Within the compass of these few lines we have the prophet in the highest degree both of trembling and triumphing, such are the varieties both of the state and of the spirit of God’s people in this world. In heaven there shall be no more trembling, but everlasting triumphs.
I. The prophet had foreseen the prevalence of the church’s enemies and the long continuance of the church’s troubles; and the sight made him tremble, Hab. 3:16. Here he goes on with what he had said Hab. 3:2; “I have heard thy speech and was afraid. When I heard what sad times were coming upon the church my belly trembled, my lips quivered at the voice; the news made such an impression that it put me into a perfect ague fit.” The blood retiring to the heart, to succour that when it was ready to faint, the extreme parts were left destitute of spirits, so that his lips quivered. Nay, he was so weak, and so unable to help himself, that he was as if rottenness had entered into his bones; he had no strength left in him, could neither stand nor go; he trembled in himself, trembled all over him, trembled within him; he yielded to his trembling, and troubled himself, as our Savior did; his flesh trembled for fear of God and he was afraid of his judgments, Ps. 119:120. He was touched with a tender concern for the calamities of the church, and trembled for fear lest they should end at length in ruin, and the name of Israel be blotted out. Nor did he think it any disparagement to him, nor any reproach to his courage, but freely owned he was one of those that trembled at God’s word, for to them he will look with favour: I tremble in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble. Note, When we see a day of trouble approaching it concerns us to provide accordingly, and to lay up something in store, by the help of which we may rest in that day; and the best way to make sure rest for ourselves in the day of trouble is to tremble within ourselves at the word of God and the threatenings of that word. He that has joy in store for those that sow in tears has rest in store for those that tremble before him. Good hope through grace is founded in a holy fear. Noah, who was moved with fear, trembled within himself at the warning given him of the deluge coming, had the ark for his resting place in the day of that trouble. The prophet tells us what he said in his trembling. His fear is that, when he comes up to the people, when the Chaldean comes up to the people of Israel, he will invade them, will surround them, will break in upon them, nay (as it is in the margin), He will cut them in pieces with his troops; he cried out, We are all undone; the whole nation of the Jews is lost and gone. Note, When things look bad we are too apt to aggravate them, and make the worst of them.
II. He had looked back upon the experiences of the church in former ages, and had observed what great things God had done for them, and so he recovered himself out of his fright, and not only retrieved his temper, but fell into a transport of holy joy, with an express non obstante—notwithstanding to the calamities he foresaw coming, and this not for himself only, but in the name of every faithful Israelite.
1. He supposes the ruin of all his creature comforts and enjoyments, not only of the delights of this life, but even of the necessary supports of it, Hab. 3:17. Famine is one of the ordinary effects of war, and those commonly feel it first and most that sit still and are quiet; the prophet and his pious friends, when the Chaldean army comes, will be plundered and stripped of all they have. Or he supposes himself deprived of all by blasting and unseasonable weather, or some other immediate hand of God. Or though the captives in Babylon have not that plenty of all good things in their own land. (1.) He supposes the fruit-tree to be withered and become barren; the fig-tree (which used to furnish them with much of their food; hence we often read of cakes of figs) shall not so much as blossom, nor shall fruit be in the vine, from which they had their drink, that made glad the heart: he supposes the labour of the olive to fail, their oil, which was to them as butter is to us; the labour of the olive shall lie (so it is in the margin); their expectations from it shall be disappointed. (2.) He supposes the bread-corn to fail; the fields shall yield no meat; and, since the king himself is served of the field, if the productions of that be withdrawn, every one will feel the want of them. (3.) He supposes the cattle to perish for want of the food which the field should yield and does not, or by disease, or being destroyed and carried away by the enemy: The flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stall. Note, When we are in the full enjoyment of our creature comforts we should consider that there may come a time when we shall be stripped of them all, and use them accordingly, as not abusing them, 1 Cor. 7:29, 30.
2. He resolves to delight and triumph in God notwithstanding; when all is gone his God is not gone (Hab. 3:18): “Yet will I rejoice in the Lord; I shall have him to rejoice in, and will rejoice in him.” Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease, Hos. 2:11, 12. But those who, when they were full, enjoyed God in all, when they are emptied and impoverished can enjoy all in God, and can sit down upon a melancholy heap of the ruins of all their creature comforts and even then can sing to the praise and glory of God, as the God of their salvation. This is the principal ground of our joy in God, that he is the God of our salvation, our eternal salvation, the salvation of the soul; and, if he be so, we may rejoice in him as such in our greatest distresses, since by them our salvation cannot be hindered, but may be furthered. Note, Joy in God is never out of season, nay, it is in a special manner seasonable when we meet with losses and crosses in the world, that it may then appear that our hearts are not set upon these things, nor our happiness bound up in them. See how the prophet triumphs in God: The Lord God is my strength, Hab. 3:19. He that is the God of our salvation in another world will be our strength in this world, to carry us on in our journey thither, and help us over the difficulties and oppositions we meet with in our way. Even when provisions are cut off, to make it appear that man lives not by bread alone, we may have the want of bread supplied by the graces and comforts of God’s Spirit and with the supplies of them. (1.) We shall be strong for our spiritual warfare and work: The Lord God is my strength, the strength of my heart. (2.) We shall be swift for our spiritual race: “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, that with enlargement of heart I may run the way of his commands and outrun my troubles.” (3.) We shall be successful in our spiritual enterprises: “He will make me to walk upon my high places; that is, I shall gain my point, shall be restored unto my own land, and tread upon the high places of the enemy,” Deut. 32:13; 33:29. Thus the prophet, who began his prayer with fear and trembling, concludes it with joy and triumph, for prayer is heart’s ease to a gracious soul. When Hannah had prayed she went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad. This prophet, finding it so, publishes his experience of it, and puts it into the hand of the chief singer for the use of the church, especially in the day of our captivity. And, though then the harps were hung upon the willow-trees, yet in the hope that they would be resumed, and their right hand retrieve its cunning, which it had forgotten, he set his song upon Shigionoth (Hab. 3:1), wandering tunes, according to the variable songs, and upon Neginoth (Hab. 3:19), the stringed instruments. He that is afflicted, and has prayed aright, may then be so easy, may then be so merry, as to sing psalms.
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