Psalms litter the Bible beyond the book of Psalms, and they even appear outside of the Bible—for instance, in the Mesopotamian literature. These poetic utterances, usually accompanying high emotion, teach us much about the worship of God. Habakkuk 3—the Prophet’s Prayer—or, as others have called it, the Psalm of Habakkuk—is the type of Psalm that could be set to dramatic music:
“O Lord, I have heard of your renown,
and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
In our own time revive it;
in our own time make it known;
in wrath may you remember mercy.”
— Habakkuk 3:2 (NRSV)
The psalmist, Habakkuk, begins the Psalm in reverent fear for his Lord. He knows something of the infinite power of Yahweh. Habakkuk is desperate to see God’s power for righteousness prevail in his time.
The Context of the Psalm
Reading Habakkuk we notice a flow. The first two chapters are about Habakkuk’s lamenting enquiries, which are followed by the Lord’s answers. There is a real mode of prayer and intimacy with God as the Minor Prophet raises his concerns and casts them upon God.
Habakkuk commits to wait patiently upon Word from the Lord (2:1-2).
It is clear throughout the first two chapters—where Habakkuk seeks God twice and then God answers twice—that an understanding of faithfulness is communicated to the Minor Prophet from the Lord.
Chapter 3 comes about because Habakkuk notes the faithfulness of God and he is inspired to trust the Divine nature.
A Psalm of God’s Anger
God was coming to judge the people of Judah and Habakkuk accepted that, hoping that through such discipline, mercy, too, would be known.
There is a true essence of fear in verse 2, profiled above. God’s judging nature has been known through the timeline of creation. Just like when we quiver at a lightning crack overhead, or we shudder in amazement at the sweeping tide of a tsunami—the Earth sees and trembles (Psalm 97)—God can bring us to quaking fear in an instant.
But such is the Minor Prophet’s faith that he concludes the Psalm as psalmists generally do; there is a fresh commitment made to trust God—to rejoice in his Saviour.
No matter what we fear our best response is to trust God. Perhaps fear, of all the emotions, brings us closer to God—because we must rely on our Lord. As Habakkuk found, the Fear of the Lord brings us to a faith-response of reliance in trust.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.