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The Prayer Of Habakkuk
The proper object of divine ministry is to abase the soul in the presence of God, and to draw out the heart to Him in worship and adoration. It was so in the case of Habakkuk. He had been admitted into the secret counsels of Jehovah. His word had been brought home in power to his soul. The result is that he prostrates himself before Him in the attitude of prayer and worship. His prayer-poem is one of the sublimest portions of the Old Testament. While he is, as it were, overpowered by the sense of the majesty and omnipotence of God so that he trembles before Him, nevertheless he looks up with confidence to the only One who can bring revival and blessing to His chastened people, so rightfully under His rod because of their sins.
The term “Shigionoth” in the introductory line indicates that it was set to music. Blessed is it when all our prayers and supplications are thus made to partake of the character of praise! “Be careful for nothing,” we are told, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God: and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:7). Praise well befits the lips of sinners saved by sovereign grace, however trying and perplexing their circumstances at times may be. David could compose a psalm to the same measure when in deep affliction. Psalms 7:0 is described as “Shiggaion of David, which he sang unto the Lord, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.” Cush is generally supposed to be another name for Shimei, who cursed him as he fled from Absalom his son. Shiggaion is the singular of Shigionoth. The actual meaning is not known with certainty; it is supposed to be, “A wandering ode.” In this measure, the prophet pours out his heart to the all-glorious One, who from of old had been the deliverer and the support of His redeemed people.
“O Jehovah, I have heard Thy speech,” he says, “and I was afraid.
O Jehovah, revive Thy work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make known;
In wrath remember mercy” (ver. 2).
The word of the Lord filled him with fear as he realized something of the depravity of his own heart and the state of his people. Like Isaiah, he could cry, “Woe is me I for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” On the ground of merit he has nothing to plead. But as he remembers who it is with whom he has to do, he can supplicate with confidence and assurance for revival and blessing.
Because a people are under the hand of God for their failure to carry out His revealed will is no reason to sink down in despair, and conclude that the candlestick has been removed and all corporate testimony is gone. It is unbelief, not godly subjection, that leads saints to take ground like this. In so writing, one thinks of that movement which in these last days resulted from the recovery of much precious truth which had been treated as a dead letter for centuries. In the practical carrying out of that truth there has been undoubted failure of the most humiliating kind. As a result, God has permitted division and strife to take the place of happy unity and holy fellowship. All this is cause for brokenness and humiliation on our part, but not for utter discouragement. Whatever failure may have ensued, God and His truth abide. “That which was from the beginning” is still with us, that we may order our ways thereby. To make failure a reason for further unfaithfulness is to walk in self-will, and to lose the force of the very lesson that our God would have us learn. Like Habakkuk, we have reason to take a very low place indeed; but, like him too, we can count upon God to be with us in that low place.
For revival he pleads-revival, which we know God was pleased to grant when the chastisement had exercised His people. The remnant, delivered from Babylon, own the grace of the Lord in giving “a little reviving” in their bondage (Ezra 9:8). So, may we be assured, will our God delight to give revival now, though the hour be late, if He discerns among us that same spirit of lowly subjection to His will that we see here.
The wondrous way in which Jehovah of old had led Jacob like a flock through the wilderness, when He came from Teman and shined forth from mount Paran, when His glory covered the heavens and the earth was full of His praise, is what the prophet contemplates as he pleads for present mercy. Vividly does he describe the march of the Mighty One of Israel through the desert, spreading terror and consternation among the heathen and filling His redeemed with exultation and rejoicing (vers. 3-6). He who had thus cared for His people before, would care for them still, however the enemy might rage.
Like a glorious panorama, the marvelous scene is unfolded before his eyes. He sees the fiery pillar going before to drive out the hostile nations and to find out a path for the armies of the Lord. He beholds the floods rolling back to permit His chosen to pass through their beds. He notes the mystic river springing from the smitten rock. He takes up the song of the book of Jasher as the sun and the moon obey the word of a man and stand still in their habitation. He hears the shout of the victor and the wail of the vanquished. And as he realizes that the Shepherd of Israel still abideth faithful, though so dreadfully dishonored, his inward parts tremble and his lips quiver at the voice of the Majesty. Rottenness enters into his bones, all self-confidence is gone, and he trembles in himself, that he may quietly rest in the day of trouble that is so soon to come upon the land; yea, that has already begun, for the invader had even then come up with his troops (vers. 7-16).
All this is but the proof that in Habakkuk’s soul at least revival had already taken place. Oh, to enter more fully into the same spirit!
The last three verses are the expression of a truly revived man who has learned to find all his springs in God. The apostle speaks in a similar strain in the 4th chapter of Philippians. In fact, so closely are his words allied to what we have here, that, as noted in the introduction, it would seem that he had this very scripture in mind when writing his epistle.
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom,
Neither shall fruit be in the vines;
The labor of the olive shall fail,
And the fields shall yield no meat;
The flock shall be cut off from the fold,
And there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
And He will make me to walk upon my high places.
Unto the chief singer, on my stringed instruments.”
How great the difference in the opening and the closing of the burden of Habakkuk! He begins as a man bewildered and confused, who is filled with questions and perplexities; he closes as one who has found the answer to all his questions, and the satisfying portion of his soul in God Himself. This is most blessed. As we thus are permitted to enter into the varied experiences that this man of like passions with ourselves passed through till the Lord alone filled the vision of his soul and satisfied his every longing, likewise resolving all his doubts and difficulties, we get some little sense of what may be the sustaining portion of our own hearts if He be but permitted to have His own way with us in all things. Crops might fail, flocks might be destroyed, fields might be barren, and cattle be cut off; but God would abide, and in Him was abundant supply to meet every need. He is the God of our salvation. He is the strength of our hearts. What more can we crave?
Happy in this glorious consciousness, Habakkuk, and we too, can walk, in faith, on our high places, far above the mists and snares of earth. Like the goats of the 104th psalm (ver. 18), we will be enabled to mount up to the top of the rocks and dwell in the high hills. Surely if a child of God in the twilight of a past dispensation could so exult and triumph over all circumstances, we who live in the full blaze of the day of grace, may well be stirred up to a holy jealousy, that, continually dwelling “in the heavenlies,” we may daily be found overcoming through the power of faith!
The closing line is the dedication, and is unspeakably precious. The Chief Singer on the stringed instruments is, for us, none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, who as the risen One now leads the praises of His redeemed. As His hand sweeps the wonderful strings of the hearts of His people, what strains of heavenly melody greet the ear of our God and Father, and salute angelic hosts unnumbered who are learning through the Church the manifold wisdom of God. “In the midst of the assembly will I sing praise unto Thee,” He has said, as His Spirit spake through the prophet-poet in the 22d psalm. Whenever His people are gathered unto His peerless name, He is in their midst as the Director of their worship, as well as the Object of their adoration.
Alas, that so many of our hearts are so often out of tune! Only by constant self-judgment and careful walking in the Spirit shall we be maintained in suited condition to add to the sweetness of the great orchestra of the Chief Singer!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany