The Joy in Grief, Habakkuk 3:16-19

16 ​​When I heard, my body trembled;
​​My lips quivered at the voice;
​​Rottenness entered my bones;
​​And I trembled in myself,
​​That I might rest in the day of trouble.
​​When he comes up to the people,
​​He will invade them with his troops.
17 ​​Though the fig tree may not blossom,
​​Nor fruit be on the vines;
​​Though the labor of the olive may fail,
​​And the fields yield no food;
​​Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
​​And there be no herd in the stalls—
18 ​​Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
​​I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19 ​​The LORD God is my strength;
​​He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
​​And He will make me walk on my high hills.
To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments.

Just as our emotions are driven by several inputs and outputs, Habakkuk’s response in verse 16 is complex and is not rooted in a single cause. His mind and body are reacting to several elements that have unfolded in the previous verses.

Element one: God’s answer to Habakkuk’s lament was not to eliminate the impending invasion. In fact, God was using Babylon to exercise judgment for Israel’s unfaithfulness. Destruction was coming to Habakkuk’s community, his home, and his family and friends.

Element two: There was nothing that Habakkuk could do to save his people, or himself. He could only wait. The word that is used to describe this type of waiting is nuwach (נוּחַ), which a physical waiting where a person would set down in place and be quiet. To hunker down and wait it out.

Element three: There is a physical and visceral reaction rooted in the knowledge that the warrior-ness of God is greater than any invading nation, and His judgment is more fear-worthy than anything a human being could conjure. The Almighty Warrior has promised redemption for His people and judgment against the Babylonians (and all injustice).

In verse 16, Habakkuk’s emotions are so overwhelming that his body acts out the emotional experience. His body trembles; lips quiver; rottenness (decay) enters his bones. There is a biological breakdown because his emotions are so intense.

The prophet enters into a “when…then” conclusion: when verse 17 happens, then verse 18 and 19 will be a direct response.

Here is the when:

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
​​Nor fruit be on the vines;
​​Though the labor of the olive may fail,
​​And the fields yield no food;
​​Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
​​And there be no herd in the stalls—

If you consider yourself part of Western Civilization, the idea of agricultural failure is somewhat distant, and you may not grasp that this description is a complete collapse of a community’s life source. However, for a large part of our world still, agricultural / farm-based societies and survival are intertwined with the success of their crops and animals. The described when will strip away hope, support, and substance.

In your personal journey, the when may not be community collapse, however, there are events in each of our lives that are overwhelming and can dismantle our personal world. The when for the modern individual could be:

  • Losing a loved one, especially a child or spouse, unexpectedly.
  • Losing a marriage, support, and stability because of unfaithfulness.
  • Losing a job and having no way to provide for yourself or family.
  • Losing yourself or loved one to an addiction.

When we experience loss, there is nothing that we can do to change it. We are often left in a time of physical waiting, where our bodies enact the emotions swirling inside of us, and we have to endure a time of inner turmoil.

Habakkuk is also teaching us about the process of grief. When the overwhelming happens to us, our body and mind need to enter a time of waiting. We need to engage with the grief. Even when we know that God is our Warrior King and will provide redemption, the truth does not negate the grief process. In fact, as believers, we should be engaging with grief so that we can ultimately lay it at the feet of Jesus. We cannot lay our burden down if we never unpack it and understand what we are releasing to Jesus.

Grieving is often seen as only a negative experience which Christians should avoid… because aren’t Christians supposed to be joyful all the time? If that is what you believe, perhaps your engagement with grief and joy is skewed.

We have permission to grieve and wrestle through emotions. This human experience is not sinful because even Jesus is described as being “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3)”. The New Testament provides us examples of Jesus’s grief, the most poignant moment being just before his arrest:

Then He [Jesus] said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 
Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 28:38-39 

How did Jesus grieve?

  • He did not hide his sorrow or grief.
  • He verbalized his feelings, including how his body and soul were impacted.
  • He asked for comfort from his friends.
  • He brought his grief to the Father in prayer.
  • He trusted that God’s plan was greater than his sorrow and grief that he was suffering in the moment.

Habakkuk shows us godly grieving as well. He has not hidden his grief or sorrow; he has lamented and verbalized his feelings to God; he shared his grief with his countrymen through written word; he brought his grief to God in prayer; and he ends by trusting in God’s eternal perspective and plan.

So, when devastation happens, then:

​​Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
​​I will joy in the God of my salvation.

When we see the injustice happening in front of us, or to us, we need to grieve, and then we take refuge in the God of our salvation. When we take refuge in God, our grief is accompanied with joy. It is a joy that fuels hope and love; it allows us to open our hearts and be compassionate when life is difficult and hard. Joy emanates from the soul and is fueled when we take refuge our Lord and Savior.

One day only joy will reside in our hearts, but until that day, there is a place for grief in our hearts. As collective Christians, we grieve for the brokenness in our world. As individual Christians, we grieve the brokenness that we personally experience. However, when we let joy reside by our grief, it turns us into compassionate beings who long for the Lord’s return. Joys does not make us happy, nor does it try to dismiss tragedy – but it does allow us to rest in Jesus and sing His praise because He is faithful through it all.

I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.

C.H. Spurgeon
The LORD God is my strength;
​​He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
​​And He will make me walk on my high hills.

Deer feet, or hooves, have hard outer case that allows them to dig into almost-invisible ledges. They also have soft pads on the bottom of the hooves that mold to contours in the rocky surface. They are designed for difficult, steep climbs and they tread on the heights with ease.

As joy settles into our soul, we find ourselves walking on paths that are dangerous or seem impossible to tread, but the difficulty is no longer the obstacle. God makes our feet like the deer’s and He enables us to climb the high hills as if it were in our nature to climb. And we can do it without fear of falling.

This God — His way is perfect;
the word of the LORD proves true;
He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.
“For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God?
This God is my strong refuge
and has made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
2 Samuel 22:31-34

When believers approaches the Lord with their lament and sorrow, we should expect the wait and wrestle for that is how God prepares our heart for His answer. The resolution to our lament may not be addressed the way we want, and it is in those moments we must live by faith. We must hold on to the truth of God’s character, remember His faithfulness through the ages, and take refuge in His goodness. If we acknowledge our grief and bring it to the foot of the cross, God will transform our hearts and joy will accompany us. Joy is the answer to all prayer.

We close the book of Habakkuk with the final sentence: To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments. This is a musical formula, which ends the prophet’s psalm. The lament ends in song. The lament ends in rejoicing in the Lord. God is good and all-sufficient for our strength and salvation.


  1. What is your when moment that brought about intense emotion and grief? How does your experience relate to the prophet’s reaction in verse 16?
  2. Do you allow yourself to experience lament and grief? If not, why?
  3. Do you let joy accompany your grief, or do you try to eliminate the grief completely and emotion that comes with it?
  4. Do you find it comforting to see how Jesus grieves?
  5. Finish the lament that you started in the reflection “The Lament”. The last two parts are:

Statement of confidence in God: what truth and/or memory proves that God is faithful?

Resolution to praise God: you cannot force yourself to have joy in any circumstance, but you can commit to the healing process and acknowledge your grief. The joy and praise is a result of healing grief.

Singing the book of Habakkuk

“Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle

…I confess, my hands are weary, I need Your rest
Mighty warrior, king of the fight
No matter what I face You’re by my side…

Habakkuk: A Journey of Suffering © by Rachael McMullen