O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 ESV
How well do you know God? How intimately are you acquainted with His character and how does that impact the way you view life and influence your prayers? Habakkuk was a prophet of God who lived during the seventh-century B.C. and prophesied to the southern kingdom of Judah during the period of time before they went into exile. Those were difficult days. The people were rebellious. The nation had had a long succession of kings, most of whom had failed to lead well or serve God faithfully. Habakkuk’s job was to call the people to repentance. Like virtually every prophet of God, his message tended to fall on deaf ears and he experienced little to no success for his efforts. Earlier, Habakkuk had prayed another prayer, asking God to explain Himself. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV). Habakkuk was struggling. He had a difficult, if not impossible job to do. He found himself surrounded by sinful, rebellious people, living in a society where wickedness was rampant. Even the governmental and legal systems were perverted and failing to do their jobs.
God’s response to Habakkuk was simple and direct. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:4 ESV). He went on to tell Habakkuk of the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. The once great nation would fall and the people would be taken into captivity as a result of their consistent rebellion against God. And Habakkuk was not shocked by God’s news of Judah’s pending doom. He simply stated, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). He trusted God, but he was confused that He would use an even more wicked, immoral and godless nation to punish the chosen people of God. Habakkuk was wrestling with what he knew about God and how it all fit into his current circumstances. He asked God, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 ESV). Habakkuk was having an internal struggle with what he knew about God and what he saw happening all around him. He was surrounded by injustice and inequality. He helplessly watched as the wicked seemingly enjoy success at the expense of the godly. And then God had told him that the godless, pagan Babylonians would be His chosen instrument of punishment on the nation of Judah.
Judah was looking and praying for salvation. He was asking God to remedy the dismal situation in Judah. But God revealed that judgment was coming, and it would be coming from a source that would shock and surprise most people. God was going to answer Habakkuk’s prayer, but in a way that was unexpected and seemingly unjust. All of this was so confusing to the poor prophet. He trusted God, but he also couldn’t help but look around and see the sinful mess in which the people of Judah found themselves. Everything was topsy-turvy and upside down. Wickedness was winning out over righteousness within the walls of Jerusalem and now God was going to use a pagan nation to destroy those very same walls and the nation that lived within them. And Habakkuk knew that God was justified in His actions. The people were going to get exactly what they deserved. Which led Habakkuk to pray, “I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.” Habakkuk knew what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel. God had used the nation of Assyria to punish them, destroying their capital and taking their people into captivity. Habakkuk understood the nature of God’s sovereignty, justice and power, and it caused him to fear God. It was not a cowering, run-for-your-life kind of fear, but a sobering reverence and awe that resulted in a healthy respect for who God was.
Habakkuk appealed to God, asking that “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known.” He wanted God to reveal His divine plan of judgment to the people. He wanted God to make it known that His wrath was coming, so that the people might yet return to Him and be revived. And God was using Habakkuk as His chosen instrument to accomplish just that end. But when all was said and done, Habakkuk knew that, whatever happened, they were dependent upon God’s mercy. God had every right to be angry. He had been faithful. He had provided blessing upon blessing to His people, but they had chosen to repeatedly and persistently rebel against Him. Now judgment was imminent. So Habakkuk pleaded that God would “in wrath remember mercy.” He knew His God to be loving, faithful, merciful and kind. While He was obligated to punish sin, He was also consistent in extending mercy. Even His punishment would be an expression of His love for the people of Judah. He would use it to bring them to an end of themselves and to create in them an awareness of their need for Him. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV). Habakkuk was placing his hope, faith and trust in what he knew about God. He was going to trust Him to do the right thing, regardless of whether it made logical sense or not. He was learning to judge his circumstances through the lens of God’s character, rather than the other way around. God’s ways are not our ways. But His ways are always just, righteous and loving.