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Habakkuk 3:17-19 1
17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.

deerBackground 2

Habakkuk lived in Judah in about 600 years B.C. We know very little about Habakkuk. The name means ‘he who holds somebody close to him’.
The country that ruled that part of the world until 612 B.C. was Assyria. In 612 B.C. Babylon beat Assyria. Then the Babylonians ruled that part of the world. Both the Assyrians and the Babylonians loved and obeyed false gods and ruled through oppression. God chose the Babylonians to punish the leaders of Judah. The trouble was that they punished the people in Judah along with the leaders.

Habakkuk did not understand this. He knew that someone must punish Judah. But he did not know why it should be the Babylonians. The Babylonians were the worst of the worst. The Babylonians loved and obeyed false gods. In his book, Habakkuk talks to God:

  • In chapter 1 he asks God a question. “Would God ever answer when Habakkuk prayed to God?”
  • In chapter 2 he waits for God’s answer. “God says that he will punish the Babylonians later and the whole world would see what God would do.”
  • In chapter 3 Habakkuk says that he believes that God will do this, God will punish the Babylonians and he will make Judah safe.

We still have similar problems today. Many countries say that they believe in God but their people do not live like they believe. When believers pray about this, nothing seems to happen. So many people say that God is dead! But God is not dead! He is always doing something. If we wait, we will see this. Sometimes God uses non-Christians to do His work for Him. Or God brings good things from the bad things that people do. God still has authority! This we must believe even if it does not seem that God has this authority.

  • Habakkuk 2:4 says, ‘righteous people will live by their faith (in God)’, meaning: They will continue to believe all through their lives that God will give them help;
  • After they die on this earth, they will live with God.

At the end of his book, Habakkuk writes a psalm praising God. He also says that whatever happens, he will still praise God. That is the message of Habakkuk to us: Whatever happens, praise God!
So why did Habakkuk compare himself to a deer? Deer have been around a long time, 3½ million years. The strength of the deer is its flexibility; they are ecological generalists, or opportunists. This means that, as a group, they can get by in all sorts of environments, different climates and temperatures; they can eat a huge variety of foods…they have been documented eating fish, dead birds and insects! Their flexibility allows them to coexist with human development.

Deer are great escape artists, and that is another key to their successful strategy for survival. Their style of escape is a high speed sprint which puts obstacles between themselves and their pursuer. They can also play cagey tricks: they might hide and remain hidden until the predator is very near, and then make an explosive escape…they’re gone down a well-known escape route before the confused predator knows it. They will cross their own path, sometimes circling and crossing many times, to make their trail confusing. They will slink away on their bellies. They will walk in water to delete their trail, and will even hide by submerging themselves in the water, using their noses like snorkels. They are even known to run near other deer trying to shuck off the predator onto another unlucky animal.

Typically though they escape down a well-known trail with twists and turns that the trailing predator has to figure out at every change. The path might have obstacles that the fleeing deer knows it can easily and expertly clear, while the pursuer has to figure them out, then wear itself out climbing, jumping, detouring or tunneling, all the while trying to keep track of its prey. These survival techniques are found to be both instinctive and learned soon after birth.

Biblical Truth

Whatever happens Habakkuk says he will still praise the LORD. He knows that God is still in authority! That is why he can still praise God. Even when times are bad, he will be like a deer, climbing mountains with no difficulty!

Items for Discussion

  • We have people in our world who have no concept of a deer. How should Christians overcome the lack of comparative experiences when sharing God’s Word that is filled with them?
  • What similar generational gaps exist (comparative experiences of our generation with those of the next generations)?
  • God’s creations are all given the attributes to survive in our world. What are our God given attributes?
  • What are the greatest dangers of despair?
  • What can we learn from the deer’s adaptability and abilities to survive?

 

Philippians 4:10-15
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;

Background 3

Luke described the city called Philippi as a Roman ‘colony’ (Acts 16:12). The emperor Augustus allowed retired soldiers to live there after they had supported him in a battle in 31 BC. As a Roman colony, its citizens possessed the same rights and laws as those who lived in Italy. Paul and Silas, with Timothy and Luke, established the church there after they crossed from Asia into Europe (Acts 16:12-40). Paul visited Philippi again on his third journey (Acts 20:1-6). It was a group of Christians of whom Paul was very fond. He called its members his ‘joy and crown’ (4:1). The Christians in Philippi were not rich, but they supported Paul with more than one gift of money. They also gave money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter and not sure of the result of a trial. It is most likely that he was in Rome, writing this letter at the end of the two years that we read about in Acts 28:30.

The purpose of Paul’s letter was to:

  • Thank the Christians at Philippi for the gifts that they had sent him by Epaphroditus.
  • Inform the Christians at Philippi about his own circumstances. He also wanted to tell them that Epaphroditus had recovered from his dangerous illness. He was returning to Philippi.
  • Appeal for unity and for the end of quarrels in the church.
  • Warn them about false doctrine, especially that of Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision for Gentiles.
  • Urge them to remain loyal to their faith and to stand firm against opponents.

Biblical Truth

Our translation loses the word but, Paul used a word for a plant that had flowered again. It was not dead, like the way a tree or plant seems in winter. At the right time, we see flowers. The right time for Paul’s friends had arrived. Before this there may have been no suitable messenger or there was some other reason for their lack of opportunity. Stoics believed that they could be ‘content’ in any situation by an effort of will. They aimed to be free from every emotion. Paul, however, knew that to be ‘content’ was a gift from God. Christ had given him the strength to accept pleasant or difficult circumstances. ‘I have ….. known lack of sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty. I have often been without food, shelter or clothing’ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

The Christians at Philippi had helped Paul when he went to them during his second journey. His troubles included a night in prison with Silas (Acts 16:11-40). (Now Paul is in prison again, as he writes this letter!) Their practical help had continued when he went on to Thessalonica. He said that they had shared ‘in the matter of giving and receiving’. They had given him what he needed for his physical life. Paul taught them and he encouraged their spiritual life. He showed them, by his life, how to live as a Christian (1 John 1:6).

Items for Discussion

  • What does contentment mean to you?
  • Is there a difference between contentment without God and contentment with God?
  • Can you learn to be content in all things? If so how?
  • Why is being content hard to do?
  • What are the signs of someone who is content?
  • If someone is not content, are there any risks to them?
  • The world gives people things to overcome despair and create contentment. What does God give people?

Discussion Challenge

  • What are the secrets to flourishing in a world filled with despair, much of which is caused by not being content?
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