For the week of May 30, 2009 / 7 Sivan 5769
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17
Haftarah: Habakkuk 3:1-19
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 3:17-19; ESV)
When I first came to know the reality of God through the Messiah over thirty years ago, it was pretty much me-centered. I was told that if I believed in Yeshua then I would be happy for the rest of my life. There was much more to it at the time. Yet while the person who shared this with me also explained my need of forgiveness before God and how the Hebrew Scriptures pointed to Yeshua as the Messiah, the motive for accepting what was presented to me was for the most part how it would make me happy.
Thankfully, God made himself known to me in spite of this inaccurate information. Don't get me wrong, it is not as if knowing God has no personal benefit. It's that knowing him is not primarily about me, my personal needs and my happiness. I would eventually learn that I would not be happy all the time, even though through Yeshua I have indeed experienced a depth of happiness that I never dreamed possible, but I also have experienced a type of peace and security in the midst of difficulties I never thought possible.
The depth of reality that comes from truly knowing the God of Israel is well-expressed through the words I read from this week's Haftarah. It is striking that this portion is a special reading for the festival of Shavuot (English: Pentecost or Weeks). Shavuot is a harvest festival, a time to rejoice over God's provision. But Habakkuk says that he will rejoice in God even when the harvest produces nothing. This is a difficult concept if we think, as I originally did, that following God is all about what we get out of it.
Habakkuk's words remind me of the Jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who, in exile in Babylon, faced excruciating death due to their unwillingness to commit idolatry. Just before being thrown into the fiery furnace, they said to the king of Bablyon, "...our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17,18; ESV).
This understanding of God and life went far beyond their own selves, their personal welfare, comfort, and prosperity. They knew that there is a reality of life through knowing God that is far deeper than what many of us normally experience.
Habukkuk could rejoice in God even in the face of starvation. His strength and ability to face dire circumstances was not based on normal material prosperity but in God himself. This is no abstract spirituality detached from the realities of life, but a strength that enables us to live this life in the midst of enormous challenges.
In order to begin to grasp the depths of this reality we need to first turn away from our obsession with self and our desire to please self. It is as we submit ourselves to God and his will for our lives, whatever that may be, that we can find a joy and a strength beyond our wildest dreams.
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