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Habakkuk 3:2

2. O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.

2. Jehova, audivi vocem tuam (auditum tuum, ad verbum, [דעמש]; 5050     The verb, "territus sum,—I feared,” has been omitted. It is even omitted in the French version.—Ed. ) Jehova, opus tuum in medio annorum vivifica illud (sed relativum pronomen abundat;) in medio annorum notum fac; in ira misericordiae recorderis.

 

The Prophet says here, in the name of the whole people, that he was terrified by the voice of God, for so I understand the word, though in many places it means report, as some also explain it in this place. But as the preaching of the Gospel is called in Isaiah 53:1, שמעה, shemoe, report, it seems to me more suitable to the present passage to render it the voice of God; for the general sentiment, that the faithful were terrified at the report of God, would be frigid. It ought rather to be applied to the Prophecies which have been already explained: and doubtless Habakkuk did not intend here to speak only in general of God’s power; but, as we have seen in the last lecture, he humbly confesses the sins of the people, and then prays for forgiveness. It is then not to be doubted but that he says here, that he was terrified by the voice of God, that is, when he heard him threatening punishment so grievous. He then adds, Revive thy work in the middle of the years, and make it known. At last, by way of anticipation, he subjoins, that God would remember his mercy, though justly offended by the sins of the people.

But by saying, that he feared the voice of God, he makes a confession, or gives an evidence of repentance; for we cannot from the heart seek pardon, unless we be first made humble. When a sinner is not displeased with himself, and confesses not his guilt, he is not deserving of mercy. We then see why the Prophet speaks here of fear; and that is, that he might thus obtain for himself and for others the favor of God; for as soon as a sinner willingly condemns himself, and does not do this formally, but seriously from the heart, he is already reconciled to God; for God bids us in this way to anticipate his judgement. This is one thing. But if it be asked, for what purpose the Prophet heard God’s voice; the obvious answer is,—that as it is not the private prayer of one person, but of the whole Church, he prescribes here to the faithful the way by which they were to obtain favor from God, and turn him to mercy; and that is, by dreading his threatening and by acknowledging that whatever God threatened by his Prophets was near at hand.

Then follows the second clause, Jehovah! in the middle of the years revive thy work. By the work of God he means the condition of his people or of the Church. For though God is the creator of heaven and earth, he would yet have his own Church to be acknowledged to be, as it were, his peculiar workmanship, and a special monument of his power, wisdom, justice, and goodness. Hence, by way of eminence, he calls here the condition of the elect people the work of God; for the seed of Abraham was not only a part of the human race, but was the holy and peculiar possession of God. Since, then, the Israelites were set apart by the Lord, they are rightly called his work; as we read in another place,

“The work of thine hands thou wilt not despise,”
Psalm 138:8.

And God often says, “This is my planting,” “This is the work of my hands,” when he speaks of his Church.

By the middle of the years, he means the middle course, as it were, of the people’s life. For from the time when God chose the race of Abraham to the coming of Christ, was the whole course, as it were, of their life, when we compare the people to a man; for the fullness of their age was at the coming of Christ. If, then, that people had been destroyed, it would have been the same as though death were to snatch away a person in the flower of his age. Hence the Prophet prays God not to take away the life of his people in the middle of their course; for Christ having not come, the people had not attained maturity, nor arrived at manhood. In the middle, then, of the years thy work revive; that is, “Though we seem destined to death, yet restore us.” Make it known, he says, in the middle of the years; that is, “Show it to be in reality thy work.” 5151     The view given of “the middle of the years,” is ingenious and striking; but the common interpretation is, that “the years” of calamity, allotted to the Jews, are meant. The Septuagint version of this verse is so extremely wide of the original, that none can account for the differences. There are no various readings of any moment; and the literal rendering of this verse, and of the former part of the following, I consider to be this,—
   2. O Jehovah! I have heard thy report;
I feared, O Jehovah!
Thy work! in the midst of the years revive it;
In the midst of the years make it known;
In anger remember mercy:

   3. May God from Teman come
And the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah.

   It is called “thy report,” as it was a report which came from God; the allusion is to the threatenings in chapter 1. “The report from thee,” would convey the sense. The third line is a prayer; and so are the following lines, though all the verbs are in the future tense, while that for “revive” is in the imperative mood. The third verse ought to end with the word “Selah.” What follows in the other part and in the subsequent verses, is a relation of what took place when God had formerly interfered in behalf of Israel; while here, and in the latter part of the preceding verse, the Prophet expresses a prayer to God in reference to his people, and borrows his language from the past interpositions of God.—Ed.

We now apprehend the real meaning of the Prophet. After having confessed that the Israelites justly trembled at God’s voice, as they saw themselves deservedly given up to perdition, he then appeals to the mercy of God, and prays God to revive his own work. He brings forward here nothing but the favor of adoption: thus he confesses that there was no reason why God should forgive his people, except that he had been pleased freely to adopt them, and to choose them as his peculiar people; for on this account it is that God is wont to show his favor towards us even to the last. as, then, this people had been once chosen by God, the Prophet records this adoption and prays God to continue and fulfill to the end what he had begun. With regard to the half course of life, the comparison ought to be observed; for we see that the race of Abraham was not chosen for a short time, but until Christ the Redeemer was manifested. Now we have this in common with the ancient people, that God adopts us, that he may at length bring us into the inheritance of eternal life. Until, then, the work of our salvation is completed, we are, as it were, running our course. We may therefore adopt this form of prayer, which is prescribed for us by the Holy Spirit,—that God would not forsake his own work; in the middle of our course.

What he now subjoins—in wrath remember mercy, is intended to anticipate an objection; for this thought might have occurred to the faithful—“there is no ground for us to hope pardon from God, whom we have so grievously provoked, nor is there any reason for us to rely any more on the covenant which we have so perfidiously violated.” The Prophet meets this objection, and he flees to the gracious favor of God, however much he perceived that the people would have to suffer the just punishment of their sins, such as they deserved. He then confesses that God was justly angry with his people, and yet that the hope of salvation was not on that account closed up, for the Lord had promised to be propitious. Since God then is not inexorable towards his people—nay, while he chastises them he ceases not to be a father; hence the Prophet connects here the mercy of God with his wrath.

We have elsewhere said that the word wrath is not to be taken according to its strict sense, when the faithful or the elect are spoken of; for God does not chastise them because he hates them; nay, on the contrary, he thereby manifests the care he has for their salvations. Hence the scourges by which God chastises his children are testimonies of his love. But the Scripture represents the judgement with which God visits his people as wrath, not towards their persons but towards their sins. Though then God shows love to his chosen, yet he testifies when he punishes their sins that iniquity is hated by him. When God then comes forth as it were as a judge, and shows that sins displease him, he is said to be angry with the faithful; and there is also in this a reference to the perceptions of men; for we cannot, when God chastises us, do otherwise than feel the accusations of our own conscience. Hence then is this hatred; for when our conscience condemns us we must necessarily acknowledge God to be angry with us, that is with respect to us. When therefore we provoke God’s wrath by our sins we feel him to be angry with us; but yet the Prophet collects together things which seem wholly contrary—even that God would remember mercy in wrath; that is, that he would show himself displeased with them in such a way as to afford to the faithful at the same time some taste of his favor and mercy by finding him to be propitious to them.

We now then perceive how the Prophet had joined the last clause to the foregoing. Whenever, then, the judgement of the flesh would lead us to despair, let us ever set up against it this truth—that God is in such a way angry that he never forgets his mercy—that is, in his dealings with his elect. It follows—


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