Friday, April 24, 2009

In wrath remember mercy

Last Sunday night I had the privilege of preaching at First Baptist Church of San Jacinto. I chose to speak on faith in times of crisis from Habakkuk 3:16-19. It's a reminder we all need in this world so full of sorrow and disappointment.

As I explained the historical background of Habakkuk, I was reminded afresh of the severe judgment God sent upon Judah because of their sin. First, he raised up the dreadful Babylonians. Then, He controlled the weather patterns to bring devastating famine. It was a two-front war. God does not play around with sin. He abhors it, and judges it seriously.

But even in the darkest moment, as he trembled at the thought of judgment, the prophet Habakkuk trusted the Lord, and rejoiced in the God of His salvation (Hab. 3:18).

This week, as I reflected on the passage, I was reminded of an earlier statement in Habakkuk's prayer. In chapter 3 verse 2, the prophet pleaded, "In wrath remember mercy." And amazingly, that is exactly what God did. Even in the moment of wrath, God showed mercy to His people. How? Jeremiah 29 tells us.

  • God sent His people into captivity. This whole chapter is written to "all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon" (Jer. 29:4). God did not obliterate the Jews, but rather sent them to a faraway land. He remained faithful to His covenant with Abraham to make a great name and a great people (Gen. 15:1-3).
  • God made their lives comfortable. In Jeremiah 29:6-7, God instructed His people to build houses, take wives, and seek the welfare of the cities where they dwelled. In Babylon, the Jews did not endure slavery like they had in Egypt. Their lives were actually quite comfortable. I'm not saying they lived in the Ritz-Carlton, but they did enjoy a remarkable level of freedom and prosperity.
  • God limited their captivity. In Jeremiah 29:10, God promised that the Jews would be allowed to return to their homeland after 70 years. When this interval of time had passed, Daniel interceded, and God answered (see Daniel 9).
  • God made Himself available to them. God did not abandon the Jews, but said that when they repented and prayed to Him, He would listen (Jer. 29:12). When they sought Him, He would be found by them. He was standing by ready and waiting, like the father of the prodigal son, to reconcile and restore His wayward people.
How thankful we can be that God does not always give us what we deserve. He often shows mercy even in the midst of wrath. Truly, our God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth! (Exodus 34:6)

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