“Though the Fig Tree Should Not Blossom” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Day of National Thanksgiving
Thursday, November 22, 2018

“Though the Fig Tree Should Not Blossom” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

A long time ago, as a young man, I decided to go backpacking in the Sierra Mountains of California. I had cousins who lived in Fresno, so I went out there and stayed with them for a couple days before heading up to the mountains. They had an above-ground swimming pool, and there were some fig trees right alongside the edge of the pool, within arm’s reach. So here I am, on a nice sunny California day, swimming around in a swimming pool, picking these delicious figs right off the tree and popping them into my mouth. Now for a city boy from Chicago, this was a rare treat! I tell you, it was easy to be thankful to God for his many blessings on a day like that, swimming around in a pool, picking figs off a fig tree.

But that raises the question: What about when there is no swimming pool and there are no figs to pick off a tree? What about when all the trees in California are burning to the ground, and the wildfires are taking a bunch of homes along with them? Can we still thank God on those days? Because, to be honest with you, there are a lot more days that are Midwest overcast than California sunny. There are more days now with achy knees than with young legs ready to go backpacking in the mountains. On days like these, can we still give thanks to God?

Let’s ask Habakkuk. You know Habakkuk, don’t you? Old Testament prophet? At the end of his book, Habakkuk talks about giving thanks to God and rejoicing in the Lord, even when things are not going so well, when the fig trees are not blossoming. Habakkuk 3:17-19:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk lived in Judah about 600 years before Christ. These were really the closing years for Judah, before the Babylonians would sweep in and destroy Jerusalem and take the people captive. Rough times were on the horizon, and the prophet Habakkuk could see it. The Lord let him know what was in store for Judah, and the thought of the coming destruction and devastation caused Habakkuk great distress. How could the Lord let this happen? When a pagan nation like Babylon comes in and conquers a people, bad things are bound to happen: violence, death, economic ruin, physical devastation. Not much to be thankful for in that list.

Well, maybe you are perplexed by rough times, too. You’re sorrowing over the death of a loved one. You’re sad about a failed relationship. You’re worried about money. You’re anxious about health. What is there to be thankful for? And then there’s the state of the church. Numbers are down in our congregation. Numbers are down all across the synod. Numbers are down in pretty much all churches, all across America.

And speaking of America, this is supposed to be a Day of National Thanksgiving. But our nation seems so far from being thankful. Natural disasters, mass shootings, political discord. Everybody is angry. Everyone is upset. The nation is divided. Nobody’s satisfied. People are grumpy, not grateful. And they’re not too optimistic that things are going to get better.

But this is nothing new. Habakkuk was not optimistic when he considered what would happen to his nation. And in his case, they really would happen! Babylon would come in and devastate Judah. Ruin and misery would result. Habakkuk cried out: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Destruction and violence are before me.” This is what Habakkuk could see looming on the horizon, and it was not pretty. In fact, it was pretty grim.

But as a prophet, Habakkuk could see through that gloomy forecast, and he saw God’s saving purpose and long-range plan at work. God’s mighty–and sometimes mysterious–hand was at work in those strange and perplexing times. The Lord answered Habakkuk’s complaint: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” You see, even when it looks like God doesn’t know what he’s doing, that he’s not being a very good God and that we would do a much better job of being God–when we begin to doubt God’s goodness and wisdom, he reminds us that we are not in charge of things. He is, and he knows what he’s doing.

And so God had a plan at work even in the midst of the coming devastation. The Lord would work things out for his saving purpose–even if seeing the outcome of that plan would have to wait. Salvation is coming! Your deliverance is on the way! Waiting and weeping may last for a while, but I have not forgotten my promises, declares the Lord. Thus the Lord answers Habakkuk: “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end–it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”

Trusting in the Lord’s promise, even though it means waiting–this is how you, dear Christian, how you will endure the tough times. “The righteous shall live by his faith,” Habakkuk famously wrote. And it’s as true now as it was then. Back then, the people of Judah had to wait 70 years for the end of the Babylonian Captivity. And then it would be another 500 years till the coming of the promised Messiah. But Habakkuk could see that salvation coming. He knew that God would not forget his people. He knew that God would not forget his promise.

That promise would be fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, the salvation of God in the flesh. He, Jesus, is the answer to our anxiety. He is the yes and amen to all of God’s promises. What is this salvation that has come in Christ? It is forgiveness for all your sins. God’s judgment fell on Christ on the cross, in your place. Salvation is the righteousness that avails before God, so that you will be able to stand in the Day of Judgment. It is healing for all our woes–for achy knees and aching souls. We may have to wait on the knees, but there is rest for our souls even now. The salvation that is in Christ will be the resurrection of our bodies, whole and glorified. It will be the restoration of creation. No more hurricanes or wildfires. Salvation in Christ is the eternal life we will enjoy with our Lord in glory, along with Habakkuk and Hosea and Haggai and all those guys from way back when. And it will include saints of more recent vintage also, like the grandpa who went with you to church or the old lady with the warbly voice who sat in the pew behind you. They’ll all be there, with you, giving thanks forever to our gracious God. And I bet we’ll even be enjoying figs from the fig trees that grow twelve months a year, alongside the river of the water of life in the New Jerusalem.

Published in: on November 21, 2018 at 9:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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