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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Habakkuk 3

 

 

Verse 1

A. The introduction to the hymn3:1

Habakkuk"s prayer is hymnic in form, like many of the psalms (cf. Psalm 16; Psalm 30; Psalm 45; Psalm 88; Psalm 102; Psalm 142), and it apparently stood apart from the rest of the book at one time, as this title verse suggests. "Shigionoth" may be the title of the tune that the prophet and later Israelites used to sing this song. But the Hebrew word is the plural form of the same word used in the title of Psalm 7 , but nowhere else. "Shiggaion" evidently means a poem with intense feeling. So another view is that the Israelites were to sing it enthusiastically. The intense feeling, in both contexts where the word occurs, is a vehement cry for justice against sin.


Verse 2

B. The prayer for revival3:2

The prophet acknowledged that he had received the Lord"s revelation (cf. Habakkuk 2:1). It was essentially a revelation of Yahweh, His justice, sovereignty, and power, and it had filled him with awe. Reception of divine revelation resulted in the fear of the Lord, as it always should.

Habakkuk called on God to stir up the work that He said He would do in judging Babylon. He asked God to make it known to His people "in the midst of the years," namely, the years between Judah"s judgment and Babylon"s (cf. Habakkuk 2:6-20). God undoubtedly did this in part through the Book of Habakkuk. While God was preparing Babylon for His wrath, Habakkuk asked Him to remember Israel by extending mercy to her. This verse contains the only petitions in Habakkuk"s prayer: that God would preserve life, provide understanding, and remember mercy. Some readers have seen it as an encapsulation of the book"s message.


Verse 3

The prophet pictured Yahweh as rising over His people like the rising sun, appearing over Teman, a large town in Edom, and Mt. Paran, the mountain opposite Teman (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2-4). These locations were to the east of the Israelites as they exited Egypt.

The name for God used here, "Elohim," is in the singular, "Eloah," perhaps stressing the essential unity of God who is the Holy One. "Selah" is another musical notation meaning "to lift up" (cf. Habakkuk 3:9; Habakkuk 3:13). It probably indicates a place where the singers of this song were to pause. This pause may have been to modulate the key upward, to increase the volume, to reflect on what was just said, to exalt the Lord in some other way, or to raise an instrumental fanfare. [Note: Blue, p1518.]

The Strong One"s splendor covered the heavens like the sun after sunrise. The self-manifestation of His glory filled the earth with His fame. "Glory" (Heb. hod) describes primarily kingly authority (e.g, Numbers 27:20; 1 Chronicles 29:25; et al.), and here it has particular reference to Yahweh"s sovereignty over creation and history. This is evidently a description of the Lord"s appearance on Mt. Sinai to the Israelites" forefathers. Moses used similar terms to describe His coming then (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2).


Verses 3-7

1. Yahweh"s awesome appearance3:3-7


Verses 3-15

C. The vision of God3:3-15

Habakkuk moved from petition to praise in his prayer. He recalled God"s great power and pardon in bringing the Israelites from Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. Since God had done this, Habakkuk was confident that He could and would deliver the Israelites from the Babylonians and reestablish them in the land.


Verse 4

The radiance of the Holy One"s glory was like the sunlight. Power seemed to flash from His fingertips as rays (lit. horns) of light stretch from the rising sun (cf. Exodus 34:29-30; Exodus 34:35). In spite of this, most of His power remained concealed.


Verse 5

As God moves through the earth, like the sun, He burns up what is in front of Him and chars what He leaves behind. Pestilence (lit. burning heat) and plague (i.e, devastation) are the accompaniments, the results and evidences of His searing holiness.

"In the ancient Near East, important people were accustomed to being accompanied by attendants (cf. 1 Samuel 17:7; 2 Samuel 15:1)." [Note: Baker, p71.]


Verse 6

Standing like the sun at its zenith, God surveyed the whole earth. His downward look, like sunrays, caused the nations to tremble. His glance was enough to make the permanent mountains shatter and the ancient hills collapse. He always causes these reactions since His ways are eternal. What a contrast He is to lifeless idols (cf. Habakkuk 2:18-19)!


Verse 7

Habakkuk saw the semi-nomadic Ethiopians and Midianites, who lived on both sides of Mt. Sinai, trembling with fear because they witnessed something of Yahweh"s power. The terms Midianite and Cushite both described Moses" wife ( Exodus 2:16-22; Exodus 18:1-5; Numbers 12:1), so they may be synonyms here. Perhaps this is a reference to Yahweh parting the Red Sea. It is small wonder that these tribes trembled since His glance can cause mountains to melt ( Habakkuk 3:6).


Verse 8

With rhetorical questions Habakkuk affirmed that Yahweh was not angry with the (Nile and Jordan) rivers and the (Red) sea when He transformed them. He was demonstrating His power for the salvation of His people, as a divine warrior riding His chariot.

"In Canaanite mythology, Baal had confronted the personified god Yam (sea), alternatively called Judge River. Israel borrowed this motif but dropped any idea that natural phenomena are personified deities. Yahweh is presented as having engaged in combat with the sea at creation or at other unspecified periods (cf. Job 26:12-13; Psalm 29; Psalm 89:9-10)." [Note: Ibid, p72. See M. D. Coogan Stories from Ancient Canaan, pp75-115.]


Verses 8-15

2. Yahweh"s angry actions3:8-15

Habakkuk now changed from describing the manifestation of God and the inanimate and animate reactions to it to a description of His acts on the earth.


Verse 9

He pulled His powerful bow out and prepared to use it. He called for many arrows to shoot at His enemies (cf. Deuteronomy 32). This is a notoriously difficult phrase to translate.

"God had enlisted weapons and pledged them on oath for the destruction of his enemies." [Note: Robertson, p234.]

"In the ancient Near East, warriors would sometimes empower their weapons with a magical formula. The Lord is depicted here as doing the same (see also Jeremiah 47:6-7)." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p442. See also R. D. Haak, Habakkuk , p95.]

Selah. Think of that.

The prophet envisioned the rivers as God"s instruments in dividing portions of the earth.


Verse 10

Habakkuk personified the mountains and described them as shaking when they saw the Lord. Torrential rainstorms that resulted in flooding swept by Him (cf. Genesis 7:11; Genesis 7:19-20). The sea lifted up its waves like hands in response to His command (cf. Psalm 77:15-17; Psalm 77:19).


Verse 11

The sun and moon stood still at His word (cf. Joshua 10:12-13), and they paled when He sent forth flashes of lightning like arrows and shining spears (cf. Deuteronomy 32:23; Deuteronomy 32:42).


Verse 12

The Lord had marched through the earth like a cosmic giant subduing Israel"s enemies. He had trampled hostile nations as an ox does when it treads grain.


Verse 13

He had gone forth as a warrior to save His people and to deliver His anointed one. This may refer to Moses in his battles with Israel"s enemies, or it may refer to a coming anointed one: Cyrus (cf. Isaiah 45:1) or Messiah (cf. Psalm 2:2; Daniel 9:26), or more than one of these.

"The first half of the verse provides the key to understanding the relationship of this chapter to the rest of the book. Rather than ignoring wrongdoing ( Habakkuk 1:2-4), or allowing oppression of his people to go unpunished ( Habakkuk 1:12-17), God remembers his covenant and acts on their behalf. The whole purpose of the psalm and of God"s theophany is to indicate the continued presence of gracious care coupled with divine judgment. Here we have God"s answer to Habakkuk"s complaints ( Habakkuk 1:12-17)-his people will be saved." [Note: Baker, pp74-75.]

The Lord had also smitten the leaders of many evil nations that opposed the Israelites, beginning with Pharaoh. He had disabled their nations as thoroughly as when someone slits a body open from bottom to top or tears a building off its foundation. Selah.


Verse 14

The Lord used the weapons of His enemies to slay their leaders in retribution. Israel"s enemies had stormed into the Promised Land with great enthusiasm to scatter God"s people, like those who kill oppressed people in secret.


Verse 15

Yahweh had trodden down the Red Sea as though He rode through it on cosmic horses causing it to surge away and leave a dry road for His people to tread out of Egypt (cf. Habakkuk 3:8). This section closes with the motif with which it opened ( Habakkuk 3:8), namely, the crossing of the Red Sea.


Verse 16

Habakkuk trembled all over as he waited for the day of Babylon"s invasion of Judah, the day of her distress. He could do nothing but wait patiently for the Babylonians to grow stronger and for judgment to come on Israel. It is a terrible feeling to know that calamity is coming but that one can do nothing to prevent it. He could endure the prospect because he remembered that the omnipotent God of Israel had consistently defended her in the past and promised to do so in the future. Earlier when the prophet heard about the powerful Babylonians, he wanted to talk with God ( Habakkuk 2:1). But now, having been reminded of the infinitely more powerful Yahweh, he had nothing more to say (cf. Job 42:1-6). God would handle the Babylonians. All Habakkuk had to do was wait.

"Over the years, I"ve often leaned on three verses that have helped me wait patiently on the Lord. "Stand still" ( Exodus 14:13), "Sit still" ( Ruth 3:18), and "Be still" ( Psalm 46:10). Whenever we find ourselves getting "churned up" within, we can be sure that we need to stop, pray, and wait on the Lord before we do some stupid thing." [Note: Wiersbe, p422.]


Verses 16-19

D. The commitment to faith3:16-19a


Verse 17-18

Even though everything would get worse in Judah, Habakkuk determined to praise Yahweh and to rejoice in the God who would save him (cf. Psalm 18:46; Psalm 25:5). The prophet pictured the worst of circumstances by using a variety of rural metaphors drawn from plant and animal life. Taken together they have the effect of saying that no matter what bad thing may happen, Habakkuk , and hopefully all Israel, would trust God. Even though the prophet felt weak physically, he was strong in faith spiritually. Thus he would live (cf. Habakkuk 2:4). Many of these bad conditions did mark Judah when the Babylonians overthrew the nation (cf. Lamentations 2:12; Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:4; Lamentations 4:9-10; Lamentations 5:17-18).

"It is right and proper to voice appreciation of God"s goodness when he bestows all that is necessary for life, health, and prosperity. But when these things are lacking, to rejoice in God for his own sake is evidence of pure faith." [Note: Bruce, p893.]


Verse 19

E. The concluding musical notation3:19b

The final footnote to this book gives direction to the choir director who used this chapter as part of Israel"s formal worship. Habakkuk specified the use of stringed instruments to accompany the singing undoubtedly because they set the proper mood.

The book opened with a dialogue between Habakkuk and Yahweh in which the prophet vented his fears and the Lord responded in love (ch1). Then it proceeded to a dirge in which the Lord explained the wickedness of the instrument that He would use to judge Judah, the Babylonians, and promised their ultimate destruction (ch2). It closes with a doxology in which Habakkuk praised God and recommitted himself to faith in and faithfulness to Yahweh as he anticipated hard times to come (ch3).

"Habakkuk teaches us to face our doubts and questions honestly, take them humbly to the Lord, wait for His Word to teach us, and then worship Him no matter how we feel or what we see." [Note: Wiersbe, p422.]

This book can be a great help to people who are discouraged about their present circumstances and or can see nothing good coming in the future. It helps us adjust our attitude from one of pessimism and even despair to optimism and rejoicing. The crucial issue is whether we will listen to God and believe Him, namely, exercise faith.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/habakkuk-3.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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