“O Lord, I have heard Your speech, and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2.
HABAKKUK had the sadness of living at a time when true religion was in a very deplorable state. The nation had to a great extent departed from the living God. There was a godly party in the kingdom, but the ungodly and idolatrous faction was exceedingly strong. The Lord threatened judgment on the people on account of this and it was revealed to the prophet that an invasion by the Chaldeans was near at hand. The prophet, therefore, was filled with anxiety as to the future of his country because he saw its sinful condition and knew where it must end. The book of his prophecy begins with the earnest question of intercession, “O Lord, how long?”
Yet Habakkuk was a man of strong faith, a happy circumstance indeed for him in evil times, for if faith be wanted in the fairest weather, much more is it needed when the storm is gathering. And if the just must live by faith even when the morning begins to break, how much more must they do so when the shadows are deepening into night?… Habakkuk’s name, by interpretation, is the embracer and I may say of him truly that he was one who saw the promises afar off and was persuaded of them and embraced them. He took fast hold upon the goodness of the Lord and rested there. In reading his book, one is struck by the way in which he realized the presence of God. Fitly does he entitle his book, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see,” for in the vividness of his apprehension, he is eminently a “seer.” He perceives the presence of God and bids the earth keep silence before Him. He beholds the divine ways in the history of the chosen people and feels rottenness entering into his bones and a trembling seizing him. God was very real to him and the way of God was very conspicuous before his mental eye. Hence his faith was as vigorous as his reverence was deep…
First, then, I want you to NOTICE THE PROPHET’S FEAR, “I have heard Your speech and was afraid.” It is the fear of solemn awe—it is not dread or terror, but reverence. Read it in connection with the 20th verse of the preceding chapter, “But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him. O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid.” All else was hushed and then, in the solemn silence, he heard Jehovah’s voice and trembled. It is not possible that mortal men should be thoroughly conscious of the divine presence without being filled with awe. I suppose that this feeling in unfallen Adam was less overwhelming because he had no sense of sin, but surely even to him it must have been a solemn thing to hear the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Though filled with a childlike confidence, yet even innocent manhood must have shrunk to the ground before that majestic presence. Since the fall, whenever men have been favored with any special revelation of God, they have been deeply moved with fear. There was great truth in the spirit of the old tradition that no man could see God’s face and live, for such a sense of nothingness is produced in the soul by consciousness of Deity that men so highly favored have found themselves unable to bear up under the load of blessing. Isaiah cries, “Woe is me. For I am undone; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Daniel says, “There remained no strength in me.” Ezekiel declares, “When I saw it, I fell upon my face.” And John confesses, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” You remember how Job cried unto the Lord, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees You. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Angels, who climb the ladder which Jacob saw, veil their faces when they look on God, and as for us who are at the foot of that ladder, what can we do but say with the patriarch, “How dreadful is this place”? Albeit that it is the greatest of all blessings, yet is it an awful thing to be a favorite with God…
Habakkuk’s awe of God was quickened by the “speech” which he had heard. “O Lord, I have heard Your speech,” which is by some rendered, “report,” and referred to the gospel of which Isaiah says, “Who has believed our report?” But surely the meaning should rather be looked for in the context and this would lead us to interpret the “report” as relating to what God had done for His ancient people when He came from Teman, cleaving the earth with rivers and threshing the heathen in anger. The prophet had been studying the history of Israel and had seen the hand of God in every stage of that narrative—from the passage of the Red Sea and the Jordan on to the casting out of the heathen and the settlement of Israel in Canaan. He had heard the speech of God in the story of Israel in the silence of his soul. He had seen the deeds of the Lord as though newly enacted and he was filled with awe and apprehension, for he saw that while God had great favor for His people, yet He was provoked by their sins. And though He passed by their transgressions many and many a time, yet He did chasten them and did not wink at their iniquities. The prophet remembered how God had smitten Israel in the wilderness till the graves of lust covered many an acre of the desert. He remembered how He had smitten them in Canaan, where tyrant after tyrant subdued them and brought them very low. He remembered the terrible judgments which the Lord had sent, one after another, thick and threefold upon His guilty people, fulfilling that ancient word of His, “You only have I known of all the nations of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities.” He saw that burning text, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God,” written in letters of fire all along the history of Jehovah’s connection with His elect people and so he cried, “O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid.”
Habakkuk’s ministry was not exercised in the first ages when Moses and Samuel prophesied, nor yet in these latter days wherein we live, upon whom the ends of the earth have come. He probably ministered 600 years before the coming of Christ—somewhere in the very center of human history—if that history is to make a week of thousands as to its years as many have imagined. With regard to the Israelite people, they were now far removed from the day “when Ephraim was a child.” They were in their middle life when the best things ought to have been developed in them. The heroic age was gone and that unpoetical, matter of fact era was come in which men labored in the very fire and wearied themselves for very vanity and therefore like a tender intercessor, the prophet cries, “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.”
Brethren, there is about “the midst of the years” a certain special danger and this led the prophet, as it shall lead us at this time, to pray, “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.” Youth has its perils, but these are past. Age has its infirmities, but these we have not yet reached. It is ours then to pray against the dangers which are present with us “in the midst of the years.” The middle passage of life with us as individuals and with us as a church is crowded with peculiar perils…
There is too a pride of experience which is apt to grow upon churches and individuals, like moss upon old trees, when men are “in the midst of the years.” They feel, “We are not now the young, simple, silly people that we once were. We are not now to be overcome by temptation or misled by error. We shall beyond all doubt remain sound in faith and pure in life even to the end.” It is from the egg of carnal security that the canker worm of backsliding is hatched—therefore we must mind what we are doing “in the midst of the years.”
If we have stood like watchmen on the walls for years, the tendency is to relax our vigilance. If we have borne a protest for many years, the thought will suggest itself that it will be folly to be singular any longer and wise to yield to the current of the times. Then the enemy sneeringly whispers, “Who are you and what have you done with all your testifying and separate walking and Puritanical precisions? All that you have accomplished is insignificant enough! The world still lies in the wicked one and error is still rampant. Give up the battle, for you cannot win.” In the midst of the years, what with weariness and lack of faith, the heart is apt to yield to the infernal suggestion. Therefore, brethren, let a mighty prayer go up from the whole church to our Redeemer God, “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known.”
But the best plea is the one he mentions, “In wrath remember mercy.” That is a plea which suits all of us. Mercy, mercy, mercy. You might well smite both the shepherd and the sheep, but have mercy! You might well take away the candlestick and leave us in the darkness, but in wrath remember mercy! You see the coldness of heart and the inconsistency of life of some of Your professed people and You might, therefore, give up Your Zion to desolation, but Lord, remember mercy! Remember it, for You know it, for mercy is a dear attribute of Yours. Remember Your mercy in the everlasting covenant when You chose Your people. Remember Your mercy in the seal of that covenant when Your only-begotten Son was given up to death. Remember all the mercy You have had upon us these many years of our provocation. Remember mercy and still favor us, not because we have any good thing in us or about us that can deserve Your love, but for Your mercy’s sake. Out of Your free rich sovereign grace, for mercy’s sake still “revive Your work in the midst of the years.” It is good pleading—be sure to use it.