surely take place.
    It will not be delayed
.  (2:1-3)

What is the vision?  But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.  (2:4)

Hear oh hear, children of God of all ages!  Hear the cry of the Reformation in the mouth of Martin Luther! Hear it now and always.

The just shall live by faith.  (Romans 1:17)

In the first verses of the third chapter the prophet prays:

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid;
O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy.
  (3:1)

God’s answer that did not satisfy the immediate crisis around him still urges him to prayer so that he pleads for mercy in the midst of the years – in other words now – in our day.

The rest of the chapter is a rise to triumphant worship.  His circumstances have not changed but his thinking has.  He is saved from wrong thinking – a bad eye and a dark body  – just like  Jesus said in Matthew 6:23.

How different are the last verses of the book! (3:17-19)  The prophet is no longer controlled by or even anxious over his circumstances, for he has been raised up Holy Spirit encouragement. Temporal affairs no longer fill his thoughts.  He thinks with heavenly perspective.  He will make me walk on my high hills. (3:19) 

His words are different: rejoice in the LORD…joy in the God of my salvation…God is my strength…feet like deer’s feet…walk on my high hills.

He concludes with a song of joy in which he rationally and soberly describes the state of affairs around him, but he introduces his heavenly outlook with a loaded word – yet.  It is the great contrast with the beginning of the book.

Yet, nevertheless, even then, despite the fact, notwithstanding – he rejoices in the Lord and states his vision:

I will walk on the high places.  The “feet” of my thinking with which I “walk” life’s path are transformed.  This is my future.  New thinking from the Presence of God in prayer.

The song of Habakkuk.

A Hymn of Faith

17 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—

18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.

19 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.

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