Chapter 3 is a prayer by Habakkuk, a very human prayer. He starts by acknowledging what every human prayer should, that God is God:
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.
The next several verses continue this theme. Then he says something that must be continually affirmed by us, but which we tend to miss in our time-bound, temporal existence:
His ways are eternal.
I think the point is a simple one: God has ultimate perspective. He can see the beginning from the end, the important from the not so important. And worst of all for us: he’s never in a hurry! Heck, he’s got forever! We don’t! And the freight train known as time gets louder and louder as it bears down on us. “Lord, we don’t have forever!” Ah, he replies, but you do! If we really bought into forever, the light and momentary afflictions, as Paul calls them, would be light indeed. Let us as Paul says in that passage, “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” This is what Habakkuk is trying to do, but it’s hard, as we all know.
The middle verses of the chapter acknowledge God’s judgment, and yet again God’s wrath is something that we are not allowed to ignore. God has spent an entire Old Testament making a simple point: He must judge, and punish, sin. Yet wrath and judgment is not the end of the story, at least for his people:
13 You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
Practically from day one God has distinguished his people from everyone else. The Lord never gives the impression that his purposes pertain to an undifferentiated mass of humanity called, “The World.” The offer of salvation to come is indeed available to the whole human race, as we learn throughout the Old Testament (as the Lord promises Abram that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him), but that this salvation will only become actual for his people. When Jesus’ birth is foretold by the angel in Matthew 1 we read this:
She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Yeshua (or Joshua), his name which from Greek we get Jesus, means “The Lord saves.” The Lord’s people are always specific and acknowledged ahead of time. The “people” the angel speaks of were already known by God the Father. Jesus came to save those people. Nothing is as offensive to me in the Arminian and Pelagian notion as that the Lord only came to make salvation possible for all, but actual for none until they choose it. As if God’s plan of salvation were dependent on human volition! As John says of God’s children, that they are “born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Ours is from first to last a supernatural salvation!
The reference above to the anointed one can certainly be a reference to this Yeshua to come, as it can mean Israel itself. Israel is often referred to as a singular collective. The point being that salvation is the purpose and accomplishment of God himself.
Slowly throughout these three chapters Habakkuk is coming to trust the Lord, his judgments, and timing. He finally believes God that Israel’s enemies will eventually get what’s coming to them. He finally doesn’t care what the circumstances look like to him, no matter how bad the situation appears (the crops and livestock are barren), he is determined to trust in the Lord:
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.
The older I get and the more I experience of life, this is the bottom line of the bottom line: will we trust God? Even in the midst of the most horrific circumstances, Habakkuk (and we) can rejoice and have true joy in the Lord. We can just refuse to care about the circumstances, and leave it all in the hands of our Savior, our strength.