Date: 11 Jun 2017
Text: Habakkuk 3 (especially Habakkuk 3:2)
Prior to the Day of Pentecost we spent some time looking at the first two chapters of Habakkuk. In those chapters we saw the prophet praying to God seemingly without being answered. Habakkuk was upset by God’s apparent silence and so complained bitterly about being ignored. God of course was listening all the time it’s just that He hadn’t yet answered Habakkuk’s initial prayers. God can be like that, we offer our prayers seeking His help and we don’t seem to get an answer. We need to learn patience since God will always answer but only in His time not ours.
When God did answer Habakkuk still wasn’t satisfied as it wasn’t the answer that he wanted. We’re the same aren’t we? We frequently decide what answer we want before we come before God in prayer and then complain when the answer He gives isn’t the one we wanted! God doesn’t always do what we want or expect. He will answer our prayers in the way and at the time that is best for us and for the kingdom of heaven in the long term.
Having finally accepted what God was telling him, Habakkuk then turned in this third chapter to a closing prayer, a prayer that will hopefully teach us a lot as we seek to see more come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Prayer for Revival
Since this prayer is intended to be sung, the opening verse provides an instruction for the musicians. I’ve tried to discover what that strange word shigionoth really means. One source suggests that it is a rare term sometimes translated as dirge and that a similar and related word appears in the opening to Psalm 7:1. A further source says this, “it possibly refers to a lament. However, its exact meaning is still unknown”. The translation in the Amplified Bible though suggests that it means that Habakkuk’s prayer should be set to “wild, enthusiastic, and triumphal music”! Meanwhile, The Message translation says that the prayer should be accompanied by an orchestra. As ever with some of these very rare words and terms that we find in the Bible, it’s up to you which translation or interpretation you follow. Despite all that it seems that where the word is used it does suggest a complete and utter reliance on God’s faithfulness.
The prayer itself begins in 3:2 where we see Habakkuk not only in absolute awe at what God has done in the past but also wanting Him to do it again; to repeat or revive His earlier deeds in Habakkuk’s day. Habakkuk knew what God had done in the past and how people had responded to those actions. What the prophet wants now is for God to do it all again and for the people to respond to those deeds again. Habakkuk wants to see a revival in people’s faith in God and he knows that it is only God Who can start that revival; he knows that mankind is incapable of starting and sustaining the spiritual revival that was so badly needed. Not only that, but Habakkuk wanted this revival to be at some definite time and not be just a long term plan. He would preferably have liked to see this happen in his lifetime which was hardly surprising given what was happening around him and what he himself had witnessed.
We face the same problem today. We look around and see all the wonders that God has done in His world and all the amazing things that He does in people’s lives each day and we want to share that with others. On the other hand we also see that people’s spiritual lives are almost non-existent and very few even accept that there is a God Who wants to be their Friend and wants them to join His family. Recent events surely prove that this country is in desperate need of spiritual revival of the kind that Habakkuk was seeking and of the kind that was experienced in Wales in the early 20th century. On that occasion in 1904 the work of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that people were coming to faith in their hundreds. Churches were full all night as people prayed for more revival and for more to join them. Such was the power of the Holy Spirit and the affect that He had that pubs closed due to lack of business. People’s lives were changed in incredible ways. As an example of the way that lives were changed we need only consider the men who worked in the coal mines. In the vast majority of cases they treated their donkeys extremely badly and cruelly. After coming to faith in Christ these men changed their ways so much that the donkeys were confused, where they had previously been beaten they were now treated gently and with kindness. The spiritual revival that so many had prayed for led to a lot of lives being changed for the better. This type of revival that we so badly need can only be instigated by God working through His Holy Spirit. We cannot kick start revival of our own volition although we can cry out to God for Him to begin His reviving work all over again.
Habakkuk was asking God to revive or repeat His earlier work although we may also see that what Habakkuk really wanted was for God to start the revival in and with him. If we want to see revival in this country then we have to start with ourselves. We need to pray that God will revive us and lead us on the right path each day. It’s all too easy to blame the church for not leading a much needed revival rather than looking closer to home. We should check our own behaviour; does it reflect the faith that we claim to have or do we need to change our ways somewhat? What about our conversation; do we use bad language or bad mouth others? If so then we need to moderate our language and reflect Jesus in all that we say. What about our spiritual life; does that need to be revived? Have we lost that initial spark that we had when we first came to know Christ as Lord and Saviour? If so perhaps we need to look at our own hearts and see how we can draw nearer to Jesus in prayer and Bible reading; perhaps in serving Him more and devoting more time to Him. Matt Redman wrote a song titled, “We’re looking to Your promise of old” although sadly it’s not a song that I’m familiar with. The chorus contains these lines, “Lord, send revival, start with me. For I am one of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, your glory I have glimpsed, send revival, start with me.” That chorus is a perfect picture of what Habakkuk was saying, he had seen God’s glory in all that God had done in the past for His people and he was desperate to see it again.
Habakkuk also prayed for God to remember to be merciful. In the earlier conversations between Habakkuk and God it was very clear that God intended to punish His people for their evil deeds and for ignoring Him. Habakkuk eventually accepted that but now in 3:2 asks God that “in wrath remember mercy”. God is a loving and merciful God even though He occasionally sees the need to punish His people. Habakkuk understood that God intended to chastise His people because He loved them and wanted them to behave themselves. Habakkuk also knew that because of their evil ways, God’s people didn’t deserve the revival that he was praying for. Habakkuk now accepted that they deserved all the punishment that was coming to them. However, that didn’t mean that he didn’t want God to show some mercy towards them. In the passage from Hebrews 12 that I read earlier, the writer quoted Proverbs 3:11-12 when he said, “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son”. Despite that Habakkuk was still anxious that God should show mercy at the same time.
Rest of Prayer
In 3:3-17 we see Habakkuk describing not only the glory of God but also how He intended to punish the Babylonians for their evil deeds. The Babylonians were to invade Judah at God’s instigation as a way of punishing the Judeans for their behaviour and turning away from Him. Eventually though God would also punish the Babylonians and in 3:13-15 we see what God would do at some time in the future; it doesn’t sound too pleasant. Despite all that, in 3:18-19 we see Habakkuk acknowledging God as his Saviour and rejoicing as a result. He also adds that “the Sovereign LORD is my strength”. God can be our strength as well if we would but open our hearts to Him and seek His help at all times, not just in times of trouble or distress.
At the beginning of Habakkuk we saw the prophet complaining bitterly that God wasn’t listening and therefore answering his heartfelt prayers. When God did answer Habakkuk still wasn’t satisfied and so complained again and argued with God as to how wrong He was. God is always gentle and merciful in the way that He deals with us and so He gently explained to Habakkuk what He intended to do and why. Habakkuk was obviously overwhelmed by God’s reply and so in this third and final chapter he prayed for revival across the land. He knew that only God with His awesome power could bring the spiritual revival that was so badly needed. This prayer showed Habakkuk’s complete and utter reliance on God and an acknowledgement that only He could instigate this revival. We can learn from that; Habakkuk felt that God wasn’t answering his prayers but kept on praying regardless. When he did get an answer and God explained His plan, Habakkuk prayed all the more earnestly, but this time for revival.
When you think about this, the only conclusion that we can reach is that we also need a spiritual revival in this country. We need to join with Habakkuk in praying for God to send revival on us all. In doing so we may also need to examine ourselves and make sure that we are in the right place with God and don’t need reviving ourselves.