“Hmph. That can’t be the end.” I was stumped. “And he makes my feet,” I repeated aloud, “like a deer?” I shuffled through my papers full of scribbling, searching for clues like a detective. It didn’t make any sense. “Deer feet?”
I had spent the past two days in a hospital bed, translating Habakkuk from the Hebrew. Translating Old Testament passages had become my favorite pastime during extended hospital stays for Crohn’s flare-ups years before, while in college. I was attempting to finish a final, senior-year translation project during my first hospitalization. It was Jonah. It gave me something to focus on for long periods of time. It was relaxing for me, and I learned that Morphine and Hebrew are an incredible combination—mostly because I’m not very good at translating. Ever since then, my Hebrew Old Testament, a Brown-Driver-Briggs, a fresh journal, and a fountain pen have been the first things packed for a hospital stay. This time, I had chosen to translate the book of Habakkuk.
It wasn’t so random. It was a tough season of life, and a dear friend had sent me Psalm 7 a few weeks before as a prayer of encouragement. In my study of Psalm 7, I had discovered that it was a Hebrew Shiggaion—a highly emotional, frenzied song composed of varying rhythmic, melodic, and lyrical structures. It hits the highest highs and excavates the lowest lows. It’s the saddest thing you’ve ever heard until it suddenly becomes the most joyful celebration you’ve ever found. It’s blues and gospel—country and disco. It’s Mavis Staples and Stevie Ray Vaughan on stage with George Jones and The Black Eyed Peas in the weirdest Grammy jam ever. As I fell in love with Psalm 7, I found that the other definitive version of Shiggaion in the Bible was in the book of Habakkuk. An extended hospitalization was just what I needed to explore the obscure Prophet properly.
I already knew the context of Habakkuk—a Southern Kingdom prophet living in Jerusalem during the early days of Babylonian threat and invasion. I was aware of some of the mythology surrounding Habakkuk—that he teleported into the Lion’s Den and cooked soup for Daniel, or that he was the resurrected child of Elisha’s Shunammite Woman. But I had never really read through the three short chapters of the book. With the hospital bed raised to seated position, I dove right in.
Habakkuk was raw. He was angry. He was frustrated. He was mad at God over the violence and injustice that he saw. It was evident early in my translating that there were word plays at work over sight—raah and tsaphah—look and see—God’s eyes and panoramic views from Watchtower posts. Why do you make me look at injustice, God? The structure of Habakkuk follows a call and response pattern—twice Habakkuk complains, and twice God answers. Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. At the end of his impassioned appeal process, the time signature changes, the minor key modulates into C Major—no sharps or flats—and Habakkuk surrenders a final prayer of praise to God. To bring closure to the wordplay, I was expecting the prayer to end with either God changing all of the horrible things Habakkuk was seeing, or God giving Habakkuk a new vision of hope amidst the chaos in front of him. Instead, the coda ends on the fourth chord. God gave him deer feet. Feet. Deer feet.
Habakkuk needed to see his reality changed. So God gave him deer feet? I had seen the last verse of Habakkuk before—printed on cute plaques in Christian bookstores—and I had an unread copy of “Hind’s Feet on High Places” stuffed somewhere on a shelf, but now in context, it seemed bizarre. I knew that deer in the Bible panteth for the water, but I couldn’t understand why having their feet would help anyone in a hopeless situation. In desperation, I started to reach out to my deer hunting friends and family. “Tell me everything you know about deer feet. Trust me; it’s a Bible question.” It was two days before I solved the mystery and came to understand why God had led me to translate Habakkuk in the first place.
Having learned everything I possibly could about the anatomy of a deer hoof, I returned to the sight theme and decided to research deer eyes. And there was my answer. Deer don’t look down when they run. They look up and ahead while their feet move. I’ll never forget the quiet moment when it sunk in and research became worship. It wasn’t about Hebrew poetry. It was about my life. My focus was on the things at my feet—the things on the ground—instead of looking up to God. It was about sight, after all. It was about Habakkuk changing his perspective. God didn’t fix the problems at Habakkuk’s feet, but he offered him a new way to walk through them. I took a deep breath. And he makes my feet like a deer. Even to the heights. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. It was a timely word that I desperately needed. It became my personal and family theme through an incredibly trying year. Look up. Keep moving forward. Leave what’s on the ground on the ground. Find joy in the God of your salvation.