Domine, Audivi – Habakkuk 3:2-6, 13, 16-18
April 3, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Tucked away in the third chapter of the minor prophet Habakkuk, is an impassioned prayer for deliverance. This prophet had his vision, which he calls his burden, during the Babylonian captivity. He laments that the righteous and faithful Jews were taken captive alongside of the wicked. Yet he still praises the basic goodness of the Lord. He concludes with a prayer for deliverance, A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth (3:1). The shigion is kind of Hebrew poetry—also found in Psalm 7. It’s from the Hebrew word that means “to wander” indicating its meandering style, almost as if reeling from drunkenness.
Hebrew poetry in general is difficult for our western ears, but it’s exacerbated by Habakkuk’s shigionoth. Perhaps that’s why Habakkuk isn’t often found in the worship and devotional life of the church. But Good Friday is a day for Habakkuk. His prayer has a history of use as the canticle for Tenebrae vespers. And on Good Friday, Habakkuk and his prayer point us to the divine joy found under the cross.
O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid. The prophet’s prayer begins with a look back. He has heard the Lord’s speech, that is, the Lord’s Word. All godly prayer begins with God’s Word. And the word that is passed down in all generations of Israel is the story of the Exodus. God’s great act of deliverance is woven into the life and worship of Israel–rehearsed in the yearly festivals, recalled in psalms and hymns of the faithful, the theme of her preaching. It’s a fearful and wonderful account, the beginning of something entirely new; nothing can ever be the same.
O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy. Luther comments on this verse: This is the report that causes You to be feared and revered. For it is said of You, and the histories also attest this, that You are this strange God, who helps in the midst of need. You lay low, and You raise up; You permit things to break apart when You want to build, and You kill when You wish to impart life (of. 1 Sam. 2:6 f.). You do not do as the world does, which fends off evil in the very beginning, or remains stuck in it completely. No, You let us sink into the midst of it, and yet You pull us out again. You want to give us the Christ’s kingdom, and at the same time You have us driven to Babylon into the pit of servitude; and yet You do not leave us there. That is the pattern You follow in all Your works; that is Your method. That is what is sung, heard, and said of You, namely, that You are indeed a God to be feared and honored and praised greatly in such works.”
God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. Teman and the Paran Mountains are to the south of Israel. This was the path of Israel as they wandered toward God’s promise. But it’s not Israel that accidentally wanders into freedom; God leads them. The Holy One comes into His land and He brings His people with Him. This is His glory, and the whole world hears of it. The report of God’s great work extends to the ends of the earth.
And His brightness was as the light; He had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of His power. Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at His feet. Horns coming out of the hands is a strange picture. It’s the same way the Hebrew describes Moses’ face shining with light. The horns coming out of His hand are rays of light, as if He were holding a hidden star. The picture is of God showing Himself with a hidden glory, revealing His power like rays of light. To Egypt and the nations who opposed them God revealed Himself as pestilence and plague, culminating in the deaths of the firstborn sons in Egypt.
He stood, and measured the earth: He beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: His ways are everlasting. God Himself stood on the earth with a hidden glory. The pillars of cloud and fire stood between Israel and her pursuers. God didn’t send wishes from afar. He Himself went before and behind them, hidden under His glory. He confused the Egyptian warriors, broke their chariots, and scattered their armies in order to deliver His people. The everlasting mountains and perpetual hills are the mighty men—commanders and princes and kings who were defeated as the Lord made His way to His land with His people.
Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people, even for salvation with Thine anointed; Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. God Himself won the battle for the salvation on His people. Time and time again. The Exodus was only the beginning. Joshua, the judges, the kings—God gave them victory over their enemies, crushing the heads and defeating their kings.
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my Strength, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places. The Prophet Habakkuk recalls God’s mighty deliverance in a prayer for deliverance from Babylonian captivity. Though Habakkuk remains in captivity, He finds a hidden joy. For God does not deliver the free but the captive. He rescues the imprisoned and saves the lost. When Habakkuk is weak, then God is his Strength. He praises the promise that God will not forsake His people and that they will again go to the high place, to the temple, tow worship God. Luther comments: “This means that in all such affliction and distress I take comfort from the fact that God will again help us. For the visions of the prophet are not yet at an end. The Christ will still come. And then we shall again rejoice.”
Eventually God delivered His captives and Israel returned from Babylon, but Habakkuk’s meandering prayer doesn’t end with a return from Babylon. There’s another fearful and wonderful report that is passed down through the generations. O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid. In the midst of the years, in the fullness of time, God made Himself known in a new way. He descended into our tribulations. He became incarnate to share in our afflictions. He assumed the weakness of human flesh in order to bear the burdens of the flesh—sickness, disease, sin.
In the midst of tribulation, God remembers mercy. As the Son of God is driven by whips and insults to the place of His execution, as He hangs bleeding from nails and thorns pressed into His flesh, as the last, shallow breaths escape from His lips, God remembers mercy. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise (Lk 24:43). O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.
Christ comes from the south. As an infant, He fled the sword of Herod, hustled in His mother’s arms to far-away Egypt. As the Scriptures say, Out of Egypt, I called My Son (Mt 2:15). Christ’s infant voyage to live among a foreign people is to show that He is truly a Light to lighten the Gentiles. His glory covers the heavens and extends to the ends of the earth. God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise.
But this glory is shown in an unusual way. He had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of His power. Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at His feet. Here I depart from Luther and say that the prophet had a unique vision of Christ crucified. The horns coming out of His hand are nails. The pestilence that went before Him were His torturers. The burning coals at His feet the judgment of God. St. Paul writes, We preach Christ crucified, a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, whether Jew or Greek, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:23-24). The power of God hidden under a crucified Christ.
He stood, and measured the earth: He beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: His ways are everlasting. With arms outstretched, as if measuring the earth, He was lifted up from the earth.
Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people, even for salvation with Thine anointed; Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. God Himself goes out to battle for the salvation of His people. The Christ, the Anointed, fulfills the judgment laid upon the old, evil foe—He crushed the serpent’s head, even as nails pierced His feet.
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my Strength, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places. This is the reason to rejoice this Good Friday. There is joy under the cross. There is strength hidden in weakness.
Rejoice in Christ; He Is the Joy of Your Salvation
The Lord God is my Strength. And He will make me walk, because He too will walk. In just a short three days.
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.