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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Habakkuk 3

Verse 2

CRITICAL NOTES.] Prayer] joined with praise. Shigionoth] (cf. Psalms 7:0); this verse posterior to the prophecy.

Habakkuk 3:2. Speech] Report concerning God’s judgments. Revive] Preserve, revivify (Psalms 80:19): within years of calamity in which we live. Known] Make thy work known.



The prophet had received an answer to his prayer (ch. Habakkuk 2:1). Knew the mind of God towards Jews and Chaldæans: he now submits to God’s will, but fears the threatened judgments, and prays for his afflicted people.

I. God speaks to men. “I have heard thy speech.” If we are willing to hear the word and know the mind of God, we shall not have long to wait.

1. The Scriptures are the voice of God. They are given by inspiration of God—make known the doings, and set forth the requirements of God. The oracles of God speak to men in wisdom and truth. “Upon whatsoever this title and inscription is—‘The Word of Jehovah’—there must we stoop,” says Owen, “and bow down our souls before it, and captivate our understandings unto the obedience of faith.”

2. The Christian ministry is the voice of God. God calls to men by his servants, but they refuse to hear. “Thus we learn the necessity of preaching, and what inconvenience follows when it is not used. Where preaching fails, saith Solomon, ‘the people perish.’ Therefore let every one keep himself in God’s school-house, and learn his lesson diligently” [Bp. Pilkington]. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.”

3. Providence is the voice of God. In times of judgment and revival, in national and personal providences, God speaks to us. Ponder the dealings of God, rest upon his will, and learn the instruction of his discipline. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?”

II. Men should hear the voice of God and fear him. “I have heard thy speech and was afraid.” In Habakkuk 3:16 we have the effect of this fear. The prophet stood in awe at the matter and the majesty of the speaker. It was not a slavish, but a filial fear, urging him to pray. The best men—Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel—have been afraid at the voice of God. When the prophet heard the judgments of God—

1. He feared for himself. Ministers should examine their own hearts. Have they been faithful in their work, pure in their motives, and holy in their lives? “Unfaithfulness,” says Bridges, “is to undo our own souls, as well as our peoples’.”

2. He feared for the Church. Israel were the people, the special work of God (Isaiah 45:11). He desired their preservation and prosperity. Ministers should be anxious for the glory of God, and the conversion of sinners among their people.

3. He feared for the world. When he thought of the threatenings upon the enemy, he was astonished at their guilt, and desired their wickedness to end. “The whole world lieth in wickedness;” good men fear and warn others of the consequence. “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.”


The prophet saw the impending ruin, wept for his infatuated countrymen, and wrestled with God to remove or mitigate the punishment of their sins.

I. The blessings desired. The revival of God’s work, and the manifestation of God’s mercy.

1. The revival of God’s work. “O Lord, revive thy work.” God’s people were afflicted, and God’s cause was low; new life was desired in the nation, and fresh favour to the Church. A revival implies deadness. Life may not be quite extinct, but feeble and decaying. What deadness, formality, and few conversions in the Church! The stones and the dust give evidence of decay in Zion. What worldliness and infidelity in the nation! Everywhere means of grace neglected, and masses living without God. As Edwards lamented before the New England revival, so we may confess: “we have been long in a strange stupor. The influences of the spirit of God upon the heart have been little felt, and the nature of them but little taught.” A great necessity exists now for God to “give us a little reviving in our bondage” (Ezra 9:8).

2. The manifestation of God’s mercy. “In wrath remember mercy.” (a) Generally manifest the favour. “Make known.” Make known thy power and providence in the world; thy pity and grace in the Church. Let us not guess at thy purposes. Do not remain hidden and unknown. Glorify thyself in the accomplishment of thy work. (b) Specially show favour to thy people. Mercy regards our misery. Sin will bring wrath and prevent mercy to us. But with God there is mercy. The sinner may be forgiven that he may be feared. God will remember or show mercy to the penitent. “The depths of our misery can never fall below the depths of mercy,” says Sibbes. “It must be great mercy, or no mercy; for little mercy will never serve my turn,” said Bunyan. “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”

II. The time in which the blessings are desired. “In the midst of the years” are emphatic words, and twice given. He does not say at the end of the years. He thinks it long till then. He prays for something to be done now. Whatever may be the remote future, God suspends the punishment, and gives room for penitence and prayer now In darkness stars may shine; in distress, deliverance be wrought; and in wickedness the enemy overthrown. God has a set time to favour Zion, but this is when his servants take pleasure in her welfare, and favour the dust thereof (Psalms 102:13-14). Trial days of the Church will not be prolonged one moment beyond the time appointed; but, meantime, comfort may be given, and we should renew our prayers for years which have to intervene and pass away. “Look then upon us, and be merciful unto us, as thou usest to do unto those that love thy name.”

III. The means by which the blessings are to be secured. Man has many plans, trusts to various institutions and societies; but God has one way to improve the world. We hit upon a scheme; God implants a principle. “Revival preachers” and “revival meetings” may be necessary, but the work is of God. “Thy work.” Instead of looking for new and unusual methods, let the Church earnestly use what she has. “Thus saith the Lord God, I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.”

1. Private prayer. We are guilty of what has been termed “the selfishness of the closet.” It is not my family and my work, but God’s work, that we must remember. Personal interests must not overlook public good.

2. United prayer. The first revival began in the upper room when the apostles were met together. In America a united prayer-meeting brought the wonderful change. “By prayer,” says one, “we lay our hand upon the springs of an agency which can diffuse blessings through the world.”

3. Earnest preaching must not be overlooked. Preaching, like Peter’s address on the day of Pentecost, adapted to awaken men from slumber, and convince them of sin. It was bold and earnest, direct in its aim, and full of compassion. “It must be serious preaching that makes men serious,” said Baxter. Ministers and people must be revived first, that they may revive others. “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee.”


Habakkuk 3:1. If the words be taken in connection with the prophecy, we learn that prayer and praise may be intimately united together; that the petitions of one generation may become the music of another; and that Christian experience varies as the dealings of God may vary.

Habakkuk 3:2. There are three things in this text—

1. an alarming voice;
2. an appropriate prayer; and
3. a potent argument [Spurgeon].

We offer three thoughts. I. Genuine religion is the work of God in the soul. Genuine religion is not theology, not ceremony, but supreme love to God. This is produced only by God. II. This work of God in the soul is liable to decay. Many things tend to impair and destroy supreme love to God. Carnal influences, impure associations, social influences, and engrossing worldly cares. Hence the prayer, “revive” it. III. This decay should be overcome by a revival. Revive, quicken, energize this love, and give it more force and influence in the soul. This is true revival. Not the revival of crude theological dogmas, pietistic cant, and superstitious fears [Dr. Thomas].

In the midst of the years means just at the right time. He knows well how to find the means to render help, neither too soon nor too late. For in case he brought help too soon we should not learn to despair of ourselves, and should continue presumptuous; in case he brought it too late we should not learn to believe. To revive and to make known are nearly the same thing, only that to revive is to perform the miracle and bring relief; but to make known means that we should be sensible of and delight in it [Lange].


Habakkuk 3:2. Mercy is wanted for England. The wickedness of this country belongs not to one class only, but to all classes. Sin runs down the streets. We have a fringe of elegant morality, but behind it a mass of rottenness. There is immorality in the streets at night, and dishonesty of business men in high places. Cheating and thieving upon the grandest scale are winked at. This city is wicked, and the land full of fornication and idolatry. I may not utter a wailing; but having heard the Lord’s speech, I may be afraid, exhort you to pray for this land, and ask God to revive his work, that drunkenness and dishonesty may cease [Spurgeon].

Verses 3-6


Habakkuk 3:3.] These descriptions rest upon earlier revelations of God. Teman, Edom; Paran] (Deuteronomy 33:2). God appeared from Sinai in splendour, which like the morning covered the heavens with light, and filled the earth with glory.

Habakkuk 3:4. Horns] i.e. rays (Exodus 34:29); side (hand). There] In the light was power veiled (Psalms 104:2). The splendour was the covering of Divine Majesty.

Habakkuk 3:5.] He comes to judge. Feet] Behind him. Burning] Lit. burning heat of the pestilence (Deuteronomy 32:24).

Habakkuk 3:6. Stood] as a warrior. Measured] As a judge (parcel out land, Micah 2:4), some; he sets the earth reeling, springing up as one in fear. Scattered] Broken asunder. Perpetual] Which never moved, now trembled, bowed, and resolved into dust. Ways] As formerly, so now: i.e. He follows them (Job 22:16).


GOD’S GLORY IN DAYS OF OLD.—Habakkuk 3:3-6

God’s former interpositions are remembered and celebrated to encourage hope. Past favours are the ground and prediction of future deliverance. There is no reason for despondency in our own case or that of the Church, if we think of the displays of God in days of old (Psalms 77:5). Mercy to Israel and severity to enemies have been resplendent as light. In the manifestations described we have—

I. Glory in the wilderness. “God came from Teman,” &c. Paran is the desert region extending from the south of Judah to Sinai. Seir, Sinai, and Paran are near each other, associated together in the giving of the law (Deuteronomy 33:2). The glory of Sinai is a type of the law which shall go forth from Zion to distant nations of the earth (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2). The moral desert shall shine with the majesty of another Lawgiver. Nations shall be enlightened and blessed. The glories of the Red Sea and the river Jordan, in Canaan and the wilderness, shall be eclipsed by the triumph of the cross. Songs of victory shall be resounded from future triumphs. “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors, unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.”

II. Glory in holiness. He who came was “the Holy One,” God and the Holy One are parallel phrases indicating the absolute purity of the Divine Being (Job 6:10; Isaiah 40:25). In the giving of the law, and the injunctions to the people of old, we discover the purity of God. The outward splendours set forth the unsullied perfections of God. Holiness in God is not a quality, but his essence. The most glorious creatures in heaven and earth are only holy by participation. “There is none holy as the Lord.” He is eminently, essentially, and constantly holy. “Holiness,” says Hodge, “is God’s infinite moral perfection crowning his infinite intelligence and power. There is a glory of each attribute viewed abstractedly, and a glory of the whole together. The intellectual nature is the essential basis of the moral: infinite moral perfection is the crown of the Godhead. Holiness is the total glory thus crowned.” “Who is like unto thee, glorious in holiness?”

III. Glory in light. “And his brightness was as the light.” God dwells in light inaccessible, yet shone forth in rays more brilliant than the sun.

1. Light which illuminated heaven. “His glory covered the heavens.” Not only the top of Sinai, but the broad expanse above.

2. Light which filled the earth. “The earth was full of his praise.” The wonders of his power and glory called forth universal praise. “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth, who hast set thy glory above the heavens.”

3. Light linked with power. “He had horns coming out of his hand.” Horns are emblems of strength. The rays of light were rays of might, radiant as the face of Moses. The fiery law went from his right hand (Deuteronomy 33:2); by its majesty and mission administered death (2 Corinthians 3:7); and yet was a type of the glory which remains in the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:11). The horn of salvation has been raised up in Christ to destroy the wicked and save the righteous (Luke 1:61).

IV. Glory in judgment. “Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.” Death and destruction of all kinds are a great army, marshalled and directed by him in their mission. Pestilence and plague often go before him as heralds of his approach. Judgments attend him ready to obey his bid. Burning coals lie beneath his feet, to fling upon the foe. “If the law were thus given, how shall it be required?” says one. “If such were the proclamation of God’s statutes, what shall the sessions be?” If outward manifestations are so awful, what horrible tempests will be rained upon the wicked (Psalms 11:6).

“Sinai’s gray top shall tremble” [Milton].


Great as this “splendour and retinue” was, it was only the veil or hiding of his power. The excessive brightness concealed the Divine glory. “And there was the hiding of his power.”

I. Divine power is hidden in the splendour of Divine revelation. As the rays of light hide the sun in their brilliance, so Divine manifestations veil the power of God. The garment of light covers his real essence and attributes. The works of God display his power,—the heavens his glory, and the earth his goodness; but one half is not seen. The secrets of his wisdom and power are double to that which is (Job 11:6). He is omnipresent, yet incomprehensible. In his person and procedure there are unfathomable “depths” of wisdom and knowledge. His ways are past finding out. Notwithstanding nature and Scripture, reason and religion, he will still remain an “unknown God.” “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?”

II. Divine power is hidden as a discipline to human souls. Darkness and light always meet in God. This invisibility of God—

1. Is essential to our free agency. If God were visible to the human eye, and constrained us by his Almighty power, we could not be free. Like a parent God sees our ways, but leaves us to act as responsible agents. Too much light might overpower us, and throw us, like Paul, prostrate on the ground.

2. Is essential to our moral discipline. God’s light will be darkness to those who wish to gaze into it. It will veil his love and mercy. His darkness will be light to those who wish to trust and obey. The hiding of his power may be for shelter or for judgment. We know enough of God in his goodness, and can never comprehend him in his glory. “The phenomena of matter and force lie within our intellectual range. But behind, and above, and around all, the real mystery of the universe remains unsolved” [Tyndall]. Angels veil their faces. Let us adore and submit to his will. “Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?”


Habakkuk 3:3. God came. Ancient wonders pledges of future deliverance. Prayer will gather arguments for hope and duty from the storehouse of experience concerning the past.

Selah indicates—

1. The weight of the matter, not a mere transient glory.
2. The solemnity with which we should consider it. We must pause and dwell upon it until our hearts are duly affected. “There is no doubt as to the general purport of the word—that it is a musical direction, that there should be a pause, the music probably continuing alone, while the mind rested on the thought which had just been presented to it; our ‘interlude’ ” [Pusey].

“I sing the warrior and his mighty deeds” [Lauderdale].


1. Who comes. God, Jehovah. The Holy One.
2. How he comes.
3. What he comes for. (a) To deliver his people. (b) To punish their enemies.

Habakkuk 3:4.

1. There is much more to be known of God in his works and ways that we can possibly know in our present state.
2. His perfections and operations are veiled, (a) to train the Church in faith, prayer, and humble dependence; (b) to permit the wicked to display their malice, and finish their iniquity.

3. Yet there will be greater displays of Divine power, and a glorious increase of knowledge far beyond what has been witnessed in the past. “O God, we have heard with our ears, and our fathers have declared unto us, the noble works that thou didst in their days, and in the old time before them. O Lord, arise: help us, and deliver us, for thine honour” [Litany of Church of England].


Habakkuk 3:4-7. Hiding. Man’s knowledge is confined to parts only of God’s ways. The extremities or forthgoings of his administration are visible on earth only. The springs, principles, and anterior steps are above and out of man’s sight [Dr. Chalmers].

Habakkuk 3:6. Measured the earth.

“Then stay’d the fervid wheels, and in his hand
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe, and all created things.
One foot he centred, and the other turn’d
Round through the vast profundity obscure;
And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds,
This be thy just circumference, O world!” [Milton].

Habakkuk 3:9. Bow naked. The drawing of the bow was a mark of great skill and slaughter.

“So the great master drew the mighty bow,
And drew with ease. One hand aloft display’d
The bending horns, and one the string essay’d.” [Pope’s Homer.]

Verses 6-7


Habakkuk 3:7.] Neighbouring nations tremble at his judgments. Saw] in vision.



These words describe the effects of God’s approach. He stood like a mighty warrior in his conquering career. The earth trembled, and primeval mountains dissolved into dust. We take it in reference to Canaan. As Joshua conquered and divided the land, so God measured and portioned it out to his people.

I. The inheritance measured. He “measured the earth.” He measured the whole, and the portion for each tribe. It was no scramble, but appointment by lot and rule. He “divided them an inheritance by line” (Psalms 78:55). God measures the earth by bounds and borders to the various nations that dwell upon it. “Thou hast set all the borders of the earth” (Psalms 74:17). Lands and seas, continents and islands, are mapped out by him. He defined the shape and weighed the elements of the world. In righteous judgment he observes the ways, and fixes the bounds of man’s habitations (Acts 17:26). He ordains our present lot, and will fix our final destiny.

II. The inheritance gained. “He beheld, and drove asunder the nations.” Notice—

1. The ease by which it was gained. He stood in the midst of his glory, without going forth, and simply looked. What was the consequence?

(1) All nations were scattered. Though strong and numerous, and their possession ancient and stable as the everlasting hills.

(2) All opposition was subdued. At his presence, kings and princes, firm and immovable on their thrones, were overcome. The mountains were thrashed, and the hills made small before him (Isaiah 41:15).

(3) All enemies were terrified. “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction.” The tidings of his wondrous acts threw neighbouring nations into despair (Exodus 15:14-16). So now at the approach of God the sinner trembles in fear. Before his rebuke nations wither away. No shelters, no tents nor curtains can hide from him. “The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein.”

2. The deliberation by which it was gained. “His ways are everlasting.” This was no sudden, precipitate work. It was by the eternal purpose and strict Justice of God. The works and ways of God are coherent, unchangeable, and true. They have steps and progress, but no change. His creative and providential acts are the same in all ages. “If God could change his purpose,” says Charnock, “he would change his nature.” “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”


Habakkuk 3:4-7. Hiding. Man’s knowledge is confined to parts only of God’s ways. The extremities or forthgoings of his administration are visible on earth only. The springs, principles, and anterior steps are above and out of man’s sight [Dr. Chalmers].

Habakkuk 3:6. Measured the earth.

“Then stay’d the fervid wheels, and in his hand
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God’s eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe, and all created things.
One foot he centred, and the other turn’d
Round through the vast profundity obscure;
And said, Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds,
This be thy just circumference, O world!” [Milton].

Habakkuk 3:9. Bow naked. The drawing of the bow was a mark of great skill and slaughter.

“So the great master drew the mighty bow,
And drew with ease. One hand aloft display’d
The bending horns, and one the string essay’d.” [Pope’s Homer.]

Verses 8-11


Habakkuk 3:8.] Now judgment is executed. The description rests upon two facts: dividing of Red Sea and of Jordan (Exodus 15:18; Psalms 104:3; Psalms 104:5); and sets forth God the Judge who can smite in wrath the sea of the world and the rivers of the earth. Salvation] The object of riding; a warlike figure (Psalms 18:11; Psalms 68:17).

Habakkuk 3:9.] Picture of a warrior continued. Naked] Ready to shoot. Oaths] Promises to their forefathers (Deuteronomy 32:40-42). Cleave] Split into rivers by judicial interposition.

Habakkuk 3:10.] The form of earth’s surface is changed. Mountains] writhe; the abyss roars and raises its hands (waves); most powerful agitations accompany the theophany.

Habakkuk 3:11. Arrows] Executing justice, turn light into darkness, or devouring fire (Isaiah 10:17).


“The ode, taking a new turn, now passes from the description of the coming of God, to an address to God himself. To the mental eye of the prophet, God presents himself as judge of the world, in the threatening attitude of a warlike hero equipped for conflict, so that he asks him what is the object of his wrath” [Keil].

I. The design of the chariots. God was not angry with the rivers and seas. They were troubled on account of his appearance to deliver. He comes not to destroy, but to save. The chariots of Pharaoh and of antichrist are chariots of destruction. From these God will ever preserve his people. When he comes anything will bring them salvation. God has many chariots. Clouds and darkness are his pavilion, winds and waves are chariots of victory. “The war-chariots of Elohim are myriads, a thousand thousands” (Psalms 68:17).

II. The Driver of the chariots. “Was the Lord displeased?” “Thou didst cleave the earth,” &c. God himself is set forth in majesty and grace, clad like a warrior, and terrible as a Judges 1:0. The Driver is angry. “Anger” existed, though not against the rivers. God was “displeased” with the wicked, and his works revealed his mind. Insensible creatures reprove the impenitence of men, and tremble at the power of God. “What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?”

2. The Driver is mighty. “Thy bow was made quite naked.” The sheath was laid aside and cast away. The arms were stretched, and judgments were about to be shot swift as an arrow (Isaiah 22:6; Psalms 64:7). Quite naked was the bow, and not drawn back. Power was really displayed, and the enemy destroyed. God is a man of war, shoots arrows with certainty, and never misses the mark (Job 16:12). “The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.”

3. The Driver is resolved in purpose. “According to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word.” The promise was given to his servants, and confirmed with oaths. Judgments upon the wicked, and salvation for his people, are sworn matters; oaths, and interpositions for all ages (cf. Deuteronomy 32:40-42; Psalms 77:8). “The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant us, that we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear.”

III. The effects of the chariots. The world of nature suffers under the judicial hand of God.

1. The earth was convulsed by his power. Mountains trembled at his presence, and “skipped like rams.” Rivers broke out of the deep, and rolled their floods into the splits of solid earth. The sea roared, the abyss lifted its waves, and uttered its voice to its Maker. What happened to the sea happened to the river. God repeats his miracles. When great dangers are passed little ones should not terrify us. “Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers” (Psalms 74:15; Psalms 78:15-16).

2. The heavens were eclipsed with his splendour. “The sun and moon stood still (retired) in their habitation” at the prayer of Joshua, and in the tempest of “great stones from heaven” (Joshua 10:11-13). At the light, the directions of God’s arrows, and the shining of his spear, Israel went forward. The darts of God smote their enemies. Their brilliant splendour brought salvation to one and destruction to the other. “The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.” But all these displays were eclipsed by the Divine perfections on the cross—when Christ suffered for sin amid the darkness and shaking of creation. How glorious the displays when the earth quaked and angels attended the resurrection—when the Holy Ghost came down on Pentecost to enlighten his people, erect his kingdom, and to avenge himself of his adversaries.


Habakkuk 3:9. Thy bow. The Divine archer. “The bow represents the threat of the vengeance of Almighty God, from which it is at length discharged, if not turned aside; the longer the string is drawn, the sharper issueth the arrow. So then the more the coming of the day of judgment is delayed, the stricter is the severity of the judgment then issuing” [Pusey].

Cleave the earth.

1. Divine power.
2. Divine goodness, in its design and abundance, rivers to quench thirst, &c. “He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed” (Psalms 78:20; Psalms 114:8).

Habakkuk 3:10-11. He who fixed the world’s pillars can make them rock in their sockets, and upheave the cornerstones of creation. The huge mountains are torn up by the roots when the Lord bestirs himself in anger to smite the enemies of his people. How shall puny man be able to face it out with God when the mountains quake with fear? Let not the boaster dream that his present false confidence will support him in the dread day of wrath [Spurgeon].

Habakkuk 3:11. The judgments of God are a light to his people, while they are the destruction of his enemies; in them they learn righteousness [Pusey]. All the powers of earth and heaven, sun and storms, earthquakes and floods, subservient to God’s purpose, and typical of his judgments. Notice—The ease with which they are collected, the order in which they are linked, and the destruction they create. This, a hope to the righteous, and a warning to the wicked.


Habakkuk 3:10-15. The whole passage depicts God’s descent to help his people, attended by earthquake, splendour, and power. So tremendous was the shock of God’s assault in arms that the order of nature was changed, and the bottoms of rivers and seas were laid bare. What will not Jehovah’s rebuke do? Vain are the attempts of men to conceal anything from him whose word unbars the deep, and lifts the doors of earth from their hinges! Vain are all hopes of resistance, for a whisper of his voice makes the whole earth quail in abject terror [Spurgeon].

The volcanic phenomena of Palestine open a question of which the data are, in a scientific point of view, too imperfect to be discussed; but there is enough in the history and literature of the people to show that there was an agency of this kind at work. Their traces on the permanent feeling of the nation must be noticed. The writings of the psalmists and prophets abound with indications which escape the eye of a superficial reader. Like the soil of their country, they actually heave and labour with the fiery convulsions which glow beneath their surface [A. P. Stanley].

Verses 12-15


Habakkuk 3:12.] Acts of judgment connected with the salvation of Israel. March] Solemn and majestic proceeding (Judges 5:4; Psalms 68:8). Thresh] Tread down the enemy (Micah 4:13).

Habakkuk 3:13.] The end of Divine manifestation. Salvation] Rescue. Anointed] Not any particular king, “but the Davidic King absolutely, including the Messiah, in whom the sovereignty of David is raised to an eternal duration” [Keil]. Head] wounded. Neck] bared; the injury from above and from below; the very foundation destroyed. The necks of princes were trodden under the foot of Israel’s leaders, and the first-born of Egypt cut off.

Habakkuk 3:14.] Warlike nations meet the same fate as royal houses. Staves] The sword of the foe himself, the instrument of destruction to his armies and villages. Some, “that the hostile troops will slay one another in confusion” (cf. 1 Samuel 14:20; 2 Chronicles 20:23-24). Came] with swiftness and violence, like a storm to destroy me. Scatter] The figure of dispersing chaff (Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 13:24). Rejoicing] i.e. directed to swallow the poor in secret (Psalms 10:9).

Habakkuk 3:15. Sea] To destroy these enemies like Pharaoh’s hosts. No obstacle prevented God’s progress.


THE ROYAL MARCH.—Habakkuk 3:12-15

To march, is used of the solemn and majestic proceeding of Jehovah before the Hebrews (Judges 5:4; Psalms 68:8 cf. Henderson). The defeat and extermination of the Canaanites and the planting of Israel were the doings of Jehovah.

I. A benevolent march. “Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people.” We speak of “the wanderings of Israel,” but they were an appointed, well-ordered march, designed for victory. God, as Commander-in-chief, went with them. With his anointed instruments—Moses, Joshua, and David, types of the Messiah—he delivered them from their enemies. Salvation is the design, and will be the result, of all the doings of God for his people. The Church will never lack leaders, but in each we have a pledge of eternal deliverance by Jesus Christ. “He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death.”

II. A terrible march. The march was not only in royal dignity, but in judicial power.

1. Terrible in its aspects. “Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses.” In majesty, power, and splendour, the Exodus was the type of all victories present and future. Waters stand on heap, and the deep becomes a path for his people. “Dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name” (Isaiah 63:12-13).

2. Terrible in its consequences. The foes, princes, and peoples, were overthrown, exterminated, and supplanted. He slew great kings and famous (Psalms 136:17-18). Much more will God display his power to exalt Christ and overthrow his enemies. “The Lord is the saving strength of his anointed.”

III. A triumphant march. No obstacles impeded the march. Mountains shook, waters fled, and the lofty bowed before God’s presence in his Church. 1. Royal houses were destroyed. “Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked.” Each head and prince which sprung from the family was cut off, in cities and villages. The neck, an emblem of dignity and power (Song of Solomon 4:4); stubbornness and pride (Deuteronomy 31:27; Psalms 75:5) was laid bare. The head and foundation, high and low, were completely destroyed. “I will cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, and son, and nephew (grandson), saith the Lord.”

2. Warlike nations were defeated. “They came out (were tempestuous) as a whirlwind to scatter me.” Violent, powerful, and insatiable ware the enemies. Pharaoh and Sennacherib came out as a storm, to sweep everything before them, like chaff in the wilderness (Jeremiah 13:24; Jeremiah 18:17; Isaiah 41:16). “I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.” (a) Defeated in their secret purpose. “Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.” The poor are not a match for the powerful. Hence their pride and confidence of success. But God frustrated their intentions. Their boasting made their fall more disgraceful, and God’s care for his people more glorious. (b) Defeated with their own weapons. He struck through “with his staves.” The destruction was not only upon himself, but upon the multitude of his subjects, and through an act of Divine might by his own weapons. The mischief which he had prepared for others fell upon himself. This has always been the case. With the Midianites and Amalekites (Judges 7:22); with the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:16-20); and the inhabitants of Seir (2 Chronicles 20:22-23); in the case of Haman and Daniel those who made the pit fell into it. Heathens declared that there was “no juster law than that artificers of death by their own art should perish.” Fearful will be the future illustrations of this principle (cf. Ezekiel 38:21; Isaiah 9:20; Zechariah 14:13).


Habakkuk 3:12.

1. God’s anger.
2. The report of God’s anger. “Through the land.” Not the mere land of Canaan, but the whole earth.

3. The fearful consequences of God’s anger. “Thou didst thresh,” a word indicating the ease and power with which this was done, and the complete subjugation of the enemy (Micah 4:13).

Habakkuk 3:13. Head. “He shall destroy at once, from above and below; overthrowing his kingdom from the foundation. From above, his head was crushed in pieces; from below, the house was razed from its very foundations” [Pusey]. The power, pride, and wisdom, the very life of evil to be conquered by God. “He smites his foes on the crown of their pride,” says one. “The seed of the woman crushes the serpent’s head. There is no defence against the Lord, he can in a moment smite with utter destruction the lofty crests of his haughty foes” (cf. Psalms 68:21; Psalms 110:6).

Habakkuk 3:14.

1. The end in view—“devour the poor.”
2. The method of accomplishing the end—“secretly.”
3. The feeling with which the end is pursued. “Their rejoicing.” The rich boast in wealth, the mighty in power; but the cruel exult in mischief. The ferocity, craft, and activity of the oppressor, and the danger, snares, and helplessness of the oppressed, are described.

“Do not insult calamity;

It is a barbarous grossness to lay on
The weight of scorn, where heavy misery
Too much already weighs men’s fortunes down” [Daniel].

Habakkuk 3:15. A second glance.

1. In time of ease we are satisfied with a cursory glance, a time of trouble promotes a deeper view of God’s works. We seek relief, and find that we never dwell enough on them. Particularly, extraordinary works would be oftener remembered, so much doth the prophet’s practice of looking over again on this act teach us.
2. It is worthy of our second and serious thought—both to honour God and confirm our faith—to consider that God’s people are so dear unto him that he will change the course of nature to save them; that he can make them go safely, like conquerors, through affliction and danger [Hutcheson]. Take the verse as emblematic of God’s ways.

1. Deep as the sea.
2. Swift and orderly, as horses yoked in a chariot.
3. Safe, though threatened by the “heap of great waters” boiling up as in a storm. “The immediate connection, however, shows that what the prophet has in view is not the Red Sea, but the hostile army of the Canaanites, which presented a furious and impenetrable aspect to the Hebrews. Through this army Jehovah is represented as walking with his warriors, as if a general were coolly to march his cavalry through the thickest of a proud and vaunting foe, which he knew would prove utterly powerless in the attack” [Henderson].


Habakkuk 3:10-15. The whole passage depicts God’s descent to help his people, attended by earthquake, splendour, and power. So tremendous was the shock of God’s assault in arms that the order of nature was changed, and the bottoms of rivers and seas were laid bare. What will not Jehovah’s rebuke do? Vain are the attempts of men to conceal anything from him whose word unbars the deep, and lifts the doors of earth from their hinges! Vain are all hopes of resistance, for a whisper of his voice makes the whole earth quail in abject terror [Spurgeon].

The volcanic phenomena of Palestine open a question of which the data are, in a scientific point of view, too imperfect to be discussed; but there is enough in the history and literature of the people to show that there was an agency of this kind at work. Their traces on the permanent feeling of the nation must be noticed. The writings of the psalmists and prophets abound with indications which escape the eye of a superficial reader. Like the soil of their country, they actually heave and labour with the fiery convulsions which glow beneath their surface [A. P. Stanley].

Verses 16-19


Habakkuk 3:16. Trembled] The prophet describes his own feelings at the coming of Jehovah: first, fear and trembling; then, exulting joy (Habakkuk 3:18-19). “The alarm pervades his whole body, belly, and bones, i.e. the softer and firmer component parts of the body, lips, and feet; i.e. the upper and lower organs of the body.”

Habakkuk 3:17.] The trouble of the day described. The fig and vine, the noblest fruits of earth, plantations and fields yield not; folds and stalls empty through the devastation.

Habakkuk 3:18. Yet] God is my inexhaustible source, and infinite sphere of joy. Strength] to gird me to overcome tribulation. Feet] Swift as hinds’ to escape the enemy, and reach high places of eminence and safety. Hence the formulæ at the end harmonises with that at the beginning. It is an ode of melody and joy (Isaiah 38:20).


A SONG OF TRIUMPH.—Habakkuk 3:16-18

These verses form the second part of the ode, describe the feelings of the prophet under threatened judgments, and his exulting joy and confidence in God. Beginning with a sorrowful note, he closes with a burst, of jubilant melody. The birds which thrill out the sweetest music, love retirement; so this psalmist—one of the most wonderful of human singers—sings out of obscurity. We learn that—

I. God usually meets the varied wants of men by lavish provision. Fig-tree, vine, and olive; fields, flocks, and herds indicate variety and plenty. We do not enter a world unprepared for us. Ample provisions were ready beforehand. Marvellous vegetation, fierce fires, volcanic agencies, and toiling waters were pioneers for human settlers. We have an attractive view of God’s goodness and character when we think of him as the Provider. We evade the idea of a Father’s bounty by speaking vaguely of providence. What is providence but the wise action, the benevolent operation, of gigantic forces? Good comes to us through laws: but who controls the laws? Providence is the chosen way of a loving Father’s dealing. The Bible takes us directly to God, who gives lavishly out of “the riches of his goodness” (cf. Psalms 104:0; James 1:16-17). Ample provision is made for our needs and pleasure—

1. sensational;
2. intellectual;
3. social;
4. moral;
5. spiritual.

II. God must be recognized as the Absolute Proprietor in this provision. The prophet contemplates famine, failure, and desolating death. Though God usually provides abundance and variety, he can reverse this action and suspend the course of nature (Psalms 107:31-43). Health may fail, friends be removed, plans be frustrated, and privation be felt. Dependent are we from first to last. Resumption of his gifts establishes God’s claim to ownership. (Illus. Abraham’s offering of Isaac.) The fig-tree without blossom, the vine without fruit, the olive destitute of oil; the barren fields, the smitten flocks, and the empty stalls; impressively tell us that the Lord God Almighty is the Absolute Proprietor.

III. In direct calamity it is our privilege to rejoice in God our Provider. Habakkuk 3:18.

1. A victorious faith. “Yet.” Note the yets. “Yea, they may forget, yet will I not” (Isaiah 49:15). “Yet will I look again” (Jonah 2:4). “I am poor and needy, yet” (Psalms 40:17). “Truth Lord, yet” (Matthew 15:27). “Though he slay me, yet” (Job 13:15). Change may take place in the manner of God’s treatment, but never in his character. “I am that I am.” If business prosper not, what then? How shall I find bread? “Man doth not live by bread alone.” God asks for entire trust. “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” “This is the victory—even our faith.” This sublime confidence was nourished by—

2. A precious experience. “The God of my salvation,” are words that reveal manifold past deliverances. “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.” Then, in troubles, bodily, mental, and circumstantial; in family trials, business losses, and painful bereavements; expect the fulfilment of the promise. “I will never leave thee.”

3. A noble resolve. “I will rejoice in the Lord.” “Those who have the Jehovah for their strength, should make him their song. Let the fig-tree be barked, privation be felt, and the worst come; the trustful spirit may rejoice in God, and triumph over all. In suffering we may say, ‘In the night his song shall be with me’ ” [Matthew Braithwaite].


I. Joy in anticipated trials. The prophet heard of a gloomy future, saw one support after another fail, yet his hope brightens, and joy increases as sorrows multiply. We cannot expect freedom from trouble. Nor is it often that we are permitted to see the future. No approach of foreign foes, no threatening of famine and failure of fruit-trees, loom before us. Yet how disquieted when business fails, and family prospects darken! We fear as we enter the cloud, faint unless we see the goodness of God, and never rejoice in anticipation of trials. Not at “the bright,” but at “the dark, side” of things do we look. “All these things are against me.” But through the darkness faith discerns the light, pictures unfailing joy, and exults in the friendship of God, when all things fail beside.

II. Joy in present afflictions. The prophet not merely anticipates distress, but stands in the midst of it. Barrenness and failure, disappointment and grief, are actually seen and felt. But the sufferings do not freeze him into a misanthrope, nor sour him into wretchedness. He is hopeful, and resolved to rejoice. It is said that Dr. Priestly was one of the happiest of men. The greater his trouble, the greater was his conviction that some special good was in store for him; the darker the sorrow, the stronger grew the sentiment that joy was to succeed. “Such a way of looking at things,” says one, “literally converted every cloud that darkened his horizon into a shadow of good things to come.” In all our clouds we may find sunshine and passing scenes coloured with future glory. “Now men see not the bright light which is in the clouds: but the wind passeth, and cleanseth them.”

III. Joy in eternal duration. If the soul be immortal its happiness must be durable as its nature. The world and all in it will perish. The man of the world deeply regrets loss in trial, but the Christian rejoices in God. Those who enjoy God in all things, can enjoy all things in God. Amid the ruins of nature, they are rich in him. When all created streams are dried, God is an everlasting fountain of bliss. When the granary is empty, an assurance of joy will be better than a “harvest home” (Psalms 4:7). Christ in the heart is better than grapes in the vintage. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,” &c. (Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 41:16).

“Though vine nor fig-tree neither

Their wonted fruit should bear;

Though all the field should wither,

Nor flock nor herd be there;

Yet God the same abiding,

His praise shall tune my voice:

For while in him confiding,

I cannot but rejoice” [Cowper].


The prophet now openly declares the source of his joy and strength, and predicts the safety and moral elevation of his people. In language borrowed from Scripture he expresses the all-sufficiency of God, the hope of support in trouble, complete deliverance from the enemy, and undisturbed possession of the land.

I. God is strength in weakness. “The Lord God is my strength.” Strength to bear trial, and to triumph in conflict. Neither spiritual nor military soldiers can do exploits in weakness. The Christian is only a hero, and the secret springs of his courage only in God. If he strengthens, nothing can weaken. “The Lord is the strength of my life.”

II. God is safety in danger. In this language we have—

1. Deliverance from the enemy. He is the God of salvation, rises up to judge the nations, and deliver his people. Assailed on every side, yet delivered from the strong enemy (Psalms 18:17). When rescued we must remember our weakness, and ascribe all to God. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song.”

2. Pursuit of the enemy. “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet.” Celerity of motion was deemed a necessity in the hero of antiquity. He must suddenly attack and vigorously pursue the enemy. Achilles was swift-footed. The men who came to David had not only faces like lions, but were “swift as the roes upon the mountains,” to pursue or escape the foes (1 Chronicles 12:8; cf. 2 Samuel 1:19; 2 Samuel 2:18).

3. Security from the enemy. “He will make me to walk upon mine high places.” As David climbed rocks and steep cliffs to be safe from pursuit, so God’s people are sheltered in mountain fastnesses in spiritual war. They are swift to pursue and agile to climb. Ascending into impregnable heights we are preserved from falling, and made to stand where the wild goat can find no footing. “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet and setteth me upon my high places.”


Habakkuk 3:16. That I may rest.

1. Rest in trouble. Peace of conscience, calmness of mind, because the mind is stayed upon God in distress. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.
2. Rest through fear. “The true and only path to rest,” says Calvin, “is through such fear. Whoever is securely torpid and hardened towards God will be tumultuously agitated in the day of affliction, and so will bring on himself a worse destruction; but he who in time meets God’s wrath, and trembles at his threats, prepares the best rest for himself in the day of tribulation.”

“Nor peace nor ease the heart can know,

Which, like the needle true,

Turns at the touch of joy or woe,

But turning, trembles too” [Mrs. Greville].

Habakkuk 3:17-18. Fortitude in affliction. “The power of habit and character,” says Sir J. Macintosh, “to struggle against outward evils, has been proved by experience to be in some instances so prodigious, that no man can presume to fix the utmost limit of possible increase.”

Habakkuk 3:18-19.

1. God the source of joy.
2. God the source of strength.
3. God the source of salvation. In both verses we have dangerous positions, wonderful achievements, and secure dwelling-places.

Habakkuk 3:19. “Mine high places.” The “high places” are called “mine,” to imply that Israel shall be restored to his own land, a land of hills, which are places of safety and of eminence (cf. Genesis 19:17, “escape to the mountain;” and Matthew 24:16) [Fausset]. Morally, high places of knowledge, holiness, usefulness, and progress heavenwards—“heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

Chief singer. Servants of God do not despise music, but only give directions how it should be properly used in the praise of God [Lange].

We too have our high places, of honour, service, temptation, and danger, but hitherto we have been kept from falling. Bring hither the harp, and let us emulate the psalmist’s joyful thanksgiving; had we fallen, our wailings must have been terrible; since we have stood, let our gratitude be fervent [Spurgeon]. “The Lord was ready to save me; therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord” (Isaiah 38:20).

“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it” [Shakspere].

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.