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North St Chapel 18.05.08 Habakkuk 3

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North St Chapel, Cheddar 18.05.08 PM

Habakkuk 3

The Context of the book

·        About exile time – Northern tribes gone, Judah falling (605BC?)

·        Habakkuk asking God questions:

o       1:2 Why do you let wickedness prosper?

o       1:13 Why do you tolerate wickedness?

Issues raised:

·        Why do bad things happen to good people?

·        Why do good things happen to bad people?

·        Why does God seem absent?

So many questions (As in Malachi, which we have just gone through as a church.) The people continually question God but seem immune to their own failures. Habbakuk is not so bold and abrasive towards God, but does have a sense of the tension between a “good God” allowing certain bad things to happen. But then in chapter 3 he moves from rational thinking and tension in faith, to worship and prayer, and that’s why he’s in your current series. What turned him?

2:20 the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him

(Like psalm 73:17…till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny)

Prayer is about coming into God’s presence and God’s perspective.


Interestingly, when we get to the prayer itself, not only has Habakkuk’s perspective changed, but the prayer itself becomes worship and praise. The terms in vv1, 3, 9 & 13 are probably musical terms. So this prayer was sung and used in worship.

The key verses are verse 2, and verses 16-19.

VV1-15 Reflect and Request

In verse 2 Habakkuk says

 Lord, I have heard of your fame;

I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.

Renew them in our day,

in our time make them known;

in wrath remember mercy.


In verses 3 onwards he cites the history he is referring to, from the time of the Exodus and the giving of the law on Mt Sinai. He’s heard of God’s fame in the past and ask God to bring it in the present. This is a pattern in OT prayer, which you can well see, for example in Nehemiah 9 or Daniel 9. The past acts of God become a basis for trusting him in the present and future.

I guess all of us who are Christians are happy and encouraged to look at God’s acts in the past and be encouraged. We read the Bible accounts and marvel at his power. We read of, say a great revival, maybe the Welch revival and are amazed at what God did. But what about now? Do we pray for such things today?

The other thing that strikes me in this point of the prayer is that Habakkuk reflects on the awe of God. “I stand in awe of your deeds” Do we share that sense of awe?

Interestingly, Ecclesiastes 5 also speaks of coming into God’s presence with words…

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

                     2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

                     3 As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.

4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. 5 It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfil it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

God is interested in more than words – even words of prayer. Do they come with a sense of awe?

King Louis XIV, the French monarch wanted to be known as the greatest king ever. Thus he requested that at his funeral in the great cathedral of Notre Dame all would be darkened except the one candle on his casket displayed at the front of the sanctuary. But when the great court preacher Masillon got up to give the funeral oration, he walked over to the casket and snuffed out the light. With that he commenced his message as he twice intoned the words: “Only God is great! Only God is great.”[1]

The final point under “request and reflect” is “In wrath remember mercy”. Interestingly in the previous two chapters Habakkuk has reflected and spoken to God on the issue of wrath – why do you put up with evil? Why don’t you judge the wicked? Now he has sensed the presence of God, now he sees him in his Holy Temple, his reflections and requests are tempered. “In wrath, remember mercy”. Our inclination is not towards mercy. Our inclination is to say “That’s not fair”. Judge him/her! Punish! Bring justice. But to come into the presence of God and see his awesomeness is also to see we have a God who in wrath does remember mercy. Are you glad about that?

Vv16-19 Tremble and trust

In verses 16 onwards Habakkuk moves on from reflecting on the past and making his requests to God, and moves on to speak about his reaction to the God whose awesome presence he has stood in. We see a direct response that might show us whether we have sensed God’s awe.

I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound;

decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.

We like to think of awe as a sense of exhilaration and excitement. Actually it brought a physical effect – fear - to Habakkuk.

My flesh trembles in fear of you;

I stand in awe of your laws. (Psalm 119:120)


 “This is the one I esteem:

he who is humble and contrite in spirit,

and trembles at my word. (Isa 66:2)


And so Habakkuk is now in a position of trust. There are three aspects to it here:

1. Leave judgement to God’s time. I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. He’s not now saying “Why…Why…Why…” Like Jesus, he entrusts himself to him who judges justly. How much emotional energy do you burn up, wanting God to do something that is not yet his time?

2. Be braced for the pain of association.

Though the fig-tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

These words are often taken as a great encouragement to faith, and indeed they are. But the lack of provisions are because of the judgement of God. “When the nation comes and invades us because of God’s judgement there will be no grapes, olive crops, sheep in the pen etc. For all his confusion and questioning to God, Habakkuk was a godly man. But he would suffer like the rest.

As Christians we are God’s people but live in a fallen world. We are not immune. So why therefore do so many of our prayers seem to reflect an ideal that we won’t suffer? “Lord, please take away the pain of…” Perhaps we’d be better praying like Habakkuk, “Lord, in the pain give me the strength to rejoice in the Lord”. I heard of one Christian who was always grumbling and complaining. When she got too old to look after herself she went into a home and believers around her knew she would be a poor reflection of Jesus. But he took her voice away, and her life apparently became a tribute to God! In her lack she was able to rejoice in the Lord in a way that she wouldn’t have with her voice!

3. Trust God.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on the heights.

What a difference from 1:2, “How long O Lord must I call for help but you do not listen?

Christians have long since discussed with each other, “does prayer change anything?” Some say yes, others say God’s will is already set. But this prayer changed Habakkuk from questioning to trusting. I hope it changes us!

! Order of service

258  I am trusting…


579 Restore, O Lord


Beauty for brokenness…



788 You are beautiful beyond description

48 Be still and know…


[1]Kaiser, W. C., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1992). Vol. 23: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 23 : Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series (193). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.

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