“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 thy wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2
Prophets use a special language and that makes it difficult for us to understand them. Habakkuk saw and heard more by far than just any man, for he was especially enlightened by the Holy Spirit. In verses 3–15 of his second chapter this prophet sees the Lord in his Coming, and it is an overwhelmingly fearful scene. “Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger” (vs. 12).
We can see in our own days something of this going of the Lord through the world. Surely the nations tremble for fear, and yet one thing is certain: God’s people will be saved in all his judgments. “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people” (vs. 13). That is the real purpose for all world history! How deep is our comfort, therefore. Everything has its proper place in the whole of God’s great work in time, but that work as such deals exclusively with the salvation of his people. In all world tensions and world disasters God keeps his chosen in mind to redeem them. The continuance of the world is not automatic, but is rather simply to furnish place to those who are God’s.
The text quoted above this meditation serves as Habakkuk’s introduction to the broader description of God’s coming. Having taken a quick glance at that description we can better understand these introductory words.
“O Lord, I have heard thy speech,” or, better: I have heard the rumor of thy coming. Habakkuk’s spiritual ears made him sensitive to the sounds heralding the approach of the world’s Judge. One could react only in terms of deepest awe, of course, and so the seer adds, “and I was afraid.” Let us not be afraid to recognize this as the right attitude for us as we enter upon a new year. By faith we, too, see that God is altogether righteous and that this world in its unbelief and wickedness must increasingly arouse his indignation. Let us train our senses to see and hear as Habakkuk did, standing in awe of our God!
“O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy”—that is the prophet’s prayer. They are correct, I believe, who say that we ought to read this differently, so that it becomes: “In the womb of the years” let thy work be revived. In and out of the secret place of time’s womb God is asked to give new life to his saving work! Surely we must echo these words in our own prayers as we pray for 1964, for we wish God to generate and regenerate according to his Word and Spirit in our time.
In the midst of the cries and screams of those birth-pangs which God arouses throughout the years, let us remember that these verities are our comfort: his council shall come to pass, and his flock shall be gathered, not only the ninety-nine, but also the one which requires a special effort on the Good Shepherd’s part. Then we will dare to serve God with this reminder: “in thy wrath remember mercy.”