Below is F.F. Bruce’s commentary1 on Habakkuk 3:17-19.
“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,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.”
The confidence of the godly (3:17-19)
There is no more moving comment on the prime truth of this prophecy – ‘the righteous will live by his faith’ – than that which is contained in these verses. The affirmation is exquisitely and nobly worded.
The faith Habakkuk professes is no blind faith, for it is exercised in clear prospect of a complete catastrophe (17). Through natural disaster or, more likely, through enemy action, crops fail, cattle are decimated, the nation’s economy collapses and famine ensues. His yet (18) is worthy to stand alongside the ‘even if . . . not’ of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan. 3:18), and is only surpassed by Jesus’ ‘nevertheless’ (Mt. 26:39). It is a submissive and determined faith; better still, it is an exultant one – I will rejoice . . . I will be joyful. The secret is to be found in the focus of his faith; its object is the LORD. From the reputation of the name and titles of God we may gauge that the prophet has arrived at a renewed appreciation of the One in whom he trusts.
Salvation described in v. 13 is now experienced personally – God my Savior – both in adversity (17) and prosperity (19). The path of life may lead through ‘the valley of deep darkness’ or traverse the heights; it matters not to one who assured that God, the Lord is in total control, that His goal is salvation and that He Himself is the source and secret of strength.
The footnote (19b) signifies that the psalm was sung at the Temple services. In various paraphrases, and notably in William Cowper’s Sometimes a light surprises, it is sung still. This alone provides testimony to the abiding relevance of the prophecy.
Bruce, F. F. The International Bible Commentary with the New International Version. London: M. Pickering, 1986. 949-50. Print.