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A Prayer of Habakkuk
Here begins a new section, which is indicated by referring again to “Habakkuk the prophet” (Habakkuk 1:1). In contrast with the call from the last verse of the previous chapter (Habakkuk 2:20), Habakkuk does not remain silent. He brings in his silence a hymn of praise to God (Psalms 65:1).
His praise is “a prayer”. It is called a prayer to indicate the dedication of this part, it is dedicated to God. It is a prayer because the time of fulfillment has not yet come. The prayer exposes the feelings of the prophet after he heard in Habakkuk 1 about the judgment that God must bring on His people and in Habakkuk 2 by whom He will do so.
The fact that his name and his service are mentioned indicates that this prayer is not only about feelings, but corresponds to the data mentioned earlier and that this prayer is also prophetic in content. It is a testimony of the Holy Spirit in the feelings of the prophet who is enlightened by the Spirit.
“Sjigjonot” is a term from music. A similar term, Shiggaion, can be found in the opening words of Psalm 7 (Psalms 7:1). The term seems to indicate that it is a victory song, a song that is sung in great excitement, with rapidly changing emotions. This term shows that there is a connection between this song and the psalms. It is also an indication that Habakkuk not only expresses his thoughts in this way, but composes this ‘psalm’ for use in Israel.
The Work of the LORD
Now Habakkuk speaks about the fact that the LORD answered him, while at first he struggled so much that God did not hear him (Habakkuk 1:2). His first exercise in God’s presence is characterized by fear when he realizes that the condition of the people is so bad, that God must judge them. What the prophet in Habakkuk 2 heard about the Babylonians filled him with terror and fear. He now expresses to God that He will fulfill His work, both through Babylon towards Israel and towards Babylon himself. His work is a work in judgment against the enemy and in grace against Israel. We see that work taking shape.
It’s about His work, “Your work”, not ours. What is needed is that God revives His work. It is not a work at the beginning or at the end, but “in the midst of the years”. The beginning is the beginning of God’s work in the redemption of Israel. The end is the salvation of Israel in the end time. The mean time is the time in which the prophet lives. He lives between the time of the chastisement of the LORD by Babylon as a necessary beginning of the redemption and the breaking of Babylon by the LORD.
It is a prayer of those who are in the midst of their life. Then the feeling may come that the first forces have disappeared and that the success of the previous days cannot be repeated. But let us remember that it is God’s work and that He can revive it in the midst of the years. He can make that known to us when we have forgotten or need it. When we are struggling and feel God’s discipline, we may remind Him of His mercy.
The people have forfeited any right to salvation, but the mercy of God can be addressed. Merit cannot be invoked, but mercy can be invoked. If it is invoked, it means an acknowledgment of guilt (Psalms 51:1). As far as Israel is concerned, the prophet asks God to temper His wrath through mercy. God will do this to the faithful among His people.
The Appearance of God
Actually only Habakkuk 3:2 is a prayer. What follows from Habakkuk 3:3 is a repetition of the deeds of God in the past regarding the earlier redemption of His people. Sometimes we ask God to do things for us, while it is more rewarding to think about what He has done to and in us in and through the Lord Jesus in the redemption He has worked.
Habakkuk 3:3-Ezra : describe the appearance of God, also called theophany. God appears to judge the enemies of His people and to deliver His people. He makes His glory visible. He does so in judgment on His enemies and in salvation for His people. He is the Creator and Ruler of the world, the One for Whom everyone should show respect and the One Who controls all things.
He “comes”, indicates an activity. It shows God in His actions. It reminds of God’s appearance to His people on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16-Psalms :). Here we are talking about other places. “Teman” is a place closely related to Edom (Jeremiah 49:7). “Paran” is located west of Edom. Both places are located south of Judah.
He appears as “the Holy One” (cf. Habakkuk 1:12). In that capacity He judges. Habakkuk is engaged in setting aside hostile powers. In the appearance of God he sees the future salvation. He bases this appearance on what has become visible in the past of God. Just as He appeared on Mount Sinai after the redemption from Egypt, so Habakkuk sees it happening here in faith in the future. Everywhere in the heavens that cover the earth, His majesty, that is His exaltation and dignity as Ruler, is observed. The effect of this on the earth under heaven is that it is full of praise for Him.
Habakkuk indicates that restoration always comes by returning to the beginning (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2). He sees God’s glory, just as on Mount Sinai, revealing itself again and taking the same route. God comes to defeat the enemies and to redeem His people. This gets its fulfillment at the return of the Lord Jesus.
When God acts on behalf of His people to bless it, He also has blessing in mind for heaven and earth. It sometimes seems that He works in a limited sphere, but He wants the whole creation to share in the blessing.
‘Selah’ indicates a rest or break. This word occurs about seventy times in Psalms and three times in this chapter.
He Comes in Consuming Glow
The reflection of His appearance is perceptible everywhere. The Lord Jesus comes like lightning (Matthew 24:27). The sunlight in His illuminating radiance is the most appropriate earthly element to represent the immaculate purity of the Holy One, He Who is light and in Whom “there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) and “with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17).
Yet those impressive revelations of radiance and splendor are merely outward manifestations of God that people can perceive (Psalms 104:2). In reality, they are a covering or concealment of His true attributes. These revelations act as a veil covering His power. If He would show His might uncovered, everything would be consumed. He is the God Who “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).
The concealment of His might and His light became visible when the Lord Jesus came to earth as the light, to redeem. His might was concealed and was hidden in His Manhood. That He has become Man is, as it were, the ‘casing of His might. It was hidden from the wise and intelligent, but not from the children (Matthew 11:25) nor from the woman who touched Him in faith and experienced the power that emanated from Him (Luke 8:43-Galatians :).
Instruments of Judgment
God’s might is revealed here in the exercise of His judgment through the plague of “pestilence”. He consumes through pestilence what is before Him and leaves the “plague” of a charred ground behind. The holy God is accompanied by the performers of His judgment, pestilence and plague.
Pestilence and plague are presented as persons. One person goes before Him as a shield bearer (cf. 1 Samuel 17:7), the other person comes directly after Him as a servant (cf. 1 Samuel 25:42). It points out that His coming to the deliverance of His people will be accompanied by plagues that will hit the earth.
God’s Ways Are Everlasting
In these two verses we see what impression the coming of God makes on creation and on mankind. God has come from afar and has positioned Himself here as it were as a war hero to judge the enemies.
1. “He stood” is not a pose, a static posture, but the overwhelming presence of His Person, for Whom nothing can remain motionless. Where He is, everything “trembles” (as the word for “surveyed” also can be translated.
2. “He looked” has the same effect. When He looks, it is a penetrating looking, a complete fathoming. The nations react to that with “startling”.
His standing and his looking have a radiance, they do something. They are impressive activities.
All that has been created, however long it may exist, such as “the perpetual mountains” and “the ancient hills”, will disappear. It seems as if the long existence cannot be affected, so many centuries they have already defied, so that there is no thought of change. For mankind they exist eternally. But when He comes, even the greatest symbols of stability and immutability do not endure and turn out to be temporary and transient.
All this is in opposition to His “everlasting” ways, which truly remain everlasting because they are “His ways”. The stability and permanence of God’s ways in Christ, as seen in His holy temple, are the trust and joy of faith.
Then Habakkuk shows the reaction of two nomadic peoples (Habakkuk 3:7). If the earth trembles and the nations startle if He shatters perpetual mountains and collapses ancient hills, what then is the reaction of small nations? In their tents there is under distress. When God, in His majesty, passes by them in His march, they are so impressed that they tremble.
“Cushan” is the extended form of Cush. Its population lives on the African coast of the Red Sea. The population of Midian lives on the Arab coast of the Red Sea.
The Anger of the LORD
So far the prophet has described how the LORD appears. Now he goes from descriptive to addressing. He speaks to the LORD (Habakkuk 3:8). God has taken position as the Judge of the world, as a war hero equipped for battle, and now the prophet asks about whom His anger is coming. Not that he expects an answer. It is more to emphasize the greatness of the Divine anger.
He speaks of rivers and the sea in general terms, although here one can also think of the rivers Nile, Jordan, and the Red Sea as the target of God’s power (Exodus 7:14-Lamentations :; Exodus 14:16-Song of Solomon :; Joshua 3:13-Esther :). He judged the Nile and made a way through the other two waters. His concern was the “salvation” of His people. Therefore He rode (symbolically) on His horses and used (symbolically) His chariots.
In Habakkuk 3:9 the picture of the fighting God with His horses and chariots is continued. He carried out His intention to intervene. All preparations were made. The bow as a weapon was made visible and ready for use. We see it in front of us: the Warrior in the chariot Who with the spanned bow approaches or rushes to or after the enemy to kill him. He thereby fulfills the oath He had sworn to the patriarchs, which led Him to deliver the tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:40-Luke :).
With an enormous, propelled water mass the LORD cleaves the earth (cf. Micah 1:4). Possibly this refers to “the fountains of the great deep” that burst open the earth (cf. Genesis 7:11). It shows God’s omnipotence in His judgment. He can drain rivers for His people and thereby make the earth impassable for the enemies of His people.
God’s Might Over the Flood of Water
The powers on earth look up trembling at God’s majesty and give Him glory. The mountains and the flood of water are presented as persons. They tremble, let their voices be heard and raise their hands to express their awe for Him. What a cautionary example this is for the pruning man, who believes that ‘his strength is his god’ (Habakkuk 1:11).
To express his feelings in the situation in which he finds himself, Habakkuk uses Psalm 77 (Psalms 77:16-Proverbs :) in his description. The poet of the psalm has the same feelings as he does. This is because they are led by the same Spirit.
God’s Power Over the Sun and Moon
Sun and moon are the constant and inviolable symbols of the created order in creation. But they cease their function at the sight of God’s majesty and cease their centuries-long course. Their light retreats, they withdraw their shine at the sight of God’s majesty’s that surpasses all shine. Their light is superfluous at the light of God’s arrows and the radiance of His gleaning spear (cf. Isaiah 60:19).
It is not obvious to refer here to the miracle at Gibeon at the conquest of the land, where Joshua commands the sun and the moon to stand still (Joshua 10:12). There they have continued to shine, while here it is a question of withdrawing their luster out of reverence for God’s majestic appearance which far surpasses their luster.
God’s arrows and spear are shooting- and throwing weapons that He uses against the enemy as a means to express His anger. Perhaps we can think of lightning rays emanating from God’s throne that terrify people. People have no control over that. Fear overwhelms them when they are surrounded by lightning.
Judgment and Salvation
The LORD marches through the earth in indignation and judges the nations (Habakkuk 3:12; Isaiah 63:1-Joshua :). He tramples or threshes as with a thirsty sled the nations, which means that He beats them. It entails an extremely painful and deeply humiliating defeat of the nations who have always hurt and humiliated His people so much.
This is the result of the going forth of the LORD. But He not only went forth to judge His enemies. In Habakkuk 3:13 we hear the reason for His interference with the earth. So that no one remains in any doubt as to why this revelation of the majesty of God, Habakkuk says that God went forth to deliver and save His people, who are His “anointed” (cf. Psalms 105:15).
“The house of the evil” refers to the house of Pharaoh in the past and that of the king of Babylon (Habakkuk 2:9) who is coming soon. The evil is the enemy who is coming, presented in all his governmental power. In the end times this refers to the Antichrist. The “head of the house” is possibly the king himself. He is at the top. In faith, Habakkuk sees that the LORD strikes the house of the evil, from top to bottom, to “the foundation” [‘thigh’ is literally ‘foundation’], which is to the ground (cf. Amos 2:9). All that remains is dust.
The Enemy Exterminated – God’s People Saved
Habakkuk identifies himself with God’s people and describes the treatment that the invaders of the land will receive from God. He describes that the LORD causes the enemies to suffer defeat through their own hands (Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:20; 2 Chronicles 20:23-Jeremiah :). For Habakkuk this is a great encouragement because he has experienced how the enemies stormed in. He knows how they rejoiced in making life in the land impossible for him. They rejoiced in their atrocities as the believer rejoices in God.
They wanted to “devour” him, which relates to the violent occupation of his life and everything he has. Here he represents as “the oppressed” the faithful remnant of Israel that will be in great distress in the end times because of the approaching enemy.
God led the hostile armies and led them to their doom (Habakkuk 3:15). We see this with Pharaoh, who first hardened his heart himself, after which his heart was hardened by God. In his hardening, he began the pursuit of God’s people and perished in the Red Sea. Before Pharaoh arrived there with his horses, God’s horses entered the great, raging waters and paved the way for his people (Habakkuk 3:8). What seemed an impediment to deliverance became in God’s hand the means of extermination of the enemy. Thus, in the future, He will exterminate the nations that are storming in to His people in great numbers and in great hubris.
Habakkuk Trembles and Waits Quietly
The prophet sees what will come over his people at the coming of the Chaldeans. What he “heard” refers back to Habakkuk 3:2. This filled him with fear that penetrated his inward parts and bones, the soft and the hard parts of his body. Daniel had the same experience (Daniel 8:27; Daniel 10:8). Habakkuk did not tremble out of fear, but because of the impressiveness of what he heard; he was upended.
At the same time, there is a deep calm in view of “the day of distress” (cf. Psalms 94:13). The day of distress is the great tribulation (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14; Jeremiah 30:7; Daniel 12:1). Here it is the day of distress for Babylon, “the people … [who] will invade us”. Habakkuk knows that he will come through that day because the LORD will defeat the enemy. We see a preview of this in the judgment of Belsazar (Daniel 5:30).
It is hard for Habakkuk to see that the inevitable blow that God must give His people is done by such a wicked enemy. The effect on him is the flowing away of all power. In himself he sees only misery and destruction. But his fellowship with God and the reflection on His ways and also on His promises give him confidence besides fear. That is the result of the spiritual exercise Habakkuk went through.
This will also be the result of our spiritual exercises when things happen that we cannot understand, but of which we learn to see that God is above it and has His purpose, a purpose for the benefit of us as His own. To the extent that everything in and of us is gone and all trust in ourselves is gone, to that extent our trust in God will increase. If we tremble inwardly because of being in God’s presence and seeing His ways, there will be nothing that makes us tremble in view of external events, people’s ways.
In Spite of Everything Joy in the LORD
Then Habakkuk’s eye goes up. He no longer seeks rest in the circumstances, but finds his source of rest in God Himself. In the song he speaks about the blessings of the land that are no longer enjoyed because of the time of distress (Habakkuk 3:17). For us it can be a loss of job or health or a loved one, as Job experienced it.
We can sing these verses enthusiastically as a song, but our circumstances are often unlike those of which we sing in this song. We have plenty of everything and nothing is lacking. Could we really sing it if we experience a setback, a loss? Whether we can really sing this will become clear when we are put to the test.
With the words “Yet I will” (Habakkuk 3:18) there comes a twist. Not only is there peace in God, while the Chaldean destroys everything in the land, but there is also exultation in Him. This is one of the most powerful revelations of the working of faith we have in the Bible. We can compare this with the joy of the apostle Paul about which he writes several times in the letter to the Philippians and that while he is in captivity (Philippians 1:4; Philippians 1:25Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:29Philippians 3:1).
The LORD Is My Strength
If the source of our faith is God Himself, it gives new strength, it gives wings (Isaiah 40:29-Obadiah :). We don’t have that power in ourselves. The Lord is our power to overcome oppression and go our way in freedom (cf. Psalms 18:33-Nahum :; 2 Samuel 22:34). Spiritual power can only be found in the Lord and is gained by us in our fellowship with Him.
“Feet like hinds’ [feet]” belong to a brave warrior (2 Samuel 1:23; 1 Chronicles 12:8) in order to be able to attack the enemy quickly and prosecute him quickly when he flees. Hinds are female deer, light-footed animals. Our walk becomes light when we have found our strength in the Lord.
Habakkuk finds the answer to all his questions of faith in God Himself. He will continue to trust in Him. Even though all blessings fall away, He remains. “Walk on my high places” can be applied for us to be busy with the letter to the Ephesians, in which it is made clear to us what it means to be seated in Christ in the heavenly places. The “high places” are the mountains, here as places of blessing (Deuteronomy 33:29). It is on these heights that the believer finds himself. They are “my high places”, it is the abode that every believer may personally know and enjoy.
The last sentence assumes that there are several people with whom Habakkuk sings the song of this chapter. We can deduce that from the words “for the choir director”, which are also as a heading above more than fifty psalms. A choir director presupposes a choir. In that choir everyone has his own personal contribution, which we can deduce from the words “my stringed instruments”. Everyone is allowed to sing along in this choir with his own voice. However, it is important that each choir member pays attention to the choir director. Then it will be a harmonious choir, which does not let any discord be heard.
Habakkuk is a choir member. He is also a representative of the faithful remnant. In the darkest days of Israel’s history, on the eve of exile, he is able to express himself in a way that corresponds to the most glorious days of blessing. This is a great triumph of faith. The service practiced during his time in Jerusalem in the temple is merely a service of forms, an insult to God. For the faith of Habakkuk there is another temple, a spiritual temple, where wonderful things are heard and seen and for which the LORD can be praised.
So we see that this book, which starts with someone who complains, ends with someone who, together with others, and at the same time very personally rejoices in God and honors Him.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Habakkuk 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany