Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hope in the Midst of A Really Long Bath of Tears

    I hear, and my body trembles;
        my lips quiver at the sound;
    rottenness enters into my bones;
        my legs tremble beneath me.
    Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
        to come upon people who invade us.
(Habakkuk 3:16 ESV)

I’ve noted in the past my continuing frustration with the northside McDonald’s in Jasper.  It doesn’t seem to matter if I order something as easily accessible as sliced apples they always make me pull forward and wait an eternal three minutes.  It is a great injustice to my American sensibilities and Mc-expectations that I must wait over 5 minutes to get food. 

Then I read Habakkuk 3:16 and gloss over it without feeling the weight of that last sentence, “Yet I will wait for the day of trouble…”  Allow me to put that into perspective.  More than likely the absolute latest that Habakkuk penned these words was 609 B.C.  A few years later in 605 the beginning of the Jewish turmoil from the hands of the Babylonians took place.  It wasn’t until 586 that they were finally taken into an exile that would last until 538.  The Babylonians themselves were not given their day of trouble until 539 by the hands of the Persians.

That means that from the time of Habakkuk 3:16 until the Babylonians had their day of trouble in 539 a whopping 66 years had passed.  Sixty-six years is a long time.  

Sixty-six years ago it was 1945. 

  • This was the final year of World War II.  At the beginning of 1945 Adolf Hitler was still alive.  FDR was still President.
  • The kiss pictured to the right was on VJ Day sixty-six years ago.  Though the identity of the couple is debated we know the subjects are either in their 90’s or their grave. 
  • Bob Marley, Pete Townshend (of Who fame), Walt Frazier, Peter Gammons, Neil Young, and Bette Midler were all born.
  • Though few were buying them because of the war, a new car was 800 bucks and a gallon of gas was about 18 cents.
  • The color barrier in baseball would not be broken for another two years
  • This was the last year the Chicago Cubs would make the World Series
  • The Cleveland Rams won the NFL Championship
  • The top movie in 1945 was The Bells of St. Mary’s (never heard of it)

Now let’s think back to 1945 and consider the words of Habakkuk.  God has promised that in the discipline of His covenant people He would also bring justice upon the Babylonians.  But this period of discipline is going to be rough.  For the next sixty-six years Habakkuk will only see the Babylonians in power.  They are blood-thirsty tyrants and will not go lightly on the Habakkuk’s people.  He’s not just being dramatic when he says that body and legs are trembling and that rottenness enters his bones. 

Sixty-six years (or up until his death) Habakkuk would wait quietly trusting in the Lord’s goodness.  This helps us to also put the more famous verses in Habakkuk 3 into perspective:

    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.
(Habakkuk 3:17-18 ESV)

That’s sixty-six years of no blossom, vines, olives, food, flock, and herds.  Certainly not every moment was a bath of tears.  Yet suffering would be the pervasive theme for the rest of Habakkuk’s life.  Everything would now be tainted and viewed through the grid of suffering. 

Now do you see the audacity of “yet I will rejoice in the LORD”?  That is a big YET.  That’s not “even though I have to wait for 5 minutes at McDonalds I will still trust in the Lord”.  That is saying “even though I endure sixty-six years of pain and suffering I will rejoice and find joy in God alone.”

As I think about Habakkuk I do not feel sorry for him.  I feel sorry for us.  Habakkuk was drinking deeply from the fountain of joy and delight because his heart had nothing else to find delight in.  Not us.  We have plenty to distract us and bide for our attention and affection. 

The question for us today is whether or not we will believe like Habakkuk that lasting joy is found not in maximal comfort in this life but in staking our claim on that which is to come.  Will we quietly wait and tremble before the God of both justice and redemption to make all things right?  Or will we kick against Him as He destroys our mock comfort of “here” and replaces it with the lasting joy of eternity?

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