This divine response caused Habakkuk to be afraid. He may have been afraid for personal reasons – after all, he did not know what would happen to himself when the Babylonians came. Or he may have been afraid of the consequences that the devastation would bring about and the huge restoration process that would be required once the period of the Lord’s judgement was over. The larger the devastation and the longer it would last, the greater would be the extent of recovery required.
When will this mercy be available? The answer is in the phrase ‘the midst of the years’. Calvin suggested that it described the period between the promise to Abraham and the first coming of Jesus – after all, if the Lord did not show mercy, none of Abraham’s seed would be preserved, and if that happened it would mean that the Saviour would not be born. This idea suggests that it is appropriate to pray between two points, one that starts a period and one that closes it. If that suggestion is correct, then we can deduce that we can pray this prayer between the two points of Christ’s first and second comings. Nevertheless, the meaning may be a lot simpler. The prophet may merely be saying to God that in all that is going on in that period of time he should remember mercy.
We face a similar situation as Christ’s church today in Scotland. The contemporary equivalents of the Babylonians are already here and are engaged in the process of devastating God’s kingdom. They are not here because the church has been wonderful and needs to be distracted from its commitment to Christ’s cause. Instead they are here, we must admit, because the church has ceased to be what it should be – this decline began a long time ago. But there is little point in looking back and pointing at our predecessors. Instead we have to respond as Habakkuk did.
The prophet responded with fear and with prayer for divine mercy. As with Habakkuk, none of us knows how the current situation will affect us personally. In periods of trouble, some believers are not affected adversely as far as their personal circumstances are concerned whereas others pay a heavy price.
And we should be filled with apprehension at the amount of spiritual recovery that will be required. Many have said that what we need is not another revival but another Reformation. They may be right. Revivals occurred in what could be loosely called Christian communities where there was already an existing measure of understanding of the Bible’s message and where cold orthodoxy of doctrine marked the church. We no longer have many such communities. Instead we have Bible ignorance and not even cold orthodoxy in most of our communities. So we will need another Reformation should God hear our prayers for recovery.
In addition to such fear there must be longings for mercy. I suspect that is the big issue facing us today. How much do we really care? We can easily test our temperature by how often and how intensely we pray for the Lord to show mercy to our contemporaries.