Bible Passage: Habakkuk 3
Big Idea of Message:
Habakkuk looks beyond his immediate circumstances to rejoice in the Lord, who provides strength.
Habakkuk’s Prayer (3:1–19)
Habakkuk 3:3–15 is an awe-inspiring passage describing the majestic appearance of God in the midst of a stupendous storm and of earth-shattering disturbances in heaven and earth. George Adam Smith titled it “the Great Theophany.” And so it is, for now we will view the promise God made in Habakkuk 2:3—“[the vision would] surely come, it will not tarry.” So majestic is its theme and subject matter that the chapter is at once a prayer and a hymn of victory as 3:1 and 3:19d clearly indicate.
The shift in this chapter from the dialogue format that characterized the first two chapters is highly noticeable. First of all, the chapter is called a “prayer.” It is also said to be “on the shigionoth,” a rare term that occurs in the Bible only here and in the singular form as a title for Psalm 7; its meaning it still unknown. Three times the poetic term “selah” appears (vv. 3, 9, 13). Its meaning too is still unknown, but undoubtedly it is some type of liturgical or musical instruction. The whole hymn and prayer must have been set to music, for verse 19 directs that it is to be played “with my stringed instruments” (presumably harps) and it is to be under the leadership of “the Chief Musician,” a notation that figures in fifty-five Psalm headings.
Habakkuk 3, therefore, has placed us in the framework of worship. How important it is for us to realize that the hard-probing questions of chapters 1 and 2 had not ended with fatalism, skepticism, or cynicism. The book of Habakkuk peaks with worship of the Living God and His deeds. Ending in worship was more than enough for the struggling heart and soul of the prophet.
Like Moses at the top of Mount Pisgah looking over into the promised land (Deut. 34:1–4), like Jeremiah inheriting a piece of property as a first fruit of the restoration (Jer. 32), like Christians being offered a foretaste of the new wine of the messianic banquet when they sit at the Lord’s table (Mark 14:25 par.), or like Peter, James, and John being given that vision of the resurrected Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2–8), Habakkuk is granted a foresight of God’s purpose accomplished (3:3–15). The passage forms the most extensive and elaborate theophany to be found in the Old Testament… But just as God had acted at the Red Sea, the Jordan River, on Joshua’s long day, and when Othniel and Gideon were beseiged, so He would act in His great day of salvation. The Lord would go forth across the sea on His horses, churning up the waters once more as He had in that celebrated deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Once again, these examples of theophany could become benchmarks of all that is hoped for in His future coming in glory.
Habakkuk’s prayer is similar to the psalms of confidence in that he asks for a demonstration of God’s wrath and mercy, as he provided in the past. Compare Habakkuk 3:2–3, 9, 13, 19 with Psalms 17 and 90. What terms in Habakkuk’s prayer are similar to those in the psalms?
Mercy—Compassion and kindness toward someone experiencing hardship, sometimes even when such suffering results from the person’s own sin or foolishness. God displays mercy toward his people and they, in turn, are called to display mercy toward others (Luke 6:36).
Hab. 3:2-3, 9, 13, 19
LORD, I have heard the report about you; LORD, I stand in awe of your deeds. Revive your work in these years; make it known in these years. In your wrath remember mercy! God comes from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of his praise.
You took the sheath from your bow; the arrows are ready to be used with an oath. Selah You split the earth with rivers.
You come out to save your people, to save your anointed. You crush the leader of the house of the wicked and strip him from foot to neck. Selah
The LORD my Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights! For the choir director: on stringed instruments.
LORD, hear a just cause; pay attention to my cry; listen to my prayer— from lips free of deceit. Let my vindication come from you, for you see what is right. You have tested my heart; you have examined me at night. You have tried me and found nothing evil; I have determined that my mouth will not sin. Concerning what people do: by the words from your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. My steps are on your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call on you, God, because you will answer me; listen closely to me; hear what I say. Display the wonders of your faithful love, Savior of all who seek refuge from those who rebel against your right hand. Protect me as the pupil of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who treat me violently, my deadly enemies who surround me. They are uncaring; their mouths speak arrogantly. They advance against me; now they surround me. They are determined to throw me to the ground. They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush. Rise up, LORD! Confront him; bring him down. With your sword, save me from the wicked. With your hand, LORD, save me from men, from men of the world whose portion is in this life: You fill their bellies with what you have in store; their sons are satisfied, and they leave their surplus to their children. But I will see your face in righteousness; when I awake, I will be satisfied with your presence.
Lord, you have been our refuge in every generation. Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, you are God. You return mankind to the dust, saying, “Return, descendants of Adam.” For in your sight a thousand years are like yesterday that passes by, like a few hours of the night. You end their lives; they sleep. They are like grass that grows in the morning— in the morning it sprouts and grows; by evening it withers and dries up. For we are consumed by your anger; we are terrified by your wrath. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days ebb away under your wrath; we end our years like a sigh. Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow; indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away. Who understands the power of your anger? Your wrath matches the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. LORD—how long? Turn and have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your faithful love so that we may shout with joy and be glad all our days. Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. Let your work be seen by your servants, and your splendor by their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands— establish the work of our hands!
In his prayer, Habakkuk declares that he has heard of the Lord’s saving work. How does God deal with his people (v. 2)? Does he issue strict justice according to his people’s actions?
In your wrath remember mercy!
…perhaps alludes to the revelation that God was punishing Judah through Babylon (1:5–11).
The arrogant Babylonians were just as wicked as Habakkuk supposed. Yet v. 4b says righteous people such as Habakkuk must exercise faith in God’s goodness despite his use of evil Babylon. This is similar to the answer Job received from God (Jb 38–41). God does not have to explain himself to humans. We must let God be God and trust in his goodness even when we find his ways difficult to understand. Verse 4 conveys the central message of the book. The NT cites it to show how the Christian life from beginning to end is based on faith (Rm 1:17; Gl 3:11; Heb 10:38).
What imagery does Habakkuk use to describe God’s presence and divine judgment (vv. 3–6)?
His splendor covers the heavens and the earth is full of his praise. God fills the earth and sky. He is large, powerful, destructive. The most powerful nations tremble because of him. The mountains break and hills sink.
Compare 3:16 with 1:2. How has Habakkuk been changed by the Lord’s responses to his cries for help?
3:16 I heard, and I trembled within; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness entered my bones; I trembled where I stood. Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us.
1:2 How long, LORD, must I call for help and you do not listen or cry out to you about violence and you do not save?
Habakkuk is no longer impatient. He knows that God’s justice and deliverance is as sure as the sun, and now he will wait (and live righteously through the waiting).
Does Habakkuk’s joy stem from his immediate circumstances (vv. 17-19)? What is the source of his joy?
3:17-19 Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the LORD; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! The LORD my Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!
The Lord is the source of his joy. The circumstances are grim, but spite the circumstances, God is the joy and strength, the source of endurance.
Strength in the Lord: When the apostle Paul was suffering greatly, the Lord spoke to him, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). When we are weak, then God is strong, for he is our strength (Hab. 3:19; Ps. 18:32, 39). These are important and timely truths for Habakkuk, who experiences the wrath of God through the Lord’s chosen instrument, Babylon. Although his immediate circumstances are grave, Habakkuk finds strength in the Lord and rejoices. This ought to direct our attention to the greatest blessing of the gospel. The gospel is not merely concerned with providing benefits to God’s people (as glorious as those benefits may be); the gospel is fundamentally about establishing a blessed relationship between God and his people. The good news is not merely that God gives us things but that he gives us the gift of himself.
The Lord’s Victory: Habakkuk declares that the Lord has the victory: “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” (Hab. 3:13). Jesus is the Lord’s anointed (v. 13). He suffered at the hands of wicked men, though he did so willingly (Isa. 53:7; Matt. 26:39; John 10:18). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy against the serpent in Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In Christ, sin, death, and the Devil will be defeated forever.
God’s Faithfulness: God is committed to his people. He promises never to leave or forsake them (Deut. 31:6). They may be confident in this fact, because the Lord is who he is. It does not depend on the will of man to keep this commitment. Human beings fail, but God always succeeds (2 Cor. 1:20). While God’s people endure suffering and hardship, the Lord is mighty and faithful to save. Jesus spoke of the man who built his house upon the rock: “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:25–27). Jesus’ words are sure and sound. When our lives are built upon him and his precious and great promises (2 Pet. 1:3–4), we can be confident that we will endure any torment of suffering in this life.
If God did not actually do the things recorded in the Old Testament for Israel, then the whole Bible may be just a piece of psychology meant to keep me happy. The Bible, however, plainly shows that my comfort and consolation lie in facts—the fact that God has done certain things and that they have literally happened. The God in whom I believe is the God who could and did divide the Red Sea and the river Jordan. In reminding himself and us of these things, Habakkuk is not just comforting himself by playing with ideas; he is speaking of the things that God has actually done. The Christian faith is solidly based upon facts, not ideas. And if the facts recorded in the Bible are not true, then I have no hope and no comfort. For we are not saved by ideas; but by facts, by events.
The prophet’s vision is rooted in the historic past of Israel. Each of the themes Habakkuk chooses for his hymn-prayer comes from decisive chapters in the history of salvation. Thus the basic elements of theophany are woven together with remembrances of God’s past acts, which serve to encourage Judah in desperate moments to keep on believing. There are elements from the Song of Deborah (Judg. 5), the song of Moses and Miriam (Ex. 15, Deut. 32), the wilderness wanderings (Ex. 16–17, Num. 21–25) and the motifs of several historical Psalms (Ps. 68, 95, 107, 136). All are prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God—responses to His bounteous acts of grace.
Moreover, in this way the people not only called to mind with deep gratitude what God had done, but they expressed in a most vivid way that God is the One who truly lives. He is the sovereign Lord of history as well. Nothing takes place without His knowing it. History is not bunk; it is “His-story,” and He will write its ending as well as its mission statement.
Herein lies the crux of the situation at the present time. Do we yet see our need of humiliation? Do we see it as members of the Christian Church? Do we see it as citizens of the nation? We are confronted by a world situation in which we do not know what is going to happen. Is there to be another war? If our attitude is still one of ‘Why does God allow this?’, ‘What have we done to deserve this?’, we have manifestly not learned the lesson Habakkuk learned. We did not truly humble ourselves in the last war or in the first world war. We failed to recognize that the two wars were the inevitable consequence of the godlessness that had been rampant for nearly a hundred years, all because of the pride and arrogance of man. Has the Christian Church realized that her present condition, and much of her suffering, may be the chastisement of the Lord for the infidelity and apostasy into which the Church herself has frequently fallen? For a century the Church, speaking generally, has been denying the supernatural and the miraculous, questioning the very deity of Christ and exalting philosophy over revelation. Is the Church therefore in a position to complain if she is having a hard time now? Has she humbled herself in sackcloth and ashes? Has she acknowledged and confessed her sin? Has the world as a whole anyright to complain? In spite of the judgments of God upon us, has there been a humbling? Is there a spirit of repentance?
The prophet only requests that “in wrath [God would] remember mercy.” He could pray this way since he knew from previous revelation that God’s nature was to be merciful, full of compassion and abundant in His loving-kindness (Ex. 34:6). In fact, the term “wrath of the LORD” is used 375 times in the Old Testament while the wrath of men is only referred to eighty times. “The consistent linking of nouns of wrath with Yahweh, the covenant God, is of supreme theological significance. It shows that the idea of wrath is closely bound up with belief in the covenant.”
The greatest cause in the world is the kingdom of God. As Martin Luther taught us to sing:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever. (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”)
Thus the question is not whether we have been vindicated or our plans salvaged; it is, instead, has God’s rule and reign been furthered or has it been hindered? That is exactly how our Lord taught His disciples to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
A self-centered generation moans about its own affliction, about particular issues such as communism, lawlessness, insensitivity to the poor and the homeless. Important as some of these issues are, few can see that our driving passion should be to bring glory to God. Our driving passion should not be the glorification of our schools, our denominations or our children—as good as some of these goals may be. If we would but remind ourselves of God’s nature and His rule and reign, our priorities, perspectives, and programs would be more adequately fitted to the only lasting work in this universe: the kingdom of God. Then let that be our prayer as well: “O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make [Your deeds] known.”
Habakkuk’s faith was not just salvific, redemptive and personal; it was practical and mundane in its implications. It could stand the test of total crop failure and the destruction of everything one held dear. It did not depend on God’s promise that He would always supply health, wealth and prosperity in order to earn Habakkuk’s trust, belief, and respect. He could still be loved and worshipped in the midst of tragedy. When the lid blew off everything, He was still the sole object of praise and adoration. The reason was simple: He was Lord; He was in charge; He would remain true to His word even at the end of the historic process when all else had come and gone. Thus in the face of all the extremities of life, we can go on because He goes on. Justified people really live! And they live by faith! Habakkuk 3:16