Unlike our uncertainty about the future, Habakkuk knew what was coming for Judah and for Babylon. He had questioned God and had seen the answer in a vision when God replied. He had been bold enough to ask God how and why He was going to do what He was planning. He had even questioned God’s ability to remain pure and holy while using an unholy nation to judge His people in Judah.
As he questioned God he finally spent some time alone, quietly waiting for God to answer his questions. He admitted that he likely needed to be corrected and taught the truth because from what he knew of God surely he as a mere man was missing some information to make sense of what God was going to do. He just didn’t get it and hoped that God would set him straight.
Of course God did just that. He answered and showed the prophet how He could and would use Babylon to carry out His judgment against Judah, and how He would then judge and deride Babylon even in the midst of using them for His purposes. The answer was so thorough that it caused Habakkuk’s whole attitude and demeanor to change.
In Habakkuk chapter 3 we see the prophet’s response to God’s answers. Instead of bold brashness and pestering petitions we see that Habakkuk’s focus shifted from self, to sin, to the Savior. He had been concerned with himself and why God would not answer Him and grant him what he desired. He had also tried to compare Babylon and Judah, finding by his estimation that Babylon was horrendously corrupt and sinful while God’s people by comparison were in need of correction, but surely could not been seen in the same light (or darkness) as Babylon. But now he sees that he and Judah and even Babylon are in need of salvation.
As he prays, he actually puts a poem to music to be used in the formal worship liturgy of Judah as they worshipped God in the future, even in the midst of the judgment that was coming. In Hab. 3:1 the term “shigionoth” refers to a reeling about and is a musical term used to denote how this song was to be played by the instrumentalists. The emotions, thoughts, and themes of the prayer reeled about and would change rapidly. Verses 1-2 show us Habakkuk’s approach in the prayer, verses 3-15 are the body of the prayer, and verses 16-19 form a testimony of faith to conclude the prayer. This week we will be looking at his approach in verses 1-2.
Habakkuk tells us that he has heard God’s reply to his questions and as he heard God’s Word it made him afraid. He was in awe of God’s holiness, fearful because of His wrath, and hopeful that in the midst of carrying out this judgment there was still hope for revival and mercy.
He prayed that in the midst of the years God would revive and reveal His work. In the midst of the years refers to the time of judgment that was coming. Jeremiah prophesied that the judgment in captivity would last 70 years. Habakkuk was praying that during that time, in the middle of judging His people, that there would be a revival, a quickening of God’s work. He was asking that God would continue to work, to save His people, to bring them through judgment and work in their midst to bring repentance, restoration, and eventually a return to the Land.
God did revive His work and reveal His plans in the midst of judgment through men of God like Daniel, Nehemiah, and Ezra. He also revealed His saving power in the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, and through dreams and visions. God answered Habakkuk’s prayer! Don’t forget that Habakkuk recorded this poem prayer as a song so that the people would sing it often in preparation for the time of judgment. God heard them and answered them too.
To close the introduction to his prayer, Habakkuk asks God to remember mercy in the midst of wrath. When we think of God’s wrath, His righteous and holy anger toward sin and sinners, we often think in terms of complete and utter destruction, disruption, and discipline. To be sure, His wrath in the lake of fire where the lost will be dying the second death for all eternity is a place where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies. There is no relief from the torments of judgment.
However, for the believer, we see an amazing instance of mercy in judgment. As Christ was paying the full price for our sin, as He was being mocked, tortured, beaten, and forced to carry His own cross to the place of the skull – in the midst of paying for our sin as He was bearing the full wrath of God on Himself for our sin – there we see that God, in wrath, remembered mercy. As Jesus could no longer carry His cross, Simon was pulled from the crowd and forced by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross for Jesus!
God is so holy, so perfect, so right, so pure, and so just that He must punish sin. And sin is so wicked, so horrid, so unclean that if we were to pay the penalty all on our own then we could never pay it all. Hence the lake of fire burns forever. But then we see that by contrast, God’s mercy is so great, so deep, so full, so merciful that in the face of complete and utter judgment and wrath God still was able to show mercy to Christ and provide a little relief as His cross was carried by another.
What mercy! What grace! What a God we serve!
We like Habakkuk must hear God’s Word. When we do we should rightly fear and stand in awe of our God. And in our day to day lives and in our future as we see His judgment on our nation, on our families, and on our own sin we need to understand that no matter how bad things seem to be, or how uncertain the future may be, the just live by faith. We must pray and believe that God will hear and answer our prayer, revive and reveal His work, and in wrath remember mercy.
Join us this Sunday, December 5, at 10:30 AM as we continue in our series “Triumphant Faith” in this sixth message titled “In Wrath Remember Mercy” from Habakkuk 3:1-2.