Habakkuk has been told by God that great trouble is coming. How should he think as he anticipates this great judgement of invasion and exile? We are probably astonished by what he says in verses 17-19. He begins by describing the worst possible situation, in which the whole country is completely ruined (v. 17). Should it happen, he will still rejoice in the Lord. He is not saying that the crisis will happen, but he does say what he will do should it happen. Why will he rejoice in the Lord?
The first point we can notice is how different Habakkuk’s response is from the response of some, both Christians and non-Christians, when they face trouble. Often when a difficult situation looms, their response is stoical, and they grit their teeth and prepare to force themselves through the difficulty. Others engage in pretence and shut their eyes to the problem, hoping that it will have gone away when they open them. Why do they respond in these ways? Because they are not trusting in God. Of course, every Christian will wonder if they too could respond the way Habakkuk did, so we need to ask why he did so.
First, Habakkuk will rejoice in the Lord because he is the Saviour of his people (v. 18). This divine role was made clear in what the Lord had done for Israel when he delivered them from Egypt (as described in the previous verses). Yet the prophet makes it more personal by calling it ‘my salvation’. Even although the nation would be in trouble as far as its circumstances were concerned, Habakkuk would not lose the salvation he had received from the Lord.
The prophet is telling us here that spiritual experiences are independent of circumstances. As far as society was concerned, the circumstances would remove all bases for joy because it was based on things. In contrast, losing temporal blessings does not mean that we as Christians will lose spiritual blessings. The psalmist says that he had more joy than those who had a bountiful harvest (Psalm 4:7) and here the prophet says he will have spiritual joy even if there is no harvest. It is a question worth asking ourselves, ‘Is my happiness connected to what I have or to the God who has saved me?’
Second, Habakkuk will rejoice because the sovereign God will strengthen him for every situation (v. 19). The difficult time is coming, but has not yet arrived. When the trouble comes, he knows that the Lord will strengthen him. The same power that brings the trouble can bring him joy. Earlier he had said that God’s great display of power at the Exodus had been only a hiding or veiling of his power (Hab. 3:4). Its greatness served to hide the fact that the Lord could have done far more. Often our problem is not the future, but our fear of the future. Well, Habakkuk gives us the remedy for that fear. The Lord’s strength will be there to give spiritual blessings to his people.
Third, Habakkuk knows that he will still be able to make great spiritual progress: ‘he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.’ He likens himself to a deer that walks sure-footedly along narrow paths on high hillsides which it can climb easily. Times of difficulty should be expectant times when we should anticipate the Lord showing his grace to those who need to walk carefully because of their situations. They will discover that the Lord has his own recompenses when his providence causes them to live in difficult times.