For the week of June 3, 2006 / 7 Sivan 5766
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 14:22 - 16:17
Haftarah: Habakkuk 3:1-19
Mercy in Wrath
LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)
The book of the prophet Habakkuk begins with these words:
Habakkuk was distressed over the injustices of his day. God's response to him was that judgment would come, for he would deal harshly with his people through the wicked Babylonians. But this would not be the end of the story. As Habakkuk continued to seek God, it was revealed that Babylon too would be judged for its wickedness.
Habakkuk's response to the things God showed him was a prayer that comprises this week's Haftarah. It is a special reading for the Festival of Shavuot (English: Pentecost or Weeks). Habakkuk's words are an example of the heart of the Hebrew prophet. While everyone else is going about their business, often oblivious to what is really going on around them, the prophet understands the time in which he lives.
Most people might be busy at their jobs if they are not getting drunk or wasting their time with various distractions. Spiritual leaders give themselves to their religious duties, thinking if they are faithful to their rituals, God will be pleased, or appeased, and not let harm come to them and their nation. At the same time, the politicians make deals, trying to buy favor with their enemies or building up arms in the hopes of intimidated them.
The prophet sees through all this. He knows the depths of depravity of the society in which he lives. He knows how God feels about people's rejection of him and his ways. He sees through the vain attempts to avoid inevitable judgment by our busying ourselves with our own agendas or just plain denial. Habakkuk knows about all this, and cares.
Yet Habakkuk also knows that God is a God of mercy, so he pleads with him to have mercy one more time:
Note that he doesn't ask for mercy instead of wrath. His hope is that as God's anger is unleashed, so too would his mercy be extended.
Is this not our hope today? God's wrath will not be held back much longer. As his judgment draws near yet again, so we, like Habakkuk need to cry out for God's mercy once more.
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