Habakkuk: Revive Thy Work O Lord

Key Text: Chapter 3:2

“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.”

While we know very little about Habakkuk as an individual, a clear biblical understanding leads us to the conclusion that he ministered in Judah a little before the fall of Jerusalem and the captivity in Babylon. There Habakkuk follows on, chronologically and logically, from Nahum. Nahum lived in days when Nineveh was great, yet he prophesied that Judah would be kept safe from the Assyrian armies and that eventually Nineveh would fall. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, the Chaldeans rose to supremacy with Babylon as their Imperial Capital. It is clear that by the time God called Habakkuk, Nineveh was no longer a threat and the Chaldeans were the major threat to peace, stability and independence. It is clear from Habakkuk’s writings that Judah is demising as a nation, that the Chaldeans are growing ever stronger and that the day was fast approaching when Jerusalem would be taken (1:6).  While Habakkuk probably witnessed the spiritual revival during the days of King Josiah, he also saw times of declension and departure. A study of the reigns of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah will provide the bible student with the historical background which influenced the writings of this man of God.  Amidst the growing apostasy, the inevitability of military defeat, with the end of a civilisation drawing near Habakkuk lamented:

“…O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (3:2).

There is so much more to Habakkuk than the prophesying of a man moved by the Spirit of God. That in itself is remarkable enough.  When God inspired these holy men he used their feelings and their fears. Therefore human experience was intertwined with the miracle of inspiration. In a dark and uncertain world God chose to record the prayers and the questions of a one of his servants who was struggling to comprehend the means of the events which were unfolding around him. For this reason Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones chose to conduct a series of studies in Westminster Chapel after the close of World War Two. These sermons were later called “From Fear to Faith.” It is for this reason that Habakkuk contains such vital experimental truth for our lives today. We are confronted by imponderable situations that cause us to doubt and fear. Therefore we must walk the puzzling journey with Habakkuk seeking answers that we might be brought to the light of faith and understanding.

What then was Habakkuk’s journey?

1: The Puzzle of the Unanswered Prayer 1:1-4

Habakkuk, at the beginning of his prophecy was trapped in a place of despair, as he pleaded for his nation, yet no positive response was forthcoming. Therefore he cried out in some anguish, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear” (v2).

2: The Pathos of the Unexpected Response 1:5-11

The Chaldean aggressor was raised up by God for a specific task (v6). They would be instruments of judgement marching throughout the length and breadth of the land (v6).

3: The Power of the Unequalled God 1:12-17

Upon understanding God’s terrible purpose for the future of his people Habakkuk bursts into praise, magnifying the name of Jehovah.  He saw the silver lining in the dark cloud of chastening. The situation remained in the control of God and the future of Israel remained secure (v12). Nevertheless in the midst of his praises he remained puzzled. Why would a just God allow a wretched people, the Chaldeans, to be instruments of judgement upon the Lord’s people, among whom dwelt many who had not turned aside to idols? (v13).

4: The Position of the Unworldly Prophet 2:1-4

Habakkuk now retires from the world of clamour and questioning.  He ascends a watch tower, far above the city streets, away from the rumour and gossip, and he begins to reflect in silence. When we are puzzled and distressed we must learn to take a step away and get alone with God and our thoughts and look for a different perspective.  In his watchtower he found that different perspective when the Lord said “the just shall live by his faith”. These are words quoted on three occasions in The New Testament (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38) because they contain the kernel of the Gospel.  These were the words which converted Martin Luther and spawned the Protestant Reformation, the greatest revival of Christianity since Pentecost. It is Luther’s remarks on the impact that these words had upon him, which opens up our understanding as to how they helped Habakkuk in the midst of his distress of soul:

“Before these words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because, not content with frightening us sinners with the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words-‘the just shall live by faith!’ – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God.”

Habakkuk was taught by God not to be dismayed nor discouraged, He was to trust God even though his ways were beyond comprehension. He was to live by faith. I believe that in 2:3 there is an indication of the Gospel age that was approaching. A vision was dawning but was not realised. It was for an appointed time. Yet it would come and would not tarry. This vision was fulfilled when the Gospel of salvation through faith alone would be extended to every nation under the heavens after the Day of Pentecost. What a privilege is ours, to be living in these very days!

4: The Punishment by the Unrivalled Judge 2:5-20

At the close of Ch.1 Habakkuk questioned and queried God for allowing the wicked Chaldeans to run roughshod over the Lord’s inheritance. As a result of the Lord’s reassurance, however, he learned that God would execute justice. He did this through a series of woes;

“Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!” (v6), “Woe to him that coveted an evil covetousness” (v9), “Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood” (v12), “Woe to him that giveth his neighbour drink”(v15), “Woe unto him that saith unto the wood, Awake” (v19).

This justice was applicable to all, both Jews and Babylonians. None would escape. In the midst of these woes, however, there was the gracious promise that God’s cause would be extended through the earth in more ways than the prophet could ever have anticipated (v14).

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

5: The Prayer of the Undeserving Servant 3:1-19

This section sees Habakkuk on his knees before God. The questions have been dissipated by the vision of God’s glory and purpose. He is entirely submissive to the will of God in the world of men and for his people Israel. He realised that even in war and disaster God would fulfil his great purpose (v3). From the place of humility he produces one of the greatest prayers for revival in the Scripture. He could remember the revival under Josiah and had witnessed the declension of later years. There would not be another revival among the Jews for at least 100 years. Nevertheless this man of God prayed that in days of wrath the Lord would have mercy and revive his work. How we need the humble prayer of Habakkuk today? Whether we see revival in our day or not let us pray that it might take place.

Habakkuk’s prayer, and indeed, his prophecy concludes with a beautiful expression of confidence, trust and contentment. The contrast with the questioning spirit with which he commenced could not be more marked. He now accepts that if it is the will of God for his people, and ultimately himself, to be brought into penury he would “rejoice in the Lord…and joy in the God of…salvation.” An important lesson is taught here. The source of Christian happiness is not our circumstances but God revealed to us through the scriptures in the person of Jesus Christ. “Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to know, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:  Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:18)

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