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,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

On November 22, 1963, the United States was brought to a standstill when it learned that President John F. Kennedy, our 35th President, was assassinated. He was riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, with his wife, Jackie, and the governor of Texas, John Connally, together with his wife, Nellie. The final words of the President as he made small talk with Mrs. Connally in the presidential limousine are nothing short of ironic. Mrs. Connally said, “Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.” Kennedy replied, “You certainly can’t.” Just seconds later the first of the three shots rang out that killed John F. Kennedy.

Everything can change in an instant.

Since last March when you flip on the news or check your feed online do you ever hear anyone on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or The Wall Street Journal rejoicing in the Lord in response to COVID-19? No. Quite the opposite, actually. Every time we turn the news on we are bombarded with pessimism, snarky words, and criticism. What makes it even worse is that our nation is so divided right now that we can’t even combat COVID-19 as united front.

I don’t know about all of you but I am so tired of hearing that life will never be the same again. Really? Did we forget that a third of the continent of Europe died during the bubonic plague in the 14th century? I’m pretty sure life in Europe eventually went back to normal. But it’s pessimistic stories like that, that irk me.

Moreover, every day I see headlines whose only point is to make people worry. The media thinks of the most dramatic things they can say to get people to click on their story.

I digress. I am not here to vent my frustrations at the news, but in light of all of this I find Habakkuk like a breath of much needed fresh air! It is Habakkuk’s ironic praise and rejoicing in the face of a crumbling world that steadies one’s heart and can keep one from being overly agitated or put into one frenzy after another while constantly being bludgeoned with negativity that comes out like a fire hose from our media outlets.

The reality is: there is a lot of bad news. Similar to the way verse 17 describes the tragedy Habakkuk was experiencing (which was probably way worse than the effects of COVID-19 on our society), lots of people are sick and thousands have died, millions of people have filed for unemployment, and we are staring down the barrel of the possibility of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Not to mention professional baseball is shut down along with all other spectator events.

Yet, in the face of all of this Habakkuk would rejoice. Martin Lloyd-Jones says this commenting on verse 18 – “It was not merely resignation or saying: ‘Well, there is no use crying over spilled milk, or getting alarmed and excited, because we cannot do anything about it.’ Nor was it just applying the principle of psychological detachment. It was not taking oneself in hand and saying: ‘The best thing is not to think about it! Go to the pictures [“movie theater” which isn’t an option for us right now], read a novel and don’t think!’— a sort of escapism. Neither was it an attempt at being courageous. There is here no exhortation of courage. There is something infinitely greater than just making a mighty effort of the will and saying: ‘I am not going to whimper or cry, I am going to be a man’… Instead of mere resignation, or plucking up one’s courage, the Scripture shows that it is possible even under such conditions to be in a state of actual rejoicing.”

How is Habakkuk able to do this? Are we interpreting these events through the lens of God’s promises? That’s what Habakkuk was doing. He knows that God is a God of salvation (v. 18) and it is that fact that gave him strength (v. 19). In that God is a God of salvation, Habakkuk knows that God is immutable and he makes promises. No loss or tragedy (v. 17) could change that fact. God and his plans and purpose for the universe are in no way changed, thwarted, or turned off course by COVID-19. And it is this reality that freed Habakkuk up to be ironic, to rejoice in the Lord of his salvation in the face of a horror.

Rejoicing is a conscious choice; it is not the natural reflex reaction to a famine. This is what I mean by it being ironic. He was able to choose to rejoice because rejoicing is a function of faith. Believing that God is still good and working his will in spite of present circumstances. It’s this same faith that Habakkuk also knew that salvation flows out of, which is his reason to rejoice because salvation has come, is coming, and will come. In chapter 2, verse 4, he says, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith.” He knew and was trusting in the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15:6 – “He [Abram] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” No famine or pestilence will thwart the sovereign hand of God. He is still working his plan of salvation.

Furthermore, even though in the moment of chapter 3 all Habakkuk could see was famine, he knew the world would not stay that way. He says in chapter 2, verse 14, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Even if as a result of the virus our lives here on earth are changed “forever” it will not be forever. God is reigning and one day the earth will see him for who he truly is.

It was these things that were the source of Habakkuk’s strength – the joy of his salvation. These things caused his joy and moved him to rejoice. Rejoicing in this God is what made his feet like the feet of a deer and lifted his soul to high places in spite of the destruction that was in front of his eyes.

Can I challenge us to remember these things too? Instead of allowing COVID-19 and all that the media has to say about it put you in a tail spin, can I ask you to be a little ironic? To, like Habakkuk before us, remember that God is immutable and his covenant purpose in the earth is unstoppable. And for that he is worthy of praise. Not only is he worthy, but if we choose to remember these things and rejoice in our salvation, joy (v. 18), not anxiety, will surely follow.

As Americans we think we can fix anything with our freedom and endless resources. However, the economy is being eroded away, our friends or family are sick or maybe even have died. We have so much less to entertain us with since spectator sports have been shut down. Can we rejoice in spite of all these things? Can we see our assured salvation as far better than an economy brimming with money and our favorite baseball team with a winning record?

Moreover, if the full force of the virus has touched our lives, if we ourselves are sick or someone we love has died, can we grieve and lament to a God whom we know has much better things planned for us? Right before Paul says that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven in Romans 1, he says in verse 17 – “…the righteousness of God is being revealed from faith to faith, as it is written the righteous will live by faith.” Faith in an immutable God. His promises to Abraham and every other saint in the Old Testament and up to today has been kept. And that promise found its fulfillment in God’s own Son, who endured every consequence of every pestilence or famine for our sakes and for the glory of God, for our salvation and for our joy, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. It’s on that long expected but assured day that his glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

~ From a former elder and current missionary of IBC