Mercy in the Midst of Wrath


Lessons in
the Book of Habakkuk

by Bob Burridge ©2013, 2015
Understanding God in Troubled Times

Lesson 6: Mercy in the Midst of Wrath Habakkuk 3:1-15

The nation of Judah had become corrupt within. God’s judgment was coming through a foreign nation, the Chaldeans.

Habakkuk cried out in confusion to the Lord. How can He allow evil and immorality to continue unpunished? How can this ungodly nation overpower the people of God?

The Lord assured him that He was still in control even over the Chaldeans (1:6). Though He would use this evil nation, He is not approving of their evil (1:11).

Those who rebel against the Lord are arrogant and proud. Their soul is not right within them (2:4), but the Righteous are to live through their faithful, firm, and uncompromising confidence in the divine promises. Though the reasons behind the immediate actions of God may remain hidden for a time, humans were created to trust in the sufficiency of God’s word.

A poem of judgment was given as a warning to the oppressors (2:6-10). They take what is not theirs and seek to satisfy their own pride and lust. In reality they heap judgment upon themselves. They bring shame upon themselves and their people. The result will not be honor and power, but disgrace and judgment. Their foolish beliefs and false hope amount to nothing. The LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him.

The prophet’s response to the answer of God is given in chapter three in this Song of Habakkuk. When there is a need for a Judge, there is also the need for a Savior. The Lord, our Covenant God, comes as both!


This is a Prayer of the prophet Habakkuk

Habakkuk 3:1, A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, on Shigionoth.

This is a poem written to be accompanied with music. These lyrics are called “shig-yo-nowt” (שׁגּינה). It comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to sin” or “to transgress”. The reference is to the “reeling to and fro” that comes from indulgence in sin and lust. It is similar to our words “Crazed” “Frenzied” “Passionate”. In Isaiah 28:7 it’s used of those who “have erred through wine” and go astray with intoxicating drink. It’s used in Proverbs 5:20 of those who become “enraptured by an immoral woman.”

It took on a technical musical use often used with “according to” or “upon” in Psalm titles. It indicates that what follows is a “reeling song”. It has a similar meaning as our use of the term “rock-n-roll”. It’s a song delivered with great excitement or fast changes in emotion.

Three groups of people are involved in this song.
1. The people of Judah who had offended their God. They had openly disobeyed the Covenant of God. They were the reason for God’s chastisement through the Chaldeans.

2. The Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Chaldeans. This evil nation boldly and arrogantly oppressed God’s people. They treated them inhumanely and dishonorably for their own benefit.

3. The faithful people of Judah. These are those who remained humble, resting in the Lord’s provision only. They would receive the blessings promised in God’s gracious Covenant.

The first two will experience the coming of the LORD in judgment. The faithful will experience the benefit of that judgment, they were about to behold the LORD as Savior.


Habakkuk responded to Jehovah’s report

Habakkuk 3:2, O LORD, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk makes reference to both the immediate response of Jehovah in chapters 1 and 2, and to the whole context of what the He had revealed in the past.

The Lord’s revealed word produces fear and holy awe. There was about to be great judgment poured out on the proud. The obedient of Judah were about to behold the awesome omnipotence and justice of their God.

Habakkuk prayed that the Lord’s work would be “revived”. Literally it means “restore Your work to life”. There will be a revival of the covenantal work of God which for the moment seemed to be interrupted. It will come “in the midst of the years” which is an idiom meaning, “without delay”. He repeats this last phrase as an emotional crying out for a speedy remedy from the Lord.

The prophet pleaded for mercy in the midst of this wrath. He wanted the suffering under the Chaldeans to soon end. He wanted the purification of God’s people by chastisement to soon be complete. He longed for the blessings of the covenant to be restored.


The Lord is pictured as coming as both Judge and Savior.

Habakkuk 3:3a, God came from Teman, The Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah …

The song calls for the divine glory to be radiated to distant places. The imagery comes from several references in the book of Psalms, and before that from the blessing of Moses before his death. Deuteronomy 33:2. “The LORD came from Sinai, And dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, And He came with ten thousands of saints; From His right hand came a fiery law for them.”

Jehovah appeared from Sinai (where he gave the Law and covenant), yet his glory shines out and dawns on even the distant hills of Seir (in Edom) and Mount Paran.

Habakkuk calls for the glory of the Lord to be again revealed. It will have a broad scope reaching out of Israel even to the then heathen nations. It will be a revival of the visibility of God’s covenant pledge. His revealed glory extends to Taeman and Paran. Taeman is in south Edom. and Mount Paran is in the high mountains on the east side of the desert.

Habakkuk adds the musical term “Selah” (סלה). Literally it means “lift up”. There are a few theories about what it meant when put at the end of a line in Hebrew poetry. Some have suggested lifting up either the pitch or the volume of the music. The problem is that this notation appears to come at the end of a portion rather than being instructive about how it is to be sung. Some have suggested that a musical interlude was inserted at this point by the lifting up of the trumpets of the Priests. But that would limit the meaning to worship Psalms used at the Tabernacle or Temple. In some places that doesn’t seem to fit. Most likely it meant for the reader or singer to pause for a moment to lift up his thoughts to consider what had just been said.

The Lord’s glory will shine forth.

Habakkuk 3:3b-4, His glory covered the heavens, And the earth was full of His praise. His brightness was like the light; He had rays flashing from His hand, And there His power was hidden.

Hebrew poetry is characterized by parallelisms which abound in this section. In parallelisms pairs of phrases may repeat the same idea in different words clarifying the emotion or meaning. Sometimes the pairs show a contrast or comparison.

God’s glory is like the brilliance of the sun. As in Deuteronomy 33:2, the light of Jehovah “dawned” from Sier then spreads out to cover the heavens and the earth with His praise. His brightness is like the sunlight, its rays flashing forth. His glory and power will radiate out in full display to all.

The Lord will bring judgment upon those who will not heed His word.

Habakkuk 3:5-7, Before Him went pestilence, And fever followed at His feet. He stood and measured the earth; He looked and startled the nations. And the everlasting mountains were scattered, The perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; The curtains of the land of Midian trembled.

Before Him goes pestilence, and after Him comes fever. These are signs of God’s holy wrath. The Lord looks out at the nations and startled them. Even the strong primordial mountains were shaken and shattered to pieces. The hills which he made were brought in to humble submission to their Creator. The presence of God in judgment humbles the proud and brings them down in fear and shame.

Judgment brought distress to the tents of Chusan and the land of the Midianites. The nations trembled. Their conquests were over, and the ways of God are displayed to be everlasting, unconquerable.

What is the real object of God’s wrath?

Habakkuk 3:8-9, O LORD, were You displeased with the rivers, Was Your anger against the rivers, Was Your wrath against the sea, That You rode on Your horses, Your chariots of salvation? Your bow was made quite ready; Oaths were sworn over Your arrows. Selah You divided the earth with rivers.

God’s advancing wrath is pictured in language that brings to mind the armies the heathen nations used for their own conquests. It’s as if the great Judge comes with greater horses, chariots, and arrows.

Was He judging the rivers He made? Maybe he was angry with the sea? Obviously he was not angry with unthinking objects of creation. The lyrics are figurative expressions intended against the rebellion of the nations which were not right with God. The context makes this very clear.

The song then adds another “Selah”, a musical pause to instruct us to stop and think about the importance of what had just been said. The Creator divided the land with rivers. It was fallen humanity that divided us with lines drawn by differing religions, nations, customs, and values. These were the corrupt inventions of those now locked in horrible wars and enslavements. It was not the way things should be in a world commanded to honor its Creator.

The revelation of God’s Omnipotence and Justice

Habakkuk 3:10-11, The mountains saw You and trembled; The overflowing of the water passed by. The deep uttered its voice, And lifted its hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their habitation; At the light of Your arrows they went, At the shining of Your glittering spear.

The sight of God coming even caused the firm mountains to tremble. The floods soon passed and were gone, just as the destruction cause by the conquests of these heathen nations will only last a short time on the pages of history. After a time their power will be abated.

The dark mysterious deep place lifted up its voice and roared forth. It lifted its hands on high as one holds up his hands in terror to block out a terrifying sight. The Sun and Moon stood still as if they had retreated and set below the horizon. The darkening of the sun and moon are common biblical images used to show the darkness that spreads upon the wicked in the wake of God’s judgment.

Why did their glory fade away for these evil nations? It was in response to their ungody violence, the flashes of their arrows and the reflections of their metal spears. It was their aggression against the innocent that brought God’s judgment upon them.

The purpose of the Lord’s judgment is also to save His people. :12-15

Habakkuk 3:12-15, You marched through the land in indignation; You trampled the nations in anger. You went forth for the salvation of Your people, For salvation with Your Anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked, By laying bare from foundation to neck. Selah. You thrust through with his own arrows The head of his villages. They came out like a whirlwind to scatter me; Their rejoicing was like feasting on the poor in secret. You walked through the sea with Your horses, Through the heap of great waters.

The holiness of the Lord has been offended. God was rightly filled with indignation and anger. As judge he marched through the land and trampled the rebellious nations.

This advance of the Lord as Judge has two primary purposes. He will come to judge the evil ones. The Lord will strike the head of the house of evil. He will lay him open all the way up to his neck. He also comes for the salvation of His People, of His anointed ones, the people of the covenant, and their human leaders. We should never abandon our confidence it the Lord’s promises even though at times evil seems to be increasing and going unpunished.

The great deliverance is most particularly fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as the Promised Messiah, the Great Anointed One. And that is most particularly fulfilled in the day of final judgment of all the earth when our Conquering Lord returns in glory.

There is another “Selah” calling us to pause to think about the importance of these grand purposes. When Jehovah comes in judgment, he also comes as Savior of his people. Though it may delay for God’s purposes to be completely fulfilled, it will surely come.

The evil one is pierced with his own spears. The heathen nations lashed out with their weapons of destruction coming through the lands of the innocents like a whirlwind. They thought they could succeed in scattering the Covenant Nation. They partied in their arrogance and pride at the expense of those they conquered. Though once they thundered with their horses through the seas defying the great waters, all their gains will be taken away from them. A greater conqueror is coming. Nothing can stand as a barrier to the victorious coming of the Lord. Not the sea, not the flood of many waters, not the advance of wicked nations armed with their man-made devices of war. The Lord will be victorious when the time of his vengeance comes. His victory will have no end. It will be forever.


When there is a need for a Judge, there is also the need for a Savior.

The Lord, our Covenant God, comes as both! We should each ask ourselves, “Which will He be to me? Judge or Savior? Of which of the three groups will I be a part?

Are you among the oppressors of God’s covenant people?
If so you will be brought low at the hands of an angry God. We are rightly appalled by the perverse horrors of slasher films. But with all the special effects and imagined gore that can be depicted on a movie screen, nothing can enter the mind that will compare with the eternal suffering of the enemies of God’s Kingdom. God’s own attribute of Justice demands that He must execute deserved wrath upon those who remain as rebels against Him.

God’s mercy is extended even to some of those held in the blindness and deception of the promises of evil. When they sense the moving of conviction in their hearts, they can be assured that the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ fully satisfied God’s wrath for all who place their trust in Him alone. Even the enemy of God can be transformed into a child of God through the finished work of the Messiah. Those touched in this way by saving grace come to Him confessing their failure to please God, and finding forgiveness secured on the cross of Calvary.

Are you among the false ones who merely profess a biblical faith?
The Lord uses those difficult times to reveal the deceivers within the church, those who are not there because of a love of the work of Christ, but for more self-serving reasons.

They often leave the sound churches to join with those where sin is not mentioned. There they are told about a God who is just there for our benefit, and who is not offended by our self-centered lives. Be assured that God will vindicate his Holy name which is dishonored by those who call themselves “Christian”, but who will not humble themselves before Him in repentance and devotion.

Even to those who sin against His name, and who are only outwardly “Christian”, He calls to come to him repentantly in humble sincere faith. Those who come he promises to transform, clothing them in the Savior’s righteousness and adopting them into is eternal family. They will be “Christian in name only” no more.

Are you among those who are truly redeemed by God’s grace?
Have you humbly confessed the Savior as your only hope of forgiveness and blessing? That transformation is evidenced by a humble faith in God’s promises even when we know how far sort we fall from what our Savior calls us to be.

No believer is perfect in this life. They all contribute some to the weakness of the covenant community. Sometimes they make excuses for sin because it is so common in the fallen culture that surrounds them.

But the Lord is a perfect parent. He chastises His children so that they will learn and mature spiritually. God’s redeemed children need to be appalled by their failures, and desire to be delivered from them. That determination of humbled hearts is evidence of grace at work. When God’s people understand the magnitude of grace they want to live for the Savior out of gratitude to the One to whom they owe everything.

The comfort is this: The oppressors will be judged, and in judgment there is rest and hope to all who faithfully rest in the sufficient work of the Savor, Jesus Christ. When the LORD comes as judge, He also comes as Savior.

(Bible quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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