Turning the Devil’s Own Arrows against Him: A Brief Meditation on Habakkuk 3:17—18

July 17th, 2013 Post by

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The prophet Habakkuk preaches to soldiers and royal counselors as a city is burned in the background.

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,  (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

So writes the prophet Habakkuk, who lived during one of the most anxious times of Israel’s history.  Justice was entirely lacking in Israel (Hab 1:4).  The great national enemy Assyria had finally fallen, but now the Babylonians were coming (Hab 1:6).  What cause for rejoicing could the prophet possibly have?  The nation was about to be destroyed and life was in ruin.  The people were acutely feeling the curse of sin.  There was no blossom on the fig tree, no herd was to be found in the stalls (Hab 3:17).  To say the very least, things were not going according to plan.  How could rejoicing be possible under such dire circumstances?

Make no mistake, Satan is at work through your afflictions to drive you to despair.  To rejoice in the Lord even when Satan tempts you to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9) is to rub Christ’s victory back in the devil’s face.  What Satan thought was his greatest moment of triumph—the cross—turned out to be his undoing.  When Satan does his best to destroy you, like Habakkuk, continue to rejoice in the Lord.  Throw yourself on the mercy of Christ.  Turn the devil’s own arrows against him, stick it to the damned murderer and repent.  Then not only does he fail to crush you, but rather unwittingly succeeds in driving you back to Christ— the very last thing he wants to do.

Though devils all the world should fill,
    All eager to devour us,
We tremble not, we fear no ill;
    They shall not overpow’r us.
This world’s prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
    He can harm us none.
    He’s judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him.

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (LSB, 656; verse 3)






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  1. Rev. Matthew Johnson
    July 22nd, 2013 at 10:31 | #1

    Pastor Andersen:

    Your title about piercing the devil with his own arrows comes from Hab. 3:13-14 (something seen in terms of death in the story of David killing Goliath with his own sword).

    Your comments focus on Hab. 3:17-18, verses that have often intrigued me; permit me a few comments on them, if you would. Notice the connection of creation to Christ in what follows, how even its devastation can preach Him (in line with a correct theologia crucis).

    -“though the fig tree should not blossom…” The fig tree played an important role during Holy Week when Jesus cursed it and it withered during the early part of the week. Commentators often see this as representing judgment on faithless/fruitless Israel, but I would read it as an action of our Lord to point us precisely to Habakkuk 3, and in particular our verses, as a sign that God will win His eschatological victory in the midst of devastated creation. Jesus’ action regarding the fig tree at the start of Holy Week appropriately deals with, and thereby points us to, the initial element in Habakkuk’s series.

    -“…nor fruit be on the vines…” Though there be no fruit on the vines (from which to make wine)…Jesus can change water into wine (John 2).

    -“…[though] the produce of the olive fail…” Though there be no crop of olives (from which to produce oil to anoint the Messiah)…Jesus is utterly anointed by the Holy Spirit Himself at the baptism by John in the Jordan (Gospel parallels).

    -“…[though] the fields yield no food…” Though there be no crop in the fields (from which to produce bread)…Jesus can change stones into bread. Christ certainly did *not* do such a thing when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. In this case He did *not* do such a thing as if to benefit Himself in His hunger; rather, He refrained in order to benefit us by His victory in the midst of temptation. However, He certainly could do such a thing in other circumstances (again, to benefit us), in order to feed us in body and soul. Discussion could be had here about the holy Sacrament in view of the fact that Habakkuk points to both elements–bread and wine–as part of his indicators of a devastated creation being the context in which God wins His eschatological victory.

    -“…[though] the flock be cut off from the herd and there be no herd in the stalls…” Though the animals, both sheep and bulls, that are mandated by God for the sacrifices are totally removed…Jesus is God’s own Lamb given/presented/offered for our salvation (John 1:29).

    -“…yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” The interesting thing here is Jerome’s Latin (Vulgate) translation of the Hebrew, which reads: “ego autem in Domino gaudebo / exultabo in Deo Iesu meo“–“I therefore in God will rejoice / I will exult in God my Jesus.” Jerome has here made explicit a phenomenon that often happens to Christian readers of Hebrew…whenever the Hebrew root “yasha” appears one’s mind simultaneously thinks of Jesus (Whose name is built on this root). Jerome has not simply translated the Hebrew to Latin, he has also transposed the masculine noun (salvation) to a name (Jesus).

    Habakkuk 3:19 ought to be pondered in light of Christ’s exaltation, and its liturgical notation in light of Revelation 4-5.

    These are admittedly devotional readings, but they tend to stick with a person and nourish. I look forward to your continued presentation of meditations on the Sacred Scriptures.

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