Recognizing Reality
Habakkuk’s Prayer Of Submission

Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 5 of 7

We’ve been looking at Habakkuk’s Prayer of Submission to God’s will found in the third chapter of his prophecy. We come now to the fifth of nine parts found in verse 17. Here, the prophet recognizes the reality of the coming loss.

Recognizing Reality (v. 17)

He says in verse 17, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:”

Verses 17 and 18 are structured as a conditional or “if…then” statement. If this happens…then that would happen. For those who like more technical jargon, verse 17 is the protasis or the conditional clause while verse 18 is the apodosis or the main clause which sets forth the consequences of those conditions being fulfilled. So if those things in verse 17 take place, then the prophet’s response will be found in verse 18.

I’ll like to suggest, though, that Habakkuk is making more than just a hypothetical or conditional if…then statement. Rather, what he is describing in verse 17 is what he sees or anticipates will actually transpire in his home land.

Let’s look at how Habakkuk describes this desolation and devastation.

First, he speaks about the fig tree not blossoming and the vines having no fruit and the olive crop failing. Now think about these three items for a moment – figs, fruits of the vine or grapes, and olives.

Figs served as a delicacy in Israel. Grapes were used to make wine while olives were used to produce olive oil. These items represented the choicest products of the land or luxury items.

We see this for example in Deuteronomy 6:10-11, where we read, “And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full.”

The loss of such luxury and thus optional items as grapes and olives and figs did not produce severe hardship. People would still survive, and life would still go on although it may not be so enjoyable and pleasurable. Think about life without your favourite comfort foods like say chocolate or ice-cream or coffee or tea or fruit juice etc. You may suffer from some withdrawal symptoms but you would not die without them!     

But Habakkuk doesn’t stop there. He goes on to talk about how the fields shall yield no food. Now this is far more serious than the earlier items mentioned. Here, we are talking about things like wheat and barley, and thus bread, which was the staple diet of Palestine. In Singapore, the equivalent would be rice and noodles. The failure of the fields to produce the grain necessary for these staple foods would easily lead to starvation for large segments of the population.

Finally, Habakkuk says that the flock shall be cut off from the fold and the cattle or herd shall be cut off from the stalls. By flock, he is referring to the sheep and the goat. Now sheep and goats and cattle made up much of the wealth of the people in that region. Sheep and goat provided the people with wool and milk and occasionally meat, whereas cattle were very important for preparing the soil for planting and other heavy work. The loss of these animals would be very significant indeed in the ancient near east.

And so Habakkuk moves from optional to essential items, from luxuries to things necessary for human survival. Now the loss of any of these things individually might still be survived, but the loss of all of these things at the same time spells total disaster, or if you like, both economic and agricultural ruin. There is simply no food to sustain the people and animals of the land.

Dr RC Sproul, in his booklet “Can I have joy in my life?” has an interesting way of getting his readers to see things from Habakkuk’s perspective by putting Habakkuk’s words into modern terms.

He writes, “Though the farming industry collapses, though the stock market crashes, though the automobile industry goes belly-up, though the technological industries explode (and if I may add – though the real estate bubble bursts) though all of these things happen, nevertheless…”. This is what the prophet might have said if he were writing in the 21st century. 

Now I’ll like us to notice two things from verse 17.

First, Habakkuk’s description reminds us of the curses of the covenant that we read of in the Pentateuch. For example, in Deuteronomy 28:15-20, Moses says, “But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:

Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field.

Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.

Cursed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep.

Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and cursed shalt thou be when thou goest out.

The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me.”

Perhaps one of the reasons why Habakkuk was willing to accept this awful situation that was soon to fall on them was because he made the connection between it and the covenant people’s disobedience and disregard for the covenant. The Lord of the covenant was simply bringing upon them what He had said He would do if Israel did not hearken to His voice.

But the second thing that we should take note of is that these terrible things described in verse 17 would come about as a direct result of the impending invasion from the Babylonian army. The awful ravages of war will leave the land desolate.

But this would not be the last time that such devastation would happen to the covenant people. In AD 67, the powerful Roman army marched towards Jerusalem like a victorious white horse conquering and to conquer.

This resulted in the disruption of the famous “Peace of Rome,” and Jerusalem was thrown into a state of war, symbolized by a red horse. And then as a result of war, there was great famine in the land so that the prices of basic items like wheat and barley would be greatly inflated due to their scarcity – the black horse. And finally, the invading army and the ensuing famine would naturally lead to death – the pale horse.

And all these terrible things would come upon Jerusalem in the first century AD because of their great unfaithfulness to the covenant, and particularly their wicked rejection of the Son of God.

No wonder that it is Christ, the Lamb of God Himself, who breaks the seals and unleashes these awesome horses of judgment upon the Old Covenant people (See Revelation 6).  

Well, how would Habakkuk respond to the revelation of such utter ruination of Judah in his day? We will look at that in the next article.

Linus Chua