17-18. The Prophet declares now at large what that rest would be of which he had spoken; it would be even this—that he would not cease to rejoice in God, even in the greatest afflictions. He indeed foresees how grievous the impending punishment would be, and he warns also and arouses the faithful, that they might perceive the approaching judgment of God. He says, Flourish shall not the fig, and no fruit shall be on the vines; fail shall the olive. First, the fig shall not flourish; then, the fields shall produce nothing; and lastly, the cattle and the sheep shall fail. Though the figs produce fruit without flowering, it is not yet an improper use of פרח, perech, which means strictly to bud. He means that the desolation of the land was nigh at hand, and that the people would be reduced to extreme poverty. But it was an instance of rare virtue, to be able to rejoice in the Lord, when occasions of sorrow met him on every side.
The Prophet then teaches us what advantage it is to the faithful seasonably to submit to God, and to entertain serious fear when he threatens them, and when he summons them to judgment; and he shows that though they might perish a hundred times, they would yet not perish, for the Lord would ever supply them with occasions of joy, and would also cherish this joy within, so as to enable them to rise above all their adversities. Though, then, the land was threatened with famine, and though no food would be supplied to them, they would yet be able always to rejoice in the God of their salvation; for they would know him to be their Father, though for a time he severely chastised them. This is a delineation of that rest of which he made mention before.
The import of the whole is—“Though neither the figs, nor the vines, nor the olives, produce any fruit, and though the field be barren, though no food be given, yet I will rejoice in my God;” that is, our joy shall not depend on outward prosperity; for though the Lord may afflict us in an extreme degree, there will yet be always some consolation to sustain our minds, that they may not succumb under evils so grievous; for we are fully persuaded, that our salvation is in God’s hand, and that he is its faithful guardian. We shall, therefore, rest quietly, though heaven and earth were rolled together, and all places were full of confusion; yea, though God fulminated from heaven, we shall yet be in a tranquil state of mind, looking for his gratuitous salvation.
We now perceive more clearly, that the sorrow produced by the sense of our guilt is recommended to us on account of its advantage; for nothing is worse than to provoke God’s wrath to destroy us; and nothing is better than to anticipate it, so that the Lord himself may comfort us. We shall not always escape, for he may apparently treat us with severity; but though we may not be exempt from punishment, yet while he intends to humble us, he will give us reasons to rejoice: and then in his own time he will mitigate his severity, and by the effects will show himself propitious to us. Nevertheless, during the time when want or famine, or any other affliction, is to be borne, he will render us joyful with this one consolation, for, relying on his promises, we shall look for him as the God of our salvation. Hence, on one side Habakkuk sets the desolation of the land; and on the other, the inward joy which the faithful never fail to possess, for they are upheld by the perpetual favour of God. And thus he warns, as I have said, the children of God, that they might be prepared to bear want and famine, and calmly to submit to God’s chastisements; for had he not exhorted them as he did, they might have failed a hundred times.
We may hence gather a most useful doctrine,—That whenever signs of God’s wrath meet us in outward things, this remedy remains to us—to consider what God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy, which faith brings to us, can overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows and anxieties.
But we must notice what follows, In the God of my salvation: for sorrow would soon absorb all our thoughts, except God were present as our preserver. But how does he appear as such to the faithful? even when they estimate not his love by external things, but strengthen themselves by embracing the promise of his mercy, and never doubt but that he will be propitious to them; for it is impossible but that he will remember mercy even while he is angry.
17 Divine judgment strikes the basic sources of Israel’s agricultural economy. From the beginning, her prosperity was dependent on obedience to the covenant and on the Lord’s consequent blessing (Lev 26:3–5, 10; Dt 28:2–14). Conversely, when Israel’s corporate life was marked by disobedience and disloyalty to the covenant, the Lord’s chastening followed, normally through natural and military disasters (Lev 26:14–33; Dt 28:16–17, 22–24, 30–31, 38–42; cf. Dt 11:16–17; Isa 7:23–25; Hos 2:12; Joel 1:7–12; Am 4:6–9; Hag 1:6–11; 2:16–19). In this graphic vision of a devastated economy, Habakkuk acknowledges his nation’s apostasy and sets himself to face the inevitability of judgment (cf. 1:2, 4, 12; 3:2, 16). In an agricultural society, the devastation described will be total.
18 The patient faith demonstrated in v. 16 reaches full expression in this verse. The parallel verbs affirming Habakkuk’s joy (ʿālaz, “rejoice”; gîl, “be joyful”) are frequently used in the Psalter to reveal the psalmists’ confidence, often in the face of adversity (e.g., Pss 13:5; 16:8–10; 21:1, 6–7; 31:6–7; 32:10–11; cf. Isa 25:9; Joel 2:21, 23). For Habakkuk as for the psalmists, it is “God” himself and his intervention as “Savior” (yēšaʿ) that motivate his longing and his joyful attaining. The Babylonians, by contrast, “gloat” (ʿālaṣ [v. 14], possibly an alternative spelling of ʿālaz) to “devour the wretched” (v. 14) and “rejoice” (gîl, 1:15) over their prey. Their god is, in truth, their stomach, and their destiny is destruction (cf. Php 3:19).
The basis of Habakkuk’s faith, as of Paul’s, is first God himself as revealed in his covenantal promises. The covenant that promised the invasion and devastation of vv. 16–17 also gives assurance of restoration to God’s favor and presence (cf. Dt 30:1–10; 32:34–43); it is for this joy set before him that Habakkuk can set his face to confront and endure even the most devastating affliction.
3:17–19 / Habakkuk’s last verses expand further on that attitude to which he is committed in the meantime, and which he wants to commend to his hearers. The experiences he describes in verse 17 might be metaphors for adversity, but they are the kinds of things that happen when an army invades another country. The necessity to forbid the destruction of fruit trees in war (Deut. 20:19–20) reflects the fact that this was common practice, through carelessness or as a deliberate act of hostility. And an invading army will likewise kill and eat a country’s animals, without any thought for its future. Habakkuk can imagine the country going through this; and it does, when Babylon invades it. Or perhaps Habakkuk imagines things getting worse as natural disaster adds to military invasion, so that he is portraying a possible “worst-case scenario” (Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, p. 157).
There is again no yet in verse 18, though the niv does convey the effect of the language describing the transition from verse 17 (see additional note). There is an odd thing about being an Israelite (or a Christian). It means being able to continue to rejoice or exult or be triumphant (ʿalaz) and be joyful when there is no visible reason for that. Habakkuk intends to begin that exulting and rejoicing now—the verbs are cohortative. And this is because he is exulting and rejoicing in God my Savior, literally in “the God of my deliverance.” Habakkuk thus picks up another of the “deliverance” family of words (cf. vv. 8 [where niv has “victorious”] and 13). The fact that (as his vision has assured him) Yahweh as the God who delivers is committed to acting in deliverance, delivering the people, and delivering the anointed king means that Habakkuk can exult and rejoice now. One does not wait for the event of deliverance to take place before beginning to smile about it.
To put it another way, the sovereign Lord is my strength (v. 19a). Literally, Habakkuk speaks of “Yahweh my master” (ʾadonay). Habakkuk is only a servant, but what matters is whose servant you are. If you are the servant of a powerful master, this puts you in a very strong position in life. Habakkuk can leap about with the confidence and agility of a deer climbing the rocks, like the king who gives his testimony in Psalm 18:33. Yet that king does so on the basis of Yahweh having actually delivered him. Habakkuk makes his confession on the basis of Yahweh’s mere promise. He knows that people who wait for Yahweh find new strength even before they see what they wait for (Isa. 40:31).
Whether adversity takes the form of imperial oppression or natural disaster, the prophet has become convinced that they are not the end of the story. Yahweh will bring him and his people out the other side of these troubles. A time of exultation and rejoicing will come. Habakkuk is not envisaging an eschatological deliverance in the sense of a far-off event that he will not see, but a deliverance that he will experience.
In the event, the fall of Babylon in 539 b.c. almost certainly did not happen within Habakkuk’s lifetime, but it did happen. A prophet has to live with Yahweh’s decisions about when a vision finds fulfillment. Perhaps one consideration that helps him do this is the very fact that (like most prophecies) his vision is not a wholly novel one. It constitutes a reassertion of Yahweh’s known pattern of activity. Its restraint in referring to Babylon by name (as Nahum is restrained in his references to Assyria) is a symbol of that. The pattern it speaks of has obtained before, not least in Babylon’s own defeat of Assyria, within Habakkuk’s lifetime. It will recur. Habakkuk knows that whether he himself sees its next embodiment is not so important. It will need to be repeated again and again over coming millennia.
The footnote (v. 19b), similar to a phrase from a psalm heading (e.g., Pss. 4; 6), is a reminder of the fact that this prayer-poem was a song used in worship, and as such it seeks to draw people into the kind of statement of faith that the preceding lines offer. During some periods, maybe during Habakkuk’s day and certainly over succeeding decades and centuries, people’s present experience was of the kind described in verse 17. This did not mean they stopped rejoicing and exulting.
3:17. Habakkuk knew the coming invasion would lead to devastation and starvation. He outlined the loss of major sources of food in a brief sketch: fig would not blossom; no grapes on the vines; olive crop and grain in the fields would produce no food; even the flock[s] of sheep and goats, as well as cattle, would die—be cut off. Nothing would be left.
3:18. But in a remarkable statement of faith and trust, Habakkuk pledged to exult in the Lord and rejoice in the God of my salvation. This is a personal statement of relationship and confidence in the Lord, expressed in the parallel ideas of exulting (cf. Pss 18:7; 68:4; 149:5; Zph 3:14) and rejoicing (cf. Pss 9:14; 30:1; 31:7; 40:16). These emotions are not centered on circumstances but, on the contrary, they are focused on the Lord, who is the source of his salvation and strength. No matter what the circumstances, the prophet was determined to trust in God and rejoice in the midst of whatever the Lord allowed to come. He was fully confident in God’s ability to move His people through judgment to deliverance.
3:17. The prophet’s weakened physical state contrasted with his incredibly strong spiritual state. Habakkuk outlined the worst possible consequences: complete failure of crops (figs, grapes, olives, and grain-on which the nation depended for food) and total loss of sheep and cattle. Even in the midst of absolute ruin and abject famine (which came when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, Lam. 2:12, 20, 4:4, 9–10; 5:17–18), the prophet was prepared to trust God. He realized that inner peace did not depend on outward prosperity.
3:18. Habakkuk did not state that he would merely endure in the hour of distress. He said he would rejoice in the Lord and be joyful. God is the inexhaustible source and infinite supply of joy. God my Savior is literally, “the God of my salvation” (’ělōhê yiš‘i; the same Heb. words are in Pss. 18:46; 25:5). Far too many people keep trying to buy joy, but happiness is not found in circumstances. Joy is available to everyone, even to those stripped of every material possession, for joy is to be found in a Person. It comes through an intimate and personal relationship with the Lord, so that even those in the worst circumstances can smile.
3:18 — Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
How should we respond when our situation seems dire, even hopeless? What should we do when God appears silent, even uninterested? Oftentimes, trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God sees.
|Trusting God in the Dark
We trust God to accomplish what He promises us in His Word. But the real battle of faith comes when He appears not to respond to our trust.
What should we do when God appears to have ignored our request? Will we continue to rely upon Him despite the disappointment? Or will we blaze our own path and turn away from the Lord in discouragement?
The prophet Habakkuk demonstrated the essence of true faith: to continue to trust in the Lord’s wisdom and faithfulness, even when He seems inactive, or worse, uncaring.
In difficult times, faith becomes a matter of devoted allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. Do we have confidence in Him regardless of the circumstances? Do we cling to God and His Word despite the silence? Can we say, along with Habakkuk, that although all our resources and reserves vanish, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Hab. 3:18)?.
3:17, 18 I will exult in the Lord. If everything that was normal and predictable collapsed, the prophet would still rejoice. Obedience to the covenant was a requisite element to the enjoyment of agricultural and pastoral prosperity (Dt 28:1–14). Though disobedience would initiate the covenant curses (Dt 28:31–34, 49–51), the prophet affirmed his commitment to the Lord; his longing and joyful desire was for God Himself.
3:17, 18 Even when crops and herds fail (a horrifying thought in the context of an agricultural economy), and society lives with hunger and poverty, Habakkuk’s trusting expectation will not be crushed. Hope and trust transform his fear of the future into the desire to rejoice always in God his Savior (Rom. 8:35–39).
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Vol. 4, pp. 173–175). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Armerding, C. E. (2008). Habakkuk. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, p. 647). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Goldingay, J., & Scalise, P. J. (2012). Minor Prophets II. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 85–87). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Rydelnik, M. A. (2014). Habakkuk. In The moody bible commentary (p. 1394). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Blue, J. R. (1985). Habakkuk. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1521). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Hab 3:18–19). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Hab 3:17). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1314). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.