1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth. 2 O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. 3 God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. SelahHis splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. 4 His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. 5 Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.6 He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways. 7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. 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? 9 You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. SelahYou split the earth with rivers. 10 The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high. 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. 12 You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. 13 You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret. 15 You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters.
One of the more haunting and unsettling films I have ever seen is Werner Herzog’s 1972 “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” starring the eccentric and explosive actor Klaus Kinski. These selections from the Wikipedia article on the film give a good sense of what is happening and of Kinski’s character’s (Aguirre’s) descent into madness:
In 1560, several score of Spanish conquistadors, and a hundred Indian slaves, march down from the newly conquered Inca Empire in the Andes mountains into the jungles to the east, in search of the fabled country of El Dorado…
…[After leading a successful mutiny] Aguirre proves to be an oppressive leader, so terrifying that few protest his leadership…
…On the raft again, the group of slowly starving, feverish men begin disbelieving everything they see, even when shot with arrows. The group stares in disbelief at a wooden ship perched in the highest branches of a tall tree, which Aguirre orders be brought down and refurbished, but Brother Carvajal refuses. In a series of final attacks by unseen assailants, the remaining survivors including Aguirre’s daughter are killed by arrows. Aguirre alone remains alive on the slowly drifting raft. The raft becomes overrun by monkeys. The crazed Aguirre tells them: “I, the Wrath of God, will marry my own daughter, and with her I will found the purest dynasty the world has ever seen. Together, we shall rule this entire continent. We shall endure. I am the Wrath of God… who else is with me?” The final shot is of him waiting for the monkeys to respond.
Throughout the film, Aguirre becomes increasingly mad, referring to himself as the wrath of God and, in general, evidencing a complete lack of attachment to reality. Earlier in the film Herzog has Kinski stare directly into the camera and say, “I am the wrath of God. The earth I walk upon sees and quakes.”
There are things that only God can say. There are things that can only be said ofGod. These same things are evidence of insanity when put in the mouth of man. The words that for Aguirre were a sign of madness are for a God a true description and, in fact, reason for worship. In Habakkuk’s prayer from Habakkuk 3, he says something worshipfully of God that Aguirre’s says madly of himself: that God has great wrath and that the earth sees and quakes before Him.
Once again we see the two themes of the wrath of God and the mercy of God: wrath toward the wicked and mercy toward His people. This time these themes are voiced in a powerful prayer of faith and of acceptance on the part of Habakkuk. There is, for the first time in the book, no note of protest here. Habakkuk simply accepts what God says He is going to do. In so doing, Habakkuk extols God’s righteous anger against evil but calls too for God’s mercy.