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Bible Commentaries
Habakkuk 3

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

Verses 1-19

Jehovah comes To Judgment

This is one of the most brilliant poems in the OT. It was written by a man of imagination as well as of faith. It is not quite certain whether Habakkuk 3:8-15 are intended to refer to a past or future manifestation of Jehovah: in any case, there is the hope, or rather prayer, that history may repeat itself (Habakkuk 3:2). The poem rests upon older theophanies: cp. Judges 5; Deuteronomy 33. Long ago at the exodus Jehovah had shown His power to interpose in history against all hope. He had come in the terrors of judgment and taken vengeance on the enemies of Israel: and what he did then, the Psalmist prays that He will do again. The power which He revealed on Israel’s behalf at the dawn of her history, He can make known again in the midst of the years.

1. Upon Shigionoth] RV ’Set to Shigionoth.’ This very obscure phrase (cp. Psalms 7) has been supposed to mean ’in a wandering, ecstatic manner,’ implying that the poem that follows is a sort of dithyramb. Probably, as the LXX suggests, the original word simply meant, ’to the accompaniment of stringed instruments.’

3. The storm which accompanies Jehovah’s coming begins in Sinai, His ancient home, and sweeps northward. Teman] a district in the NW. of Edom. Paran] the mountain range between Sinai and Seir.

4. Horns coming out of his hand] RV ’Bays coming forth from his hand.’ This clause some take with the next one, so that the meaning would be ’the rays at His side He makes the veil of His power,’ that is, the brightness is so blinding that His real and essential majesty cannot be seen.

5-8, Accompanied by His dread attendants, He takes His stand upon the earth, which reels and rocks beneath Him, and the nomad tribes are in terror.

5. Burning coals] RV ’fiery bolts.’

7. Gushan] Some identify this with Cush, i.e. Ethiopia. The parallelism suggests, however, that it may indicate some district in the neighbourhood of Sinai.

8-11. Wherefore such wrath? Why did Jehovah so confound the sea—perhaps the Red Sea—by means of His storm? 9a b; probably ought to read, ’Thou didst bare Thy bow, and fill Thy quiver with shafts’ -an allusion to the thunder and the lightning. Fear kept sun and moon from shining (Habakkuk 3:11).

12-15. It is to save His people that He comes.

13b. Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering (RV ’laying bare’) the foundation unto the neck. There seems to be here a confusion of metaphor—’foundation’ suggesting a building and ’neck’ a man. The situation may be partially saved by reading ’rock’ instead of ’neck’; but even so, it is not quite clear whether head in the first clause refers to a building, as the second clause suggests, or to a man, as the same word is used unambiguously of a man in the very next v. (14a). In any case, the reference appears to be to the over throw of Pharaoh.

14a. Probably we should read, ’Thou didst pierce with Thy staves the head of his warriors.’ In the next line the word me shows that the description is passing into the present: they come storming on to scatter me.

16-19. The triumph of faith. It is difficult, if not impossible, to translate Habakkuk 3:16 provisionally we may accept the following, ’I will wait for the day of distress which cometh over the people that distresses us.’ But the v. seems to indicate the terror with which the Psalmist (or prophet) listens to the dying notes of the storm. He had prayed for God to reveal Himself: and He had come in His terrible majesty—come, however, to save: and though the poet trembles, his faith is radiant and glad.

17. The connexion between this v. and the previous part of the poem is no doubt such as has just been suggested; but it may be doubted whether it is an integral part of the original poem. With its flocks and fields and trees, it seems to presuppose a different situation from Habakkuk 3:2-16 but, however that may be, the v., together with Habakkuk 3:18-19, expresses the same kind of faith as that of the poem, and indeed of the book at large, a faith which is independent of material evidences and supports (Habakkuk 2:3-4). It teaches that God is better than His gifts, and that the possession of Him, even without them, makes the heart strong and glad. In its independence of things material, the OT. never uttered a grander or more emancipating word than these concluding vv. of Habakkuk.

It is not certain that this poem was composed by the prophet. The title and musical directions seem to indicate that it was taken from a collection of Psalms: there are no references in it to the special circumstances of the age in which Habakkuk lived: while in Habakkuk 3:14, Habakkuk 3:18-19 the community rather than an individual is the speaker. The conclusion suggested by these features is that this poem belongs to a later date: it may be a Psalm composed for the post-exilic church in a time of distress. But, on the other hand, the ascription of it to Habakkuk is confirmed by the fact that it is wholly in conformity with his spirit in the other chapters of this book: and it is appropriately placed in its present position, as it shares with the prophecy a pure faith in God and in the certainty of His coming.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/habakkuk-3.html. 1909.
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