Facing devastating loss

Recently we looked at the tragedy unfolding between Ukraine and Russia. But there are also frequent tragedies that occur as a result of natural disasters. As I write this, the residents in South Africa’s Kwazulu-Natal province are facing devastating loss of life, possessions, and homes due to heavy downpours and widespread flooding and landslides.


I recall an Afrikaans setwork book we had at school, entitled ‘Droogte’ (drought) by C .M. van den Heever. The book describes a period of time in the Karoo area of our country when there was a severe lack of rain. It goes into how the farmers would anxiously examine the sky day after day looking for any sign of a build up of clouds with the promise of rain.

Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay

Our text verse for this week’s study conveys the same desperate picture.

Habakkuk 3:17 NIV

‘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 yet I will rejoice in the Lord.’

As Habakkuk draws his prophecy to a close, he imagines the worst scenario. He does this by focusing on a number of familiar metaphors drawn from the plant and animal life in Israel.


“Though the fig tree does not bud (blossom)”. The interesting fact is that the fig tree never blossoms as we know it. You will never see a flower on the fig tree. The fig is actually an inverted flower! Yet it is an important fruit in Israel. 

The fig tree was common in the land of Canaan. Its fruit was used in many ways, so if it did not produce fruit, it was bad news.

Cakes were made from figs:

“Abigail flew into action. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five sheep dressed out and ready for cooking, a bushel of roasted grain, a hundred raisin cakes, and two hundred fig cakes, and she had it all loaded on some donkeys.” (1 Sam. 25:18)

So it was really bad when there was a scarcity of figs.


Grapes were pressed to make wine, which was used in sacrifices to God as well as for personal use. For there to be no grapes on the vine would lead to an economic crisis in the land. 


The olive tree yielded berries out of which oil was extracted. The Jews use olive oil instead of butter, they use it to light lamps, for their cooking, for making soap, for medical purposes and as cosmetics. A barren olive tree would be a disaster for its owner.


The grass fields provided fodder for the animals. The grain fields provide food for the people.  The fields produce crops of wheat, sorghum and corn. The people and economy depend upon this.


Flocks of sheep could be depleted by the hand of God, through disease, driven off by enemies, or simply killed to provide food. Likewise, oxen would no longer be in the stables for the same reasons.”

These were important necessities of life in Judah. What if the fig, grape or olive crops were to fail?  If the fields became bare of grass or grain, what would it mean to the nation? If the stocks of sheep and oxen were depleted, the result would be hardship and hunger. These possible disasters were obviously a cause of great concern.


  • Can you remember a time of devastating loss in your life? Or in a friend’s? Can you remember how it came about? How did you, or your friend, deal with it?

Devastating loss may occur through circumstances apart from natural disasters such as flooding and drought.

Last week the supervisor of the retirement village where Shirley and I reside sent this message to our cellular phones:-

Gqeberha 22 April 2022 Police in Gqeberha are warning shoppers/motorists especially the elderly to be vigilant and take note of their surroundings when returning to their vehicles after shopping.

This alert arises from several reports received of people being robbed of their belongings by criminals. the modus operandi is that either the owner/driver reaches his/her vehicle or is already seated in the vehicle when a well-mannered man appears and informs him/her that their vehicle has an oil leak, or that water is leaking from underneath the vehicle or that the car has a flat tyre. As soon as the victim gets out of the vehicle, another person will appear without being noticed, open the door and grab a handbag, cellphone and other belongings in the vehicle. Alternatively, if the victim is still outside the vehicle, the suspect will advise that he/she places their belongings on the ground so that they can bend to see the ‘oil’ or ‘water’ leak. The personal belongings and parcels are then snapped away by the second suspect. Both suspects the disappear.

Shoppers are urged not to entertain anyone who approaches them with these allegations or any other disturbing information about their vehicles instead walk away from their vehicles and report them to the centre’s security or attract the attention of other shoppers.


I believe that some folk have experienced devastating loss due to these con artists.

It is a sad fact but unfortunately true that crime in all its varied forms is on the increase and we need to be vigilant in order to avoid devastating loss. South Africa has more than its share of crime, but you only need to watch the world news to see we are not alone in this sad state of affairs.

Technology is a wonderful thing yet these con artists are using technology to deprive us of our hard-earned finances. I am constantly being warned by my bank of scams that are afoot to encourage me to surrender my meagre income to some cyber thief. Beware!

When we do suffer a devastating loss through natural disasters or even by having yielded to some clever scam, it is difficult for us to accept. We may even be inclined to blame God and ask ‘Why?’


But what does Habakkuk suggest? Even if these disasters were to occur, he urged the nation of Israel to “rejoice in the Lord.” He says “I will be joyful in God my Savior.”

Pastor Ray Fowler has this word of advice:

It is right and proper to voice appreciation of God’s goodness when he bestows all that is necessary for life, health, and prosperity. But when these things are lacking, to rejoice in God for his own sake is evidence of pure faith.’ 

I have learned over the years that even when we have experienced severe losses, the Lord has been gracious and never deserted us. He continually recompenses us in some way for the loss we experienced. So yes, I need to take heed of Habakkuk’s words. I need to rejoice in the Lord, and be joyful in Him.

Reflect on the ways that the Lord has blessed you, even in times of distress and disaster. Rejoice in God who is aware of your every hardship and is available to carry you through the worst senario.

  I strongly suggest you sit back and follow this video clip based on the words we have looked at today. It takes just over two minutes, and it is a different rendition to the one you may know, but it drives home God’s magnificence in the time of tragedy, loss, and confusion that we all, as a world, have been through in recent years. Click on the link below.



If you haven’t yet read the background to the prophecy, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.

With the Poor in Mind

What should our attitude be towards the poor?

Habakkuk 3:14 ESV

“You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.”

Image by Sri Harsha Gera from Pixabay

The prophet Habakkuk speaks of God coming to the rescue of His own from the assaults of their enemy.


The term ‘heads’ could possibly indicate the conquering kings. Many commentators feel ‘heads’ may also refer to the heads of the enemy villages as comes across in the King James Version, “Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages”.

God not only dethroned kings in his vengeance but He devastated the enemy’s villages in retribution for what they had done to His people, Israel.

Notice the prophet associates himself with his people when he describes how the foe ‘came like a whirlwind to scatter me.


The Babylonians (Chaldeans) were extremely cruel in their conquest of neighbouring nations. They especially preyed on the poor.

Whereas our text, taken from the ESV, speaks of the ‘poor’, various other versions have other interpretations:

  • Wretched – NIV
  • Refugees – CEV
  • Inflicted – ISV
  • Humble – LITV
  • Meek – MKJV
  • Weak – NIrV

As I prepare for this study the world is devastated at the horrific onslaught against the Ukrainians. All of the above terms describe the predicament of the Ukrainians. Millions of the aged, women, and children, have had to flee from their homes and country. With little more than they were able to carry they have become refugees in neighbouring nations. This has caused a major problem for those nations having to cope with such an alarming influx.

Although reporters are telling of atrocities taking place on both sides of this pointless war, there have also been many stories, supported by the media, where Ukrainians have been loving toward captured enemy soldiers, feeding them, tending to their wounds and even allowing them to make contact with loved ones back in Russia. by cellular phone. 

The saying, ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,’ is so true in our country in South Africa.  Funds available for the poor and needy have been selfishly seized and utilized by the more fortunate. As we watch global news it becomes apparent we are not the only country going through this dishonesty and corruption.


  • What is your general attitude towards the weaknesses and misfortunes of others? Do you look down upon them or seek to help them?

I’ve heard a story of an English professor who was throwing questions at his class. One of his students rose to answer with his book in his left hand instead of his right hand, as was the general practice. Angrily the professor thundered at him, “Take your book in your right hand and be seated!

The student held up his right arm, which had been amputated at the wrist. The great man hesitated for a moment. Then he went up to the student and, with tears streaming from his eyes said, “I never knew about it. Will you forgive me?”

This request for forgiveness resulted in that student becoming a Christian.


Jesus has a special place in His heart for the poor. and oppressed.

As Christ’s followers, we are stewards of what the Lord has given us.

‘God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.’ (2 Corinthians 9:8,9; Psalm 112:9 NIV)

Jesus said, ‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. ‘ (Mark 14:7)

Yes, the poor will always be around.  And we cannot help them all. Therefore we need to be sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit as to whom we reach out to and help.


  • What is your general reaction to the folk on street corners who are hoping to appeal to your sympathy?

Here in South Africa in the major cities, it is the practice of folk seeking a handout to stand at busy intersections with placards requesting help.

A group of seniors from a retirement village noticed a lady standing at a particular corner day after day. They decided that they would offer her a paid job in each of their homes once a week so that she would have a regular daily income. When one of the group approached this lady with their offer, she simply laughed and said, “I get more by standing here on this corner than you could ever pay me.”


As a minister in Beaconsfield, Kimberley, we soon discovered that Kimberley was a halfway house between Johannesburg and the Cape so we were constantly approached by folk wanting a handout. Because of these numerous appeals my wife and I had to be sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting.

On one occasion, I was approached by a man who said he had just been released from prison and needed to get to Cape Town. I arranged for him to meet me at the station when the next train to Cape Town was due. My wife made up a small food parcel and I bought him a second class ticket to Cape Town. I saw him onto the train and watched as it departed. When I got back home I commented, “Well if he’s pulling a fast one He will have to remain on the train for a long way before the train’s next stop.”

Weeks later I received a phone call from my parents in Cape Town to say that the same gentleman had looked up our not common surname in the phone directory. He had found out where they lived and had called on them. He asked them to please convey his thanks to their son for helping him to get to Cape Town.


Some months ago, a group of us walked to a store a few blocks away from my son’s home. We passed a shabbily-dressed man squatting on the corner. We greeted him, and he returned our greeting. He didn’t ask for anything. While we were in the shop, one of our daughters-in-law picked up a bunch of bananas. We pointed out there were plenty at the house, but she proceeded to the till and paid for them.

On our way home, she cross the road, handed the bunch of bananas to the man, and joined us again. Such a simple gesture and they hadn’t cost much. But, besides being nutritious and filling, I’m sure that simple gift made that man’s day. 

It’s a great feeling to know that you have been able to help someone with a genuine need, but there are so many con artists that guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential.

In closing please give serious thought and prayer to whether and how the Lord wants you to help someone you know of who is in desparate need. If you’re in a group, or perhaps seek out a friend to chat with, discuss ways you can help the poor in a constructive way. It could be as simple as a bunch of bananas.

PS. If you haven’t yet read the background to the prophecy, please do. It will benefit you throughout this series of studies.