Habakkuk 3 – Salvation Found in Translation

Habakkuk 3 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Toffee

Today’s ChocolateEndangered Species Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Toffee

Today’s PassageHabakkuk 3

Habakkuk concludes his book with his own words. He identifies them as a “Shigionoth,” which my NASB’s margin notes tell me is a highly emotional poetic form, thereby saving me the trouble of googling “Shigionoth.” Habakkuk’s prayer here actually reminds me of the first chapter of Nahum, insofar as it displays God’s power and greatness through his actions. It would seem Habakkuk has received some form of satisfactory answer to his questions: if not the information that he asked for, then at least a response that addresses his concerns. Let’s take a closer look at the character of his final words and see what’s changed.

Even after God has revealed his vision, Habakkuk still isn’t emotionally at ease. Right off the bat, he confesses, “Lord, I have heard the report about You and I fear” (2). Good for him, as the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), but on the other hand, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), so has God’s love failed to deliver Habakkuk from fear? Or is Habakkuk’s love for God imperfect, and that’s why he remains afraid? We can make some theological inferences as to why he’s still fearful, but he still has the courage to pray for what he wants, even issuing an imperative to God: “In wrath have mercy” (2). He believes that on some level, in some fashion, God’s wrath and his mercy are reconcilable, and he asks God not to neglect the latter.

The meat of the prayer, as noted, resembles Nahum 1. God’s mere presence shakes the earth and shatters mountains (Nahum 1:5; Habakkuk 3:6,10), he commands storms and seas (Nahum 1:3-4; Habakkuk 3:8-10), and he overthrows those who conspire against him and his chosen people (Nahum 1:9-13; Habakkuk 3:12-14). On this final point, Habakkuk is even more graphic than Nahum: “You struck the head of the house of the evil to lay him open from thigh to neck” (13). Not to put too fine a point on it, but perhaps this is why he fears God.

But in the end, even if everything goes south, even if his worst fears are realized, Habakkuk will remain content. He states:

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. (17-18)

He knows the Chaldeans are coming. He knows it’s going to be a bad day in Israel. Even so, he knows that God is his strength, God is in control, and God holds salvation–even salvation from death–in his hands. Even if he can’t rejoice in the world, he will rejoice in God.

This book has perplexed me in spots. At times it seems like God isn’t bothering to answer Habakkuk’s questions; rather than dialogue, he appears content to drop visions and prophetic messages on him and leave it at that, not even telling him to take it or leave it. And Habakkuk’s responses sometimes seem to come out of nowhere too!

But if you’ll allow me a hard left turn in the conclusion here, I recently watched through Kotaku editor Tim Rogers’ “Found in Translation” video series, in which he shares insights into the translation of Final Fantasy VII from his recent playthrough of the original Japanese version. It reinforced to me how cultures have their own ways of carrying on conversations, and translations sometimes read strangely because of imprecise correlations between the vocabularies and syntactical conventions of different languages. If you’ve ever watched an overly-literal anime fansub, you know what I’m talking about.

But if it seems like God and Habakkuk aren’t really talking to each other or addressing each other’s points, perhaps it’s a matter of ancient Hebrew culture. While I can understand the broader strokes of the text, the nuances of Habakkuk’s concerns may be lost on me, and I doubt I comprehend precisely what he–in his slice of distinctly Jewish, distinctly bronze-age time and space on planet Earth–expects of God in terms of bringing about justice and salvation. But by the end, God has answered him; Habakkuk places his trust and confidence in this omnipotent being who took the time to speak with him in revelations and visions.

And the same God who answered Habakkuk in Hebrew can speak to you in your own language through his word. Read the Bible and keep the dialogue going.

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