Prayer has been the subject of many books, studies, retreats, etc. There is so much that could be written or said about prayer. In the third chapter of Habakkuk, the prophet had arrived at a place of acceptance, faith and hope. He understood that judgment was coming against Judah, but he also knew that God would not forsake His believing people. In chapter 3, he prayed. His prayer was not just personal but continues to be instructive to God’s people who desire to develop vibrant prayer lives.
In verse 1, a word appears that is shrouded in some mystery: shigionoth. While teachers and scholars alike agree that it emphasizes strong emotion, most seem to relate it to the kind of music that would accompany this word from the Lord. The word itself introduces the prayer and may be instructive as to how it was to be used in early worship services. At any rate, the words of Habakkuk’s prayer should move us as we contemplate our sovereign God.
The prophet reached a place of personal acceptance about what was going to happen, and it deeply moved him: “I have heard the report about Thee and I fear.” He literally stood in awe of God. What God had revealed to him was true, and he was finally at peace with it. He realized God was awesome. There was no more bargaining, complaining, demanding, discussing, protesting or questioning. He came before God with a fresh realization that God was greater than his greatest or loftiest concepts of Him. He bowed his heart before God in submission. Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with that same understanding of the greatness of God: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” We, like Habakkuk, should enter prayer with this God-inspired sense of humility.
In the midst of troubling reality, he still appealed to the mercy of God and pleaded for God to “revive Thy work in the midst of the years.” He was more concerned about the work of God than the plight of his beloved nation. Instead of being circumstance-driven, he became God-oriented. He wanted God to do what God decreed to do. He desired for God’s work on the earth and in the lives of His people to continue — even if that meant discipline and temporal discomfort. He had a different perspective on the circumstances the nation faced, and the anxiety in his own heart had been replaced with God’s truth.
He asked God to revive (make alive, renew, preserve) His work and make it known “in the midst of the years.” O. Palmer Robertson wrote that “midst of the years” likely refers to the “time between the two acts of judgment revealed to Habakkuk earlier: purging judgment on Judah followed by the condemning judgment of Babylon — the crucial period before Babylon’s destruction.”
Even though the nation would be severely disciplined, the faithful believers needed to be most concerned with who God was than with what was happening to them and around them. Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed: “The moment I become really concerned about the state of my soul, instead of my affliction, I am on the high road to God’s blessing.”
The beginning of Habakkuk’s prayer involved another powerful request: “In wrath remember mercy.” He accepted the fact that the nation would be judged, but in that time of literal trembling or shaking, he asked for God’s compassion and tenderness. He made a plea not for God to stop the judgment but to show pity to His believing people. Following 70 years of captivity, the Jews were restored to their land, and their city walls and temple were rebuilt.
Because of the apostasy and disobedience of the professing church, God will purge her as he did Judah. First Peter 4:17 says: “Judgment must begin with the house of God.” Perhaps that chastening has already begun in the church.
When we connect the beginning of the prophet’s prayer with what he previously said in 2:4, we can see that it is the just who are called to live by faith — to walk in obedience to His revelation. For the nation of Judah then and for the professing church today, the prayer of Habakkuk is relevant: for those who believe in Him to live for Him.
Kyle M. Yates noted that as the prophet observed the movement of God through the centuries, “he realized that the same active God is in control and that He is working out His own purpose in His own good time.”
We cannot control God, but we can love Him even in difficult times.