FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 21, number 42, October 20, 2022
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” -Habakkuk 3:17-19.
I often wonder how he withstood the hardship. Cotton Mather (1663-1728) entered Harvard at the age of twelve. He married Abigail Phillips in 1686 and they had nine children, six of whom died in infancy. Abigail died in 1702 and Cotton married a widow named Elizabeth Hubbard in 1703 who gave him six more children. A measles epidemic struck Boston in 1713 killing his second wife and three of their children. He married his last wife, Mrs. Lydia George, in 1715 who also was a widow. Lydia went insane and drove Cotton into financial ruin. Of his fifteen children, only six lived to adulthood and only two outlived him. He battled depression and anxiety. He was also a major contributor to the infamous Salam Witch Trials of 1693. It is not hard to see that while a godly man with amazing intellectual gifts, Cotton Mather lived a very difficult life. It is not too much to say that by the end of his life he had lost almost everything from an earthly perspective. How did he cope?
Let’s say you are a farmer and have enjoyed many years of prosperity but also a few lean years. You have always known that though you must prepare the soil and plant the seed at the proper time, you are still dependent upon God to bring the rains at the right time. You have known the basic principle that if you sow sparingly you will reap sparingly, but if you sow bountifully you will reap bountifully. In most years you have been able to borrow the money you need at the beginning of the growing cycle, trusting that when harvest time rolled around you would be able to enjoy a nice profit and pay off your debts.
This year, however, your fertilizer cost has skyrocketed and the other associated costs of planting your crop, along with the higher interest rate in borrowing what you need, has put you in a precarious place, but you are trusting the Lord, hoping for a good harvest in the fall. An unseasonably cold and rainy spring delayed putting the seed into the ground so your crop got off to a dangerously late start. By July you were having more rain than normal and at first you rejoiced in it, but by August there was far too much rain and your crops suffered. It still looked like your harvest would be acceptable in September but then a hail storm with stones the size of golf balls cut your crop down a few days before harvest and you lost your entire crop. You have no money to pay back the debt and your farm and house, which served as collateral, are now taken by the bank. You have literally lost everything. What would you do?
Habakkuk was a prophet preaching around 612 B.C. during the last few years of the nation of Judah. The nation of Chaldea (modern day southern Iraq, about 300 miles long and 100 miles wide) was the new power nation. They had overtaken the Assyrians who in 722 B.C. had dispatched the northern kingdom of Israel. Now, however, the Assyrians were overrun by the Chaldeans. Habakkuk is alarmed by this. He cannot figure out why God would allow His chosen people, the apple of His eye, to be taken over by such a wicked, perverse, imperialistic nation. In chapters one and two of his prophecy the prophet is working his way through this apparent inconsistency of the kind, beneficent, compassionate God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He affirms what he knows to be true about God. He applies that knowledge to his own circumstances, as well as those of Judah, and he prays in humility and with great emotion, reminding God of His mighty deeds throughout their history. Fear, however, is dominating his life. He says, “I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us,” (Hab.3:16). What did Habakkuk do?
Perhaps you are as concerned as I am about the future of our nation. We clearly began as a Christian nation. The Pilgrims and Puritans who came to America in the 17th century mainly feared God and sought to honor Him. Did they do so perfectly? No, of course not, but God seemed to bless them because their vision was to be a city on a hill, a nation which sought to live by His word. That vision began to go south very quickly, at least as early as 1680 when Increase Mather and his son Cotton lamented the loss of a God centeredness by many of the people in Boston. And since that time, though we have enjoyed several momentous revivals, the general trend has been one of declension. We have departed from the ways of the true and living God. We find in the book of Judges that whenever the nation of Israel turned to idolatry God often raised up wicked kings to rule over His people to chastise them in hopes that His covenant people would see their error, repent, and return to Him. The runaway inflation we are now experiencing, along with the quickly rising interest rates, are beginning to remind me of the double digit inflation and interest rates under President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970’s. I was talking recently with a federal agent who told me the Chinese are in everything we are doing. We should not underestimate the possibility of some kind of takeover by the Chinese government in our lifetime. It may not be an actual, military invasion where our great grandchildren are speaking Chinese but it could be something more subtle, like holding us in financial bondage because of all the money we have borrowed from them.
What are we to do? Surely we must pray. We must ask God to revive His work in the midst of the years, and in His wrath (which we clearly deserve) to remember mercy (Hab.3:2). We should take the long term approach and view our situation from a kingdom of God perspective, that God is not primarily interested in our social and economic well being, that He is mainly concerned with the salvation of His elect from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation and that He will see His grand plan to an end where the glory of the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Hab.2:14).
But what if we lose everything? What if you and your family are stripped of every resource you have? Then what? Herein lies the beauty of Habakkuk’s glorious declaration. Remember, he is writing to a rural people of crops and livestock and his words ought to inspire, challenge, and comfort you. What if, he is saying to them, the fig tree does not blossom, there is no fruit on the vines, the yield of the olive should fail, there are no crops in the field, the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stall, what then are they to do? What are we to do in a similar situation? We must praise Him. We are to exalt Him. We are to rejoice in the God of our salvation. Why? Because the Lord God is our strength. He has made our feet like a hind’s feet (a kind of female deer common in that region which are adept at walking in dangerous places with precipitous cliffs). This God makes us walk in our own high places (whatever those hardships and trials might be) without stumbling or falling.
I urge you to memorize and meditate on Habakkuk 3:17-19 because when, not if, hard times come, the God of all grace and mercy, will sustain you. Praise the Lord at all times. Trust Him no matter what He brings upon you. Why? Because He will never leave your nor forsake you and when you die, He promises to bring you to glory where there is no more death, no more mourning, or crying or pain. The first things have passed away.