Track 4 - Unexpected Victory

Track 4 of the Biblical Odes is in the tiny book of Habakkuk. I've heard all kinds of pronunciations for this name. Some put the accent on the last, and it sounds like "have-a-Cook", the Greeks transformed it to Avakoum, and my South Ga version sounds like "tobacco" with an "H".

I love these "minor" prophets. Maybe it's the impulse to support the underdog. Habakkuk only has 3 chapters but a big message and he's in a part of the Bible where our pages are still stuck together.

Here's some background on Habakkuk. He was from the tribe of Simeon living 600 years before Christ during the reign of the evil Judean king Manasseh. In this short book, he foretells the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.

Habakkuk begins by complaining of his own personal trials, which are a legitimate concern because he was a righteous man living in the midst of pagan depravity. In the midst of his own personal pain, God reveals that the Chaldeans will be coming to overthrow Judea. He cries to God, "You created me to reprove me for instruction."

God's response to him is one he would never have expected, and a future he would never have considered. Yes the pagans were going to overthrow his nation, but out of those ashes would rise something never seen on earth. His reaction to this revelation is later picked up by St. Paul in the NT: "The righteous shall live by faith."

Faith in what? His answer to this question in Biblical Ode #4 found in chapter 3. This hymn is one of triumph and unexpected victory. Judea would descend into certain destruction and the "grave" of the Babylonian captivity, but would later arise renewed in faithfulness to God. This is but a picture of God Himself descending into the depths of hell to rescue the captives and arise in victory, and therefore becomes a prophesy of the unexpected victory of Christ dying on a ignoble Roman cross yet saving the world.

This is the content of Habakkuk's faith. It is faith in the triumph of the cross. This hymn presents a complete victory and in this hymn the image of Christ is clearer than the others we have read thus far. The Church has traditionally read this as a prophetic glimpse of Christ's descent into Hades where he destroyed death and released the captives.

Several phrases of this hymn stand out in the minds of the Fathers:

  • the "two living ones" where He is revealed is understand as the Two Thieves who flanked Christ on the cross. Some Fathers point to the Transfiguration and His place between Elijah and Moses. Others even see Him in the manger between the animals. He is the fulcrum point of history.
  • "Dark Shady Mountain" This is the Virgin Mary from where Christ was born mysteriously. Daniel also sees Christ coming from the "Uncut Mountain".
  • "When the time has come" this is the fullness of time that Paul mentions in Galatians.
  • "horn in his hands" The nail in His palms which becomes His weapons as He destroys death by death.

Not much shocks or surprises us in our jaded world. Rarely can you learn something about a person or politician and be surprised. Surprise endings in book and movies are hard to come by. The surprise of the life-giving Cross is so ingrained in the Western imagination, we don't notice how scandalous or foolish this would have seemed in the Ancient world. Just as the Babylonian captivity was an unexpected answer to the paganism of Judea, the idea that the death of a poor Jewish Rabbi could bring freedom beyond a political solution was also unthinkable.

Victory only comes through Cross, and to think we can live a Christian life where we don't personally experience crucifixion is false hope and an empty victory.

Theron Mathis
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