Hope Does Not Disappoint

At the beginning of Habakkuk, the prophet challenges God’s apparent favor for a heathen nation over His chosen People. The seemingly invincible Chaldeans (Babylonians) stood poised to invade Judah. Habakkuk questions God’s lack of justice. God is not silent, rather, He pulls back the curtain to reveal His planning to Habakkuk. God is not apathetic to the injustices the Chaldeans have brought upon the earth. He raised up the Chaldeans for His purposes (1.6), purposes that will result in pain for His people, but that does not excuse the Chaldean’s wickedness. God tells Habakkuk that the Chaldeans will receive justice at the appointed time, yet it is not for him to know when. Chapter three recounts Habakkuk’s prayer and ends with a profound statement of hope in God. This same hope is not isolated to Habakkuk, rather, it is to be a sure anchor all of God’s People throughout time while we live in the already-not-yet of this painful age.

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

Verse 17 describes an utter collapsing of life as Habakkuk would have known it. Most Israelites were subsistence farmers, farmers who grew their own crops for survival, and the idea of a tremendous famine like the one described would have at least meant the loss of comfort, stability, if not their very lives. In verse 18, Habakkuk does not let his present circumstances determine his view of who God is. The revelation of God through His past works and written word, rather than personal experience, shapes Habakkuk’s realization of True Reality and leads him to glorify God. Verse 19 is a simile that conveys the sure hope Habakkuk finds in God – deer are famous for their sure footing on treacherous cliffs and craggy rocks.

Throughout the Bible, God’s People proclaimed and lived out an unwavering hope in God when life seemed bleak. The assurance in who God was, is, and will be gives strength to the saints.

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego find themselves in a situation where they were asked to conform to the laws of the land at the expense of worshipping of Yahweh. They were highly esteemed, as seen in their appointment to high positions in government (3.12), so their conduct had truly been right in the eyes of the law apart from this new degree by Nebuchadnezzar.  The decree had been for all people to bow at the feet of a golden image of the king. The three Jewish men do not bow down and are taken before the king and accused of a capital crime.  Their defense statement reveals three important things: 1) They remain “silent” in terms of trying to explain themselves (v16), 2) they are unafraid of potential consequences because of their theology (v17), and 3) their actions continue to be driven and held by their theology (v18).

 For the Jew in exile, their present experience could not determine his theology; instead, he relied on a theology formed from God’s past works to give him assurance in God’s words of promise for the future.

 The Jewish community held the Passover each year to remind the Jew of God’s power shown in the past in order to steady their hope in the future (Exodus 13.3). The Jewish custom of consecrating the firstborn is done to teach the next generation about God’s redeeming work for His people (Exodus 13.14). God ordered that the people keep a small portion of the manna which fell from heaven so that their generations would see and remember (Exodus 16.32-33). The act of circumcision is a visual reminder for the Jewish people that God called out Abram and made a covenant with him (Genesis 17.10). The Jewish boy is not even given his name until the ceremony on the eight day after birth. God repeatedly reminds the Jewish people of the exodus from Egypt and his power over their enemies to assure them that their current suffering is not the end and that the wilderness leads to the Promised Land.

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul had been informed by God that he would suffer for God’s name before he ever began his missionary journeys (Acts 9.16) and so he was not surprised by the hardships that came his way (Acts 20.22-24). Paul’s life was radically transformed by the Spirit to where his priorities were now set on God’s glory (Philippians 3.8, 2 Tim 1.12). How can he persevere through these things?  By Him who strengthens him. How does He strengthen him? By assuring Paul that everywhere that he goes God “has people in the city” and that God will save for himself a people from all nations (Acts 18.9-10, Romans 1.5). God is working all things according to His will so that those who were chosen in Christ will be saved to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1.3-12).  Paul, with Peter, is fully convinced of God’s faithfulness in carrying those whom He has called to salvation (John 10.28, Ephesians 1.14, 1 Peter 1.3-5, Jude 24-25) and is therefore not afraid of the tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. In Romans 8.30, the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to declare, “Those whom He foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son… those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified.” John Piper helpfully remarks, “It is an unbreakable chain.”

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” is the cry of Christ on the eve of his crucifixion. He is at the peak of angst. He is the only man that fully grasps what the cup contains. Jesus is in the midst of a time of preparation for the events to come in the next hours. Christ knows that He must petition Heaven for His strength. He is fully man in that regard–man as he was meant to be (Matthew 4.4). Isaiah 53 and Hebrews 12 reveal what strengthened Jesus at this moment. Isaiah 53.10-12 says that the LORD’s Servant will “see his offspring…and be satisfied…[the LORD] will divide him a portion with the many.” Hebrews 12.2 urges the saints to have the same mind as Christ who endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” In these two cases we see a slightly different take on perseverance through suffering–an assurance in a future reality. The New Testament exhorts the persecuted redeemed to have this hope. Such passages as 1 Thessalonians 5.8-10, Romans 8.37-39, 2 Timothy 2.3-6 and Revelation 7.14 are but a few. May the words of a saint of old, JC Ryle, encourage you.

Would I learn how to be contented and cheerful under all the cares and anxieties of life? What school shall I go to? How shall I attain this state of mind most easily? Shall I look at the sovereignty of God, the wisdom of God, the providence of God, the love of God? It is well to do so. But I have a better argument still. I will look at the cross of Christ. I feel that He who spared not His only begotten Son, but delivered Him up to die for me, will surely with Him give me all things that I really need. He that endured that pain for my soul, will surely not withhold from me anything that is really good. He that has done the greater things for me, will doubtless do the lesser things also. He that gave His own blood to procure me a home, will unquestionably supply me with all that is really profitable for me by the way. Ah, reader, there is no school for learning contentment than can be compared with the foot of the cross.

 Are you a distressed believer? Is your heart pressed down with sickness, tried with disappointments, over-burdened with cares? To you also I say this day, “Behold the cross of Christ.” Think whose hand it is that chastens you: think whose hand is measuring to you the cup of bitterness which you are now drinking. It is the hand of Him that was crucified. It is the same hand that in love to your soul was nailed to the accursed tree. Surely that thought should comfort and hearten you. Surely you should say to yourself, “A crucified Saviour will never lay upon me anything that is not good for me. There is a needs be. It must be well!”