In Wrath Remember Mercy – Habakkuk 3:2
This was the heartfelt prayer of one of the Old Testament prophets (Habakkuk) when he faced the prospect of his own country (Judah) being overrun by the vicious and murderous forces of Babylon. Babylon, led by a dictatorial king, was the superpower of its day; it had overwhelming military power and was not afraid to use it. It would mercilessly kill all who opposed it and would smash to pieces and burn down any city that tried to stop it. In attacking Judah it was seeking to extend its borders and further its power, and would do so without mercy. In his prophecy Habakkuk said that at such a prospect his heart pounded, his lips quivered and his legs trembled – all symptoms of deep fear. In picturing this scene we have very clear echoes of what we have been seeing in the Ukraine. It’s amazing how utterly relevant the bible can be in what it relates!
Judged by God?
Habakkuk had spent much time praying for Judah, his country, and had reluctantly come to the conclusion that his country was being judged by God. That is an important issue but I don’t propose to go into that here. Whatever the reason for the appalling situation Habakkuk couldn’t bear to see his country suffer and was determined to make his appeal to the mercy of God. Even if there was an element of judgement he was convinced that the mercy of God was still available because his God was a god of mercy. Mercy! – mercy is that grace of God which leads God to help even those who do not deserve it. Habakkuk was right in approaching God in this manner. The supreme example of God’s mercy is to be found in a truth that St. Paul emphasised, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”. When Jesus came we were given something we did not deserve, something that would enable us to triumph over evil and avoid judgement. God is full of grace and mercy and compassion.
God of Mercy
First, let’s call to mind God! Unlike so many of his contemporaries Habakkuk had a profound faith in God. Disasters were not going to shake that faith. He knew that God had created all things, had showed great mercy and blessing to his nation and was watching everything that was happening. He knew God was not indifferent to human suffering, of whatever kind it might be and that he was always attentive to the cries of those who believed in Him. His faith in God would not waver – he would go on praying and trusting God, come what may. We need to take that same stand. At this time we are very much in need of God and his intervention in a world of violence and sin. WE NEED HIS MERCY.
The Mercy of Jesus
Two short stories from the gospels remind us vividly of the nature and depth of God’s grace, his mercy and his compassion. These great virtues are constantly displayed in the ministry of Jesus. The first example is from Luke 7. Jesus was just about to enter a small village in Galilee with a crowd following him when he met with another crowd coming out of the village forming a funeral party. It was the funeral of a widow’s only son. As Jesus saw the distraught widow woman we are told he had compassion on her. (NIV translates “his heart went out to her” – a very illuminating expression. He saw her weeping and heartbroken and immediately was drawn to her need. He didn’t ask any questions. Instead he went up to the woman and said, “Don’t cry”. Her tears we might think nearly brought tears to his own eyes. Then he simply stopped the funeral procession by touching the coffin, and then raised her son to life. This was not the only occasion when Jesus showed such compassion over those mourning the loss of loved ones. When, later on, his friend Lazarus died he wept alongside Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha who were deeply distraught. He wept, even though he was on the point of bringing Lazarus back to life. Jesus here reflects the heart of his Father, of God himself. “He that has seen me, has seen the Father”.
The second story involves a blind beggar (Lk18). This beggar sat by the roadside when he learned that Jesus was passing by. He couldn’t see where Jesus was so he kept shouting out at the top of his voice, “Son of David, have mercy on me”. The people around him told him off and to shut up. Not much mercy there! Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. He asked him what he wanted and the man said, “I just want to be able to see”. Jesus healed him and commended his faith. The beggar had asked for mercy, for grace. All his life he had been told he was under a curse of God for his blindness and of little worth – that was a typical condemnation of the blind in those times. So he’d asked for mercy (Have mercy on me!) – underserved favour. And he received it.
What is worth taking note of in both these stories is that the “mercy” in each case was not small or negligible. It is always very important to be grateful for small mercies. But this was quite the opposite. These were very big mercies. In the first story a person was given an extra lease of life; in the second, sight and well-being were restored after years of anguish. The lesson from that is that God is able to do some very large and powerful things in people’s lives, even ordinary people. It encourages us to hope for and pray for powerful manifestations of his compassion, mercy and grace. This takes us back to our understanding and grasp of what God can do. It is God who topples evil people, it is God who ultimately rules the nations, it is God who changes circumstances , large and well as small. God can do big things. Our concept and understanding of God needs to be big; our prayers need to be big. Paul the Apostle had just such a big grasp of how to ask for big things. Listen to this injunction to Timothy, one of his young helpers:
I urge then first of all that requests, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
So, let us continue to pray earnestly and especially for nations being “trampled upon”.