Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE TEACHINGS CONCERNING PRAYER.
1. We do well to solicit present blessings. "In the midst of the years make known" (ver. 2); i.e. he sought the Divine manifestation in mercy to be granted to his people in his own day.
2. We should recount God's goodness in the past. The prayer abounds in reminiscences of God's favour as bestowed upon his chosen in the days of yore.
3. The comprehensive nature of prayer. This prayer of Habakkuk contains
(3) devout contemplation of God in his character and works;
(4) review of his providential doings; and,
(5) pervading the whole, the spirit of confiding and joyous trust.
II. THE TEACHINGS CONCERNING PRAISE.
1. The desirability of employing in this exercise the devout compositions of God's servants in past ages, which have been preserved, in his Word.
2. The appropriateness of the language of prayer as the medium of expressing praise to God. "The prayers of David the son of Jesse" are contained and expressed in his Psalms. "The prayer of Habakkuk" is also "an ode" set to music, and used at his suggestion in the liturgical services of the temple.
3. The importance of cultivating correct musical expression in the presentation of the sacrifice of praise to God. The tones should be in harmony with the character of the thoughts and sentiments of the words being sung. This is probably the meaning of the expression, "upon Shigionoth' (ver. 1), 'al shigyonoth meaning "in wandering measures," the tones to be varied according to the character of the thoughts and words. The term "Selah," used by him (vers. 3, 9,13), and the direction, "To the chief singer on my stringed instruments," with which he closes his book, also indicate the carefulness in execution the prophet would have exercised. All true worship to God must proceed from humble and trusting hearts, and be presented "in spirit and in truth," and this is perfectly compatible with regard for all that is cultured and artistic in method. Our motto should be, "The best for the Lord." - S.D.H.
devoutly addressed, as poetically portrayed, and as triumphantly enjoyed. These two verses present him to us in the first aspect - as devoutly addressed. "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth." Henderson renders the word "shigionoth," "with triumphant music," which indicates that the ode was in all probability intended for the liturgical service in the templet but to be set to the freest and boldest music. Perhaps the prophet himself was an accomplished musician, as well as a bard of the first order. Three things are to be observed in relation to this devout address.
I. IT WAS COMPOSED FOR GENERAL USE. It is not an extemporaneous address; it is a settled form of devotion. Prearranged forms of devotion are both scriptural and expedient. There is a set form given to the priests for blessing the people in Numbers 6:23-26. Psalm 92. is called "a psalm for the sabbath," Psalm 102. "a prayer for the afflicted." Hezekiah commanded the Levites to "praise the Lord in the words of David, and of Asaph the seer," which is Psalm 106. And Christ himself gave his disciples a form of prayer. Whilst it is scriptural, it is also expedient. It is absurd to suppose that a minister can properly lead the devotions of a congregation by impromptu utterances. The well known apathy of congregations under the influence of extemporaneous prayers shows it cannot be done. For the individual himself, the extemporaneous prayer is all that is needed, for it is the "soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed" But to get a whole congregation into the channel of devotion, a prearranged form seems desirable.
II. IT WAS IN PROSPECT OF A TERRIBLE CALAMITY, "O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid." Terrible was the calamity now looming on the vision of the prophet. The Chaldean army was approaching; the ruthless troops would soon be in his country, sack Jerusalem its metropolis, and bear his countrymen away into captivity. In view of this calamity the prayer is addressed. The threatened judgments of hell may well drive men into the presence of God to sue for mercy. "Call upon me in the day of trouble," etc. Surely, if men fully realized the predicted judgments that will fall on this world, prayer would be the habitude of their souls.
III. IT WAS FOR A REVIVAL OF DIVINE WORK. "Revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy." Keil thus renders the passage: "Jehovah, thy work in the midst of thy years call to life, in the midst of the years make it known." This may mean - Perfect the work of delivering thy people; let not thy promise lie as it were dead, give it new life by performing it. Do it now, in the midst of the years, when our calamities are at their height, when thy wrath seems to be at high tide and terrible. Now, "revive thy work." Three thoughts are suggested:
1. The work of human deliverance is the work of God. This is true of all deliverances - personal, domestic, national, temporal, and spiritual. He alone can effectually deliver man.
2. This work of God may appear to decline. The perils may thicken, the disease grow more desperate, and all things seem as if God had given up his work. This is often the case with religion in the
3. This decline of God's work can only be overcome by his intervention. "Revive thy work." - D.T.
Ezekiel 36:37; Malachi 3:10; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1). "It is visionary to expect an unusual success in the human administration of religion unless there were unusual omens. Now, an emphatic spirit of prayer would be such an omen. And if the whole or greater number of the disciples of Christianity were, with an earnest unfailing resolution of each, to combine that Heaven should not withhold one single influence which the very utmost effort of conspiring and persevering supplication would obtain, it would be the sign of a revolution of the world being at hand" (John Foster). Observe -
I. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL INVOLVES AN INTELLIGENT APPREHENSION OF THE STATE OF THE AGE, AND THE CHURCH IN THE AGE, IN WHICH IT IS OFFERED. The language of the prophet in the former part of his prophecy indicates the possession by him of an insight into the character and needs both of the Hebrew nation and Church in his day; and this acquaintance prepared his mind and heart for pleading so earnestly for a revival of God's work Our own age and the state of religion in it claims our thoughtful regard. Reflection upon it will show the imperative need there is for the possession of a higher measure of spirituality, consecration, Christian intelligence and courage, and will impel the utterance of the earnest cry, "O Lord, revive thy work" (ver. 2).
II. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL WILL BE PROMPTED BY ANXIOUS CONCERN IN VIEW OF THE EVIL CONSEQUENCES RESULTING FROM THE PREVAILING DEGENERACY. "O Lord," cried the prophet, "I have heard thy speech, and I was afraid." Jehovah had spoken unto him in vision, unfolding the terrible judgments which should overtake his people in consequence of their apostasy, and this vision of coming Divine chastisement filled him with terror; and with the real concern of a true patriot in view of the disastrous issue to which, through the prevailing iniquity, the national interests were tending, he implored Divine interposition and help ("O Lord, revive," etc.). The Christian patriot in our own land has reason for anxious solicitude as he views the present in its relation to the future. He knows that there is danger lest the temporal prosperity enjoyed in this age should result in the cherishing of pride, in conformity to the world, and in apathy in holy service; and lest the intellectual activity prevailing should lead to the weakening of conviction, the cherishing of doubt, and resulting in complete indifference in relation to spiritual realities. All this occasions him serious concern, which is intensified as he beholds multitudes in whom these dire effects have been already wrought; and in this spirit of solicitude he is led to the throne of grace, and to cry with impassioned earnestness, "O Lord, revive thy work."
III. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL IS EVER DIRECTED TO THE SECURING OF SPIRITUAL RESULTS. "In wrath remember mercy" (ver. 2). The seer knew by revelation that his nation, owing to its sinfulness, should be overtaken by judgment, and should fall into the power of the Chaldeans; and in his prayer he did not ask for the reversal of this. Divine wrath must follow transgression, but he prayed that in the midst of this God would "remember mercy," in other words, that he would so interpose as to sanctify the dark experiences looming in the future, drawing his erring people nearer to himself, so that they might trustfully pass through the painful discipline in store for them, and come out of it at length purified as gold. And so ever true prayer for revival seeks the spiritual renewal of men; it solicits the manifestation of the Divine mercy in delivering the plants of his own planting from the blighting effects of sin, and in causing them to abound in all holy excellence and grace.
IV. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL IS IMPATIENT OF DELAY. It seeks a present blessing. "In the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known" (ver. 2); i.e. without lingering, without postponement, forthwith, in the seer's own time. "How long, O Lord, how long?" "Thy kingdom come;" "It is time for thee to work." - S.D.H.
I. SEE ILLUSTRATED HERE THE FACT OF THE DIVINE WORKING IN HUMAN HISTORY. Looking back, the prophet traced this working:
1. In the giving of the Law on Sinai (comp. vers. 3, 4, with Deuteronomy 33:2; Judges 5:4, 5; Psalm 68:8; Teman being another name for Seir). The manifestation of "the eternal light" is thus fittingly compared to the rising of the sun, heaven and earth reflecting his glory. The coming of God in judgment was the thought which, in the circumstances, was necessarily the most vividly present to the prophet's mind; and his allusion here to the manifestation of God in his infinite purity served as an appropriate prelude to this.
2. In the plagues which fell upon the Israelites in the desert, as the result of their disobedience (comp. ver. 5 with Deuteronomy 32:24). The plague is referred to as going before God, like the ancient shield bearer before the warrior (1 Samuel 17:7), or the courier before the man of rank (2 Samuel 15:1); and pestilence as coming after, as an attendant following his master.
3. In the effects produced upon the Midianites by the advance of the hosts of God's chosen (comp. vers. 6, 7 with Exodus 15:13-15).
4. In the dividing of the Red Sea and the passage of the Jordan (comp. ver. 8 with Exodus 15:8; Psalm 114:3-5). Ver. 8 clearly has reference to these Divine interpositions, although the poet, rising with his theme, looked beyond those events and took a wider sweep, and beheld God as going forth, the Divine Warrior in his chariot of salvation, to put his foes to confusion and to effect deliverance for his own.
5. Expressions also are used in vers. 11-15 which, though somewhat veiled, doubtless suggested to the Hebrews, as they raised this song of praise, the sun standing still in Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, in the time of Joshua's victory over the Amorites (ver. 11); the tragedy of the slaughter of Sisera, the representative of the head of the Canaanitish tribes (vers. 13, 14); and the complete discomfiture of the Canaanites (ver. 12). So that the "ode" sets forth God's hand in the events connected with the Jewish nation, and in this way illustrates most forcibly the great fact of the Divine working in human history through all the ages.
II. SEE EXPRESSED HERE THE DESIGN OF THE DIVINE WORKING IN HUMAN HISTORY. This is ever wise and good (ver. 13). God rules over all, making all events contribute to the working out of his purposes of love and mercy in the interests of the whole race. Earthly rulers pursue their own ends, and are prompted by considerations of glory and ambition, but their working is in subjection to the Divine control. "The king's heart," etc. (Proverbs 21:1). Nothing can befall us, whether individually or nationally, without the permission of our heavenly Father - nothing. too, which he cannot or will not overrule to the advancement of our highest interests.
"All change changing
And the growing corn is beaten down,
Yet in evil to men is good for man.
III. SEE SUGGESTED HERE THE INFLUENCE THIS THOUGHT OF THE DIVINE WORKING IN HUMAN HISTORY EXERTS UPON LOYAL HEARTS.
1. In view of God's terribleness in judgment which marks his working in human history, such are filled with sacred awe. The prophet represents his whole being as convulsed with terror as he thought of the retributions God would, in righteousness, inflict (ver. 16).
2. In view of God's gracious purpose, in all his interpositions to save, restore, and bless the race, such are inspired with holy joy. Hence, strange paradox! whilst oppressed in spirit they are also glad in heart. They tremble and rejoice," and this is their rapturous song in the night, expressive of their whole-souled trust through all, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom," etc. (vers. 17-19). - S.D.H.
Exodus 15:1). There is the triumphant song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5.). There is the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1). There is the song of David bewailing the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19), and his song of thanksgiving after the communication of Nathan respecting the building of the temple (2 Samuel 7:18). There is the song of Hezekiah after he had received comfort in his sickness and recovered his health (Isaiah 38:9-20). There is the song of the blessed Virgin, Magnificat; the song of Zacharias, Benedictus; the song of Simeon, Nunc dimittis. But this song of Habakkuk stands in peerless splendour amongst them all. Here the majesty of God in Jewish history is poetically portrayed and practically remembered.
I. POETICALLY PORTRAYED. God is here presented, not as he is in himself - the Absolute One, whom "no one hath seen or can see," nor as he appears to philosophical or logical minds, but as he appears to a lofty imagination divinely inspired. To the prophet's imagination he appears as coming from Teman and Mount Paran, which refers to the visible display of his glory when he gave the Law upon Mount Sinai amidst thunders and lightnings and earthquakes. Then, indeed, his glory covered the heavens. People at a distance witnessed the splendour of his appearance and shouted his praise. He seemed encircled in surpassing radiance; his brightness was as the light; he "had horns coming out of his hand," and there was the "hiding of his power." Henderson renders it, "Rays streamed from his hand, yet the concealment of his glory was there." The idea, perhaps, is that the brightness that was seen was not his full glory, but mere scintillations or emanations of those infinite abysses of his unrevealed and unrevealable glory. What is revealed of God is as nothing compared with the unrevealed. "Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet." Or, as Keil renders it, "Before him goes the plague, and the pestilence follows his feet." The reference is, perhaps, to the plagues which he brought upon the Egyptians in order to obtain the deliverance of his people. "He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting." "He stands, and sets the earth reeling: he looks, and makes nations tremble, primeval mountains burst in pieces, the early hills sink down: his are the ways of the olden time" (Keil). "While," says Henderson, "Jehovah is marching forth to the deliverance of his people, he stops all of a sudden in his progress, the immediate effects of which are universal consternation and terror." "I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble." "When he drove asunder the nations of Canaan," says an old writer, "one might have seen the tents of Cushan in affliction, and the curtains of the land of Midian trembling, and all the inhabitants of the neighbouring countries taking alarm. He struck consternation into the heart of his enemies." "Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation? The bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word? Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers." "'Was it against rivers, O Jehovah, against the rivers, that thy wrath was kindled? that thou ridest hither upon thy horses, thy chariots of salvation? Thy bow lays itself bare. Thou splittest the earth into rivers.' The ode, taking a new turn, now passes from the description of the coming of God to an address to God himself. To the mental eye of the prophet God presents himself as Judge of the world, in the threatening attitude of a warlike hero equipped for conflict, so that he asks him what is the object of his wrath. The question is merely a poetical turn given to a lively composition, which expects no answer, and is simply introduced to set forth the greatness of the wrath of God; so that in substance it is an affirmation. The wrath of God is kindled over the rivers, his fury over the sea" (Keil). The riding upon horses is a figurative representation of the celerity of his triumphant progress. "The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high." "The mountains saw thee, they were in pain: the inundation of water overflowed; the abyss uttered its voice, it raised its hands on high." "The mountains being the most prominent objects on the surface of the globe, Habakkuk reiterates in a somewhat prominent form what he had expressed in the sixth verse in order to preserve the impression of the tremendous character of the transactions to illustrate which they had been figuratively introduced" (Henderson). "The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear" (see Joshua 10:12, 13). Some, however, suppose that the reference here is to the surpassing splendour of the Divine manifestation, that the heavenly orbs withdraw altogether from the fear and horror that pervade all nature, which are expressed in the mountains by trembling, and in the waters by roaring, and in the sun and moon by obscuration. God is here viewed as a warrior whose darts are so brilliant that sun and moon pale before them. "Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger." The special reference here may be to his march in leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, and smiting down his enemies. "Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck." "Having described, in language of the most sublime and terrible import, the manifestations of Jehovah in reference to his enemies, Habakkuk now proceeds to specify in express terms the end which they were designed to answer, viz. the deliverance and safety of the chosen people, and then depicts their fatal effects in the destruction of every hostile power" (Henderson). "'Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly. Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.' Thou goest out to the rescue of thy people, to the rescue of thine anointed one: thou dashest in pieces the head from the house of the wicked one, laying bare the foundation even to the neck. Thou piercest with his spears the head of his hordes which storm hither to beat me to powder, whose rejoicing is as it were to swallow the poor in secret. Thou treadest upon the seas: thy horses upon the heap of great waters. The Lord, at whose coming in the terrible glory of the majesty of the Judge of the world, all nature trembles and appears to fall into its primary chaotic state, marches over the earth, and stamps or tramples down the nations with his feet (compare the kindred figure of the treader of the wine press in Isaiah 63:1, 6). Not all nations, however, but only those who are hostile to him; for he has come forth to save his people and his anointed one. The perfects in vers. 13-15 are prophetic, describing the future in spirit as having already occurred" (Keil). Now, all this sublime representation of God is poetic, highly poetic. It is the characteristic of poetry that it ascribes to one class of objects attributes that belong to another; and in this ode we find attributes ascribed to the Creator which belong to the creature. For example, he is here represented as moving from one place to another, from Teman and from Paran; as standing, "he stood," etc.; as conquering his enemies by human weapons; as riding upon horses and driving in chariots; and as fired with indignation. All this is human. The Infinite One does not move from place to place, does not stand in any one spot, knows no rage, fury is not in him. Whilst in this ode the attributes of the creature are applied to the Creator, we find also the attributes of the living ascribed to dead and insentient existences. The mountains are here represented as writhing and in pain, the deep as uttering its voice and lifting up its hands. But whilst we take this as a poetic representation, we must not fail to notice some of the grand truths which it contains.
1. That God's glory transcends all revelations. The brightness of the Shechinah, in which he appeared on Sinai and elsewhere to the Jews, however effulgent, was but a mere scintillation of the infinite splendour of his Being, the mere "hiding of his power." All his glory as seen in nature, both in the material and spiritual universe, is but as one ray to the eternal sun.
2. That God's power over the material universe is absolute. He makes the mountains tremble, and the seas divide, and the orbs of heaven stand still. In the Apocalypse the refulgent glory of the judgment throne is represented as causing the material universe to melt away before it. And before a full manifestation of himself, what are mountains, rivers, sun, and stars? Mere vapours on the wings of the storm.
3. That God's interest in good men is profound and practical. All his operations, as here poetically described, are on behalf of his chosen people. Though he is high, he has respect to the lowly, and to that man he ever looks who is of a contrite and humble spirit.
II. PRACTICALLY REMEMBERED. Why did the prophet recall all these Divine manifestations made to the Hebrew people in past times? Undoubtedly to encourage in himself and in his countrymen unbounded confidence in him at the critical and dangerous period in which they were placed. The Chaldean hosts were threatening their ruin, the political heavens were black with thunderclouds under which his countrymen might well shiver and stand aghast. Under these perilous circumstances he turns to God; he calls to mind and portrays in vivid poetry what he had been to his people in ancient times.
1. He recalls the fact that God had delivered his people in ancient times from perils as great as those to which they were now exposed. From the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, etc.
2. That God had done this by stupendous manifestations of his power. Manifestations of his power in the sea, in the mountains, in the orbs of heaven, etc.
3. That what God had done for his people he would continue to do. "His ways are everlasting," or, as Keil renders it, "His are ways of the olden times." The idea, perhaps, is that he has an eternal plan, fixed and settled. What he has done for them he will still do. Thus the prophet remembered the days of old, and took courage. - D.T.
Habakkuk 3:4 (last clause)
I. IN THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE NATURE AND OPERATIONS OF OUR GOD WE ARE MET BY THE DIVINE CONCEALMENTS. He is a God "that hideth himself" (Isaiah 45:15); "He doeth great things past finding out," etc. (Job 9:10); "He giveth no account of any of his matters" (Job 33:13); "He maketh darkness his secret place" (Psalm 18:11); "How unsearchable," etc.! (Romans 11:33).
1. We realize this as we think of his Being and perfections. "Who by searching," etc.? (Job 11:7). He is veiled to us by the very covering of his splendour. "Who coverest thyself," etc. (Psalm 104:2).
2. And we also realize this as we think of his working. Mystery meets us in every department of his operations. The scientist and the theologian alike become baffled in their researches, the former having to admit his partial failure as he strives to penetrate the mystery of the universe, and the latter being perplexed at the seeming inequality of God's ways in the providential government of the world, and feeling himself enclosed as with a veil when he ventures to inquire into the high themes of revelation. "There is the hiding of his power." Notice -
II. CERTAIN COURSES ARE OPEN TO US IN VIEW OF THIS GREAT FACT.
1. There is that which is pursued by the sceptic. He reasons - God cannot be known; therefore all thought on the part of man concerning him is needless and vain; all worship of him is folly; all structures reared by his servants to his honour mean waste; his very existence is but a possibility. Here we have the old atheism, banishing God from his universe; the old atheism, only arrayed in a newer and more subtle guise,
2. There is, however, "a more excellent way." Though our God is infinitely beyond our poor stretch of thought, yet he may be known by us. Beyond the comprehension of human reason he is nevertheless present to faith, and deigns to reveal himself to the pure and loving heart. And we do well to remember this, and to repose the trust of our hearts in him, and then to set ourselves to inquire whether, after all, the partial obscurity of the Divine nature and operations may not be wisely and graciously as well as necessarily designed. And pursuing this course, such quieting thoughts as the following, bearing upon the Divine concealments, will be suggested to us.
(1) That our personal well being is advanced by this partial concealment which characterizes our God. It would not be well for us to have complete knowledge of him or his purposes and plans, since then there would be no room for the exercise of faith, patience, resignation; life would cease to be a time of discipline; and there would be no scope for trial and no stimulus to earnest and thoughtful inquiry.
(2) That these Divine Concealments, whilst they are for our good, also contribute to the advancement of the Divine glory. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing" (Proverbs 25:2). It is in this way that he makes his power felt; that he indicates his superiority to man and his independence of him (Isaiah 40:13, 14).
(3) That whilst much is thus concealed, everything essential to man's salvation is clearly unfolded.
III. GOD SOMETIMES CAUSES LIGHT TO FALL UPON HIS HIDDEN WAYS AND REVEALS HIMSELF AND HIS OPERATIONS MORE FULLY TO THE VIEW.
1. It has been so in reference to the sacred Scriptures. During the lapse of ages God gradually drew back the veil, revealing more of his will than had been unfolded before.
2. It has been so in the working out of the purpose of redeeming mercy. In the cross of Christ there was expressed the power as well as the wisdom of God; but there was the hiding of this Divine power. The spectators of the scene at Calvary saw only the weakness, and the cross was suggestive to them of shame and reproach and dishonour; but there was power there, although hidden, which soon began to be felt, one of the criminals crucified at the side of the Saviour being the first to experience it. The macerated body of the Redeemer was taken down from the cross, and laid in the sepulchre hewn out of the rock; and again there was the hiding of God's power, and it seemed as though death had conquered; but with the dawn of the first day of the week this power became revealed - the mighty Victor rose, despite seal and guard, the earnest and pledge of the ultimate resurrection of all his saints.
3. And it has been so in human experience. In the dark days of sorrow there has been realized "the hiding of God's power;" but there has followed the revelation of his loving purpose and the making clear to troubled hearts that in all "his banner over them was love." And this shall be made still more manifest hereafter, for the eternal day shall break, and the shadows flee away forever! - S.D.H.
horror of God; and we offer three remarks on this state of mind.
I. IT IS AN ABNORMAL STATE OF MIND. The benevolent character of God, and the moral constitution of the soul are sufficient to show that it was never intended that man should ever dread his Maker or be touched with any servile feelings in relation to him. Unbounded confidence, cheerful trust, loyal love, - these are the normal states of mind in relation to the Creator. How has the abnormal state arisen? The history of the Fall shows this, "I heard thy voice in the garden, and was afraid." Having sinned, a sense of guilt came to the conscience, and conscience under the sense of guilt invested almighty love with attributes of terror. Horror of God springs from a sense of guilt.
II. IT IS AN UNNECESSARY STATE OF MIND. God is not terrible. There is nothing in him to dread. "Fury is not in me." He is love. His voice to man:
1. In all nature is, "Be not afraid." The smiling heavens, the blooming earth, the warbling songsters of the air, in all he says to man, "Be not afraid."
2. In all true philosophy is, "Be not afraid." All things which true philosophy looks into show benevolence m intention, and breathe the genius of love.
3. In all true Christianity is, "Be not afraid." Corrupt Christianity, it is true, makes him horrific; but the Christianity of Christ reveals him in love and in love only. In Christ he comes down in man to man, and demonstrates his love.
III. IT IS A PERNICIOUS STATE OF MIND. Horror is a pernicious state of mind in every way. It is pernicious to the body. The language of the text implies this, "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself." The prophet's alarm drove back the blood from the extremities to the heart, his flesh grew cold, contracted, his voice quivered, and his very bones seemed to rot. Horrific feeling is inimical to physical health. But dread of God is even more pernicious to soul.
1. It destroys its peace. Fear shakes every power of the soul as the winds shake the leaves of the forest.
2. It depresses its powers. All the faculties of the soul shrink and shiver under the influence of fear, as the herds of the mountain at the approaching thunderstorm.
3. It distorts its views. Fear of God gives men horrid ideas of him. It has forged all the theologies, both in heathendom and Christendom, that have frightened men. It is fear that has given men that Calvin Deity which frightens the millions away from the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
CONCLUSION. Let us preach to men the God of Christ, the God who says to all men, "It is I: be not afraid" - D.T.
I. THE GOOD IN CIRCUMSTANCES OF EXTREMITY.
1. The language employed is figurative, and strikingly suggests to us circumstances of the deepest human need. The fruit of the fig tree was an extensive article both of food and commerce. The vine was diligently cultivated from the earliest times, and, with its rich clusters of grapes and its refreshing shade, became a very appropriate symbol of prosperity; whilst the olive, living from age to age, and yielding an abundant supply of oil, was also typical of abundance. Hence the failure of all these indicates the deepest affliction, the direst calamity (Psalm 105:33), and the picture of desolation is rendered still more complete when, in addition to these, the bread corn is represented as ceasing, and the flocks and herds as being cut off (ver. 17).
2. These adverse circumstances befell the nation, and, as the result of the Chaldean invasion, the direst woes had to be experienced.
3. The children of men still have to pass through such dark seasons. There is extremity arising from
(1) temporal want occasioned by reverses in circumstances;
(2) slander, charges having no foundation in truth, being made and resulting in mistrust and alienation;
(3) mental depression, the strong man being brought down to the weakness of the child, the sturdy oak becoming feebler than the bruised reed;
(4) bereavement, home being rendered "desolate as birds' nests, when the fledglings have all flown."
II. THE GOOD, CIRCUMSTANCED THUS, STAYING THEMSELVES UPON GOD, AND ON HIM AS WORKING IN ALL FOR THEIR SALVATION. "In God," "the God of my salvation" (ver. 18). The thought which appears specially to have been present to the mind of the prophet was that of adversity as being God's loving discipline to result in the perfecting of the tried, and resulting in their salvation: "the God of my salvation." A picture called "Cloudland," by a German painter, viewed at a distance appears a mass of gloom and cloud, but on closer inspection every cloud is an angel or an angel's wing; and so our sorrows, when interpreted in the light of this gracious design of our God, become changed into blessings. The thought that God is with us in our darkest experiences, working for our salvation and to secure to us the highest good, that the narrow path through which he, our Captain, causes us to fight our way will bring us to "the prize of our high calling," is indeed inspiring, and grasping it we may well press on, raising high our banners, and cheering the way and the conflict with music and song.
III. THE GOOD, THUS RESTING IN GOD AND APPREHENDING HIS GRACIOUS DESIGN, BEING RENDERED TRANQUIL AND TRIUMPHANT AND INSPIRED WITH HOLY JOY. "Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy," etc. (ver. 18). The joy of the wicked ceases when the fig trees cease to blossom, and the vines to yield their fruit (Hosea 2:11, 12), for it lies upon the surface; but the joy of the holy lies deep in the soul, and is a settled and abiding possession, and triumphs under the darkest circumstances of life. Illustrations: David (Psalm 42:7-9); Asaph (Psalm 73:2, 24, 25); Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25). Resting in God and apprehending his loving working in our life experiences, he will prove himself our Strength and Song, and will become our Salvation. - S.D.H.
The possibilities in the life of a good man.
I. THE GREATEST MATERIAL DESTITUTION IS POSSIBLE TO A GOOD MAN. It is possible for the fig tree not to blossom, etc. Man lives by the fruits of the earth. These may fail from one of two reasons.
1. From human neglect. It is the eternal ordinance of God, that what man wants from the earth for his existence he must get from it by labour - skilful, timely, persevering labour. The earth gives to the brute what he wants without his labour, because the brute is not endowed with qualifications for agricultural work. But man must labour, and this arrangement is wise and beneficent. It promotes health, imparts vigour, and develops faculties both intellectual and moral. Let man cease to cultivate the soil, and the earth will fail to support him either with the right animal or vegetable productions.
2. From Divine visitation. The mighty Maker can, and sometimes does, wither the fruits of the earth, destroy the cattle of the fields. He does this sometimes without instrumentality, by mere volition; sometimes with the feeblest instrumentality - locusts, worms, etc.; sometimes with human instrumentality - war, etc. We say the greatest material destitution is possible to a good man. Possible? It is frequent. In all ages some of the best men have been found in the most destitute circumstances. Even Christ himself had nowhere to lay his head; and the apostles, what had they?
II. THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL JOY IS POSSIBLE TO A GOOD MAN. "I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." "Spiritual joy," says Caleb Morris, "is a free, full, and overflowing stream, that takes its rise in the very depth of the Divine essence, in the immutability, perfection, abundance, munificence, of the Divine nature. While there is a God, and that God is happy, there is no necessity that there should be any unhappy Christians." What is it to "joy in God"?
1. It is the joy of the highest contemplation. The joys of contemplation are amongst the most pure and elevating which intelligent creatures can experience. These rise in the character according to their subjects. The highest subject is God, his attributes and works.
2. It is the joy of the most elevating friendship. The joys of friendship are amongst the chief joys of earth; but the joys of friendship depend upon the purity, depth, constancy, reciprocity of love; and friendship with God secures all this in the highest degree.
3. It is the joy of the sublimest admiration. Whatever the mind admires it enjoys, and enjoys in proportion to its admiration, whether it be a landscape or a painting. Moral admiration is enjoyment of the highest kind, and this in proportion to the grandness of the character. Admiration of Divine excellence is the sublimest joy. "I will joy in God." To joy in God is to bask in sunshine, is to luxuriate in abundance, is to revel in the immensity of moral beauty, is to dwell with God.
III. THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL JOY IN THE MIDST OF THE GREATEST MATERIAL DESTITUTION IS POSSIBLE TO A GOOD MAN "Although" every material blessing is gone, "I will rejoice." Good men have always been enabled to do so. They have been happy in poverty, exultant in prisons, and even triumphant in the martyr's flames. Having God with them, they have had the reality without the forms, they have had the crystal fountain rather than the shallow and polluted streams. Like Paul, they have "gloried in tribulation," etc. All things have been theirs. In material destitution they felt:
1. In God they had strength. "The Lord God is my Strength." "As thy day, so shall thy strength be."
2. In God they had swiftness. "He will make my feet like hinds' feet." The reference is here, perhaps, to the swiftness with which God would enable him to flee from the dangers which were overtaking his country. It is, however, a universal truth that God gives to a good man a holy alacrity in duty. Duty to him is not a clog or a burden, but a delight.
3. In God they had elevation. "He will make me to walk upon mine high places." "They that wait upon God shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles," etc., up upon the mountains, far too high for any enemies to scale. "God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:17, 18). - D.T.
Habakkuk 3:19 (first clause)
I. THE LORD GOD IS OUR STRENGTH IN THE CONFLICT WITH SIN. Men are drawn into sin in the hope of securing some personal gratification; they yearn after some unattained good, some unrealized satisfaction, and they yield to the enticements of evil in the hope of securing that for which they are thus craving. But the man whose hope is in God, and to whom he is his "exceeding joy," has parted with these earthly yearnings; in proportion as the higher and the eternal has gained an influence over him, this attachment to the lower and the fleeting has been rooted out. With hearts uncentred from the true God, the Chaldeans craved worldly dominion, and in seeking this "rejoiced to devour the poor secretly" (ver. 14), whereas Habakkuk with God as his Portion was as unaffected by the vanities of earth as dwellers inland are by the noise of the distant sea. So the good, rejoicing in God, are unallured by the baits of temptation, and are rendered strong to war against evil.
II. THE LORD GOD IS OUR STRENGTH IN THE MIDST OF THE ADVERSE SCENES OF LIFE. Man, seeking his satisfaction in earthly things, must be feeble indeed when these fail him, since, with thoughts and affections centred in these, as they depart they leave him without comfort and in a state of orphanage. But he who has sought and found his satisfaction in God has remaining with him, when things seen and temporal have taken their flight, the unseen and the eternal to cheer and gladden his soul. Hence he is strong, and in the light of the Divine teaching and the Divine love can calmly look at his sorrows until, interpreted thus, they become to him light afflictions which are but for a moment, and which work for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
III. THE LORD GOD IS OUR STRENGTH IN HOLY SERVICE. Such service is ever attended with difficulties and discouragements, and it is only as we lift up our eyes to the everlasting hills, rejoicing in God and becoming strengthened by him, that we can grapple with these and overcome them. It was this prophet's strong faith and delight in his God that enabled him to prove himself so true a witness in the corrupt age in which his lot was cast. It has ever been the case that the men who have been the most effective workers for God have been the men to whom his living Presence has been an intense reality.
IV. THE LORD GOD WILL CONTINUE TO BE THE STRENGTH OF HIS PEOPLE WHEN THEIR TIME OF SERVICE SHALL CLOSE. Whether this prophet lived to see the devastation of his country which he predicted, we cannot tell, the accounts of his life being so meagre and for the most part apocryphal. We know, however, that, from the state of mental doubt and distress in which he was when he commenced his prophecy (Habakkuk 1:2), he fought his way to unswerving trust in God; for his brief prophecy, opening with the expression of his ardent yearning for more light in reference to the mystery of God's ways, closes with notes of triumphant confidence and hope. Often, doubtless, as his faith became strengthened, did he feel himself in life to be so raised and elevated through his hope and joy in God, as to be like the hind bounding joyously to the high places: and raised above the tumults of earth, though not in heaven, yet in "heavenly places" he communed with his God. Even so we should believe that, as his life terminated, he calmly departed in peace, having seen God's salvation. And all faithful servants of Heaven shall find that when heart and flesh fail, God will be the Strength of their hearts and their Portion forever. Happy, then, in life and in death such as can say from their inmost souls, "The Lord is my Strength" - S.D.H.