Habakkuk on high places

[Warning: In this post I write on some verses in the book Habakkuk, which means that I am already over my head. I am no biblical scholar or minor prophet exegete. These are merely “personal response” reflections on some verses already well known by many others. Continue reading at your own risk.]

A sense of entitlement is as old as human beings, but it seems fair to say that we tend to have that sense more so these days than did our ancestors (though I do not want to create a false view of the past either). We live in a world where we expect many things to come our way, not merely because we are optimists, but because we feel we deserve them. Our society reflects this attitude on many levels. What disturbs me most is how much I find this tendency in myself.

From my limited observations I would say popular Christianity in America is no different in this regard. Christians today, like their non-Christian counterparts, feel entitled just as much as anyone. For many, it would seem, that sense of entitlement gets baked into their (should I say our?) theology. It’s not just a matter of hope, rather it gets expressed in may subtle ways that fundamentally come from the position that if one is a Christian then one’s life will go well. We might laugh at the idea of “come to Jesus and you will become wealthy,” but we often believe exactly that with only minor changes in the verbiage. We substitute happiness or health for the word wealth. We assume that our marriages and our children must turn out right because we are Christians doing what Christians are supposed to do. It is not only a life of Christian principles for living, but a life of blessings.

But I am shaken by these verses in Habakkuk chapter three:

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom
         And there be no fruit on the vines,
         Though the yield of the olive should fail
         And the fields produce no food,
         Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
         And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the LORD,
         I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord GOD is my strength,
         And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
         And makes me walk on my high places.

How am I to take this? Why should Habakkuk, when all has been taken away, exult in the Lord or rejoice in God? Think about the words: The fig tree not blossoming, no fruit growing on the vines, no olive oil, to food from the field, no flocks, no cattle; in essence no ability to sustain life, to provide for one’s family, one’s children. It is a picture of poverty, destitution, and hopelessness. And yet, Habakkuk still looks to God, not because God will be his strength, but is his strength. Habakkuk is walking surefooted on high places. In his suffering he is lifted up. God has not left him, not abandoned him, nor forsaken him. God is still good.

Habakkuk does not appear to have a sense of entitlement. He would not, I dare say, be a popular hero to many today who claim the moniker “Christian.” I doubt he would be able to build a successful mega-church or be the “President’s pastor.” I sense that most would turn away from him, even those who religiously read the Bible cover to cover every year and have seen these words before. My comments may be harsh, but they come from my understanding that the gate is narrow that leads to salvation. Fortunately, many would not turn away. I hope to God neither would I.

I cannot say I fully get what Habakkuk is proclaiming. I think I understand it. I believe I know what he means and can see in his words profound truth. But I am good at deceiving myself. If I am honest I know I live my life thinking that these words are for others. I will not suffer destitution I say to myself. And if I do, surely I will cling to “the God of my salvation.” Will I? Will you? There is no telling, not really, until we are there in the midst of it. If I have a strong sense of entitlement then clinging to God in either the hurricane of suffering or the slow torture-rack of trials will be that much harder.

A question I have is what are these hind’s feet and these high places? In much of the Bible the idea of high places have to do with the erecting of altars for worship. Usually these high places are for pagan worship and are to be avoid or torn down by the Israelites. I don’t think that’s what Habakkuk has in mind here. In Psalm 18:33, David says:

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
         he causes me to stand on the heights.

In this verse we have both the idea of high places (the heights) and hind’s feet (feet of a deer). Both the high places and hind’s feet point to escape and refuge. This is the idea in Habakkuk as well. But in the Psalms it makes sense to flee to a high place, for David is referring to enemies and battles. In Habakkuk it is basic necessities of life that are missing. Why would Habakkuk need hind’s feet and high places because the fig tree refuses to blossom or the olive fail? Maybe this is merely an expression that our salvation, whatever that may be, comes from God. What is most interesting to me, however, is that the salvation that comes is necessary because of the destruction brought by God.

The book of Habakkuk is about judgement. Habakkuk writes that God is going to bring judgement through the agency of the Chaldeans (Babylonians). This judgement will mean destruction, which in turn will mean devastation of various kinds in the land, including physical suffering and even death. So, in this sense the loss of basic life necessities does ultimately come from enemies and battles. And yet, we must remember that it is God who brings calamity. It is God who is entirely in charge of the world. If we have salvation it comes from him, and if we have hope it is because of his promises. And if we have hope in the midst of troubles it is because God offers us hope as he also brings about our troubles.

If I look at my life I do not see any Chaldeans coming over the hill. My life seems rather complacent and safe from major calamity. I do not know what the future will bring, but I make my plans based on fairly common assumptions that life will remain good and free from destruction. This could change. There are prophecies about the last days which speak of tough times. But I don’t see immanent “signs” like many claim to see. On the other hand, there is a kind of daily suffering that we all experience. Life is vanity and striving after wind, as we read in Ecclesiastes. We experience spiritual death in our lives because of sin. We struggle in trusting God and often live in fear of the world around us. And we have a hard time imagining that what is bad in the world is also in God’s hands. Habakkuk complains to God. But he also says at the beginning of chapter two, verse one:

I will stand on my guard post
         And station myself on the rampart;
         And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me,
         And how I may reply when I am reproved.

And then in verse four:

Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.

In these two verses we see Habakkuk drawing a connection between faith in God and awaiting God’s reproval. If we feel a sense of entitlement then we have a hard time drawing that line. We want to see faith, especially fervent faith, as leading to good things happening. We want to see our lives going well because we demonstrate that we are on God’s team by our faith. But we do not see with God’s eyes much of the time, if ever. We are often blind and proud. I know that I am. Habakkuk seems to understand that one has to deal with God on God’s terms only. There is no other playing field. Our relationship with God is not a level playing field, it is not in balance.

I do not know what God has in store for my life, my family, or this country. I am not a prophet, minor or otherwise. But I do know that God is sovereign. I know that he rules my life and all that is in it, including the good and the bad. I hope that I would keep watch like Habakkuk, that I would live by faith, and that, when calamity comes, I would be willing to exult in the Lord and know that he is my salvation. And, in contrast to what I see in the world around me and within myself, I hope that I become the kind of man who, like Habakkuk, “will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.”

Note: The image at the top is, I assume, supposed to be of Habakkuk. There are a lot of blogs using this image in reference to Habakkuk, but I found no specific reference to who it actually depicts or who painted it. But I like it anyway.

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