What meaning do the final words of Habakkuk have for us today? Can Habakkuk help us know how to be joyful?

Fountain of Joy

Commentary: Habakkuk 2:2-4; 3:1-2, 17-19

2 2 Then the Lord replied:

"Write down the revelation
   and make it plain on tablets
   so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
   it speaks of the end
   and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
   it will certainly come
   and will not delay.

4 "See, the enemy is puffed up;
   his desires are not upright --
   but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness."


3 1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. . . .

2 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.


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.

Week 32 (August)

Some years ago, I rode with a truck driver from the Italian port of Leghorn inland to Florence. This native of Livorno ("Leghorn" is what that city is called by English speakers) had been part of the anti-nazi underground resistance during the last months of World War II.

During our hour-and-a-half trip together, the truck driver began talking about Mussolini. He talked about how absurd it was of Mussolini to think he could win a war against the whole world. In the late 1930s, this truck driver said, Italy was neither militarily nor economically prepared for war. Mussolini did not know that because he was a sovereign who wouldn't listen.

When the Italians were defeated rather quickly in North Africa and then in Sicily, whatever faith the Italian public had had in their dictatorial leader rapidly dissipated. These defeats confirmed the rumor that Mussolini listened only to himself. [ Missionary stories from Italy ]

The message of the prophet Habakkuk is that our Creator is a very different type of sovereign. The Lord answered me, he tells us.

Adverse circumstances need not threaten our faith in the Lord. In fact, the more we commune with Him, the more reverential trust and deep faith we have in him.

That's different from the way it was with Mussolini. The more the Italians came to know him, the less they trusted him. Yet, almost to the very end, Mussolini kept telling his listeners that German scientists were secretly developing super weapons which would turn the tide of the war.

Our God has no need to frantically develop super weapons. We can confidently say with Habakkuk: "Although [the worst imaginable may happen], yet I will rejoice in the Lord" (3:17-18). No matter how dark the day, we are assured of the Kingdom's final victory.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 was among the first texts I used as a teenage preacher. Over the years it has become the basis for one of my "sugar sticks" (that's what preachers have sometimes called the sermons they turn to frequently).

I used it first in several senior citizen home services, discovering quickly that senior adults make supportive audiences for struggling young preachers. Then, during the summer after my freshman year at college, I was asked to speak in the large college church. To help overcome my stage fright, I turned to this now familiar passage from Habakkuk. About five years later, I used it as a text for a sermon in a preaching class at seminary under the late James McGraw.

My sermons on Habakkuk 3:17-19 have probably never been very profound. I doubt if anyone today would recall having heard me preach on the "Fountain of Joy." However, the implications of this passage are always valid for our daily lives. Interestingly enough Dr. McGraw, on his critique sheet of my sermon in class, wrote that one of the strong points was the "relevancy of theme to this audience today."

Habakkuk's word to us is that we can have total confidence in God's wisdom and providence even when we cannot understand life's toughest problems.

I will rejoice in the Lord, I will Joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength.

The author wrote this devotional article while serving as a missionary in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.

    -- Howard Culbertson

Other devotional meditations:   Year-long series in Standard    Reflections using illustrations from ham radio     Christmas    Come Ye Apart     Meditations about pastors

Rookie Notebook: Our first nine months as missionaries in Italy     10/40 Window map and explanation     Seeking God's will?    African martyr's commitment    Mission trip fundraising    Way to ruin mission trips   Nazarene Missions International resources