“O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)
This prayer of Habakkuk should set the tone for our prayers every day, but especially during the times we are living in today. It seems we live in a culture very similar to Habakkuk’s day, bemoaning the reality of ungodliness and justifiably frustrated with the wickedness in the culture around us. We question like Habakkuk, “O Lord how long?” How long will you seemingly not answer the prayers of your people and allow wickedness to continue to wax greater and greater every day? God, why are you allowing all of this violence and iniquity to occur (Hab. 1:1-4)?
In response, God does not say, “Well of course Habakkuk, I’m just a little back-logged in my prayer answering, and haven’t got around to punishing the wicked around you yet. Let me fix your situation right away.” No, God instead tells Habakkuk to buckle up, things are going to get much worse before they get better. The Chaldeans are coming, and they will be even worse than the current bad Judeans around you (Hab. 1:5-11). The answer to Habakkuk’s reply was not to just vanquish and fully punish the wicked. That won’t happen fully and perfectly until the last day, when every wrong will be made right and every sin will be paid for fully, either in the person of Jesus Christ on the cross or by an eternity of God’s wrath on the wicked for their sins. It’s a reality that the wicked (at least from our vantage point) may not receive their just recompense of reward for their sins in this life, but don’t be deceived, God is not mocked, and every sin will be paid for in time.
Habakkuk struggled with the reality of God’s response to him, just like we probably do too. Lord “thou art of purer eyes than to even behold iniquity”, how can you allow this to occur? (Hab. 1:12-2:1) His question is real and challenging. How can a perfect, pure God that cannot look on iniquity not only allow the wickedness I am currently seeing around me? But then, furthermore, to allow the even more wicked Chaldeans to come and afflict and take into captivity your chosen people, Lord? Nebuchadnezzar is described as being the servant of God (Jer. 25:9, 43:10, etc.). Nebuchadnezzar, like so many ancient leaders, was power-hungry, greedy, and desired to conquer other nations and didn’t care how he afflicted his subjects. He committed sin by destroying Jerusalem and killing many innocent Judeans, and God held him accountable for that sin and made the Chaldeans a perpetual desolation (Jer. 25:12-14). God saw fit to suffer this great tragedy to occur to chastise his people and bring them to repentance. God suffered Nebuchadnezzar to commit the sin that he already desired to do in his heart (God did not cause this to occur), but God essentially used Nebuchadnezzar as the corrective paddle to chastise his people to bring them to repentance. Then, God still punished and held Nebuchadnezzar accountable for his sins (Jer. 25:12-14). It was a very severe time of corrective action because God’s people chose to reject the Lord’s many pleas for repentance from the mouth of the prophets.
In the midst of such a bleak situation – things are bad, and the Lord tells you things are going to only get worse – then what are God’s people to do? God’s answer to Habakkuk is to trust in God in the midst of turbulent times, to live by faith – “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4). Also, we need to remember that God is still on his throne, to reverence and honor God’s authority, and ultimately to be quiet for a little bit – keep silence before our God. “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Hab. 2:20). That is generally very good advice when we get too worked up and distraught over the world around us: be quiet, take a few deep breaths and be calm and patient, look up to God in the heavens, and remember that our Lord is still on his throne in his holy temple. After Habakkuk’s struggles through the first two chapters of this book, then we arrive at this text.
“O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid:” It is vitally important that we listen intently to God’s words and take God at his word. Habakkuk listened to God’s two replies to his concerns. He let God’s words sink into his heart. He heard God’s speech and was afraid. Not afraid of the bad things that were going to come, per se, but he had a renewed sense of reverence of God. A revived vision and reverence of God’s word and the authority of God’s word. Next, he prays for revival – “Lord, revive thy work”. There is no revival without a renewed reverence for God’s word and submission to its authority in our lives. If we truly desire revival, then we must hear God’s word and reverence God’s word. The fervent, nationwide revival in Josiah’s day began with finding the neglected word of God in the house of God (2 Chron. 34). Josiah was afraid and convicted when he heard God’s word and saw how grossly negligent they were in following God’s law. All large-scale revivals in Christianity – particularly the First and Second Great Awakening – were sparked by following Habakkuk’s lead and hearing and acting upon the word of God. If we pray for revival without listening to and taking heed to God’s word, we render our prayers null and void by our actions. We must follow Habakkuk’s example and hear the word of God and reverence its authority and power in our lives.
“O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years,” After we listen and take heed to God’s word, we also need to fervently pray for revival. Habakkuk had been told that Judea would be ransacked, destroyed, its people taken captive, and God’s people would endure at least 70 years of captivity for their sins and refusal to repent. There was a set period of 70 years that God would chastise his children for their sins. However, in the midst of that period – “in the midst of the years” where God’s people were chastised for their transgression – Habakkuk prays for revival in the midst of those years. While we are toiling away in Chaldean oppression for our just chastisement, even in the midst of that time, Lord, revive your work and revive your people even in the midst of Babylon. That’s why in Jer. 29:5-10, God tells his people to get comfortable in Babylon, you’re going to be there for a while: build houses, plant gardens, take wives, have children, and seek the peace of the city that you are captives in. Then, as you live life in Babylon, pray for revival in the midst of the years of your captivity.
“in the midst of the years make known;” In the midst of the years of our captivity, even when your people are suffering chastisement for our disobedience, Lord “make known” your word and “make known” revival in the midst of those years. Lord, reveal yourself to us through an increased reverence for and study of your holy word. Lord, give us hope in the midst of oppression. Lord, work a mighty revival among your people, even during times of suffering and national decline and oppression. Lord, make known an amazing revival in the midst of those years.
“in wrath remember mercy.” Finally, Habakkuk knows that Judah has earned God’s wrath and judgment. Israel had forsaken observing the Sabbath rest for their land every seventh year. They ignored the Lord’s requirement for 490 years, or 70 Sabbath land years, to try to get more crops on that seventh year instead of trusting the Lord to provide for them while the land rested. Therefore, since Israel did not give the land rest according to God’s commandment, the Lord was going to give the land rest for 70 years, the exact time period that God’s people ignored God’s commandment (2 Chron. 36:21). God told them long before they even committed this sin that if they did not observe the sabbath rest for the land, he would send them into their enemies’ land and the land would have it’s rest regardless (Lev. 25:2-4, 26:33-35). The Lord will have his honor and his glory, even if God’s people are disobedient. The promised land was going to have its Sabbath rest, and since God’s people didn’t give it rest voluntarily by obedience to the Lord’s commandment, God gave his land rest by sending them into captivity for 70 years. Therefore, Habakkuk knew they had earned God’s wrath and judgment in captivity by their disobedience. We are justly condemned and judged by God for our sins.
Despite knowing that Judah was justly condemned and worthy of God’s wrath for their disobedience of God’s word, Habakkuk prays and pleads for the mercy of God. Lord, in the midst of your righteous wrath, please God “remember mercy”. Mercy is not giving us what we do deserve. Lord, we know we deserve everything you pour out on us for our sins; we deserve your wrath because we have earned it. But Lord, in spite of that, Lord, please be merciful to your people. Lord, remember that you are “the Father of mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3); remember you are “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps. 103:8); remember your “abundant mercy” towards your people (1 Pet. 1:3). Lord, please show mercy; please don’t give us what we justly deserve, but show mercy unto your sinful people.
Habakkuk’s prayer and situation should ring true in your ears today. In America today, we are in a culture that is grossly sinful and only declining into more ungodliness. The people of God get weary with this pervasive ungodliness surrounding us, and I trust we are praying to the Lord to judge the wicked and bless his people during this time. However, I tend to think that as a whole things are going to only get worse, not to get better, similar to the answer that Habakkuk received from the Lord. We withstand that bad and declining situation in the same way as the prophet, by living by faith and trusting in God’s sovereignty on his throne.
However, we need to properly understand that in America we are justly worthy of God’s wrath. Just like Judah of old, we have shed innocent blood, allowing millions of babies to be legally murdered in the last 40+ years. Our overall culture has accepted Sodomite marriage and all other types of ungodly sexual perversions. The list could go on and on for our societal disobedience of God’s word. Understand, the culture and nation of America as a whole is justly condemned before God. We have justly earned God’s wrath. God is not mocked, and as a nation, we will reap what we have sown. We must first accept that fact and reality. Only then, can we properly pray for revival and mercy. We need to pray the same prayer as Habakkuk: Lord, bless me to hear your word and see the power of your word in my life; to honor and reverence your word; in the midst of this bleak and bad situation, Lord, please send revival through your word in the midst of the years; Lord, ultimately, in the midst of wrath, please remember mercy and send revival among your people.
I don’t necessarily want to be a prophet of doom and gloom. However, I believe the overall nation of America has chosen to reject God’s word and his authority, and therefore, we will be judged for that just like so many powerful kingdoms before us. The full expression of that wrath may come either now or later, I don’t know. But just because things are bad on a national, macro level, doesn’t mean things cannot be abundantly blessed on an individual, micro level. Our nation will be judged by God, either beginning now or holding off till later. But even in the midst of that judgment, God’s people can still be very blessed in the midst of those years. God can still send revival when the societal and cultural situation around us is bleak and sinful. Don’t forget, God built his church kingdom during the days of the wicked Roman empire and horribly wicked rulers like Nero (which the Roman empire eventually fell too because of their national rejection of God’s moral authority). Even when the Roman empire was crumbling, the Lord was reviving his work among his people in his kingdom. America will eventually fall and we might be seeing the first severe cracks of the crumbling of that foundation. But just because the nation around us might be descending into ungodliness, we can still experience revival and the mercy of God in the midst of those years.
I believe this year’s November election will be a huge turning point in the future of our country. Our incumbent president has many moral and personality flaws, but he does mostly defend Biblical conservative values and most importantly he defends the life of unborn babies in the womb. However, the presidential challenger supports many unbiblical values and supports the murder of innocent babies. I pray the Lord’s will be done in our elections, not just in the presidency, but in our national Congress, but in all the state and local elections too. We might get a four-year reprieve from a radical, liberal, border-line socialist agenda, but history has proven, there will most likely be a shift in the majority party in the next election, if not this one. Therefore, I hope and pray God might be merciful for his people’s sake in the midst of his just wrath, to give us another four-year reprieve, but regardless we have justly earned God’s wrath due to our national sins. Don’t be discouraged though, child of God, because despite the decline of our nation and society around us, we can see an incline, advancement, and ultimately revival in the kingdom of God. Regardless, our prayer needs to be the same as Habakkuk’s: Lord, despite how bad things are around us, give us revival in the midst of the years. Lord, in wrath remember mercy. Lord, grant us mercy when we have justly earned your judgment. Lord, send a revival, start the work in me.