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

—Habakkuk 3:2

God’s wrath is His utter intolerance of whatever degrades and destroys. He hates iniquity as a mother hates the diphtheria or polio that would destroy the life of her child.

God’s wrath is the antisepsis by which moral putrefaction is checked and the health of the creation maintained. When God warns of His impending wrath and exhorts men to repent and avoid it, He puts it in a language they can understand: He tells them to “flee from the wrath to come” (Luke 3:7). He says in effect, “Your life is evil, and because it is evil you are an enemy to the moral health of My creation. I must extirpate whatever would destroy the world I love. Turn from evil before I rise up in wrath against you. I love you, but I hate the sin you love. Separate yourself from your evil ways before I send judgment upon you.”

“O LORD… in wrath remember mercy” (Habbakuk 3:2). MDP122

Lord, I’m grieved to see the evil in the world all around me. Help me to be a light today to lead someone away from Your wrath and into an experience of Your mercy. Amen. [1]

He Appeals to God to Act for His People (3:1, 2)

Habakkuk now prays to the Lord. He had heard of the Lord’s dealings in the past with the enemies of His people; now he asks Him to revive His work by punishing His foes and saving His people.[2]

2 Habakkuk’s “prayer” is oriented to the past as the basis for his appeal for present help (cf. Ex 32:13; Ps 77:11; Ac 4:25–28). The noun “fame” (šēmaʿ; GK 9051) is normally used of secondhand information (e.g., Job 28:22; Na 3:19), suggesting a remoteness from the hearer’s own experience to the persons or events referred to (cf. Job 42:5). The Lord’s “deeds” (pōʿal) envisaged here corroborate this sense of remoteness, being associated with his sovereign power and preeminently with his “work” at the exodus—a primary anchor of Israel’s recollection, faith, and hope (e.g., Nu 23:23; Pss 44:1; 68:28; 77:12; 90:16; 95:9; 111:3), as is the cross to the Christian.

Habakkuk’s appeal for “mercy” (rāḥam) is thus grounded in God’s covenantal commitment to Israel, displayed in the events of the exodus as a whole and sealed at Sinai (cf. Dt 4:31); it is no wishful or manipulative plea for help grounded merely in the desperation of the moment. However, it is also an admission of how far Israel has fallen away from the revelation of God’s character and ways, made “known” at the exodus. Not only do the “deeds” of that epoch represent secondhand knowledge, but the need to “renew” (hîyâ) them implies that their impact is facing extinction. Moreover, the imminence of “wrath” (or “turmoil,” rōgez; cf. v. 7), betrays the presence of sin, which the Lord is committed to judge in his people—a judgment rooted in the covenant no less than “mercy” (e.g., Ex 32:10–12; Dt 6:15; 29:20–28; 31:17; 32:22). This appeal for God’s covenanted “mercy” in the face of present distress and judgment echoes Psalm 77:9, with which this chapter has much in common (see Overview).[3]

3:2 the report about You. A reference back to 1:5–11 and 2:2–20, where the Lord informed Habakkuk of His plans for judging Judah and the Chaldeans. revive Your work. Knowledge of the severity of God’s judgment struck Habakkuk with fear. As though God’s power had not been used in a long time, the prophet asked the Lord to “revive” (lit. “to quicken”), to repeat His mighty saving works on behalf of His people, Israel. In the midst of the years. In the midst of His punishment of Judah at the hand of the Chaldeans, the prophet begged that God would remember mercy.[4]

3:2 I have heard. Habakkuk had heard (perhaps in the temple) of God’s great saving acts, which he recounts in vv. 3–15; see the Song of Moses (Ex. 15:1–21). in wrath remember mercy. A plea that when God judges, he will also be merciful—a classic statement of how God deals with his people.[5]

3:2 to show compassion The term here carries the deeper sense of compassion.[6]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1145). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Armerding, C. E. (2008). Habakkuk. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, p. 638). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Hab 3:2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1726). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Hab 3:2). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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