O Lord, I have heard thy speech, [and] was afraid
Or, "thy hearing" F16; which the Lord had caused to be heard from and of himself; the report that had been made to him, and other prophets before him, particularly Isaiah, who says, "who hath believed our report?" ( Isaiah 53:1 ) where the same phrase is used as here: though it seems here not so much to regard the evangelical part of that report, concerning the coming of Christ, his sufferings and death, in order obtain redemption and salvation for his people; for this would have been, and was, matter of joy, and not of fear and consternation: but the truth is this, the Lord in the preceding speech, being a report he made to the prophet concerning the Messiah, had signified that Christ would have many enemies from the Jews and from the Gentiles, from Rome Pagan and Rome Papal; that the church of Christ would meet with great afflictions and persecutions, and be attended with many conflicts, temptations, and difficulties; that the interest of the Redeemer would be sometimes very low, and the work of the Lord at a stand in the world, yea, seemingly dead, quite lost and gone; this is what caused the fear and distress in the prophet's mind, and gave him that pain and uneasiness: and hence the following petition, O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years;
which refers not to the deliverance from the Babylonish captivity, which was fixed to a term of years, when, and not before, not in the midst of them it would be wrought; but to the great work of the Lord in the times of the Gospel. There is a double reading of these words in the Septuagint version of them, and both very different from the Hebrew text. The one is, "in the midst of two lives thou shalt be known"; the life that now is, and that which is to come. The other, by a change of the accent, is, "in the midst of two animals thou shall be known"; so the Arabic version. Theodoret makes mention of both, and inclines to the former;
``some (he says) by two animals understand angels and men; some the incorporeal powers near the divine Glory, the cherubim and seraphim; others the Jews and Babylonians; but to me it seems that the prophet does not say animals, but lives, the present and future, in the midst of which he was a just Judge:''but the latter reading is followed by many of the ancients, whose different senses are given by Jerom on the place; some interpreting them of the Son and Spirit, by whom the Father is made known; others of the two cherubim in Exodus, and of the two seraphim in Isaiah; and there were some who understood them of the two Testaments, the Old and New, in the midst of which the Lord may be known; and others of Christ's being crucified between two thieves, by which be might be known: but, besides these different sentiments, many of the ancients concluded from hence that Christ lay in the manger between two animals, the ox and the ass, and to which they refer in their ancient hymns F17; but though this is a wrong version of the text, and a wrong sense which is put upon it, together with ( Isaiah 1:3 ) ; yet, as Burkius observes, there is in this mistake a certain and ancient truth, that the text of Habakkuk belongs to the work of God in Christ, and especially to the nativity of our Lord Jesus; and so some later writers apply this to the wonderful work of the incarnation of Christ, that new, unheard of, and amazing thing the Lord would work in the earth; the promise of which, being delayed, might seem to be dead; and therefore it is entreated it might be revived, and the performance of it hastened; and others to the work of redemption by Christ, which the Father gave him to do, and he promised to come and perform; but, being deferred, the Old Testament saints were impatient of it. Cocceius and Van Till restrain it to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, his coming being prophesied of before; and render the words, "O Lord, thy work is his life F18, in the midst of the years"; the resurrection of Christ from the dead, or the quickening of him, is prophesied of in many places as a work that would be done, and in which the hope and expectation of the saints were placed; this being a work of great importance both to Christ, his exaltation and glory, and to his people; their quickening together with him; their regeneration, or passing from death to life; their justification of life, and resurrection from the dead, depending upon it; and this is the Lord's work, and owing to the exceeding greatness of his power, and is frequently ascribed to God the Father, who raised Christ from the dead, and gave him glory: and this was "in the midst of the years", or between the years of the Old and of the New Testament; the former was the year of God's longsuffering and forbearance, the time when the Jewish church, like children, were under governors and tutors, until the time appointed of the Father; the latter is the acceptable year of the Lord, and the year of the redeemed; and between these two years, at the end of the one, and the beginning of the other, the Messiah came, was cut off or died, and was quickened and raised again: but I should choose rather to understand this more generally of the work of the Lord in the Christian churches throughout the whole Gospel dispensation, or at least in some certain periods of it. The church itself is the work of the hands of the Lord, ( Isaiah 45:11 ) which sometimes has seemed to have been in a very dead and lifeless state and condition, as in the dark times of Popery; and though there was a reviving of it upon the Reformation, yet there has been a decline since; and the Sardian church state, in which we now are, is described as having a "name", that it "lives", and yet is "dead"; and the interest of religion, and the church of Christ, will be lower still when the witnesses are slain, and their dead bodies lie unburied, before the Spirit of the Lord enters into them, and revives them: now the prophet having in view these various intervals, and especially the last, prays for a reviving of the interest and church of Christ, and the work of the Lord in it; and which will be done when Christ will come in a spiritual manner, and destroy antichrist; when the Spirit will be poured down plentifully from on high; when the Gospel will be purely and powerfully preached all over the world; when the ordinances of it will be administered as at the beginning; when multitudes of churches will be raised and formed, the Jews will be converted, and the fulness of the Gentiles brought in: this will be a reviving time indeed! and there never will be a thorough one till this time comes; and this will be in "the midst of the years"; between the years of the reign of antichrist, the 1260 days or years of it, which will now expire, and the thousand years of Christ's personal reign on earth; between these two will be this reviving time or spiritual reign of Christ F19. The words may to good purpose be applied to the work of grace in the hearts of true believers in Christ, which is the Lord's work, and his only; not men, not ministers, not angels, but Jehovah only is the author and finisher of it. This sometimes seems as it were to be dead, when the graces of the Spirit are not in exercise; when saints are in dead and lifeless frames of soul; when they are backward to spiritual and religious exercises; when the world, and the things of it, have got power over them, and they are unconcerned for the things of Christ, the honour of his name, and the good of their own souls; when they are under the power of some sin, and are carried captive by it, as was the case of David, Peter, and others: now this work is revived, when the graces of the Spirit are called forth again into lively exercise; when the affections go out strongly after divine objects and things; when the thoughts of the mind, and the meditations of the heart, are on spiritual subjects; when the talk and conversation turns chiefly on things of a religious and heavenly nature; when there is a forwardness to spiritual exercises, a stirring up of themselves and others to them, and a continuance in them; when there is a visible growing in grace, and a fruitfulness in every good work: this is to be prayed for, and is from the Lord; and is owing to his setting his hand a second time to the work; to his being as the dew to his people; to Christ the sun of righteousness arising on them, with healing in his wings; and to the south wind of the Spirit blowing upon them, and causing their spices to flow out; and this is desirable in the midst of their years, before the years come on in which they have no pleasure, or before they go hence, and be no more: in the midst of the years make known;
which Cocceius and Van Till restrain to the notification of Christ's resurrection from the dead by the ministry of the Gospel, for the benefit of the Lord's people, both Jews and Gentiles; as being a matter of great consequence to them, and for the confirmation of the Christian religion, as it undoubtedly was: but it seems better to understand it in a more general sense, that God would make known more of himself, as the covenant God and Father of his people, of his mind and will, of his love, grace, and mercy in Christ; that he would make known more of Christ, of his person, offices, and grace; that he would make known more clearly the work of his Spirit and grace upon their hearts, and display his power, and the efficacy of his grace, in reviving it, and carrying it on; that he would make known more largely his covenant and promises, his truth and faithfulness in the performance of them; that he would grant a larger measure of knowledge of all divine things of the Gospel, and the truths of it; such as is promised, and is expected will be in the latter day, when the earth shall be everywhere filled with the knowledge of the Lord, ( Habakkuk 2:14 ) : in wrath remember mercy;
the above interpreters refer this to the time of God's wrath and vengeance upon the Jewish nation for their rejection of the Messiah; and which the prophet does not pray might be averted, but that mercy might be remembered to his own people among them, as was; who had the Gospel first preached to them, and were called by grace and saved; and who had an opportunity given them of escaping from Jerusalem, before the destruction of that city: but it may be more agreeable to interpret this of the state of the churches of Christ and true believers; who, when under affliction and distress, or in temptation and desertion, are ready to conclude that God is dealing with them in wrath; and whom the prophet personates, and by him they are taught to pray, that at such seasons God would remember his covenant, his promises, his lovingkindness and tender mercies, the favour he bears to his own people, and smile on them again, and comfort their souls.
F16 (Kemv) "tuam auditionem", V. L. Burkius; "tuum auditum", Pagninus, Montanus; "rumorem", Tarnovius.
F17 "Agnoscat bos et asinus Jacentem in praesepio." And again, "Cognovit bos et asinus, Quod paer erat Dominus."
F18 Taking (whyyx) for (wyyx) , as (whydy) for (wydy) in ver. 10. So Ben Melech observes it may be taken.
F19 The Targum interprets these years of the time in which God will renew the world.