Mercy In Midst Of Trouble
Habakkuk’s Prayer Of Submission
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, Mar-Aug 2014
Part 2 of 7

Previously, we looked at the first part of Habakkuk’s prayer of submission found in verse 1 of chapter 3 and saw how his prayer is structured or modelled after the Psalms.

In this article, we will look at the second part of his prayer found in verse 2, which we may describe as Habakkuk’s request for mercy in the midst of trouble.

 Habakkuk’s Request 
for Mercy 
in the midst of trouble (v. 2)

Verse 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.”

This verse begins the prayer proper. There are two parts to this verse, each of them beginning with the words “O LORD.” The first records the prophet’s response to the word of the LORD while the second records the prophet’s petitions based on the word of the LORD.

Consider first the prophet’s response to the word of the LORD. “O LORD (or O Yahweh) I have heard thy speech, and was afraid…” Habakkuk acknowledges that he has clearly heard the speech or the report of the LORD.

What speech is he referring to? Well we find it in chapter 1 verse 5 and the following, “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful…” and so on.    

Habakkuk could hardly believe his ears when he first heard the LORD revealing the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment upon His own covenant people. But through the further word of the Lord, he had come to believe and accept and submit to the Lord’s will.

The word “afraid” in verse 2 can be translated “stand in awe of.” Habakkuk was afraid in the sense of being filled with a sense of awe and wonder at what the LORD was doing and going to do. He stood in awe of the work of the LORD when he understood just how awesome it was.

His sovereignty extends to and encompasses all the mighty nations and empires of history. He can order the rise and fall of an empire according to His own sovereign plan and purpose. And what He does, He does for the sake and the good of His people.

Now Habakkuk’s reverence for God and His confidence in His sovereignty does not mean that he does not need to pray, which brings us to the second part of verse 2, which records the prophet’s petitions based on the word of the Lord.  

He says, “O LORD (Yahweh), revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”

There are three petitions here, but before we look at them, let’s consider the phrase “in the midst of the years” which Habakkuk mentions twice. The prophet sets his three petitions “in the midst of the years.” But what are the “years” or what is the time period that he is thinking of?

Remember that in the earlier chapters, the LORD revealed to Habakkuk two judgments that would take place in due time. First, the covenant nation would be judged by the Babylonians, and then, the Babylonians themselves would be judged and destroyed by another nation.

But the big difference between these two judgments is that the first is for the purpose of purging and cleansing the house of God whereas the second is for the purpose of utterly destroying and consuming the enemies of God and avenging His elect.

If you like, the first kind of judgment is mainly to chastise God’s people whereas the second kind is primarily to punish God’s enemies.

The phrase “in the midst of the years” then most naturally refers to this intervening period between the first judgment that would fall on Judah and the second judgment that would fall on the Babylonians. Historically, we know that these two judgments were separated by about 66 years, between 605 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar first attacked Jerusalem, and 539 BC, when Cyrus conquered the Babylonians.

But what did Habakkuk request that God do in the midst of these years? He requested three things.

First, he prayed that the LORD would revive His work. The word “revive” means to preserve or sustain or keep alive. It is the exact same word that we find in chapter 2 verse 4, where we read “the just shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk prays that the LORD would cause to live or preserve or keep alive His work in the midst of the years.

But what does “His work” refer to? Calvin says that it refers to God’s people or the Church and I think he’s right. Calvin writes, “Since, then, the Israelites were set apart by the Lord, they are rightly called his work; as we read in another place, “The work of thine hands thou wilt not despise,” Psalm 138:8.” In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:6 puts it this way, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

And so what Habakkuk is praying for is that the LORD would preserve and keep alive His people through all those dark years of judgment to come. Here we have a wonderful example of the prophet pleading the promises of God. God promises in Psalm 138:8 that He would not forsake the work of His hands and in Habakkuk 2:4, He promises that the just shall live by faith. Habakkuk does not take these things for granted. Instead, he lays hold on them and earnestly pleads with God to fulfil them.

The second thing that he prays for is that the LORD would “make known” in the midst of the years. Make known what? Here is where it is helpful to observe the parallel between the first and the second petition. If the first petition is about the Lord’s preservation and keeping alive of His people, then this second petition is about the Lord’s making known to His people His plan and will and purpose in all that He was doing and will do.

In short this second petition is a prayer for understanding. Remember how Habakkuk himself struggled a great deal to come to terms with what God had revealed to him about His plan for Judah and Babylon.        

It took two rounds of intense dialogue between himself and the Almighty before he finally rested his case and came to a point of humble submission to the will of God.

Habakkuk knew that his fellow believers would likewise struggle with understanding and accepting God’s program for their nation and so he earnestly interceded on their behalf that God would cause them to know and understand and accept what He has revealed.

Third, he prays that the LORD would remember mercy in the time of wrath. The Hebrew word translated “wrath” here does not have the basic meaning of anger or rage or fury. Rather, its basic meaning is agitation and disturbance and restlessness and trouble.

We find it for example in Job 14:1, where Job says, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.”

Habakkuk was well aware that as a nation, they were about to enter a period of great turmoil and trouble and disturbance; when the very foundations of their life and society would be shaken to its core. Even the most stable of human institutions would be trembling and unsettled. The covenant nation was about to be overwhelmed by the might of an awesome empire and sent away into exile in a far away and strange country.

And so with that impending situation in mind, Habakkuk pleads with the LORD to remember to be merciful during those long and dreadful years ahead. He knew that nothing but the sheer mercy and compassion of God would be enough to keep them alive. If the LORD should forget to be merciful, then they would surely perish, every one of them. “O Yahweh, in wrath remember mercy.”

So Habakkuk’s three petitions in verse 2 are: that, in the midst of the years of judgment and trouble, the LORD would preserve their lives, that He would give understanding to His people, and that He would remember to be merciful.

At this point, I’d like to point out very briefly how these petitions of the prophet are ultimately and indeed can only be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, Habakkuk requested that the LORD would cause His people to live during the time of trouble. We know that there is no life and no preservation of life apart from Christ. He says in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” and again in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Paul says in Romans 6:11 that we are “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Second, Habakkuk requested that the LORD would make known His will to His people. Christ says in John 15:15, “all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” And again, He says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Third, Habakkuk requested that the LORD would remember mercy in the midst of trouble. We know that the only way for God to be merciful to undeserving sinners is ultimately on the basis of what Christ Jesus has done for them. Apart from Him, none can expect to receive mercy from a Holy God.

And so Jude tells us towards the end of his epistle in verse 21 to look or to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

Let us never forget that Christ is our only hope for life and for understanding and for mercy in the midst of all the turmoil and troubles of life.

“O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.”

Linus Chua