You, O Lord, Are God Alone

1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has set out to fight against you.” So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said: “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” 2 Kings 19:1-19 ESV

When King Hezekiah’s three emissaries returned with a report of all that the Rabshakeh had said, he was overwhelmed with grief. This self-absorbed and overly confident commander of Sennacherib’s army had ridiculed Hezekiah for placing any hope of rescue in Egypt. Pharaoh would prove to be an unreliable source of help against the much larger and better equipped Assyrian army. And Sennacherib’s cocky commander scoffed at any notion that the God of Judah would come to their aid. Speaking on behalf of his equally arrogant king, the Rabshakeh had boldly declared, “What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (2 Kings 18:35 NLT).

Demoralized by this devastating news, King Hezekiah immediately entered into a state of mourning and sought refuge and solace in the house of God. From there, he sent a  message to the prophet Isaiah.

“Today is a day of trouble, insults, and disgrace. It is like when a child is ready to be born, but the mother has no strength to deliver the baby. But perhaps the Lord your God has heard the Assyrian chief of staff, sent by the king to defy the living God, and will punish him for his words. Oh, pray for those of us who are left!” – 2 Kings 19:3-4 NLT

These were dark days for the nation of Judah, but Hezekiah held out hope that Yahweh would still come to their aid. From his vantage point within the walls of God’s house, Hezekiah must have recalled the prayer that Solomon had offered up to God when he had dedicated the newly constructed temple.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

While Judah had not yet been defeated by the Assyrians, things were not looking good. Their massive army was camped outside the eastern walls and Hezekiah knew it was just a matter of time before the siege brought Jerusalem to its knees. But he still held out hope, turning to the prophet of God and begging him to seek Yahweh’s divine assistance. And the message he received from Isaiah must have sounded far-fetched and too good to be true.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.’” – 2 Kings 19:6-7 NLT

God had heard every boastful and blasphemous word the Rabshakeh had said. And Isaiah assured Hezekiah that he had nothing to fear because God had something in store for Sennacherib that would throw a major wrench into his global conquest plans. The great king of Assyria would suddenly find himself facing unexpected attacks on a number of fronts that would eventually force him to abandon his siege of Jerusalem. But even though Sennacherib had reallocated his forces to other battlefronts, he was not going to give up on his plan to conquer Jerusalem. So, he sent another message to King Hezekiah, demanding that he give up his Don Quixote-like quest for divine rescue. Sennacherib treated the God of Judah with contempt, declaring that He would prove just as powerless as all the other gods of all the other nations that had fallen to the Assyrians.

But Hezekiah took Sennacherib’s letter into the temple and spread it out before the Lord. Then he prayed, “O Lord, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You alone created the heavens and the earth. Bend down, O Lord, and listen! Open your eyes, O Lord, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God” (2 Kings 19:15-16 NLT).

Hezekiah reminded Yahweh that all the other gods had failed because they were nothing more than the figments of man’s fertile imagination.

“They were not gods at all—only idols of wood and stone shaped by human hands. – 2 Kings 19:18 NLT

But Yahweh was the living God. He was the all-powerful creator God who had made the heavens and the earth. He was seated on His throne in heaven and fully capable of dealing with King Sennacherib and his seemingly unstoppable army. And Hezekiah called on Yahweh to intervene and demonstrate His sovereign power by rescuing His chosen people. And when the one true God does what no other god could do, delivering Judah from the hands of Sennacherib, all the nations of the earth will recognize “that you alone, O Lord, are God” (2 Kings 19:19 NLT). 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When the Odds Are Against You

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”  2 Kings 18:13-25 ESV

King Hezekiah instituted a variety of reforms in Judah, including the restoration of the temple of God and the reinstitution of the sacrificial system. He also reconsecrated the priestly order, challenging these men to recommit themselves to their God-ordained role as the spiritual leaders of Judah.

Not long after becoming king, Hezekiah had to deal with yet another long-neglected aspect of Judah’s worship: The annual celebration of Passover. He was informed that “the people had not been celebrating it in great numbers as required in the Law” (Deuteronomy 30:5 NLT). So, Hezekiah sent couriers throughout the kingdom of Judah with letters calling the people to gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

“O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he will return to the few of us who have survived the conquest of the Assyrian kings. Do not be like your ancestors and relatives who abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and became an object of derision, as you yourselves can see. Do not be stubborn, as they were, but submit yourselves to the Lord. Come to his Temple, which he has set apart as holy forever. Worship the Lord your God so that his fierce anger will turn away from you.

“For if you return to the Lord, your relatives and your children will be treated mercifully by their captors, and they will be able to return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful. If you return to him, he will not continue to turn his face from you.” – Deuteronomy 30:6-9 NLT

Some of the people responded in derision, refusing to gather for this sacred celebration. But the majority of the people heeded Hezekiah’s call and “a huge crowd assembled at Jerusalem in midspring to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (Deuteronomy 30:13 NLT). As a result, the Passover was reinstituted and the nation experienced a much-needed spiritual renewal.

The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, including the priests, the Levites, all who came from the land of Israel, the foreigners who came to the festival, and all those who lived in Judah. There was great joy in the city, for Jerusalem had not seen a celebration like this one since the days of Solomon, King David’s son. Then the priests and Levites stood and blessed the people, and God heard their prayer from his holy dwelling in heaven. – Deuteronomy 30:25-27 NLT

Things were looking up in Judah. The nation’s spiritual condition was on an upward trajectory. But there was trouble on the horizon. It had been 21 years since the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. And while Judah had been graciously spared, the Assyrians remained a constant threat in the region. This powerful enemy had a new king, Sennacherib, who reinvigorated his predecessor’s grand ambitions to conquer all of Palestine. Sennacherib had established a military base in Lachish, just 28 miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. This obvious threat to Judah’s sovereignty forced Hezekiah to join an alliance with Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt. But to demonstrate the futility of any armed resistance, the Assyrians launched a series of raids within Judah that resulted in the easy capture of a number of well-fortified cities. This devastating turn of events forced Hezekiah to rethink his strategy and appeal to the mercy of Sennacherib

King Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. I will pay whatever tribute money you demand if you will only withdraw.” – 2 Kings 18:14 NLT

The year was 701 BC, and Hezekiah was in the 14th year of his reign. He had been a good and godly king, choosing to walk in the ways of David. Unlike many of his predecessors, Hezekiah had “remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses” (2 Kings 18:6 NLT). As a result, “the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did” (2 Kings 18:7 NLT). And yet, here he was facing the very same threat that had brought about the fall of Israel. The Assyrians were just 28 miles away and King Hezekiah found himself having to open up the coffers of the royal treasury in order to raise a hefty ransom to protect the capital city of Jerusalem.

The king of Assyria then demanded a settlement of more than eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold. To gather this amount, King Hezekiah used all the silver stored in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasury. Hezekiah even stripped the gold from the doors of the Lord’s Temple and from the doorposts he had overlaid with gold, and he gave it all to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 18:14-16 NLT

To come up with this exorbitant ransom, Hezekiah was forced to desecrate the very temple he had painstakingly restored. To pay off this pagan king, Hezekiah ordered that the house of God be stripped of its gold and silver. This decision must have pained Hezekiah greatly. But it appeared that he had no other choice. And to make matters worse, his costly and compromising decision proved ineffective. Though Hezekiah had faithfully met the full terms of Sennacherib’s demands, the Assyrians still ended up besieging Jerusalem. A massive army marched from Lachish and “took up a position beside the aqueduct that feeds water into the upper pool, near the road leading to the field where cloth is washed” (2 Kings 18:17 NLT).

The army of Assyria gathered just outside the eastern walls of Jerusalem, where they set up camp in the Kidron Valley. Their intentions were clear. And when Hezekiah was summoned by the representatives of King Sennacherib, he chose to send three emissaries to negotiate with the Assyrians. Evidently, the 11 tons of silver and one ton of gold were not going to be enough. The Assyrians wanted more. King Sennacherib would not be satisfied until Jerusalem and all Judah were under his control and part of his ever-expanding global empire.

In spite of all his reforms and ongoing efforts to renew the spiritual state of Judah, Hezekiah still found himself facing the same fate as the apostate kings of Israel. The very same Assyrians who had destroyed Samaria 14 years earlier were now camped outside the walls of his own capital city. But unlike his contemporaries in Israel, King Hezekiah had been faithful to Yahweh. He had done all the right things.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. – 2 Kings 18:5-6 NLT

And yet, his kingdom was under siege. His royal city was being threatened by a pagan king with grand aspirations of global dominance. But this time, the Assyrians were going to find that they had overstepped their bounds and were facing a foe far more powerful than any they had ever encountered. Judah had a far greater ally than the Egyptians, Phoenicians, or Philistines. They had God Almighty on their side.

But Sennacherib’s spokesman would downplay all of these potential allies, even ridiculing any hope that the God of Judah would come to their aid.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem? – 2 Kings 18:22 NLT

This pagan representative of King Sennacherib had no understanding of who Yahweh was or the kind of power He wielded. To the Assyrians, Yahweh was just one more god among many, and He would prove no less able to stand against their superior forces as any of the other gods of their conquered foes. In fact, this Assyrian emissary had wrongly assumed that Hezekiah must have offended the God of Judah when he had ordered the destruction of all the altars and shrines throughout the land. From his pagan perspective, Hezekiah was in a no-win situation. Judah’s military allies would prove hopeless and helpless, and their God had turned against them. He even insinuated that the Assyrians had been sent by the God of Judah to punish them.

But while the situation looked bleak, Hezekiah was about to discover that his God had not abandoned them. The odds were not in Judah’s favor, but because of the faithfulness of Hezekiah, Judah would find that their God was going to respond favorably toward them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Floating Ax Head and Chariots of Fire

1 Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan and each of us get there a log, and let us make a place for us to dwell there.” And he answered, “Go.” Then one of them said, “Be pleased to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it. 

Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” 10 And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice.

11 And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.” 13 And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” 14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 19 And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.

20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. 21 As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” 22 He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 23 So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel. 2 Kings 6:1-23 ESV

Let’s face it, even for a prophet of God, Elisha had some rather strange experiences. And the two that are recorded in the opening verses of this chapter are among the most bizarre. At first glance, the only thing they appear to have in common is Elisha. But upon further examination, one can see that both stories are meant to accentuate the power of God’s prophet. The first is short and to the point but displays the supernatural, yet highly practical nature of Elisha’s divine enablement. This man was God’s representative and, as such, he was to display the caring concern that Yahweh had for His children.

Elisha’s fellow prophets approach him, seeking his approval to build a larger complex in which to house their growing number. They had chosen a spot near the Jordan River and were intending to work as a team in the construction of their new home. Elisha gave them his blessing to begin the project, but they requested that he accompany them. Which he did. But as they were going through the laborious process of cutting down the trees to make logs for their new headquarters, one of the men lost the head to his ax. It flew off the handle and landed in the river, disappearing from sight. To our minds, this doesn’t appear to be a life-and-death situation. Obviously, they had more than one ax, but the author reveals that this particular ax had been borrowed and iron was a costly commodity in those days. So, the one who had borrowed the ax was deeply concerned over his bit of bad luck. He would have been required to replace the lost ax head and, on a prophet’s salary, that would have been difficult.

It’s difficult not to read this story and not think about the words that Solomon recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes.

One who digs a pit may fall into it,
and one who breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
One who quarries stones may be injured by them;
one who splits logs may be endangered by them.
If an iron axhead is blunt and a workman does not sharpen its edge,
he must exert a great deal of effort;
so wisdom has the advantage of giving success. – Ecclesiastes 10:8-10 NET

Chopping wood with a loose ax head would have certainly fit into this category of unwise decisions. But rather than embarrass this poor man for his lack of forethought, Elisha simply asked him for a general idea of where the ax head entered the water. Then Elisha did something completely unexpected but highly practical. He “cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface” (2 Kings 6:6 NLT). Miraculously, the heavy iron ax head rose to the surface where the man easily and eagerly retrieved it. His problem was solved, thanks to Elisha’s quick thinking and practical application of the divine resources at his disposal.

The second story is a bit more complex, and far more in line with what we would expect a prophet of God to do. Rather than the prophets of Yahweh constructing a new dwelling place, we have the Syrian king and his officers plotting an invasion of Israel. But before they could implement their strategy, Elisha received divine insight into their plans and warned the king of Israel. And much to Ben-hadad’s frustration, this happened repeatedly.

This led the Syrian king to assume that he had a traitor in his camp. Someone was passing on their top-secret plans to the Israelites.  But his officers assured him that the problem was far worse than he thought. Yahweh, the God of Israel, had been listening in on all their secret strategy sessions and then passing the information on to Elisha, who warned the king of Israel.

Determined to put a stop to this leak in his communications network, Ben-hadad sent a large contingent of troops and chariots to capture Elisha. When Elisha’s servant woke up the next morning, he saw Syrian troops as far as the eye could see and he cried out, “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” (2 Kings 6:15 NLT). But the prophet handled the news with the same degree of calmness he had exhibited when he heard about the lost ax head. He simply stated, “Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (2 Kings 6:16 NLT). 

The petrified servant must have questioned his mater’s sanity. How in the world could the prophet think that they had the Syrians outnumbered. But Elisha had every confidence that the same God who raised the ax head from the bottom of the Jordan could raise an army to defeat the Syrians. So, he confidently called on the power of Yahweh.

Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. – 2 Kings 6:17 NLT

This “heavenly host” was intended to bolster the faith of Elisha’s servant. But, interestingly enough, the horses and chariots of fire did not engage the Syrians in battle. They were a tangible visual representation of God’s power. It’s similar to what happened when Elisha witnessed God take Elijah to be with Him.

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared. They went between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm. – 2 Kings 2:11 NLT

God didn’t use the fiery chariots to transport Elijah and He would not use them to save Elisha and the city of Dothan. Instead, Elisha asked God to blind the eyes of the advancing enemy. Then, the prophet led the confused and completely helpless Syrian army to the capital city of Samaria. When they arrived, “the Lord opened their eyes, and they discovered that they were in the middle of Samaria” (2 Kings 6:20 NLT).

But rather than order the slaughter of the disoriented and disadvantaged Syrians, Elisha instructed King Jehoram: “Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master” (2 Kings 6:22 NLT). So, Jehoram threw a great feast and then sent the Syrians home. The details of this incredible Israelite victory would make it all the way to the palace of Ben-hadad, informing him that the God of Israel was greater than the gods of the Syrians. God had protected His prophet and had provided the innocent people of Dothan with a gracious and merciful rescue from certain destruction. The same God who cared enough to return a lost ax head was willing to display His supernatural power over the enemies of Israel. There is no water too deep, no enemy too powerful, and no problem too difficult for God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Yet, I Will Wait Quietly

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
    Was your anger against the rivers,
    or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
    on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
    calling for many arrows. Selah
    You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
    the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
    it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
    at the light of your arrows as they sped,
    at the flash of your glittering spear.
12 You marched through the earth in fury;
    you threshed the nations in anger.
13 You went out for the salvation of your people,
    for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
    laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14 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.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
    the surging of mighty waters.
16  I hear, and my body trembles;
    my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
    my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
    to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk 3:8-16 ESV

Habakkuk continues his recitation of God’s mighty acts on behalf of Israel, and his objective seems quite apparent. By recounting the various stories from Israel’s past that illustrate God’s power and sovereignty, Habakkuk is reminding himself and his readers that they have nothing to fear. Their God has a long and illustrious record of dominating victories over the natural order and human opposition.

He starts by describing God’s anger against the rivers and the sea. This is likely a reference to the Nile, the Jordan River, and the Red Sea. In all three cases, God had displayed His sovereign power over these bodies of water by performing miraculous acts of transformation. In the first of the plagues God brought against the Egyptians, He had commanded Moses to turn the life-giving waters of the Nile into blood.

In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. – Exodus 7:20-21 ESV

Habakkuk rhetorically asks, “Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea…?” (Habakkuk 3:8 ESV). And the answer is, “No!” God was not displaying His wrath against the Nile, but He was using it as a way to display His unsurpassed power to the stubborn Egyptians and the reluctant Israelites. Moses had warned Pharaoh that, unless he released the people of Israel, their God would act on their behalf and the Egyptians would get a painful lesson concerning God’s power.

Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord: behold, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall turn into blood. – Exodus 7:17 ESV

But despite God’s display of power, Pharaoh proved resistant and continued to refuse the repeated requests of Moses to release the people of Israel. So, God brought another ten plagues upon the people of Egypt. And when the death of the firstborn finally forced Pharoah to reluctantly acquiesce and set the Israelites free, God had one more miracle in store that would finalize His redemptive plan for Israel. At the waters of the Red Sea, God provided another remarkable display of His sovereign power.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. – Exodus 14:21-22 ESV

After Pharaoh had finally relented and allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt, they had made it as far as the Red Sea, when Pharaoh had another change of heart and sent his army to recapture them. When the Israelites became aware of their hopeless circumstance, “they feared greatly…and cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10 ESV). And then they complained to Moses, expressing their regret at having allowed him to convince them to leave Egypt. But Moses assured them that God was not done yet.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

And the salvation of God took the form of the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army with all its chariots. But not only that, God used those very same waters to destroy the Egyptians, bringing their 400 years of captivity and subjugation to a climactic end.

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. – Exodus 14:27-28 ESV

And Habakkuk, in recalling this fateful event in Israel’s history, points out that God had not been angry with the waters of the Red Sea, but He had simply used this natural barrier as a tool to accomplish His divine will for His chosen people. Habakkuk leaves not doubt as to God’s intent: “you were sending your chariots of salvation!” (Habakkuk 3:8 NLT).

And years later, God would repeat this miraculous event when the Israelites arrived at the Jordan River, the eastern border of the land of Canaan. They had arrived when the river was at flood stage, creating a natural barrier the prevented them from crossing over into the land that God had provided as their inheritance. But, as always, God had a plan in place.

So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.

Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground. – Joshua 3:14-17 NLT

Habakkuk pictures God as a mighty warrior, brandishing His bow and using the arrows from His quiver to split the earth with rivers” (Habakkuk 3:9 ESV). This imagery portrays God’s creation of the rivers and seas as an act of war, as He sovereignly ordained these natural resources to be part of His redemptive plan. He had placed each of them right where they were for a reason. He had divinely prepared them for the role they would play in the future salvation of Israel. And Habakkuk describes the rest of nature as spectators to God’s war-like creation of the rivers and seas.

The mountains watched and trembled.
    Onward swept the raging waters.
The mighty deep cried out,
    lifting its hands in submission.
The sun and moon stood still in the sky
    as your brilliant arrows flew
    and your glittering spear flashed. – Habakkuk 3:10-11 NLT

Habakkuk personifies the mountains, and even the planets, as silent witness to God’s actions, reacting with appropriate awe and fear at what they see. In Habakkuk’s creative representation of God’s redemptive work, He pictures the Almighty as a powerful warrior making His way across the landscape, leaving a wake of destruction in His path, as He rescues His anointed ones from their enemies.

You marched across the land in anger
    and trampled the nations in your fury.
You went out to rescue your chosen people,
    to save your anointed ones.
You crushed the heads of the wicked
    and stripped their bones from head to toe. – Habakkuk 3:12-13 NLT

This imagery had to have put a smile on Habakkuk’s face. Faced with the dismal circumstances taking place in Judah, and the prospect of defeat at the hands of the Babylonians, Habakkuk relished the idea of God wreaking havoc on their enemies.

In recalling God’s defeat of the Egyptians at the waters of the Red Sea, Habakkuk found the comfort and encouragement he needed to face his current circumstances. Yes, all looked lost. The enemy was bearing down on them. It appeared that they had no way of escape. And yet, there was always hope when God was involved.

With his own weapons,
    you destroyed the chief of those
who rushed out like a whirlwind,
    thinking Israel would be easy prey.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
    and the mighty waters piled high. – Habakkuk 3:14-15 NLT

All those years ago, the Egyptians had showed up with their chariots and horses, ready to defeat and recapture the helpless Israelites. But things did not turn out as expected.

The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.” – Exodus 14:23-25 ESV

God used their weapons against them. The wheels of their heavy chariots became bogged down in the mud. Trapped by the muck and the mire, their horses unable to move, the Egyptians were little more than sitting ducks. They had trampled the sea with their horses, but God had piled high the mighty waters. And then, the “waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Exodus 14:28 ESV).

And when the waters had receded, the Israelites discovered that their great God had delivered a mighty victory.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. – Exodus 14:30 ESV

And Habakkuk describes himself as being visibly shaken by his recollection of God’s past deliverance of His people. If God could do it then, Habakkuk knew God could do it again.

I trembled inside when I heard this;
    my lips quivered with fear.
My legs gave way beneath me,
    and I shook in terror.
I will wait quietly for the coming day
    when disaster will strike the people who invade us. – Habakkuk 3:16 NLT

His confidence in God restored, Habakuk expresses his willingness to wait for the salvation of the Lord. Rather than being dismayed at the circumstances facing Judah, Habakkuk trembled at the thought of what God would one day do on their behalf.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Circumstances Change, But Not God

God came from Teman,
    and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
    and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light;
    rays flashed from his hand;
    and there he veiled his power.
Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels.
He stood and measured the earth;
    he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
    the everlasting hills sank low.
    His were the everlasting ways.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
   the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. – Habakkuk 3:3-7 ESV

After acknowledging God’s past accomplishments on behalf of Israel and begging God to once again show mercy to His rebellious and disobedient children, Habakkuk begins an extensive recitation of the Almighty’s glory. He begins with what appears to be a poetic description of God’s deliverance of Israel from their captivity in Egypt.

He describes seeing God (Eloah, singular for Elohim) coming from Teman, a town in the region of Edom. Then he further defines God as “the Holy One” coming from Mount Paran, a mountain whose exact location is unknown but is believed to have been located somewhere near Teman. In describing God as “the Holy One,” Habakkuk used the Hebrew word, qadosh, accentuating the eminence and transcendence of God. He is unequaled in glory and greatness, enjoying unparalleled sovereignty over all things He has made.

Teman and Mount Paran were located south of Judah and east of Egypt, so, Habakkuk is picturing God coming from the direction of Sinai as He prepares to rescue His people from their slavery in Egypt. And in Habakkuk’s version of the scene, God shows up in a blaze of glory.

 His brilliant splendor fills the heavens,
    and the earth is filled with his praise. – Habakkuk 3:3 NLT

There is nothing inconspicuous or modest about the Lord’s coming. Just prior to his death, Moses used a similar description when recounting God’s manifestation of His glory to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

“The Lord came from Mount Sinai
    and dawned upon us from Mount Seir;
he shone forth from Mount Paran
    and came from Meribah-kadesh
    with flaming fire at his right hand. – Deuteronomy 33:2 NLT

It was on Mount Sinai that Moses had made the bold request of God: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18 ESV). But God had responded by telling Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name…But…you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:19, 20 ESV). The true essence of God’s holiness was too much for a sinful man like Moses to witness without being consumed. For the same reason, God had warned Moses to set up boundaries around Mount Sinai, so they would not be tempted to barge into God’s holy presence.

“Go down and prepare the people for my arrival. Consecrate them today and tomorrow, and have them wash their clothing. Be sure they are ready on the third day, for on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai as all the people watch. Mark off a boundary all around the mountain. Warn the people, ‘Be careful! Do not go up on the mountain or even touch its boundaries. Anyone who touches the mountain will certainly be put to death.” – Exodus 19:10-12 NLT

Habakkuk understood the concept of God’s holiness and transcendence. He envisioned God’s glory emanating from Him like a dazzling light.

His coming is as brilliant as the sunrise.
    Rays of light flash from his hands,
    where his awesome power is hidden. – Habakkuk 3:4 NLT

This awesome display of God’s glory is reminiscent of God’s appearance on Mount Sinai when He gave His law to Moses.

When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. – Exodus 20:18 NLT

And the apostle John saw a similar vision upon entering the throne room of God.

From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God.
 – Revelation 4:5 NLT

The glory of God left Habakkuk awestruck and, in the midst of the current conditions surrounding Judah, and faced with the news of God’s pending judgment, he found comfort by focusing on the transcendence of God. He worshiped a great and good God, the same God who had showed up centuries earlier, in order to rescue the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. And God’s glory had manifested itself in the form of plagues and pestilence, directed at Israel’s captors.

Before him went pestilence,
    and plague followed at his heels. – Habakkuk 3:5 ESV

When God had appeared to Moses in the burning bush, commissioning him as His divine deliverer, He had promised to deliver the people of Israel through miraculous means.

“I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go.” – Exodus 3:20 ESV

When Habakkuk considered the stories of God’s past acts of deliverance, he found encouragement. He realized that his God remained unchanged and was just as potent and powerful as He had been in the days of Moses. There was comfort in knowing that while the circumstances may have changed, his God had not.

When he stops, the earth shakes.
    When he looks, the nations tremble.
He shatters the everlasting mountains
    and levels the eternal hills.
    He is the Eternal One! – Habakkuk 3:6 NLT

This great, awesome, powerful, holy, and glorious God was still capable of performing wonders and delivering His chosen people from any and every circumstance. There was no problem too great for God to handle. He was sovereign over all things, including the mountains and hills, as well as kings and the empires of men. Once-mighty Egypt had been no match for God Almighty, so, the Babylonians would prove to be no problem either. The enemies of Israel were ultimately the enemies of God and He would bring them to nothing.

I see the people of Cushan in distress,
    and the nation of Midian trembling in terror. – Habakkuk 3:7 NLT

The Ethiopians and Midianites, whose lands bordered the region surrounding Mount Sinai, had heard the rumors of this great throng of people who had come from Egypt. They had no doubt seen and heard the display of God’s glory on Mount Sinai, and it had left them in fear and distress. This strange new nation with its powerful God had left them trembling in their boots.

And, once again, Habakkuk found encouragement and comfort in recalling the past exampled of God’s glory, goodness, and might on behalf of His chosen people. In all generations, there is always a need for God’s people to remember God’s past acts of rescue and redemption. When faced with troubling circumstances and struggling with doubts concerning God’s presence and power, His people must look to the past for reassurance. And the psalmist provides us with a much-needed example.

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
    you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
    the children of Jacob and Joseph. – Psalm 77:11-15 ESV

King David added his thoughts regarding God’s past accomplishments on behalf of His people and found ample reason to hope for the future.

All of your works will thank you, Lord,
    and your faithful followers will praise you.
They will speak of the glory of your kingdom;
    they will give examples of your power.
They will tell about your mighty deeds
    and about the majesty and glory of your reign.
For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
    You rule throughout all generations. – Psalm 145:10-13 NLT

And the prophet Jeremiah shared David’s enthusiasm and positive outlook.

Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord. – Lamentations 3:21-26 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A God You Can Count On

1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

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 3:1-2 ESV

Habakkuk has heard from God. The Almighty has provided the prophet with an assurance that Babylon will receive a just sentence for its role in the judgment of Judah. Yes, they will be used by God to bring about the divine discipline of God’s chosen people, but the Babylonians will also fall under His divine wrath for every act of aggression and subjugation they enact against Judah.

And with this assurance from God, Habakkuk begins to sing another tune – literally. This closing chapter is written in the form of a psalm or song. It is a prayer of praise in the form of a poem that was most likely put to music so that it could be sung by the people of God. The phrase, “according to Shigionoth” may be a reference to the melody that was to accompany Habakkuk’s words. The singular form of the Hebrew word is found in the introduction to Psalm 7, a psalm of David.

A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.

But the Hebrew root word, shagah, provides some insight into what Habakkuk may have in mind with his prayer of praise to God. It means “to err, wander, go astray (morally), to sin through ignorance.” In David’s psalm, faced with apparent accusations of guilt from the lips of someone named Cush, he declares his innocence and asks God to either acquit or convict him.

O Lord my God, if I have done wrong
    or am guilty of injustice,
if I have betrayed a friend
    or plundered my enemy without cause,
then let my enemies capture me. – Psalm 7:3-5 NLT

He goes on to ask God for vindication and protection.

Declare me righteous, O Lord,
    for I am innocent, O Most High! – Psalm 7:8 NLT

He appeals to God as the one who “judges the nations” (Psalm 7:8 NLT).

God is my shield,
    saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is an honest judge.
    He is angry with the wicked every day. – Psalm 7:10-11 NLT

And David is convinced that God will judge him fairly and eventually, fully vindicate him.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. – Psalm 7:17 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk’s song carries the same idea. Nowhere does he claim the nation of Judah to be innocent, but he does seem to appeal to God as a righteous judge who will one day vindicate His people. Having heard from God regarding the future judgment of Babylon, Habakkuk shares his intense longing to see that day come. He is expressing his belief that God will prove Himself faithful by fulfilling every promise He has made regarding Judah’s eventual vindication through Babylon’s destruction.

Habakkuk begins his song with a statement of wonder and praise for God’s remarkable reputation. As a prophet of God, he had been exposed to the very words of God, hearing firsthand what Yahweh had planned for Judah’s future. And it left him in a state of awe and amazement.

I have heard all about you, Lord.
    I am filled with awe by your amazing works. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

But, as a Hebrew, Habakkuk had also been raised on a steady diet of the stories of God’s intervention in the lives of His people. He had heard the creation story, the account of the flood and the preservation of Noah and his family. He had been told the story of God’s call of Abraham’s and the promise to make of him a great nation. As a child, he would have been exposed to all the stories about Joseph and the sons of Jacob in Egypt. The account of God’s amazing redemption of His people and their exodus out of Egypt would have been very familiar to him. The conquering of the land of promise, the rise of King David, the greatness of Solomon, the division of the kingdom, and the historical record of all the kings of Judah and Israel would have been well known to him. And through all those accounts, Habakkuk would have recognized the “amazing works” of God and been blown away by His power and persevering patience with His less-than-faithful people.

Unlike David, Habakkuk could not appeal to God based on a claim of Judah’s innocence. There was no way he could ask God to vindicate them because they were undeserving of His judgment. He knew full well that the people of Judah were guilty. In fact, he had begun his book with the admission that things had gotten so bad in Judah, that the wicked outnumbered the righteous.

So, Habakkuk looked to God’s well-established track record of showing up and delivering His people in times of trouble.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

Sadly, this was not the first time Judah had been faced with difficult circumstances. There had been countless other occasions when the people of God had found themselves faced with insurmountable odds and the potential for a devastating outcome. But Habakkuk knew that God had intervened on behalf of His people. He had repeatedly rescued them from their predicaments, graciously restoring them and providing them with yet another undeserved opportunity to prove their faithfulness to Him. And Habakkuk longed to see God do the same thing in his day.

But Habakkuk recognizes that the people of Judah were fully deserving of all that God was about to do to them. They stood guilty and condemned before a holy God. So, he appeals to God’s covenant faithfulness and track-record of extending undeserved mercy.

…in your anger, remember your mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk would have been familiar with the content of the prayer prayed by Solomon at the dedication of the newly constructed temple. King Solomon had begun his prayer with a statement concerning God’s faithfulness: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven above or on the earth below. You keep your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before you in wholehearted devotion” (1 Kings 8:23 NLT).

But Solomon knew that he and his people were prone to unfaithfulness. He was concerned that their behavior would fail to live up to the terms of God’s covenantal agreement with them. So, he began describing potential scenarios in which the nation might violate their covenant commitment and stand guilty before God. And he petitioned God: “May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29-30 NLT). 

Solomon was appealing to God’s faithfulness because he knew there was little likelihood that the people of Israel would keep their end of the bargain. And when they failed to do so, He wanted to know that God would still intervene on their behalf. Solomon even included a worst-case scenario in which the people of Israel found themselves defeated and living in exile as a result of their disobedience to God.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors. – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

Solomon knew that the only hope that Israel had for their present protection and future restoration was to be found in God alone. And Habakkuk echoed that same sentiment. He was appealing to his awe-inspiring, grace-bestowing, miracle-working God. And he greatly desired that God would continue to season His righteous anger with mercy. It was all the hope that the people of God had left. They had forsaken God. They had proven themselves incapable of living in faithful obedience to their covenant with God. And unless God showed them mercy, their future would be dark, and any hope of restoration, dim.

The words of the prophet, Jeremiah, written in the book of Lamentations, seem to indicate the heart behind Habakkuk’s prayer.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:19-24 NLT

God’s mercies are new every morning. Like the sun that shows up like clockwork at the start of each new day, God’s mercies never fail to arrive when needed. His faithfulness is unfailing. His love is unwavering. And, therefore, our hope in Him should be constant and abiding.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God’s Ways Escape Us

12 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.
13 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?
14 You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
    like crawling things that have no ruler.
15 He brings all of them up with a hook;
    he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
    so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
    and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
    and his food is rich.
17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net
    and mercilessly killing nations forever? Habakkuk 1:12-17 ESV

Habakkuk questioned God and the Almighty responded. But the answer Habakkuk received was not what he had hoped for, and in these verses, you can see he is desperately trying to reconcile the divine pronouncement with what he understood about God.

After hearing God announce that the Babylonians worship strength as their deity of choice, Habakkuk declares “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). This statement seems to be partially a confident assertion of Yahweh’s unique status as the one true, eternal God of the universe, and an attempt by Habakkuk to shame God into doing something about Judah’s predicament. After declaring God’s holiness and eternality, the prophet states: “We shall not die.” 

While this appears as a statement in the English Standard Version, I believe the New Living Translation provides a more accurate rendering of the original intent behind Habakkuk’s words.

O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—
    surely you do not plan to wipe us out? – Habakkuk 1:12 NLT

Habakkuk had been seeking God’s intervention but had been expecting Him to deal with the wicked who were causing all the trouble in Judah. He never dreamed that God would use a pagan nation and its godless king as His chosen instrument of judgment. And God had warned Habakkuk that what He had planned for Judah would be a shock to the senses.

“I am doing something in your own day,
    something you wouldn’t believe
    even if someone told you about it.” – Habakkuk 1:5 NLT

Now that Habakkuk knew God’s plans, he was concerned as to the extent of the judgment. Would it be complete, bringing an end to the nation of Judah. He had seen what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel when it fell to the Assyrians. They ceased to exist as a nation. Their land was devastated, their cities and towns were destroyed, and the people were taken into captivity or left to live in abject poverty. Was that God’s plan for Judah?

Habakkuk could handle the thought of God sending the Babylonians as a form of reprimand and reproof.

O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us,
    to punish us for our many sins.
– Habakkuk 1:12 NLT

He knew that he and his people deserved God’s punishment and he understood that God had chosen to deliver it by means of the Babylonians. But his concept of God made it difficult for him to accept the logic behind God’s plan.

But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they? – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

To Habakkuk’s way of thinking, this was only making matters worse. If you recall, in his opening statement to God, Habakkuk had described the sorry state of affairs in Judah, declaring, “The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4 NLT). As far as Habakkuk was concerned, Judah had more wicked people than they knew what to do with. He had been asking God to do something about the wicked living in his own country. Now God had announced that He was going to use the wicked Babylonians as His instruments of judgment. That made no sense. It was like throwing gasoline on a fire in a vain attempt to douse the flames.

To Habakkuk, God’s plan seemed like an overreaction to the problem – a literal form of overkill. And the prophet is not shy in sharing his concerns with God.

Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
    Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
    and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate? – Habakkuk 1:14-15 NLT

Submitting to the righteous judgment of God was one thing. But having to endure that judgment at the hands of pagan Babylonians was something different altogether, and the thought of it left Habakkuk in a state of confusion and consternation. And just in case God didn’t understand the problem with His plan, Habakkuk attempted to inform Him. Knowing that Yahweh hated idolatry in any form, Habakkuk warns that any victory by the Babylonians over the chosen people of God will be followed by worship of their false gods. It will rob God of glory and give the appearance that He has been defeated by the gods of Babylon.

Then they will worship their nets
    and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
    they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:16 NLT

This was too much for Habakkuk to comprehend. If this was the divine plan, Habakkuk wanted to know how long God was going to let it go on. Would the Babylonians destroy God’s people and enjoy uninterrupted rule over that part of the world?

Will you let them get away with this forever?
    Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquests? – Habakkuk 1:17 NLT

As usual, Habakkuk was operating with a limited perspective. As a mere human, he had no capacity to understand the mind of God. He couldn’t look into the future and see the outcome of God’s divine strategy for Judah’s rebuke and eventual restoration. He had no way of knowing how God would eventually punish the Babylonians for their part in Judah’s demise.

Habakkuk was a prophet of God, but that did not mean he understood the will and the ways of God. Like any other man, he was dependent upon Yahweh to provide him with divine insights and even the words to speak. The extent of his knowledge was solely dependent upon what the Almighty determined to share.  And in most cases, the prophets were all required to operate on limited data, restricted to sharing only that which God had chosen to reveal. But in time, God would divulge the rest of His plan, providing His prophets with a clearer understanding of His strategy in its entirety.

Concerning the Babylonians and Habakkuk’s worry that their global domination would be permanent, God revealed His plans for them to the prophet Jeremiah.

“You rejoice and are glad,
    you who plundered my chosen people.
You frisk about like a calf in a meadow
    and neigh like a stallion.
But your homeland will be overwhelmed
    with shame and disgrace.
You will become the least of nations—
    a wilderness, a dry and desolate land.
Because of the Lord’s anger,
    Babylon will become a deserted wasteland.
All who pass by will be horrified
    and will gasp at the destruction they see there.” – Jeremiah 50:11-13 NLT

God had plans for the Babylonians. Yes, those plans included their role as God’s agents of judgment upon the people of Judah. But those plans also included the ultimate destruction of the Babylonians for their willful participation in Judah’s subjugation and suffering. God would eventually repay Babylon for its wickedness and wanton destruction. And Habakkuk is going to learn of God’s plan for Babylon in the very next chapter.

Because you have plundered many nations,
    now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
    and filled the towns with violence. – Habakkuk 2:8 NLT

One of the benefits of reading Scripture is that we get a glimpse into God’s sovereignty and man’s constant attempt to make sense of the Almighty’s ways. Even the prophets of God wrestled with the ways of God. The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day found it impossible to understand what God was doing in their midst. He had sent His Son as their Messiah but these learned men failed to recognize Jesus as who He truly was. Jesus even accused them of missing the forest for the trees.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

They were knowledgeable of God’s Word but remained ignorant of God’s will. They enjoyed an encyclopedic understanding of God’s law but failed to understand that the law could not provide them with salvation. It could convict of sin but had no capacity to provide escape from the condemnation of sin. Only Jesus could do that.

Habakkuk was operating on limited information. And each time God revealed another aspect of His divine plan, the prophet found himself trying to reconcile God’s version of reality with his own. But part of being a child of God is learning to trust our heavenly Father’s ways. Habakkuk had been right when he said, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). He recognized God’s holiness and transcendence, but now he was having to come to grips with God’s sovereign will over all things, including Judah’s judgment and the Babylonian’s role in it.

Learning to trust God is a big part of choosing to follow Him. We don’t always know where He is leading us. We won’t always understand what He is doing around us. The circumstances of life will not always appear just and fair. There will be times when He appears distant or disinterested in what is happening in our lives. But God is always there and His plan for us is perfect and unstoppable. We may not always understand His ways, but we can always trust in His will. And, in the meantime, we can express the words of the apostle Paul.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fear Versus Faith

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:23-27 ESV

“His disciples followed him.”

Did this group include the two individuals who had approached Jesus, expressing a desire to follow Him? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But it seems likely that they were not on board when the boat sailed – either literally or figuratively. One considered the cost of discipleship far too high. The other allowed the worries of this world to take precedence over his commitment to the cause of Christ.

And it’s interesting to note what happened to those who did step into the boat with Jesus that fateful day. Perhaps Peter, James, John, and the other disciples were a bit full of themselves as the boat left the shore, thinking themselves to be true disciples of Jesus because of their presence in the boat. They had literally followed Him. And they were enjoying the privileged position of being His faithful disciples. And then, suddenly, the storm appeared.

Remember, this little excursion had begun with a simple request from Jesus that they sail to the other side of the Sea of Galilee in order to escape the crush of the crowds.

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. – Matthew 8:18 ESV

But long before they made it to the opposite shore, a violent storm arose. Mark describes it as “a great windstorm,” with waves so high that they broke over the sides of the boat, causing it to fill with water (Mark 4:37) These kinds of storms were not uncommon on the Sea of Galilee. This relatively small body of water lies 680 feet below sea level and is surrounded by hills that can reach a height of 2,000 feet. When the cool, dry air from these hills comes into contact with the warm, moist air found at sea level, the results can be dramatic. Extreme temperature and pressure changes can produce severe storms with violent winds, which can whip across the relatively shallow waters of the Sea of Galilee, causing massive waves that can sink a small boat with relative ease.

That is the very situation in which the disciples found themselves. And they were not alone, because Mark records that other boats had accompanied them on this crossing. What had begun as a simple boat ride to the other side had quickly escalated into a life-threatening encounter with Mother Nature. And Peter, Andrew, James, and John, who were professional fishermen, found themselves in fear for their lives. They had seen these kinds of storms before and they knew what could happen. They knew their lives were in danger and while they made every attempt to use their knowledge of the sea and their skills as boatmen to save themselves, they eventually turned to Jesus for help.

But first, they had to wake Him up.

While they were busy bailing water and fearing the worst, Jesus was fast asleep in the hold of the ship. The contrast is stark and intentionally so. They were in a panic and Jesus was at peace. They were filled with worry and anxiety, while Jesus enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Their thoughts were on the immediate danger of their circumstances. Jesus was resting in the sovereign authority of His Heavenly Father. He knew He was not going to die in a storm at sea. He was fully confident in God’s plan for His life and His Father’s sovereign control over the affairs of His life.

But the minds of the disciples were focused on the wind, the waves, and what looked like the threat of death. So, in their panic, they awakened Jesus and shouted, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing” (Matthew 8:25 ESV). Mark adds a bit of nuance to their words that reveal their doubts about Jesus’ care for them.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – Mark 4:38 ESV

None of this made sense to them. Their minds were filled with questions.

How did this happen?

What’s going to happen to us?

Why isn’t Jesus doing something about it?

Does He not care about us?

Does He not love us?

Sound familiar? They should. Because they are exactly the kinds of question we raise when we find ourselves in difficulty. When the winds and waves of life suddenly appear and threaten to overwhelm us, we begin to question the goodness and the greatness of God. We see the storms of life as anomalies and unwanted interruptions that seem to indicate God’s disinterest in or dissatisfaction with us. He appears to be asleep at the wheel, and oblivious to what is going on all around us.

But it is at those very moments that God cries out to us just as Jesus did to His disciples as the waves crashed over their boat.

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” – Matthew 8:26 ESV

Before Jesus confronted the waves and the wind, He confronted the fear and faithlessness of His followers. His question was aimed at exposing the real problem they faced, and it was not the storm. They were suffering from a lack of faith, not an over-abundance of rain and boat-rocking wind.

If you recall, when the Centurion had heard that Jesus was willing to come to his home to heal his servant, he had responded, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9 ESV). And Jesus, amazed by the words of this Roman soldier, had said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10 ESV).

This pagan Gentile had believed that Jesus was powerful enough to step into his life circumstance and provide a solution. He somehow knew that Jesus had authority over sickness. He exhibited no doubts as to whether Jesus was capable of doing what He said He would do. He believed, and Jesus rewarded his belief by the healing of his servant and a commendation for his faith.

But as to the rain-drenched, fear-saturated disciples, Jesus questioned their faith. They exhibited no belief in His power or authority. They questioned His seeming lack of concern for their well-being. They had followed Jesus, but as soon as the waves and wind showed up, they were ready to bail – not just water from the boat – but from their commitment to following Him. This was not what they had signed up for.

But rather than reprimand them, Jesus rescued them. Matthew records that he “rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (Matthew 8:26 ESV). This verse almost comes across as a play on words. The calming of the storm was accompanied by the calming of the disciples’ fears. As the waves and the winds subsided, so did the anxiety of the disciples. And their fear was replaced by wonder.

“What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:27 ESV

And their question reveals their incomplete understanding of just who Jesus was. They had seen Him heal the leper and had heard Him declare the Centurion’s servant healed. They had even witnessed Him remove the fever from Peter’s mother-in-law. But this was an altogether different kind of miracle. Jesus had spoken to the wind and waves, and they had obeyed His command.

The disciples were wrestling with the identity of Jesus. The more time they spent with Him, the more they wondered just who they had decided to follow. Was He a rabbi, a teacher, a prophet, a miracle worker, their long-awaited Messiah, or something more? The actions of Jesus were out-of-the-ordinary and unexpected. His words were powerful. His miracles were inexplicable. His identity was unclear. But with each passing day and each successive miracle and mind-boggling encounter, they were growing to know Him better and learning to trust Him more.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Set Apart By God

10 “He found him in a desert land,
    and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye.
11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
    that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
    bearing them on its pinions,
12 the Lord alone guided him,
    no foreign god was with him.
13 He made him ride on the high places of the land,
    and he ate the produce of the field,
and he suckled him with honey out of the rock,
    and oil out of the flinty rock.
14 Curds from the herd, and milk from the flock,
    with fat of lambs,
rams of Bashan and goats,
    with the very finest of the wheat—
    and you drank foaming wine made from the blood of the grape.

15 “But Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Deuteronomy 32:10-18 ESV

The Lord’s song continues. It recounts how God discovered Jacob and his family, the nation of Israel, in Egypt, a desert land. God rescued the descendants of Jacob from their captivity in Egypt, where they had served as the slaves of Pharaoh for hundreds of years. God had heard their cries of despair and had sent Moses to be their deliverer.

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. – Exodus 2:23-25 NLT

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saw the plight of His chosen people and responded with compassion. He protected them like a mother eagle would its chicks. Using Jacob as a synonym for Israel, the poem describes how God cared for His own.

he encircled him, he cared for him,
    he kept him as the apple of his eye” – Deuteronomy 32:19 ESV

Centuries of captivity in a foreign land had not changed God’s feelings about Jacob and his descendants. The circumstances surrounding their years in Egypt were not to be seen as proof of God’s abandonment of them. The promise He had made to Abraham still held. In fact, it was during their stay in Egypt that the family of Jacob increased in number from just over 70 people to a great nation numbering in the millions.

But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. – Exodus 1:7 ESV

And this meteoric growth was exactly what God had promised Abraham so many years earlier when He had called out of Haran.

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

God had kept His promise. But His ways are not man’s ways. His methods don’t always make sense to us. The nation of Israel was born out of adversity. It grew up in the context of slavery and servitude. It was a nation in bondage, enslaved by the enemy and incapable of delivering itself from its predicament.

And it was in the midst of their darkest moment that God stepped in and did for them what they could not do for themselves. He delivered them from bondage. He set them free from captivity. And their rescue is indicative of what God has done for all those whom He has rescued from slavery to sin.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Paul describes us as having been “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:20). And Jesus said, “everyone who sins is a slave of sin” (John 8:34 NLT). But He has set us free. And “if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT).

The Israelites were set free from slavery in Egypt. God guided them out of their captivity, having delivered from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. And when they left the land of Egypt, they did so with God alone as their guide and companion, having left the false gods of the Egyptians behind them. And God led them, fed them, and protected them all the way through the wilderness. But more than that, He taught them about obedience and faithfulness, using trials and difficulties to increase their trust in Him.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.” – Deuteronomy 8:2-5 NLT

God was gracious and good to the people of Israel, providing them with an abundance of blessings in the form of tangible and practical resources intended to prolong and improve life.

…produce of the fields
…honey for from the cliffs
…olive oil from the hardest of rocks
…butter from the herd
…milk from the flock
…the fat of lambs
…rams and goats of Bashan
…the best of the kernels of wheat
…the juice of grapes

Even in the wilderness, they enjoyed the blessings of God. They ate well and were well-cared for by God. Even their wilderness experience was better than the years they had spent in captivity in Egypt. Walking with God in the wilderness is always better than living in slavery without Him.

God had set apart Israel as His own precious possession. They had done nothing to earn or deserve His gracious deliverance of them. And Moses had made this point quite clear earlier in the book of Deuteronomy.

“For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT

The blessings of God were undeserved. His love for them was not based on any inherent worth in them. And He would continue to love them, in spite of them.

But this song was intended to bring witness against the Israelites, convicting them of their unfaithfulness to God. And to do so, it accentuates the unmerited favor of God. When they had been helpless slaves, God heard their cries and rescued them. He set them free from their oppression and misery, making them His own chosen possession, “the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10 ESV). But would they remain so? Were the Israelites going to honor the one who set them free by keeping His commands and living in obedience to His will for them?

Even as they stood on the edge of the promised land, preparing to cross over and claim it as their own, God was revealing the sad truth about their fate. They would become slaves yet again. The people whom God had set free would once again find themselves living in bondage and surrounded by false gods and foreign overlords. They had been set apart by God but would choose not to live that way. They had been made His precious possession but would end up as little more than the property of their enemies. And the next verses of the song will explain how this dramatic change in circumstances will happen.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Then They Remembered…

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
    the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will not deal falsely.”
    And he became their Savior.
In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

10 But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.
11 Then he remembered the days of old,
    of Moses and his people.
Where is he who brought them up out of the sea
    with the shepherds of his flock?
Where is he who put in the midst of them
    his Holy Spirit,
12 who caused his glorious arm
    to go at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
    to make for himself an everlasting name,
13     who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
    they did not stumble.
14 Like livestock that go down into the valley,
    the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So you led your people,
    to make for yourself a glorious name.

15 Look down from heaven and see,
    from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
    The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
    are held back from me.
16 For you are our Father,
    though Abraham does not know us,
    and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our Father,
    our Redeemer from of old is your name.
17 O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
    and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
    the tribes of your heritage.
18 Your holy people held possession for a little while;
    our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary.
19 We have become like those over whom you have never ruled,
    like those who are not called by your name. Isaiah 63:7-19 ESV

After hearing God’s grand plan for the future redemption of His people, Isaiah responds with a somewhat nostalgic recollection of all of God’s great and gracious redemptive activities on behalf of the people of Israel. And he does so in the form of a prayer.

He starts by recalling the myriad examples of God’s merciful kindness or favor. Throughout this prayer, Isaiah will focus on the undeserved nature of God’s love for the people of Israel. They have been the undeserving recipients of God’s unmerited favor. Every single incident involving God’s love toward Israel “he has granted according to his mercy and love” (Isaiah 63:7 NLT). The Hebrew word for mercy is racham, and it can be used to refer to a mother’s womb. From Isaiah’s perspective, the children of Israel have been cared for and protected by God like a baby in its mother’s womb. An unborn baby does nothing to earn its place of safety and security, but enjoys nourishment and protection because of the gracious actions of its mother. And Isaiah did not come up with this comparison on his own. He had heard it from the lips of God Himself.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb (racham).” – Isaiah 46:3 ESV

Of His own accord, God had made the people of Israel His children and He had every right to expect them to live up to their position as His sons and daughters. God had agreed to be their Savior, providing them with protection and rescue when necessary. In return, He asked that they not deal falsely with Him. He expected them to remain faithful to Him.

Isaiah recounts the history of his people, recalling the many times in which God stepped into their circumstances and rescued them. He describes God as suffering along with them. When the found themselves experiencing difficulty, God was empathetic, but also immediate in His response.

he personally rescued them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them.
    He lifted them up and carried them
    through all the years. – Isaiah 63:9 NLT

But how had they responded to God’s gracious acts of redemption? By rebelling against Him and, by doing so, grieving His Holy Spirit. As a result, they would find their relationship to Him becoming antagonistic rather than affectionate. From their vantage point, God would appear more like their enemy than their gracious, loving Father. But God was not the one who had reneged on the relationship. The fault was all theirs.

Their unfaithfulness to God would result in His loving discipline of them. They would discover the painful consequences of their willful decision to violate their covenant with God. Their failure to remain faithful to Him would cost them. Their choice to worship false gods would cause them great pain and suffering. And Isaiah recounts the many times the people of God had called out to the very one they had abandoned, in the hopes that He would rescue them yet again.

“Then they remembered…” (Isaiah 63:11 NLT). It took the very real presence of trials to get them to recall the true identity of their Savior. It had been God who had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt. It had been God who had brought the plagues upon the people of Egypt. And it had been God who had provided them with a path across the Red Sea, allowing them to escape the armies of Egypt. They remembered and they cried out.

Now, Isaiah cries out. He turns His recollections of God’s past mercies into a call for His immediate intervention into their current state of affairs.

Lord, look down from heaven;
    look from your holy, glorious home, and see us.
Where is the passion and the might
    you used to show on our behalf?
    Where are your mercy and compassion now? – Isaiah 63:15 NLT

Isaiah begs God to do as He has done so many times before. He knows that they don’t deserve God’s favor, but he pleads with Him to extend His mercy and compassion yet again. Like Moses and the Israelites standing on the shore of the Red Sea with Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them, the people of Judah found themselves in a similar situation. They were in trouble. The enemy was bearing down on them and they had no way of escape. The only hope they had was God.

And Isaiah addresses God as their loving Father, appealing to His sense of responsibility for His children.

Surely you are still our Father!
    Even if Abraham and Jacob would disown us,
Lord, you would still be our Father.
    You are our Redeemer from ages past. – Isaiah 63:16 NLT

Isaiah knows that God is faithful. He is not questioning God’s commitment to His covenant promises or raising doubts about God’s everlasting love. He is simply appealing to God’s unchanging nature. He is the very same God who has rescued the people of Israel time and time again, in spite of their unfaithfulness to Him. So, Isaiah is simply asking God to respond to their current situation with the same sense of mercy and grace.

Isaiah had a healthy understanding of the sovereign will of God. He knew that nothing happens in this life apart from the will of God, including the rebellion of the people of God. When Isaiah asks the question, “why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?,” he is not blaming God for the sins of the people of Judah. He is simply acknowledging that God could have prevented their unfaithfulness, but chose not to. To put it another way, God gave them free rein to practice free will. He allowed them to live according to the desires of their hearts. The apostle Paul provides us with a powerful reminder of what it looks like when God “abandons” men and women to live according to their own desires, and it is not a pretty picture.

…instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. – Romans 1:23-24 NLT

Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. – Romans 1:28 NLT

God does not cause us to sin. James makes that point perfectly clear.

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15 NLT

God was not responsible for the sins of the people of Judah. But Isaiah knew that the only way they could have remained faithful would have been through the intervention of God. And the only way they were going to return to God was if He acted on their behalf. They didn’t have it in them to do so on their own accord. Which is what led Isaiah to plead: “Return and help us, for we are your servants, the tribes that are your special possession” (Isaiah 63:17 NLT).

Isaiah knew their only hope of salvation was God. They had no other options. If He did not intervene on their behalf, they were doomed. Isaiah knew the his own people well and realized that if repentance, as evidenced by changed hearts, was the only way God would rescue them, it would never happen. They were far too stubborn for that to happen. And Isaiah includes a sad expression of his outlook on their current state of affairs.

Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you,
    as though we had never been known as your people. – Isaiah 63:17 NLT

This was his honest opinion. As he looked at the circumstances surrounding the people of Judah, it was as if they had never been chosen by God. Things had deteriorated so badly, that they were unrecognizable as God’s chosen people. They looked no different than any other nation on the planet. Their distinctiveness had long ago dissipated. Rather than living as set apart by God, it appeared as if they had been set aside. But Isaiah was not willing to give up, as the rest of his prayer will reveal.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson