YET WILL I PRAISE

(Scripture references taken from New American Standard Translation.)

In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet, under the inspiration of God, says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vine; 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. The Lord God is my strength. And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” (Hab. 3:17-19).

Habakkuk has made a decision of his will to refuse to let natural circumstances control him or his life. Natural circumstances give him absolutely no reason to praise God. Yet he decides to praise Him and exult in Him. Why? Because he has a reason that far outweighs the circumstances.

His exultation and rejoicing are in the fact that he knows God is his salvation. That word salvation, from the original Hebrew, means much more than having our sin washed away. The word translated salvation, in both Hebrew and Greek, means “deliverance, victory, health, and prosperity.” Habakkuk knows that no matter what the trouble he faces, he has a God Who will deliver him and bring him out in victory, if he will remain faithful and keep his eyes on the Lord.

When Habakkuk talks about the Lord making his feet like hinds’ feet, he is referring to the fact that the hind lives high up in the mountainous areas and walks fearlessly along the steep sides of the mountains, and the narrow ledges over steep drop-offs. This dexterity comes from the fact that God made the hind to be able to leap from ledge to ledge in such a way that the two back feet come down in exactly the same spot that the two front feet left. So the animal is perfectly confident as it leaps and walks in the most dangerous places.

The prophet realizes that as long as his trust is in his God, he can be confident that no matter how dangerous or treacherous the way in the midst of trouble, he will not fall, but will leap from point to point, as sure-footed as the hind. And he will come at last to the highest level of victory over the problem.

Habakkuk is not alone in recognizing the value of praising his God in the face of bewildering negative circumstances.  David, when he and his men returned to Ziklag (1 Samuel 30), found it had been burned down completely, and all their wives and children had been taken captive by the Amalekites. David and all of his mighty warriors were so distraught and horrified that the Word says they wept until they had no more power to weep. Then David’s men began to talk about stoning him, because he had been the one responsible for their being away from their homes at the time of the attack. David had absolutely nowhere to turn for help. No one even wanted to talk to him, let alone befriend him at that time. But the Word says “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”

Once he turned away from what he could see and hear and feel, and began to build himself up on what he knew to be the truth about his God, David gained new spiritual strength, and put himself into a place of being able to hear from God. He then called for the priest to bring the ephod, which was a tool God had given Israel’s leaders to aid them in hearing from Him. After centering all of his attention on God, David was then in a place to hear what God told him. And because he was again in a place of faith, God was able to instruct him to pursue the enemy and recover everything he and his men had lost. God was able to give the victory, but David had to be able to receive it. And he could not do that in a state of hopelessness and despair — but only in a state of faith.

Another well-known Old Testament prophet speaks almost the same message in the midst of what I perceive as the most bazaar, hopeless situation that I can imagine. Jonah,  in chapter two of the book named for him, speaks while inside the belly of the whale. (Scripture calls it a ‘great fish,’ but ‘whale’ will suffice for this lesson.) He describes the total ugliness and hopelessness of his situation, but then he says, “While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to Thee, into Thy holy temple. … I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord.”

(Jonah 2:7-9).

Here again, in the midst of the most severe trouble and the direst prognosis for the future, the prophet concentrates on the truth which outweighs all that he sees and feel:  God is the source of salvation (deliverance,) and therefore, is worthy to be praised. Jonah makes a decision to worship God and give Him the sacrifices of love and praise which are due Him.

Pastor John Osteen, of Houston, Texas, once made the point, while teaching on Jonah, that we have none of us ever been in so negative a situation as Jonah. He said no matter what we’re facing, we can look in some direction and see at least a little light or encouragement; but no matter where Jonah looked, all he could see, in any direction, was whale. How true. We should be thankful for even the smallest encouragement from any direction.

But Jonah, with absolutely no natural encouragement at all, made his decision and praised his God. And notice the first word in the very next verse:  “Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto dry land.” Note that it is after we make a decision to praise God and acknowledge Him as our complete salvation that the Lord can move freely on our behalf.

You see, we must use our spiritual vision and see that very real salvation (deliverance, healing, prosperity) which is in the spirit realm. Being in the spirit realm, it is eternal and unchanging, and more powerful than any natural circumstances, which are always bound to change when pressured by things of the spirit. We don’t deny those circumstances, but we make up our mind that God’s Word is true — more true and more trustworthy than the circumstances. Then we will praise and worship our God, even though the fig tree is dead. Our praise and worship will release our faith and unlock the doors between Heaven and Earth, allowing the salvation and resurrection life of God to flow freely into our situation. Then the fig tree will blossom, and then the vine will bear fruit. †

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4 thoughts on “YET WILL I PRAISE

  1. I love that bit from Habakkuk, and I agree there is an important principle here – praising God no matter what the circumstances are. Like those guys in Daniel 3 who told the king in no uncertain terms: our God can rescue us from your fiery furnace, but even if he doesn’t, still we won’t bow to your idol.

    So I was with you in this post, until the end – that last sentence worries me, though I may be reading it not quite the way you meant. Let me try and explain what is causing my concern:

    Yes, God did rescue Jonah out of the big fish after Jonah made the right choice to worship God despite his dire circumstances. (And by the way, there is no “then” in the original text. Sorry, I’m a born nitpicker.) So what was I saying? yes, God did rescue Jonah from the big fish. And yes, generally God does want to bless us – but the stuff that we humans tend to see as blessing, that’s not always the top of his agenda. So to say that if we praise him despite the dire circumstances, then he will make the fig tree blossom etc… it sounds to me like you’re promising people the kind of blessing that is not necessarily going to come. I believe God is a lot more concerned with our spiritual growth than with our bellies being full, and sometimes it’s either/or – we need to go without stuff in order to grow.

    And I wonder where you got the idea that the Hebrew word translated as “salvation” also means health and prosperity. I’m a Hebrew speaker and I have never heard this suggestion. I am content to praise God – whatever my circumstances may be – because he is worthy of praise, because he is my deliverer in the most important sense of the word, in the eternal sense. He hasn’t promised to rescue me from each and every tight spot I find myself in during this temporary life – but like those guys in Daniel, I know he can, and even if he does not, still I will worship him and only him.

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  2. Thank you for your comment, Meirav. I’ll be glad to answer your questions and give you the references to the words and definitions I quoted, as well as some other information. I am pretty swamped the next couple of days, and I want to give you as much exact information as I can, so I’d like to take a little time with it. But I promise I will get back to you with the information by the first of the week.

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  3. Hi again, Meirav.

    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you on this. By the time I work two jobs, run a business, and carry out the ministry God has called me to, my time for blogging often gets squeezed out. You had a question about some of the definitions I used in my article “Yet Will I Praise.” Hopefully, I can clear up any confusion. Unfortunately, my computer program does not have a process by which I can type the Hebrew letters onto this page, so I cannot put into script the actual word. But if I tell you the passage, I’m sure you can find the actual word in the Hebrew text.

    In the passage I quoted from Habakkuk, the Hebrew word translated “salvation” is the exact same word used in the passage I referred to in Jonah. That word is defined in a Hebrew dictionary as follows: “Liberty, deliverance, prosperity, safety, salvation.” It is from a Hebrew root, which is defined in exactly the same words. Because Hebrew and Greek words often carry much more involved meaning that most average English words, often translators into English choose only one of the meanings and settle for that instead of relating the full import of the original word.

    Another word translated “salvation” in the Old Covenant, a word used repeatedly throughout Psalms and the book of Isaiah, as well as other places, is defined as follows: “Deliverance, aid, victory, prosperity, health, help, welfare.” There are other words in the Hebrew text that are translated “salvation,” and they all carry very similar definitions, but this comment would get entirely too long if I were to list and define each one of them. I’m sure any Rabbi who is still faithful to the original texts in his study will be able to verify these definitions as well.

    Moreover, each of these definitions fits accurately into the full image of God as He portrays Himself in the Old Covenant, because He is constantly telling His people that He alone is the one who will deliver them, protect them, teach them, and provide all of their needs. In fact, the very first covenant promise that God made to the Israelite nation when He took them out of Egypt was in Exodus 15:26, where He told them that He was going to be their physician, and that they could trust Him to keep them in good health if they would obey him. He wasn’t concerned only with their spiritual welfare. He made it clear, repeatedly, that He was to be called upon and trusted for the meeting of all of their material needs as well.

    The 28th chapter of Deuteronomy confirms that concept as well because it makes clear to the nation of Israel that if they will walk in obedience to God’s covenant, they will have blessings in every area of their life — and he specifically names material blessings in that extensive list. Then in verse 15 of that chapter, and on to the end of it, He tells His people that if they refuse to walk in obedience to that covenant, they will be cursed with all kinds of evils – including lack – that will also affect every area of their lives. The list is extremely long and includes virtually every kind of negative thing you can think of. But God makes it clear in this chapter that it is not His will for His people to experience any of these curses. His desire and His plan is only to bless them. In fact, throughout the book of Deuteronomy, He is constantly telling His people that He wants to bless them in absolutely every area of their material lives. And it is true that every time Israel rebelled against God and moved into a cursed experience, when they genuinely repented and called upon Him for forgiveness and deliverance, He delivered them and restored prosperity and abundant blessings to them in all areas of life.

    Those facts also coincide with the book of Isaiah and the great prophetic announcement of Jesus Christ the Messiah, the Savior. In chapter 53 of that book, the prophet describes exactly what Jesus will endure and exactly what good it will bring to God’s people. Often the “simple” English translations of verses 4 and 5 of that chapter refer only to the spiritual results of Jesus suffering for the human race. But the actual Hebrew words used in those passages — according to Hebrew dictionaries — say the following: “Surely He has borne our griefs, sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses and carried our sorrows and pains, yet we considered Him stricken, smitten and afflicted by God. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement to obtain peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed and made whole.” But the reader does not have to rely on a Hebrew dictionary to get the true meaning of this passage, because in the New Covenant book of Matthew (Matt. 8:16-17), when Jesus heals all of the people in the town, that very passage quotes Isaiah 53 and says that Jesus is fulfilling that scripture. Matthew quotes the Isaiah passage as saying Jesus carried away our weaknesses and infirmities and bore away our diseases as surely as He bore away our sins.

    Knowing the true and complete definitions of these words, and what they mean for God’s people in relationship with Him, is important for more than one reason. Obviously, it’s important because it’s those true and complete words from God that create faith in people, so that they can believe and receive from God all the wonderful provisions He has for them. (You’re right in saying we should be willing to love and praise God even if He doesn’t do anything else for us. But the simple fact is that we do not have a God who asks us to do that.) But understanding those definitions is also very beneficial when reaching into the New Covenant and looking for continuity in God’s promises.

    After Jesus finished His work – and thereby fulfilled the Old Covenant – He instituted the New Covenant, in which God has made even more powerful and far-reaching promises to His people, as a result of the fact that Jesus has now paid the price for all of them. 2 Corinthians 1:20 even says that every covenant promise of God is already answered “Yes” in Jesus Christ. And in the New Covenant, the words translated “salvation” and “saved” from the Greek mean exactly the same thing in that original language as the words translated from the Hebrew. In fact, one of the Greek words used most often (sozo) is translated as both “save” and “heal” interchangeably, and is defined in the Greek dictionary as follows: “To deliver, to protect, to heal, to preserve, to save, to do well, to make whole.”

    I hope these definitions make things a little clearer for you. You also mentioned the idea that we have to go without things or go through negative experiences in our lives in order to grow spiritually. Actually, the Word of God does not say that at all. There are a number of traditional teachings of men that insist on that idea, and unfortunately, they have gotten a foothold in many, many denominational churches. But a careful study of God’s Word will show that there is not one single passage in His Word – in the original languages – that says God wants us to go through trouble – or to be in a state of lack — so that we can grow spiritually.

    In fact, the Word says just the opposite. Never once did God’s people develop or grow spiritually as a result of lack or of evil things taking place in their lives. Many times, in the midst of dire circumstances, which they always brought on themselves, they repented and turned back to God. Then once they had been restored to right relationship with God, they began to grow spiritually again. Often when lack or evil comes, we run to God and start digging into His Word. When we do that with a sincere heart, then that Word can help us grow. But we could have been in His Word all along and grown as a result. It isn’t the trouble or the negative experience that makes us grow; it is His Word and prayer.

    I will be posting an article that goes into this teaching in much more detail next month, and perhaps you will be interested in the scripture references that I include in that lesson. It’s far too long to include here.

    Your one other comment of concern was with the word “then” in the passage from Jonah. I’m sure you are correct that the actual word “then” is not in the original text. Nevertheless, the time frame is exactly the same in the original text: Repentance and praise came first; after repentance and praise, the deliverance came. That was the point I was making, and that particular English translation (New American Standard) simply inserted the word “then” to clarify the chronological order of events. But please know that I do not mind that you noticed that word and made reference to it. I too like to be as exact as possible, and I also tend to be a “nit-picker” as you referred to yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that when you are talking about something this important.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment and voice your concerns.
    Blessings.

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  4. Hi. I get the feeling I may have not expressed myself very clearly in my earlier comment. I’ll try again.

    1. re the word in the Habakkuk text which is correctly translated as “salvation” – it means salvation, rescue, deliverance. It does *not* mean health or prosperity. I have no idea how anyone managed to think up such meanings for this word, if you found them in a dictionary then all I can say is it doesn’t sound like a very reliable dictionary.

    2. re my concern regarding your last sentence:
    I do believe God desires to bless us, because he loves us; and I know from my own experience the biblical truth that God is well able to provide for our needs and that he is faithful.

    My worry is that you appear to be encouraging people to praise God for the wrong reasons, by saying that when we praise God we open up the way for him to bless us, I feel you are encouraging a kind of “cupboard love” – people praising God not because his is worthy of praise but because they want something from him. This falls short of the kind of devotion I’m encouraged to by, for instance, the passage I mentioned in Daniel 3 (“even if he does not”) and also by stuff in the New Testament which promises us that we will suffer and be persecuted. I believe that whilst the Bible encourages us to trust God for all our needs, it calls us to a deeper devotion than just “I’ll praise him and then he’ll be able to bless me” – it calls us, as Habakkuk did, to praise God no matter what. Not just no matter what the circumstances around us, but no matter what God is or isn’t going to do – as in Daniel 3: we know our God is able to rescue us but even if he doesn’t – because he is sovereign and he sometimes chooses not to act in the way we humans think is best, he has allowed people to die for their faith in him, he has allowed people to be tortured for their faith in him – even if he doesn’t, still we will worship him and only him, because he is worthy of our praise and worship no matter what.

    I hope this helps you understand better what I was trying to say earlier. I am sorry I have not found the time so far to read through your whole response but I did read some of it and it seemed to me like you hadn’t understood my comments, so I thought it was worth coming back and trying to clarify.

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