Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Wrath and Mercy

Leslie Basham: It’s popular to imagine a God so loving, He would never punish anyone. Nancy Leigh DeMoss says Scripture gives a fuller picture.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The wrath of God juxtaposed with His incredible mercy. You can’t have one without the other, and if you just proclaim one without the other, you pervert the Gospel.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, October 25.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I love the God of the New Testament, but the God of the Old Testament seems so mean and angry”?

Nancy’s been teaching from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, and we’re about to see why both parts of the Bible accurately describe the same God. Here she is in the series, Habakkuk: Moving from Fear to Faith.

Nancy: Well, we’re in Habakkuk chapter 3 today and will be for the next several sessions. We will be looking at this prayer of Habakkuk, the prayer that Habakkuk prays after he has encountered the God who is high and lifted up and holy and on His throne, the God who takes vengeance on nations and individuals that defy Him, this holy God.

Habakkuk prays, and as we saw in the last session, he says, “Lord, I’m in reverence. I’m in awe of You. I stand in fear before You because You are such an awesome God, and I’ve heard what You have done. I’ve heard what You said, and it makes me tremble.”

And then he prays, as we saw in the last session. He prays for revival. “Lord, revive our hearts.” In essence he prays, “In our day, in our time, would You revive Your work? Would You make it known, and in wrath, as You judge sin and sinners, would You remember mercy?”

We said that because of Christ and His death on the cross in our place, God will have mercy on those who are repentant before Him. Now, we’re continuing today in verse 3, looking at Habakkuk’s prayer.

We’re going to go through verse 12, probably, today. I want us to see in this prayer Habakkuk remembers the awesome deeds of God in the past. He sees what God has done.

He reviews the history of Israel. He rehearses what God did when He delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, when He took them through the wilderness, and when He led them to the Promised Land.

He rehearses what it was like at Mount Sinai, when God came down and displayed His glory to His people and gave the Law. And he reviews the salvation and the judgment of God in Israel’s history—His care for His people, the display of His power.

As he looks at the past, in his prayer, as he’s rehearsing and reviewing and remembering these things, it’s reminding him that what God did in the past, He can do today.

It’s giving him faith to look toward the future. Remember, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” How do you develop faith in God? Well, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

As you read the Word of God, you see what God is like. You see how He has acted. You see what He has done. You see His power and His majesty and His greatness. And when you see God splitting the waters of the Red Sea wide open and taking His people through safely and then demolishing the Egyptians in the sea, you look at your circumstances, and you think, “Wow! He did that? Maybe He can get me through this. God can deliver me. He can get me across this Red Sea."

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve come to recording sessions, and I have felt like I was standing at the Red Sea, waiting for the waters to part and saying, “Lord, I’m not ready. This is not coming together. I don’t know how to fit all this together.”

Time after time after time, we have seen God part the waters of the Red Sea and get us through, get our ministry and my life and my family through. You’ve seen it in your life. As you read the Word of God, it builds your faith. It strengthens your faith as you see what God has done.

This is the importance, by the way, of knowing biblical history and teaching your children to know biblical history.

Some of your kids, sad to say, know more about contemporary movies and TV programs and rock music songs and commercials and various types of technology and what’s going on in current events. They know a lot more about that than they know biblical history.

You say, “Do they need to know all that stuff? Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers?” Yes, because that’s where we find who God is. That’s where we come to worship Him and to have faith in Him.

History is “His story.” And if you want to see God active and alive and at work on your behalf today, you need to go back and be familiar with how God has moved in the past. In fact, you can make biblical history and biblical events a part of your prayer life, as Habakkuk does in this prayer.

He reviews what God has done. There’s nothing wrong with coming before God and saying, “God, I remember when You did this. I remember when You did this. I remember when You did this.”

“And Lord, as I think about what You did at the cross, how You judged sin and You defeated Satan, and I remember Lord what You did at the early church, and I remember, Lord, what You did in this case and in this case,” it stirs up faith in your heart and boldness to ask God to move in your day in a fresh work of revival.

So, let’s look, beginning at verse 3, as we have this little history lesson, and remember that these events we’re seeing in this prayer are references to past events, but they’re also descriptive of the way God works today, and they’re descriptive of the way God will work in the future.

Verse 3, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran.” Now, these are references to the regions south of Judah where God had performed many wonders as He lead His people out of captivity in Egypt into the Promised Land.

This is the place where Mount Sinai was located, where God visited His people and revealed Himself to them in awesome majesty and power and glory. “God, You came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran.”

“His splendor covered the heavens.” That’s a description of the shekinah glory of God. We read about it earlier in this series in the book of Exodus: the lightenings and the thunder and the voices like trumpets. The shekinah glory of God visited His people at Sinai, and then led them through the wilderness for forty years and took them into the Promised Land.

“His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. Selah.” That word selah is a word that is only used in the book of Psalms in the Scripture except for three uses in this chapter of Habakkuk.

The word selah—we don’t know exactly what it means. It’s probably a musical notation. It’s usually thought to indicate a pause. Stop and think about this. It might be, if you were having music in your church, and you would pause as the instrumentalist did a little interlude or maybe they picked up the tempo for the next stanza or they took it up a key for the next stanza.

It’s kind of this interlude where something changes in the music, but it gives you a chance to stop and think about what you’ve just read. We’ll see that three times in this passage.

“The earth was full of his praise. Selah.” Does that remind you of what we read in chapter 2? "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (verse 14). The earth was full of His praise.

This past Sunday, we sang in our church that familiar chorus, “Father, we love You, we worship and adore You,” but I was caught by the last line of that chorus as we sang it over and over again: “Glorify Your name in all the earth.”

“Glorify Your name. Glorify Your name. Glorify Your name in all the earth.” And as Habakkuk reflects back on that day when it seemed that the earth was just full of the splendor and the praise of God, that’s going to motivate him to pray, “O Lord, may it be in our day.”

“And may it be by faith in days to come. Glorify Your name in all the earth.” Verse 4, “His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power.”

Now, I think this is describing what happened at Mount Sinai when God made Himself to known to the Children of Israel. “Rays flashed from His hand, and his brightness like the light.”

And this interesting phrase, “There He veiled His power.” Now, as you read that account in Exodus chapter 19, it looks like God displayed His power, and He certainly did. But for all that the Israelites saw of God’s power, in that day, in that awesome, spectacular moment with lightning and thundering and voices, the Scripture says He veiled His power.

They only saw the tiniest glimpse of the awesome majesty and power of God. It would be like looking at the sun to see the fullness of God’s power, looking at it straight on in its full splendor and glory.

It would blind you, and God knows if we ever looked at Him head on, straight on, fully, as He is without Him veiling His power and His majesty and His glory, the sight would blind us. It would destroy us.

So there He veiled His power. He gave a glimpse, but just a glimpse. Verse five, “Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels. He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations” (Habakkuk 3:5–6).

Think about that phrase. “He looked and shook the nations.” Think about the power of God’s look. He looked, and the nations trembled at His presence.

You know, we think we are so powerful. We think we are so mighty. We think the nations of the earth are so strong. All God has to do is look, and the nations will tremble.

“Then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low" (verse 6). Now, that doesn’t seem to make sense. If mountains are eternal, how can they move? If they’re everlasting, how can they sink down low?

That’s the point. They seem to be eternal. They seem to be everlasting, but when God looks at them, they’re gone. And then it says “His were the everlasting ways” (Habakkuk 3:6).

God is the only one who is eternal. We think those mountains are so big. You think that husband will never change, you think that child will never come to faith, you think that situation in your church or your workplace will never change.

It’s a mountain! It won’t move. It can’t move. It doesn’t move. Mountains don’t move, but God says, “They move when I look.” God can make them shake. God can make them quake.

We’ve seen in our country how things can change in a flash, in a moment, with natural disasters and areas of the country we thought were secure, and we thought were safe, and homes we thought were well built.

And then a storm comes of some type, and it’s just demolished. God’s powerful. His are the everlasting ways. Everything can change. Everything will change, but God never changes.

Read about that God in Psalm 102,

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end (Psalm 102:25–27).

The situations in your life that you think can never change, God can change. God can change those situations. The things you think are stable, they will change, so that you can realize that God is faithful and unchanging.

I love that verse in Hebrews chapter 12, verse 27. Here’s my paraphrase of it: “The things that can be shaken, that is all created things, the things that can be shaken will be shaken, so that the things that cannot be shaken, that is God and eternal realties, the things that cannot be shaken may remain.”

Listen, if you’re placing your security in things or people that can be taken away from you, you’re going to be an insecure person. Security comes from putting your trust, your confidence, in God who can never change.

Everything that can be shaken will be shaken so that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. You find out when your world is shaken what you really believe in and whether your foundation is solid enough and strong enough to last. If your foundation is anything or anyone other than God, when the storm comes, your house will fall.

If your life is rooted and founded in God, who is unchanging, you will be secure, no matter what storm may come into your path.

Verse 7, “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.” Cushan and Midian were two southern nomadic tribes, and when they saw the coming and the presence and the power of God, they were awestruck.

This is why we need to pray to the Lord for a visitation of His power and His presence and His glory in our day. When we pray for revival, we’re praying that people will tremble at the presence of God.

Verse 8,

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation?

There’s a lot of talk about the wrath and the anger of God in this passage. We see here a picture of a warrior God, a God who’s on the march. “You rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation.” It’s an image of God you don’t hear a lot about today.

We prefer the images of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Now, there is that aspect of God. There’s the tender heart of God. There’s the God who is like a nursing mother. There’s the heart of Christ, a bruised reed will He not break and His voice will He not lift in the streets.

There’s that aspect of God’s character, but there is an aspect of God’s character that is fiercesome and awesome and angry, and there’s a wrath of God that we will have to face if we are not in Christ.

The warrior God, God who is out for the salvation of His people, “He rode on his chariot of salvation.” That’s a key word in the book of Habakkuk. God is moving to save His people, but God is also moving to judge the wicked.

You cannot have salvation of God’s people if you don’t have the judgment of the wicked, so it speaks about the anger and the wrath of God.

I believe that one of the reasons our evangelistic methods are falling so flat today and people aren’t coming to take the Gospel seriously—you don’t see conviction of sin, you don’t see people begging for God to save them.

You see people kind of laughing their way through spiritual things. I think one of the reasons is because we’ve had so little teaching on the wrath and the anger and the justice of a warrior God who hates sin.

People aren’t afraid of God. People don’t fear the wrath of God. People don’t fear eternity separated from God. They don’t fear hell, so who cares about going to heaven if there’s not a hell to be avoided?

If God is not a God of wrath and vengeance, why should we fly to Christ for refuge? The grace and the mercy and the love and the compassion and the gentleness of God don’t become precious to you if you haven’t seen the wrath and the anger of God.

So what do we do in our churches? We play games, and we have food, and we have enticements and things to get people in and glitz and glamour and celebrities and big programs and loud music and all things trying to get people interested in God.

I’ll tell you what. When God shows up, people will be interested in God. Now they may run. They may resist; they may flee, but they won’t just sit there like bumps on a log. They will do something.

I get so tired of church services sometimes where people hear the truth and they hear the Scripture and they hear the pastor pour his heart out, but they do nothing. They just sit there. There’s no response.

We need a proclamation today of the aspect of God that is wrath and judgment and fury, the warrior God who comes for the salvation of His people and for the judgment of those who are without Christ.

We need a God to be feared. We need a holy God to be worshiped. You say, “Well, it will turn people off. That’s not very seeker-sensitive. That’s not very seeker-friendly.”

The Scripture says “There’s none who seek after God.” Listen, if God doesn’t draw our hearts to Himself, we would never seek after Him, but God is out seeking to draw people to faith in Christ, and He will when we lift up the cross.

But what is the cross? It is God’s wrath against sin. It’s the holiness of God, the glory of God on display. So verse 9, this warrior God, “You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. Selah.” Pause. Think about that kind of God.

I’m not saying ladies, by the way, that we should present ourselves as angry people, mad at sinners. We, as we proclaim the wrath and the anger of God, we need to do it with a broken heart, with tenderness, with compassion for the fact that those who are lost and without Christ are in desperate, dire circumstances.

We’re not gleeful about the wrath of God. We should not come across as angry people, but we realize we do have a God who is angry at sin, who hates it, and will judge it.

You split the earth with rivers. The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high (verses 9-10).

And you have here references to so many events in Israel’s redemptive history—Mount Sinai, where the mountains writhed and trembled, the Red Sea, where the waters were split open and the raging waters then came down upon the Egyptian army.

Verse 11:

The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear. You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger (Habakkuk 3:11–12).

As I was meditating on that verse yesterday, the stanza came to mind, it was written in a totally different context, but I think it pictures what is described here: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

You say, “Yeah! God is coming.” God is coming. He is a warrior God. “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on.” 1

We have a warrior God who marches through the earth in fury and threshes the nation in anger. And that’s the God who put all that anger and wrath on His precious, only begotten Son, Jesus, on the cross. All that wrath this sinful earth deserves, I’m placing it on Christ.

That’s why as you look to Christ and believe in Him, you a sinner, looking at Christ, the righteous Savior, you give Him your sin. He became sin for you so that you might become the righteousness of God in Him. Think of what you have escaped by fleeing to Christ in faith for refuge. It makes the cross precious when you see it’s a God who forsook His Son, a God who marched in fury and anger so that you could have His grace and His mercy.

This is not some namby-pamby God we’re reading about here who just caters to our whims and indulges our indiscretions and takes our sins lightly. This is a holy God.

What you see in this passage, as we move on, is the wrath of God juxtaposed with his incredible mercy. You can’t have one without the other. And if you just proclaim one without the other, you pervert the Gospel.

Judgment and salvation, they always go together in the Scripture. They’re always on parallel tracks. You don’t ever have one without the other. If you have judgment without mercy, you end up with terror and despair.

If you have mercy without wrath, it’s pathetic. It’s not Gospel at all. It’s not a true Gospel. What would we need God’s mercy for if there were nothing to be delivered from, if there were not wrath and judgment of God from which to be delivered.

Praise God, He’s a God of wrath; and praise God, He’s a God of mercy. He’s a God of judgment, and He’s a God of salvation. You worship God, you worship the whole package. You can’t have one without the other.

Leslie: The justice of God makes the mercy of God so remarkable. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been helping us see this clearly. You’re going to hear people in the media and your own friends talk about the love of God.

But the just wrath of God isn’t very popular. The problem is: You can’t have one without the other, and you can’t understand that without really knowing what the Bible says. Are you letting the Bible shape your thinking everyday?

And are you letting the whole Bible shape your thinking? It’s easy to skip over certain parts of the Bible, like Habakkuk, a short book in the final section of the Old Testament.

Nancy’s current series, Habakkuk: Moving from Fear to Faith, has shown us how exciting and relevant the book is. It’s important to know all of God’s Word, and to help you get to know Habakkuk better, we want to send you a thirty day study of this important book.

It will give you fresh insights, provide a lot of quotes from Nancy, and offer questions so you can gain new insights on your own. It’s yours when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts.

You can make your donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call toll free, 1-800-569-5959.

At church, do you sing? Do you give offerings? Do you clap? Do you tremble? Yes, I said tremble. It sounds strange to me, too, but after tomorrow’s program, we’ll better understand why trembling is such an appropriate response to God’s presence. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

1"Battle Hymn of the Republic." Julia Ward Howe.  

 

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