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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Smith :: Portraits of Christ

Don Smith :: Hab; The Mercy and Severity of God

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Portraits of Christ
“The Mercy and Severity of God” – Habakkuk 3:1-7

The triumph of God’s kingdom should be the consuming passion of our prayers.

  • That is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
  • This means we are to believe that God has ordained, through our prayers, His Kingdom will triumph over all things.
  • It is prayer for the great currents of world history and not just our own small tributaries.
  • Kingdom prayer means gladly praying for the things that burden God’s heart.
  • It means gone are the days we insist on our agenda and prefer God’s—whatever it is.
  • That is why Jesus prayed in agony to the Father, “Not my will but Thy will be done!”
  • Kingdom prayer is praying with confidence in God’s sovereign rule over all things.
  • It is believing the Lord will accomplish all His holy purposes.
  • This hope is based upon His glorious work in history, as well as His blessed promises.
  • In other words, kingdom prayer requires having an adequate and appropriate vision of God’s eternal purposes. We are to pray with hope and confidence, no matter how bad things around us appear to be.

The prophet Habakkuk was given not only the burden of kingdom prayer, but a prophetic vision of God’s ultimate triumph over all rival kingdoms on the earth.

  • The last scene in Habakkuk chapter two is a vision needed to be remembered by God’s people living in personal or national uncertainty.
  • The vision is of the Lord ruling and reigning in His holy temple.
  • Kingdom prayer begins with a view of Christ seated on His throne of grace and glory.
  • Habakkuk saw Him and was transfixed and transformed.
  • Chapter three is Habakkuk’s prayer turning from doom and gloom to praise and hope.
  • It is based upon visions of God or “theophanies” he remembered from the Scriptures.
  • In them he sees fresh hope for future generations by looking back to God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

The prophet’s psalm is a joyful prayer for God’s mercy. (Habakkuk 1:1-2)

  1. The prophet prayed like a psalmist. (Habakkuk 3:1)
    • He begins with a note of introduction “a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on Shigionoth.”
    • The prophet/priest has written this prayer in the form of a liturgy or psalm of worship.
    • The meaning of the word Shigionoth is unknown.
    • But it likely is related to the form in which this prayer was written.
    • Three times this prayer has the word Selah, which was used in liturgy to indicate a “pause” or “metrical beat” to a song.
    • We also see Habakkuk’s instruction in verse 19 for the “chief musician” to accompany this song with stringed instruments—probably a harp.
    • It was intended to be a song of triumph and passionate worship.
    • The choirmaster was to strike up the band in “fortissimo,” as well as “rest” in others.
    • Here becomes a test of our own worship.
    • Are the songs being sung God-centered, Word-centered, and Cross-centered?
    • Are the words and the melody worthy to be sung to a holy and awesome, sovereign God?
    • Do our songs say more about us and how we feel or more about God and who He is?
    • Habakkuk’s song has a unique blend and balance of both the otherness of God, as well as the inner intimate feelings he has for God.
    • He describes the salvation of God’s Anointed One, while also describing how his own lips quiver at the sound of God’s voice.
    • Habakkuk’s psalm is an expression of triumph and hope in God’s redemptive work.
    • It is a hymn to be read or sung when we are overwhelmed by our circumstances.
    • It is a song waiting for our generation to pick up and sing in worship.
  2. The prophet prayed with reverential awe, “O Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid.” (Habakkuk 3:2)
    • He was reflecting back on the vision he had just witnessed.
    • He called out to the Lord, his Covenant-keeping God that His message has moved him to deep reverential awe.
    • His worship could not be casual or trivial in light of the weight of the message.
  3. The prophet prayed for God’s work of revival, “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years!” (Habakkuk 3:2; Psalm 85:4-7)
    • His prayer was a kingdom prayer.
    • He was passionate for the triumph of God’s work and God’s kingdom.
    • He prayed God would do the mighty work of “revival” because it is God’s work and not man’s.
    • “Revival” means: bringing back to life, resurrected life, renewal and refreshment of a declining and dead spirituality.
    • The Lord had promised Habakkuk He would do the work of Judah’s judgment.
    • Here the prophet is asking God to also do a work of grace for Judah.
    • The Lord refers to Israel in Isaiah 45:11 as God’s sons, “…the work of My hands.”
    • The prophet then was calling on God to bring revival and renewal to His chosen people after their judgment had come.
    • It is a psalm fashioned after Psalm 85:4-7, written after Judah’s captivity in Babylon.
    • “Restore us, O God of our salvation, And cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, LORD, And grant us Your salvation.”
    • These prayer songs express the deep intimate feelings of God’s people for their God.
    • They admit to God’s anger for their sin, while appealing to God’s mercy in salvation.
    • Habakkuk prayed for God to revive or bring to life the work of His hands, Israel.
    • He prayed their deliverance would come at God’s appointed time, according to the promises made in God’s Word revealed to Habakkuk.
    • He anticipated not only God’s judgment of the Chaldeans and the return of Judah from captivity, but also the ultimate triumph the Christ’s Kingdom.
    • He believed the vision was sure to come even though it might take years to be fulfilled.
  4. The prophet fervently prayed for God’s work to, “make it known.” (Habakkuk 3:2)
    • He was requesting God to perform this work of judgment and revival.
    • He wished to see God’s elect renewed and restored after years of rebellion and captivity.
    • Kingdom prayer asks for God to do the work of revival.
    • Historically, revivals have been preceded by times of prayer and intercession.
    • If God’s people do not individually or corporately recognize their own spiritual decline, they will not be burdened to pray for revival.
    • If the church is not praying for revival while tolerating within itself spiritual lethargy and passionless worship, it will slumber and run off to play more exciting things like monopoly, adultery and idolatry—games made popular in Judah before its fall.
  5. The prophet prayed therefore for God to…“in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)
    • Habakkuk acknowledged God’s wrath was coming as seen in the vision.
    • God’s wrath is His consuming passion to preserve His creation from the sin that would destroy it.
    • Wrath is the act of God’s raging hatred of sin.
    • Habakkuk also knew of God’s mercy.
    • Mercy is God’s warm, loving compassion offered those who do not deserve His love.
    • God’s wrath and mercy meet at the cross.
    • The cup of the Father’s wrath was poured out on His beloved Son, as His mercy flowed to undeserving sinners from the cross.
    • It is important for the Church to remember as Habakkuk did God’s wrath and mercy.
    • In Romans 11:22, Paul reminded the Church of God’s sovereign grace.
    • His warning was rooted in God’s past judgment that fell on rebellious Israel.
    • “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”

This is where contemporary relevance can and must be made.

  • When the church is no longer distinguishable from the culture around it, God is said to be angry. His wrath is held back only by His goodness and grace.
  • He has not only declared His people “holy” but has also called them to “be holy!”
  • Practical holiness is being engaged in a sinful world while being separate from the sin of that culture.
  • It is treasuring the values of God’s Kingdom above the kingdom of man.
  • But when the church thinks and drinks like the world; when it talks and acts like the world and when it strives for and treasures that the world does—it has forfeited God’s goodness.
  • It has blasphemed God’s holy reputation and therefore it comes under His wrath.
  • The church is to be in the world, but the world is not to be in the church.
  • We are called to be passionate for God’s holy name.
  • We are not to defame him by playing with and tolerating sin to rein in our lives.
  • Instead, we are to pray for God to do the work of revival in us and His Church.
  • In our day we pray for our pleasure, our problems and our prosperity with little thought or burden for the triumph of God’s kingdom.
  • If we are to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for personal holiness to characterize our lives.
  • We are praying for God’s holy will to be realized in our life, exposing our sin and granting us His forgiveness.
  • We are asking not to be stumbling blocks to others but to be examples of Christ’s love and grace.
  • When we pray for God’s kingdom to come we are like Habakkuk, who was praying for the revival of Christ’s slumbering and stumbling church, taken into captivity by its culture.

After praying for God’s mercy, the prophet turned his prayer song into a triumphal march, celebrating and remembering God’s work of deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

  • He recalls past Biblical examples of God’s deliverance to give hope to future generations crying out for deliverance.

The prophet’s psalm is a hopeful vision of God’s glory. (Habakkuk 3:3-7)
He begins with a theophany or vision of God as the Holy One come in glory. (Habakkuk 3:3-4)

  • He recounts in poetic words God’s coming from the wilderness region of Teman and more specifically from Mount Paran or Sinai, to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery.
  • God is pictured as the Holy One, high and lifted up, separated from all that is evil and earthy.
  • A vision of God’s holiness should reverberate in the heart of the saint to be holy.
  • That is why Habakkuk places a triumphal Selah or “pause” to consider this in his song.
  • Then he moves on to describe the vision of God’s glory, once revealed to Israel as our grounds of praying for future deliverance and revival in our own lives.
  • He pictured God sweeping down from His heavenly glory to deliver His people.
  • His glory covered the sun, moon and stars making their glory pale in comparison.
  • Perhaps Habakkuk was referring to God’s glory described in Deuteronomy 33:2-3.
  • “The LORD came from Sinai, And dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, And He came with ten thousands of saints; From His right hand came a fiery law for them. Yes, He loves the people; All His saints are in Your hand; They sit down at Your feet; everyone receives Your words.”
  • This was the picture of Gods’ glorious coming to Israel in the Wilderness.
  • It provides us with a foretaste of Christ’s coming in glory to deliver His Church from its cry of desperation at the end of days.
  • In Matthew 24:30-31, Jesus described His coming in similar picturesque language.
  • “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
  • God’s glory coming to Israel is but a type and shadow of Christ coming in glory for His Church.
  • This is the blessed hope upon which our faith rests.
  • He also says the “earth was full of His praise.”
  • It’s as if all nature praised their creator when He swept down from heaven to earth.
  • In Habakkuk 2:14, the Lord has promised that some day “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God.”
  • Paul anticipated that day in Philippians 2:11, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
  • We too are called to live holy and godly lives in anticipation of Christ’s return.
  • Habakkuk compared the brightness of God’s glory like the unshielded light of the sun.
  • God is compared to the light because He is holy. In Him there is no moral darkness or shadow of sin. (1 John 1:5; 1 Timothy 6:15-16)
  • Prophetically, the One coming in glory would be the “light of the World.” (John 8:12)
  • Habakkuk described His coming as “having rays flashing from His hand.”
  • Literally, He had “horns” symbolizing power, and lightning bolts coming from His hand.
  • His resplendent light was not only a revelation, but also a concealment of His glory.
  • His glory was so great it had to be veiled with clouds and pillars of smoke.
  • No man can behold the face of God and live.
  • That is why Christ is described as the glory of God veiled in human flesh.
  • To see Christ’s glorious face is to see the face of God.
  • For the redeemed it will be a moment of unimaginable joy.
  • For the unrepentant sinner it will be a day of mourning and terror.

Habakkuk then described his vision of the Holy One come in wrath. (Habakkuk 1:5-7)

  • He saw Him walking on the earth with judgment.
  • With each footstep came pestilence and plagues like those brought upon Egypt.
  • These signs and wonders preceded God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
  • Similar signs of God’s judgment are pictured by John in the Book of Revelation.
  • Habakkuk saw the Lord stand over the nations and measure the earth.
  • He is the only standard of righteous judgment.
  • He measured the earth for its sin, but also as an inheritance for Israel.
  • The nations are said to have been startled by God’s judgment, even as the Canaanites were shaken when Joshua entered the land and gave each of the tribes their inheritance promised to them by the Lord through Abraham. (Exodus 15:14-16; Joshua 2:9; Hebrews 10:31; 12:25-29)
  • His appearance scattered the everlasting mountains like wind blows the shaft at harvest.
  • Even the enemies of the Lord scurried into their tents to hide from the God of Israel.
  • In the last days, they shall hide in the rocks and caves of the mountain but find no safety.

Habakkuk’s prophetic prayer psalm offers us much to consider today.

  • We are reminded our worship is to be Christ-centered, Word-centered and Cross-centered.
  • We are to remember not only God’s mercy but also His wrath.
  • These two expressions of His holiness converge at the cross.
  • We are to pray God’s kingdom come in triumph.
  • Revival of Christ’s Church should be a constant burden in our prayers.
  • Revival is His work…prayer for our own revival and that of His Church is our call.
  • We are to pray, believing that the same God who delivered Israel with signs and wonders is coming in glory to deliver His Church at the end of days.
  • We are to live: godly, separated lives; willing to stand apart; willing to be unique; standing for moral absolutes; declaring without embarrassment the glorious Gospel of our blessed God.
  • Do we have the conviction and the courage to utter from our pulpits, whether they be in the church, in the workplace and in the community, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31)
  • Are we prepared to hear the words of Hebrews 12:25-29 as applying to us today?
  • “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25-29)

The triumph of God’s kingdom should be the consuming passion of our prayers.

  • Are we praying as Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”?
  • If so, we will be burdened to pray for spiritual revival in ourselves and our country.
  • We will be praying for our own need of personal holiness.
  • We will be passionate to defend and advance the fame of our great and glorious God!
  • What are you praying for?
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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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