Monday, May 16, 2016

“In Wrath Remember Mercy”

“In Wrath Remember Mercy”
Christians are saved solely “by grace” . . . “through faith” according to Ephesians 2:8 (and numerous other Scriptures).  This means God continues to extend His loving offer of redemption to the lost souls of this world.  People need to simply trust in what God has done through the Cross-work of Jesus Christ.  However, God’s undeserved supernatural operations (grace) do not end with the salvation of our souls.  God continues to be merciful and longsuffering even though we continue to fail and sin against Him.  Nonetheless, we remain in a cursed creation and God’s mercy and longsuffering will one day come to its end.  This is where Habakkuk is at in Habakkuk 3:2 where he says to God, “in wrath remember mercy.” 
If any of us were to hear the voice of God speak to us out of the blue, we would fall on our faces trembling in fear at the mere thought of being in His presence.  We often speak of God’s omnipresence as something that has no tangible realities.  Yet, we know that He has spoken to us by the inspiration of His Scriptures.  Why then do we not fall down in awe each time His Book is opened or His Word preached to us?  Why is it that we can come into the congregation of meeting of a local church assemble with little or no thought that we will be in the very presence of our Creator in a very special way.

“For where two or three are gathered together in my name {Jesus}, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).  After speaking with God in Habakkuk chapters one and two, Habakkuk shows us what the faithful should be doing when faced with God’s pending judgment. 

“1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. 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” (Habakkuk 3:1-2).

For over two centuries now, the United States has enjoyed the blessings of being somewhat a Christian nation.  The foundations of this nation were carved out of rock with the sweat and courage of a people willing to risk their lives for one simple thing that we often take for granted.  We forget that people fled Europe to escape religious persecution in order to enjoy the freedom to worship God the way they believed was right without fear of persecution or death.  Once on the continent of North America, there were many struggles to establish that freedom even here.  Baptists were persecuted, beaten, and jailed for preaching without a license from the State denominations.  Many fled to Rhode Island where so many Baptist resided that some considered making Baptist the Rhode Island state denomination.  Vote to do so was soundly defeated by Baptist leaders who wanted liberty of conscience for all.  We know this doctrine today as individual soul liberty.  This was the foundation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in what we know as the Bill of Rights. 
Most people are almost completely ignorant of the role early Baptists played in the struggle for separation of Church and State, which essentially was intended to keep the new country from adopting a state religion and keeping the government from interfering in the internal affairs of churches.  

As a result of ignorance of those early struggles, Christians have allowed the reinterpretation of the words separation of church and state.  The original meaning was that the government should be neutral regarding the establishment of either a state or national denomination of Christianity.  The meaning of the words separation of church and state have evolved to mean the government is to be free from being religiously influenced regarding policy and establishment of laws.  Of course, this whole premise is both ridiculous and contradictory to historic documents that state just the opposite.

Laws governing people are based on values established through religious and moral principles.  Satan has used the same tactics that he used with king Balak in Numbers chapter twenty-two in getting God to chastise the children of Israel.  Knowing God would not remove His blessing upon them while they remained faithful, the corrupt prophet Baalim instructed king Balak to simply tempt them with the pagan women until they were living in sin and God’s blessing would be withdrawn.
What we are seeing in our nation today is the result of a national segregation policy towards Christians and their influence in government.  This nation’s Judeo/Christian heritage has been attacked at its very roots.  Every year another generation of young people graduate from government schools having been indoctrinated into increasing degrees of neo-neutralism regarding their Christian beliefs.  They have been told that if they must have religious beliefs, they must keep them to themselves.
Discussion and the free exchange of religious ideas and beliefs are now taboo. Religious beliefs have been relegated to basements and backrooms, but certainly not welcome as part of public debate on matters of policy and law.  “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do” (Psalm 11:3)?  This is the question answered by Habakkuk chapter three.  What should Christians do knowing the religious foundations of our nation have been destroyed, God’s blessing is being withdrawn, and His judgment is eminent?
Habakkuk chapter three is a psalm intended to be sung by the faithful remnant during the coming captivity of the pending Chaldean curse.  The Hebrew word Shiggayonah (shig-gaw-yo-naw’) is understood by some to mean a wandering song that details the errors of Israel that brought them to the predicament of God’s chastisement.  As we face the pending judgment of God upon this nation and the present withdrawal of His blessing, as Christians we need to be a constant reminder of why we are where we are and a continuing testimony of faith to a world quickly losing hope.
A Shagionoth psalm intricately weaves together the elements of the fear of God and faith in God.  We must honestly learn to fear God for what is going to happen to this world.  This demands that we must be willing to make some extreme sacrifices to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.  If we are not willing to make those sacrifices, we cannot honestly say we believe the Word of God and fear the Lord for the judgements He is about to release upon them.

A Shigionoth (shig-gaw-yo-naw’) psalm is both a song of prayer (faith) and a song of lamentation.

A lamentation is a remembrance of what brought a people to their present dilemma resulting in deep sorrow and remorse.  A lamentation is a spirit of broken repentance before God while understanding why He must deal so harshly with people who call themselves His children, but live as if He does not exist.  Yet, throughout this lamentation, there is the continual permeation of both praise and confidence in God.  In other words, the psalmist excepts God’s chastisement upon the nation as a necessity intending to trust in Him through whatever happens.

The purpose of this lamentation psalm was that it was to be incorporated into the regular part of the Temple worship as a continuing reminder to the faithful remnant (only the faithful remnant continued to frequent and participate in Temple worship).

The emphasis of Habakkuk chapter three is the redemptive power of God.

When a believer thinks redemptively, his mind escapes the temporal existence and transcends this present world with all its trials and difficulties.  This psalm leads the believer outside of this world in his thinking.  When the faithful remnant learns to think redemptively, they learn to praise God for their salvation and for the relationship they have with Him.  Therefore, the psalm becomes a psalm of praise even while facing pending calamity.  Habakkuk chapter three is the present conditions of a society under God’s chastising judgment written on the backdrop of their past failures regarding preserving the Mosaic Covenant (cause and effect).

Habakkuk 3:1 tells us this is a musical prayer of faith and trust.

When the foundations of a society seem to be crumbling and falling away at your feet, people need faith in something or Someone beyond themselves.  The purpose of God’s chastisement is to bring the thoughts of believers back to the holiness and righteousness of God in repentance.  God wants faithful people to look to Him, to know Him, and return to following His commands.  We have no control over the unfaithful, but we can deal with our own thoughts. 

Therefore, as God’s faithful remnant, true Christians should learn to praise God as He destroys the sources of corruption in a corrupt society.  Picking up the pieces of broken lives is an opportunity that never would have existed in a society pre-occupied with chasing an elusive dream of happiness in materialism and hedonism.  The character of this song of prayer in Habakkuk chapter three is more than a petition to God.  It includes many elements of prayer such as praise, thanksgiving, remembrance, repentance, and adoration.  The very idea of petitioning God for mercy while in the midst of His wrath upon the nation of Israel reflects these attitudes that should be part of the prayers of the faithful in connection to national judgment.

Great prayers warriors are those who have learned to frequently make statements of faith reminding themselves of what God has done in the past.  They learn to increase their faith by basing their faith on the history of God’s past dealings with His children and the world.  Rehearsing what God has done causes to reflect upon what God can do and might do. 

We live in a culture much like Habakkuk’s and under similar circumstances.  Many faithful Christians are asking questions similar to those of Habakkuk.  Why does God allow some societal practices to go unjudged?  How can God tolerate the continuing murder of millions of innocent babies each year?  How can God allow a society that endorses and promotes perversions like homosexuality to continue?  How can God allow the blasphemy and heresy continually being preached by apostates?  Why doesn’t God revive His Church?

There is one essential truth necessary to establishing a national and world view that is the answer to all of these questions: God must always purge before He blesses.

The attitudes of prayer essential to the purging of sin from a society

First, the believing and faithful remnant must humble themselves before God (Habakkuk 3:2).  This is the humble recognition that a society deserves what it is about to receive at the hands of God and accepts what God is going to do knowing you are a part of that society.  In this attitude of prayer, there is no petition to God that He reverse His judgment, but rather there is a recognition that God is absolutely just and that the judgment is deserved and necessary before revival can take place.  We see this principle in Leviticus twenty-six.  As we read this text, we must remember that this statement is connected to the covenant promises of God to national Israel and not specifically to any other nation.  Therefore, we have no certainty that these conditions are applicable to any other nation.  However, the underlying principles are sound doctrine.

“40 If they {the present generation of the children of Israel under God’s chastisement} shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; 41 And that I also have walked contrary unto them {chastisement}, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: 42 Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land {promises}. 43 The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes. 44 And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God. 45 But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD. 46 These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the LORD made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (Leviticus 26:40-46).

Leviticus 26:41 gives three requisites before God would return blessings to the nation of Israel.  They must:

1. Repent
2. Humble themselves by recognizing they will get what they deserve
3. Accept whatever punishment God determines necessary 

These three things are essential attitudes of prayer in that they take our eyes off of the problem and from ourselves and puts our focus upon the justice of God necessary to set things in order.  When this takes place, we return our minds to focus upon the realm of spiritual truth and the holiness and righteousness of God.  Without this humbling of ourselves before God, we continue to see sociological problems only in relation to ourselves.  In so doing, we tend to put ourselves on a pedestal of rightness with God separating ourselves from responsibility for the existing conditions of our society.

The reality is that this society is in the condition it is in because Christians have failed to fulfill the Great Commission.  Christians have become apathetic towards the lost and contemptuous towards sinners.  Our society is not in the condition it is in because Christians have failed in their responsibilities of citizens of this nation, but because they have failed in their responsibilities as citizens of Heaven and servants of the living God.

Abortion is not the issue in the fall of our society.  Neither is pornography, homosexuality, divorce, or any one of a hundred other things on which people place blame.  These are all just symptoms of a deeper corruption of men’s minds and hearts.  The fall of our society is due to the fact we are a nation that has forgotten the God of the Bible.

“11 Can the rush {bulrush or papyrus} grow up without mire {swamp}? can the flag {marsh grass} grow without water? 12 Whilst it is yet in his greenness, and not cut down, it withereth before any other herb. 13 So are the paths of all that forget God; and the hypocrite’s hope shall perish: 14 Whose hope shall be cut off, and whose trust shall be a spider’s web. 15 He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand: he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure” (Job 8:11-15).

The point of Job 8:11 is that the faithful require immersion in spiritual truth in order to even survive spiritually.  Without large quantities of spiritual nourishment, even the greatest of believers will soon wither away.  We need to be immersed in the Word of God lest we forget the part God plays in our daily lives and spiritual growth.  If we do not immerse ourselves in the Word of God in order to know the God of the Word, we will be relegated to similarities of the spider that is dependent upon snaring an occasional careless morsel in his web (Job 8:14). 
If we want to return this nation to a place of blessing, there is only one way to do that.  We must return people to knowing and loving the Lord Jesus Christ. Regardless of what happens to our society, our responsibility remains the same.  We must bring people to salvation and disciple them to be followers of Jesus Christ.  If we are not doing that, we are part of the problem not part of the solution.
As Christians, we watch almost helplessly as our nation moves further and further away from the foundations upon which it was built. We think if only we could somehow stop abortion, or make homosexuality illegal, God would return His blessing on our nation.  These things are but symptoms of the dearth of spirituality and power with God.  Christians have lost their influence because they have lost their peculiarity. 
Take a dirty, filthy bum off the street.  Wash him up spotlessly clean.  Get him a haircut and a shave.  Buy him a new suit, a new shirt, new shoes, new socks and underwear.  You can even get him a good job.  If his inner problems are not corrected, what will you have again in 30 days?  That is right, you will have the same dirty, filthy bum.  He will have traded his new suit for a bottle of cheap wine or a hit of crack cocaine.  There is only one way to change this type of person.  You must introduce him to Jesus Christ.  When he gets saved, God will change his heart.  When he gets a new heart, he will want a new head.  He will begin to study God’s Word and get his life cleaned up by the “washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Once God has the heart and the head, the body will follow.   

The first step to the restoration of a nation is when God’s faithful remnant humble themselves before the Lord and begin to fulfill their responsibilities to Him. Even though a nation may never turn to God, the faithful remnant’s responsibility is to be right with God under any and all circumstances of life, even immoral and amoral governments.  Revival always begins with the faithful. The first essential element for that revival is humility before the Lord.

“12 And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. 13 If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; 14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:12-15).

The second essential element for revival is a reverential fear of the Lord (Habakkuk 3:2). “O Lord, I have heard thy speech and was afraid.”  The word “afraid” is translated from the Hebrew word yare' {yaw-ray'}, which means to revere, to stand in awe of, to inspire reverence or godly fear.  It does not mean that Habakkuk was afraid about what was going to happen to his nation.

Habakkuk was in reverential awe of God and His ways.  This is the natural result when anyone fully realizes the awesome power and holiness of God.  When a believer comes to finally realize the power of God, that realization will completely change his outlook on life.  Even more than that, it will completely change his outlook on prayer.
God has not changed from the Old to the New Testament!  Hebrews 12:25-29 emphasizes the consistency of God throughout Scripture.  An essential element of faith, and therefore an essential element of prayer, is the fact that God is consistent and unchanging.  God is a constant in the universe where the corruption of sin seeks to distort every truth in every imaginable manner.  The Word of God constantly calls those who have been led astray back to the attribute of God’s constancy.   

“25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: 26 Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. 27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29 For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:25-29).  

The very concept of God’s chastisement upon unfaithful believers, or His judgment upon the Antichristism of a Christ rejecting world, seems to be a concept foreign to most people these days.  Unbelievers hate the very idea of a God that hates sin and who judges sinners.  However, these facts are highly resisted by many in the circles of evangelism as well.  Most seem to have lost the Biblical doctrine that humanity exists within the longsuffering grace of God.  If it were not for God’s longsuffering grace humanity would have been consumed by His judgment long ago. 

“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

We can only understand how the world will so easy welcome the Antichrist when we understand that the majority of the humanity is already anti-Christ.  They are just waiting for a leader who will lead them to conquer the world and form an anti-Christ one world governance.  The natural cause and effect of theological Liberalism is rejection of Biblical absolutes and the complete opposition of all that is holy and righteous in the world because of faith in God’s Word. 

Another essential of the prayer of faith is the faith-ability to see the power of God in respect to the impossibility of our problems.  Faith sees worldly problems in the light of God omnipotent presence.  When the problems of the world and the problems of our lives are compared to God’s power, these problems are brought into a spiritual perspective.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

Before God will do what we ask, we must ask.  Petition is another essential element of prayer.  Do you think there was ever something that was not done simply because you did not ask for it to be done?  Petition is more than telling God what you want.  Petition is joining your will with God’s will.  Petition is joining your wants with God’s wants in a particular matter of need.  This is what it means to pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

“And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).

Notice Habakkuk does not ask for deliverance from the pending judgment.  He does not ask that Jerusalem and the Temple be spared from the pending devastation of God’s chastisement. Why?  Habakkuk understood things from God’s perspective.  Because of that, Habakkuk understood that the coming judgment was inevitable, well deserved, and necessary for Israel to return to the Lord.  Therefore, Habakkuk does not pray for God to change His plan.

There is a similar example in the book of Acts 4:23-31 after Peter addressed the Sanhedrin and was forbidden to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ under the threat of public scourging and possible execution.  Notice the Apostles did not pray that the trial or difficulty be removed.  They prayed for boldness in the difficulty.

“23 And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. 24 And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: 25 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 27 For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28 For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. 29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, 30 By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. 31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:23-31)

The person of faith as a prayer warrior is not primarily concerned with his own physical well-being.  His burden is to see God’s cause fulfilled.  His burden is to see God’s purpose accomplished.  His burden is to see God’s work done so that God’s plans for Israel and the world can be realized.

When Habakkuk prays “revive they work,” we know revival was a central concern of Habakkuk because he knew revival is always a central concern of God.  Christians do not pray for revival because they are afraid of the methods God might employ to bring it about.  Christians do not pray for revival because they are unwilling to make the personal sacrifices necessary to see it take place.  Christians are the very people who are the greatest hindrance to revival because they pray that God will stop what He is doing because it is bringing them some discomfort.  When they do so, they are praying against God.

The first concern of a faithful believer should not be that he is protected and pampered, but that the cause of Christ goes forward regardless of what it might cost him personally.  What is the chief concern of Christians facing pending judgment such as that of the book of Habakkuk?  Their chief concern is usually if the conditions of sin and degradation continue in a society, God will judge that society and since they are part of it, they will lose their freedoms, wealth, and the comforts they enjoy.  The reality is it is those selfish concerns coupled with our indifference to the holiness of God that has brought our society to where it is in the first place.
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word chayah (khaw-yaw'), translated “revive” is to preserve.  Revival is like a person with a piece of food stuck in their throat and are dying.  The only way to revive them is to first remove the obstructive so they can breathe freely again.  There must be a purging before there can be revival.  Most Christians are unwilling to pay the price purging might cost them.
What price are you willing to pay to see God’s purpose accomplished?  What personal sacrifice are you willing to make?  Are you willing to join yourself with the plan of God regardless of what that plan might cost you personally?
Our nation will be judged of God.  His blessing is being removed.  There will be Christians who will lose their businesses and jobs.  Pain and suffering may become a part of the Christian life in a way not seen in this nation for hundreds of years.
Or, in any twinkling of your eye, you might find yourself removed from this world and translated into the Kingdom of heaven at the rapture of the Church.  In the moment of your translation, will there be a regret that you never got around to doing that something you promised to God? Will there be a moment of regret for that person with which you were always going to share your faith in Christ, but never could seem to find the time?
Time is all you have that matters.  When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time will be no more, what will you have accomplished that will last for eternity or share eternity with you?  When the things of this world are being consumed at the final day of the consuming fire of God’s wrath, what will you have rescued from the flames?

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Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: 
Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

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