Faithfulness in the Midst of Toil (Habakkuk 2:1; Zephaniah 2:1-4)
Bob Robinson asks, "Can a Christian simply dedicate his or her life to loving God and loving neighbors, or does God demand from us a life that is extraordinary? What does it take to glorify God in today's world?"
There is another dynamic at work in the exile. Notwithstanding the emphasis of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah on punishment, people also begin to re-learn how to work in faithful service to God during this period. This is fully explored in Theology of Work Project articles such as Jeremiah & Lamentations and Work and Daniel and Work, but is also hinted at here in the Book of the Twelve. The key point of this is that even in the wretched circumstances of the exile, it is still possible to be faithful. As he watched the carnage around him, no doubt wishing he could be somewhere else, Habakkuk determined to stay at his post and listen for the Word of God there (Hab. 2:1). But more is possible than simply staying at one’s post, valuable as that may be. We may also find a way to be righteous and humble.
Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the Lord’s wrath. (Zephaniah 2:3)
There are no ideal places of work. Some are deeply challenging to people of God, compromised in all sorts of ways, while others are flawed in more mundane ways. But even in difficult work places, we may still be faithful witnesses to God’s purposes, both in the quality of our presence and the quality of our work. Habakkuk reminds us that no matter how fruitless our work seems, God is present with us in our work, giving us a joy that even the worst conditions of labour cannot completely overcome.
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. (Habakkuk 3:17–19)
Or, as the paraphrase by Terry Barringer puts it,
Though the contract finishes, And there is no work to be had;
Though there is no demand for my skills, And no one publishes my work.
Though the savings run out, And the pension is not enough to live on;
Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will rejoice in God my Saviour.
As verse 19 suggests, good work is possible even in the midst of difficult circumstances, for “the Lord is my strength.” Faithfulness is not only a matter of enduring hardship, but of making even the worst situation better in whatever ways we can.
Cited in Gordon Preece and Simon Carey Holt, eds., The Bible and the Business of Life (Adelaide: ATF, 2004), 215.