How long must I wrestle with my thought
and day after day have sorrow in my heart
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Shavuot is one of the biblically-based pilgrimage holidays known as the shalosh regalim. It is celebrated as the divine revelation of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah. Pentecost is the Greek name for Shavuot, the spring harvest festival of the Israelites. It is the day the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Jesus.
The Haftorah (a reading from the Book of Prophets that is typically read after the Torah reading) for the second day of Shavuot is provided in Habakkuk 3. The period in which Habakkuk lives as described in Scripture has been characterized as a “time of injustice and idolatry”. The Israelites had, at this point in the story, disobeyed their covenant with God and the country was nearing 100% exile. With the rise of Babylon on the horizon, Habakkuk takes his concerns directly to God, unlike the other prophets who criticized the people.
God responds, essentially saying that the plan is to use the worst people, the Chaldeans, to show the Israelites the importance of following the exalted legal code for human conduct in the world as prescribed by Moses’ tablets.
Habakkuk brings his concerns about God’s plan to God:
2 What’s God going to say to my questions? I’m braced for the worst.
I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon.
I’ll wait to see what God says,
how he’ll answer my complaint.
2-3 And then God answered: “Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.
This vision-message is a witness
pointing to what’s coming.
It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait!
And it doesn’t lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
It’s on its way. It will come right on time.
Habakkuk’s responds to God saying he will withstand anything, as an example of living faith.
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.
We all need the faith of Habakkuk, faith you can’t see. Faith that is sobered by the coming judgement and awesome works of God: Moses’ witness to God’s great might at Mount Sinai, the division of the Red Sea to save the enslaved people from the Egyptians and God’s judgement witnessed through the wilderness and wanderings of the Israelites.
In many ways, we too are like Israelites, neglecting the word of God, negotiating its importance on convenience, allowing silence to equal death, while corruption is not always held accountable for violence and discrimination.
Shavuot symbolizes a place where God is acknowledged and appreciated. Shavuot dreams and imagines a world where love leads every attitude and action in a community where all humanity is honored and respected. Shavuot reminds us to complete the mission started at Mount Sinai.
In this time of physical distance and solitude, we are alone with God. We can hear God more clearly and we are witnessing the same painful clarity of Habakkuk. In our free will, we have complied with wrong actions. We see the error of complacency in our complaints about injustice. We look out from our towers, scanning the horizon, bracing for the worst in God’s answers to our troubles.
We must right the wrongs by writing letters, social media posts, calling political representatives, voting, grassroots organizing, etc., making our vision plain, knowing that God is unlocking the power of God’s vision for our lives. When we create instructions for the dignity of all, our efforts become coordinates directing us all to our desired destination of peace and reconciliation.
The first disciples celebrated the anointed seed whose fruit bore a divine harvest; sprung from Jesse’s stump and David’s righteous branch: the Son, the Light, Jesus, God with us.
Like Habakkuk, we cry out into the wilderness, wondering how we will survive and remedy all the injustices before us. Shavuot reminds us that justice and righteousness will prevail. We are assured by our living faith that there are better days beyond these difficult times.
Write the vision. Make it plain.
Where there is no vision the people perish