Thursday, April 28, 2011

The God of Fear and Mercy

Habakkuk 3:1-2

The prophet laid his heart – his broken and frustrated heart – out to God. Habakkuk saw evil and injustice around him and prayed for God’s presence and justice. In his anger the prophet cried out, and in His wisdom God responded. The first two chapters of this intense little book are a back-and-forth between the prophet and his God about where God is and what a holy and good God will do with a world like this. At one point God tells Habakkuk that He will indeed show up, but the prophet won’t like it when he does. But the prophet remains steadfast in his desire to hear from God and continue his “complaint.” But something changes the prophet’s perspective – God speaks, God explains, and God shows who He is.

And as a result, the complaining ceases and the prayer begins.

Chapter three is not the continuation of a complaint, but a psalm of prayer and worship. Not only is it something the prophet writes to express his personal reaction to the glory and power of God, he writes it for the whole congregation to sing. The “Shigionoth” is likely a form of music, and at the very end Habakkuk notes, “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” We are all supposed to sing this prayer together because we all live in the same world, are beset with the same kinds of frustrations and evils, and because we all worship the same kind of glorious and powerful God.

The prayer begins with Habakkuk telling us where he now stands with God. In the beginning he stood in complaint against God crying out to the heavens without any response. Now he tells us God is great and deserving of our fear and awe.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work O Lord, do I fear.

In essence, Habakkuk says, “I have heard about you and have seen what you can do, and now I am afraid of you.” It is entirely appropriate and right for the believer to realize the God they worship is worthy to be feared. He is not a small and swayable god who exists to do nice things for us and to make everything “OK.” He is the God who can level mountains, dry up seas and destroy entire empires. We need to relearn how to come to God with the right sense of fear, awe and reverence. The right worship of God necessarily includes reverence.

But He is not an arbitrary tyrant in the sky who cannot be approached. Habakkuk does not move from an expression of the fear of the Lord to a plea to an oppressor. Instead, he turns to God in prayer for his people. This revered God is a God who hears His people’s prayers.

In the midst of the years revive it.” Habakkuk prays that God will, even now, bring life to a rebellious and dead people. May it be today!

In the midst of the years make it known.” Habakkuk prays that God will make himself and his work known in a world that rejects and ignores his counsel. May it be today!

In wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk will behold the ravaging destruction of his people. It will seem that wrath will have the last word, but he prays that God will remember and return in mercy, as he in fact does. May it be today that the mercy of God will prevail, many will come to know him, and his glory will be seen!

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