By Bill Cavender
For though the fig-tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive tree shall fail, and the fields shall yield no food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in Jehovah, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength; and he maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and will make me to walk upon my high places (Hab. 3:17-19, ASV).
Through the years when I have taken time for meditative reading, study and thinking, I have often read the prophets. Not studying for sermons to preach nor classes to teach nor lessons to prepare, but for my own edification and increased understanding of our Father’s will, I find the prophets to be especially instructive and edifying.
Reading again some days ago the book of the prophet Habakkuk and studying each word, phrase and sentence, my thoughts were stirred by the above passages, the last three verses of this small book, small in number of verses but immeasurably lengthy and enlarged is “food for the soul.”
Habakkuk prophesied in Judah, contemporary with Jeremiah and Zephaniah, some six hundred years before the advent of our Savior. The shadow of death was descending on Judah. The Chaldeans — Babylon — Nebuchadnezzar were coming to destroy Judah, ravage the land, and take the people captive into a faraway land.
Gloom and the grave were before them, captivity and slavery. Their doom was sealed. Habakkuk justifies the plans and ways of God to Judah. In chapter 1:2-11 righteous people ask how can Jehovah allow wicked- ness to go unpunished, lawlessness seemingly unending. The prophet tells them that God is raising up the Chaldeans to punish the evildoers.
Chapter 1:12-2:20 presents the question as to Jehovah using such a cruel nation as Babylon to accomplish his will and punish Judah, a people less wicked than the Chaldeans, i.e., in the eyes of the Israelites.
The prophet tells them “the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4; Rom. 1:16-17). God has two ways of destroying evil. Evil is its own enemy and eventually destroys itself, it reaps what it sows (Gal. 6:7-8); and God intervenes and punishes wickedness by using nations to punish nations (Dan. 4:25). Five “woes” are then pronounced upon the wicked and the cruel avenger. Chapter 3 is an inspired hymn, describing Jehovah’s righteous judgment, with verses 17-19 affirming the convictions and thoughts of those righteous people of the ages who live by faith.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof” (Gal. 5:22-24, ASV). This “cluster” of fruit (for we do not cultivate one without the other) grows and matures as we grow older in faith and in good works. The “joy in the God of my salvation” does not come without the dedication and endurance required to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
The life of a believer, a true Christian, is one of continual progress. We should grow steadily from spiritual childhood and youth to manhood and maturity, reaching the fulness of stature of children of God in Jesus Christ. Many do not do so. As in the first century church, so today it is that “for when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14, KJV). Often believers are like the children of Israel in the wilderness, going forward and backward, to and fro, criss-crossing, walking in intricate paths, and making very slow, if any, progress toward the heavenly Canaan.
Some time ago a beloved sister in Christ Jesus made confession at the conclusion of a sermon, responding to our Lord’s invitation, saying to the effect that “I wonder if I am really a Christian. I do not seem to have the strength I need to resist temptation, and I do not have the joy and peace that I ought to have,” and asked for understanding and for prayers of the saints, and forgiveness of our Father. I learned she had been a Christian about three years. And I thought later, as I reflected about this child of God, that many in the church far longer than she, also have these same thoughts and doubts. You don’t put “old heads on young shoulders,” for they would be out of place. Let heads, hearts, shoulders and bodies be of the same age!
Younger saints ought not be discouraged when they have doubts, and when they witness others who are older in the faith demonstrating joy, peace, patience, love, kindness, strength, etc., of mature brothers and sisters who for years have studied, learned, prayed, worshiped, practiced, and fought the good fight of faith.
Rather the younger should be encouraged by the examples of those who are fathers and mothers in the family of God, and by older brothers and sisters who are diligently striving for the “crown of life that fadeth not away” (1 Tim. 5:1-2; Tit. 2:18; Jas. 1:12). Forward, onward, upward we daily travel through life, purposing to continue doing so until we behold the face of him whom we love, for then “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-3). “For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. . . . But we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:36-39).
There are obstacles to cultivating and experiencing “joy in the God of my salvation.” We have great joy in the spirit when we worship each Lord’s Day, eating the supper of Jesus Christ, remembering his body and blood, his death on the cross for our sins. It is a joy to sing from the heart beautiful psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, which take our souls on a flight from earth to heaven, into the very portals of glory. It is a great joy to hear the full, unadulterated, enlightening word of God spoken and preached by good men from pure hearts. But that joy of worship may soon be diminished and dampened when they leave the assembly to go about encountering the world and it cares. We may go home to sadness, sorrow, sickness, and even death. One lady in a congregation goes home to a cursing, alcohol- drinking husband.
There are believers who cannot pray in their family life, cannot offer audible thanks for a meal, because of ungodly, opposing people in the family. “Joy in the God of my salvation” must be fought and contended for, learned and cultivated in spite of oppositions, sneers, and ill-will toward one who loves God truly, even from foes in our own house- holds (Matt. 10:36).
We have great joy when we think of heaven and eternal life in the presence of our God and the redeemed of the ages. We think of how joyful will be the greetings and the reunions in heaven. We joy to think of him “whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your soul” (1 Pet. 1:8-9). It is unbounded joy to know that there is God, Jehovah, and he is our Father (1 Cor. 8:3, 6; Eph. 4:4-6; John 17:24-26). Like Enoch and Noah, we should walk with him and please him each day (Gen. 5:24; 6:9, 22; 7:5; Heb. 11:5, 7). “Ye must be born again . . . of water and of the spirit,” if we would claim God as our Father and enter into his kingdom (John 3:1-8; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38). He says to us, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor. 6:16-18).
As his children we “joy in the God of my salvation” who does his will among the inhabitants of the earth as he does in the army of heaven: “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35). The world of unbelievers has always wanted a god but not a Sovereign, a King, a Monarch, who commands them and demands obedience. The world wants a god who is made in their image, who will do as his creatures think and command him, who agrees with them, who has no certain will, and endorses and approves of all the doings of his subjects. I rejoice that our God and Father is firm and true, dependable and trustworthy, a God “who will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” and “is a consuming fire” in punishing the lawless and opposer (Rom. 9:14-16; Heb. 2:28; 2 Thess. 1:3-12).
We have “joy in the God of my salvation” for he has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ who died for us. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son; much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10). Our Father hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, through the minis- try of reconciliation (the preaching of the glorious gospel of Christ Jesus to the lost) committed to the Holy Spirit guided apostles, in which God forgives our trespasses and we be- come new creatures (a new creation) in Christ through faith (2 Cor. 5:17-21; 1 Pet. 2:1-2). We “joy” when we see Jesus on the cross, “the Lamb of God, which taketh way the sin of the world” (John 1:29). We “joy” when we suffer for the sake of Jesus. “And they (the apostles, bc) departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). We “joy in the God of my salvation” when we truly consider and understand that “we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-11).
Like the innumerable blessings from our Father which we can neither know nor number, never realizing all that our God has done for us, so are the immeasurable joys which we have day by day in Jesus. In Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet affirms that if the fig tree bears no blossoms nor fruit; if there are no grapes on the vines; if there are no olives and olive oil; if there is no grain in the fields; if there are no flocks and herds, no milk to drink and flesh to eat; and no cattle in the stalls and folds; yet he and those who are “righteous, justified by faith” (2:4), will never forsake and turn away from our God and Father. With Job we should hold, as a matter of deep confirmed faith and conviction, that “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain my own ways before him” (Job 13:15), even if, as with Job, we were to lose ten children in death, all our material goods, our wife in unbelief, and our physical health (chapters 1 and 2). “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” A Christian never has any circumstances in which he should not be found rejoicing (Phil. 4:4).