Like others of the twelve ‘Minor Prophets’, the book of Habakkuk is not an easy ready.
The writer reels under the unceasing violence of a society run amok and besieged by tormentors whom it has seemed to invite to their terrible task. Masochism at a civilizational level might not be too harsh a description of the conduct that Habakkuk laments.
Anticipating modern inquiry into ‘divine absence’, Habakkuk wonders aloud how YHWH can remain silent in the face of unrelenting calamity. Although YHWH responds to this prophet’s plea, he does not appear in the prescribed manner. All is not suddenly set right with the whoosh of the deity’s arrival on the scene. Yet neither is Habakkuk’s complaint left untouched as an adequate description of what is really going on.
In the end, the book credits Habakkuk with an extraordinary declaration.
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.
In famine and disappointment, the prophet discovers the capacity to praise his unresponsive God. And in this, he finds strength.