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Part II. PSALM OR PRAYER OF HABAKKUK.
§ 1. The title. A prayer. There is only one formal prayer in the ode, that in Habakkuk 3:2; but the term is used of any devotional composition; and, indeed, the whole poem may be regarded as the development of the precatory sentences in the proemium. (For other hymns in the prophetical books, see Isaiah 24:1-23.24.23, and Isaiah 35:1-23.35.10.; Ezekiel 19:1-26.19.14.; Jonah 2:0.; Micah 6:6, etc.; and as parallel to this ode, comp. Deuteronomy 33:2, etc.; Judges 5:4, etc.; Psalms 68:7, etc.; Psalms 77:13-19.77.20; Psalms 114:1-19.114.8.; Isaiah 63:11-23.63.14.) Of Habakkuk the prophet. The name and title of the author are prefixed to show that this is no mere private effusion, but an outpouring of prophecy under Divine inspiration. Upon Shigionoth (comp. title of Psalms 7:1-19.7.17.); Septuagint, μετὰ ᾠδῆς, "with song;" Vulgate, pro ignorantiis. For this latter rendering Jerome had etymological ground, but did not sufficiently consider the use of shiggayon in Psalms 7:1-19.7.17; where it indicates the style of poetry, nor, as Keil shows, the fact that all the headings of Psalms introduced, as the present, with al, refer either to the melody, or accompaniment, or style in which they were to be sung. The Revised Version gives, "set to Shigionoth;" and the expression is best explained to mean, in an impassioned or triumphal strain, with rapid change of emotion, a dithy rambic song—a description which admirably suits this ode.
§ 2. The proemium, in which the prophet expresses his fear at the coming judgment, and prays God in his wrath to remember mercy. Thy speech; or, the report of thee; the declaration made by God in the preceding chapters concerning the punishment of the Jews and the destruction of the Chaldeans. The LXX; regarding the ambiguity of the Hebrew, gives a double rendering, εἰσακήκοα τὴν ἀκοήν σου, and κατενόησα τὰ ἕργα σου, "I heard thy report," and "I considered thy works." Pusey considers that both meanings are intended, viz. both what God had lately declared, and all that might be heard of God, his greatness and his workings. Was afraid. The revelation of God's interposition makes the prophet tremble. Revive thy work. God's work is the twofold judgment spoken of above; and the prophet prays God to "quicken" and make it live, because, though it brings temporary distress upon his countrymen, it will also cause the destruction of their enemies, and re-establish the Jews and crown them with salvation, and make the glory of God known to all the earth. Dr. Briggs translates, "Jahveh, I have heard the report of thee; I fear, Jahveh, thy work. In the midst of the years revive him (Israel)." He explains God's "work" to be his acts in theophany—his judgment, especially as in Habakkuk 3:16, the cause of fear to the psalmist. In the midst of the years. The "years" are the period between the announcement of the judgment and its final accomplishment (Habakkuk 2:3); the prophet prays that God would manifest his power, not merely at the extreme limit of this epoch, but earlier, sooner. This overthrow of the world power forms, as it were, the central point of history, the beginning of a new age which shall culminate in the Messianic kingdom. Make known. Let all the earth know and acknowledge thy work. The LXX. have given two or more versions of this passage, one of which is remarkable. Thus they read, "In the midst of two animals (δύο ζώων) thou shalt be known; when the years draw nigh thou shalt be well known; when the time is come thou shalt be revealed." The rendering, "two animals," arises from a confusion of words but many of the Fathers, who were conversant with the Greek Scriptures, saw herein a reference to the incarnation of our blessed Lord, as lying in the stable at Bethlehem between the ox and the ass, which was the mystical explanation of Isaiah 1:3, "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib." Others interpreted the two animals of the two thieves between whom Christ was crucified; or of angels and men; or Jews and Gentiles; or the two Testaments; or Moses and Elias. Others again accented the word ζῶων so as to understand "two lives," the present and the future, in the midst of which the Judge shall appear; or the life of Christ before his death and after his resurrection. There is a great truth underlying most of these interpretations, namely, that this magnificent hymn is concerned with the victories of Christ and his Church. In wrath remember mercy. When thine anger is displayed by sending the Chaldeans against us, remember thy mercy, and make a speedy end of our misery, and mitigate our enemies' cruelty. The LXX. gives a double version, "In the troubling of my soul, in wrath, thou wilt remember mercy."
§ 3. The prophet or the congregation depicts in a majestic theophany the coming of God to judge the world, and its effect symbolically on material nature, and properly on evil men.
In this episode Habakkuk takes his imagery from the accounts of God's dealings with his people in old time, in Egypt, at the Red Sea, at Sinai, at the Jordan, in Canaan; he echoes the songs of Moses and Deborah and the psalmist; and he looks on all these mighty deeds as antici-pative of God's great work, the overthrow of all that opposes and the establishment of the kingdom of Messiah. God (Eloah) came from Teman. The words are connected with Moses' description of the Lord's appearance at Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2; comp. Judges 5:4). As he then came in glory to make a covenant with his people, so will he appear again in majesty to deliver them from the power of evil and to execute judgment. The verbs throughout are best rendered in the present. The prophet takes his stand in time preceding the action of the verb, and hence uses the future tense, thus also showing that he is prophesying of a great event to come, symbolized by these earlier manifestations. Habakkuk here and in Habakkuk 1:11 trees the word Eloah, which is not found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or the other minor prophets; it occurs once in Isaiah, twice in Deuteronomy, and frequently in Job. There is no ground for the contention that its employment belongs to the latest stage of Hebrew. Teman; i.e. Edom; Vulgate, ab Austro (see notes on Amos 1:12 and Obadiah 1:9). In Moses' song the Lord is said to come from Sinai. Habakkuk omits Sinai, says Pusey which was the emblem of the Law, and points to another Lawgiver, like unto Moses, telling how he who spake the Law, God. should come in the likeness of man. The Holy One. A name of God (Habakkuk 1:12), implying that he will not let iniquity pass unpunished, and that he will preserve the holy seed. Mount Paran. The mountainous district on the northeast of the desert of Et-Tih. The glory of the Lord is represented as flashing on the two hilly regions separated by the Arabah. They both lay south of Canaan; and there is propriety in representing the redeemer and deliverer appearing in the south, as the Chaldean invader comes from the north. The LXX. adds two translations of the word "Pharan," viz. "shady," "rough;" according to its etymology it might also mean "lovely." Selah; Septuagint, διάψαλμα. This term occurs also in verses 9, 13, and frequently in the Psalms, but nowhere else, and indicates some change in the music when the ode was sung in the temple service. What is the exact change is a matter of great uncertainty. Some take it to indicate "a pause;" others, connecting it with salah, "to lift up," render it "elevation," and suppose it means the raising of the voice, or the strengthening of the accompaniment, as by the blast of trumpets. The meaning must be left undetermined, though it must be added that it is always found at the end of a verse or hemistich, where there is a pause or break in the thought, or, as some say, some strongly accented words occur. His glory covered the heavens. His majestic brightness spread over the heavens, dimming the gleam of sun and stars; or it may mean his boundless majesty fills the highest heavens and encompasses its inhabitants. His praise. This is usually explained to signify that the earth and all that dwell therein, at this glorious manifestation, utter their praise. But there is no allusion as yet to the manner in which the appearance is received, and in verse 6 it produces fear and trembling; so it is best to take "praise" in the sense of "matter of praise," that glory "which was calculated to call forth universal adoration" (Henderson).
His brightness was as the light; brightness appeareth like light, The sunlight is meant, as Job 31:26; Job 37:21; Isaiah 18:4. He had horns coming out of his hand; i.e. rays of light on either side. The comparison of the first rays of light to the horns of the gazelle, according to Keil, is common in Arabic poetry (comp. Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:30). In the original passage, Deuteronomy 33:2, we read, "At his right hand was a fiery Law unto them"—a reference to the two tables of stone, perhaps resplendent with light. The "hand" in our text is a general expression, and is not to be taken with any special reference to lightning launched by the hand (which is not a scriptural expression), nor to works effected by God's agency, but simply as signifying that the light of his presence streamed forth from both sides, i.e. everywhere. There was the hiding of his power. There, in that ineffable light, was the hiding place of his majesty. He clothes himself with light as with a garment (Psalms 104:2), and the splendour is the mantle of that presence which eye of man cannot behold (Exodus 24:17; 1 Timothy 6:16). Farrar quotes Psalms 18:11, "He made darkness his secret place;" and Milton—
"Dark with excess of light his skirts appear."
Septuagint, Ἔθετο ἀγάπησιν κραταιὰν ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ, which rendering has arisen from taking the adverb sham as a verb (sam), and mistaking the meaning of the following word.
After describing the splendour of the theophany, the prophet now turns to the purpose and effects of God's appearing. He comes to avenge and judge, therefore before him went the pestilence. Before him stalks plague, to punish his enemies and the disobedient, as in Egypt, in Canaan (Exodus 23:27; 1 Samuel 5:9, 1 Samuel 5:11); and among his own people (Numbers 11:33; Numbers 14:37, etc.; Le Numbers 26:25). For "pestilence" the LXX. reads "word." Burning coals went forth at his feet. "Fiery belts" followed his advance, "hailstones and coals of fire" (Psalms 18:12, Psalms 18:13); as in Psalms 97:8, "A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies on every side." But, regarding the parallelisms of the hemistiches, it is better to take resheph in the sense of "fever heat," as in Deuteronomy 32:24; scorching fever follows in his train. Jerome translates the word, diabolus, looking on the evil spirit as the agent of the Divine vengeance. The Jews, he says, had a tradition that Satan was called Reseph, from the speed of his movements. The LXX. has, "It (the word) shall go forth into the plains," which Jerome interprets, "shall make the crooked straight and the rough ways smooth."
He stood, and measured the earth. God takes his stand, and surveys the earth which he is visiting in judgment. As his glory filled the heavens, so now he with his presence paces the earth, measuring it, as it were, with his foot. He considers, too, all the doings of the children of men, and requites them accordingly. Vulgate, Stetit, et mensus est terram. So the Syriac. On the other hand, the LXX. gives, Ἔστη καὶ ἐσαλέυθη ἡ γῆ, "The earth stood and quaked." Thus the Chaldee, and many modem commentators, "rocketh the earth." This rendering seems to anticipate what follows, and is not so suitable as the other, though it is quite admissible. Drove asunder. Dispersed and scattered. Septuagint, διετάκη ἔθνη, "nations melted away." Others translate, "made to tremble" (Exodus 15:15, etc.). The everlasting mountains. Mountains that have lasted as long as creation, and are emblems of stability and permanence (Deuteronomy 33:15). Were scattered; or, were shattered (comp. Micah 1:4; Nahum 1:5). His ways are everlasting. This is best taken alone, not as connected grammatically with the preceding clause, and epexegetical of the "hills and mountains," which are called God's "ways," i.e. his chief creative acts, as Job 40:19; Proverbs 8:22; but it means that, as God acted of old, so he acts now; "The ancient ways of acting are his" (Proverbs 31:27). "He reneweth his progresses of old time" (Delitzsch). The eternal, unchangeable purpose and operation of God are contrasted with the disruption of "the everlasting hills." The Greek and Latin Versions connect the words with what precedes. Septuagint, Ἐτάκησαν βουνοὶ αἰώνιοι πορείας αἰωνίας, "The everlasting hills melted at his everlasting goings;" Vulgate, Incurvati sunt colles mundi ab itineribus aeternitatis ejus, where the idea seems to be that the high places of the earth are God's paths when he visits the world.
As God moves in his majesty the various nations are struck with fear, as of old were the peoples that heard of the Exodus (see Exodus 15:14-2.15.16). I saw. In prophetic vision (1 Kings 22:17). The tents of Cushan; LXX.. σκηνώματα Αἰθίοτων "the tents of the Ethiopians;" Vulgate, tentoria AEthiopiae. "Cushan" is not Chushan-Rishathaim, the Mesopotamian king mentioned in Judges 3:1-7.3.31; but is a lengthened form of Cush (as Lotan for Lot, Genesis 36:20), the biblical name for Ethiopia. Here the African country is meant, lying along the west coast of the Red Sea. In affliction. Panic-stricken. The prophet particularizes what he had said above generally of the nations hostile to the people of God. The curtains; the tent curtains; Vulgate, pelles. Both "tents" and "curtains" are used by metonymy for their inhabitants. Midian. The country on the Gulf of Akaba, the eastern arm of the Red Sea. Ethiopia and Midian are named, as God is supposed to advance from the south.
Interrupting his description of the theophany, the prophet asks the motive of this wrathful revelation. This is done, not with expectation of an answer, but giving life and vigour to the composition. Such sudden transitions are not uncommon (camp. Judges 5:12; Psalms 78:19, etc.). Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? Was it against the rivers, O Jehovah? was thy wrath kindled against the rivers? Was God angry with inanimate nature, when he showed his power, for instance, in the Nile and the Jordan and the Red Sea? God meant more by these acts. He showed his supremacy over all creation, and his will to save his people and to crush all opposition to the execution of his great design (see Psalms 106:9; Psalms 114:3, etc.). That thou didst ride upon thine horses. The prophet speaks of the Lord as a Leader of a mighty host which came with chariots and horses to defend the Israelites and to crush their foes (comp. Psalms 18:10). And thy chariots of salvation. "And," which is not in the Hebrew, is better omitted, the clause being an explanation of "thine horses." The chariots come for the salvation, i.e. the deliverance, of Israel (Habakkuk 3:13). Some translate, "Thy chariots are salvation;" as the Septuagint, καὶ ἡ ἱππασία σου σωτηρία: and Vulgate, et quadrigae tuae salvatio. It comes to the same thing, whichever rendering we adopt.
The prophet continues his description of the Lord as "a man of war" (Exodus 15:3). Thy bow was made quite naked. The sheath of the bow was laid aside to make it ready for use. In the Assyrian monuments the bow case forms part of the quiver, and holds only the lower half of the bow. It was fastened to the side of the chariot or carried at the back of the archer. (For the general sense, comp. Deuteronomy 32:40, etc.; Psalms 45:5.) In the Revelation (Revelation 6:2) he that sits on the white horse has a bow. According to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word; i.e. thou doest all this to confirm the promises of deliverance and salvation made to the tribes of Israel This sense is satisfactory; but the Hebrew text is corrupt, and cannot be explained with any certainty. The Revised Version gives," The oaths to the tribes were a sure word;" in the margin, "Sworn were the chastisements (Hebrew, 'rods') of thy word." Thus Dr. Briggs: "Sworn are the rods of thy word." Orelli translates," Oaths, rods of the word," and explains the clause to mean that the Lord comes to execute the denounced punishment, which proceeds from his mouth like chastising rods. The word mattoth is translated "tribes" (as in 2 Chronicles 5:2) or "rods." Keil contends for the latter, as instruments of chastisement, rendering," Rods are sworn by word" Henderson, taking the words as a military signal, curiously translates, "'Sevens of spears' was the word." Pusey supports the Authorized Version, which, indeed. gives a good sense, and is probably correct It is virtually supported by Jerome, who has, "Suscitans suscitabis arcum tuum, juramenta tribubus quae locutus es," "Thou wilt awaken the oaths," which, so long as the evil prospered, seemed to be forgotten and sleeping. The LXX. emits the word rendered "oaths," and translates mattoth, σκῆπτρα, thus: Ἐντείνων ἐνέτεινας τόξον σου ἐπὶ σκῆπτρα λέγει Κύριος, "Thou didst surely bend thy bow against sceptres." Selah. A pause ensues before the introduction of a new series of natural phenomena, accompanying the Lord's epiphany (see on verse 3). The next clause would be more fitly joined with verse 10. Thou didst cleave the earth with (or, into) rivers. This refers to some catastrophe like that which happened at the Flood, when "the fountains of the great deep were broken up" (Genesis 7:11; comp. Psalms 77:16). Others think that the allusion is to the miracles at the Red Sea, or Sinai, or Rephidim in the wilderness, as in Psalms 74:1-19.74.23.; Psalms 78:0.; Psalms 105:0. But though the prophet glances at such particular circumstances, his scope is more general.
The mountains saw thee, and they trembled; literally, were in pain, Septuagint, ὠδινήσουσι. The words point to the phenomena of an earthquake, as Sinai shook at the presence of the Lord (Exodus 19:18; Psalms 114:6). So Virgil, 'AEn.,' 6:256—
"Sub pedibus mugire solum, et juga coepta moveri
Silvarum … Adventante des."
For "mountains," the LXX. reads, "peoples" The overflowing of the water passed by; the talent of water passed along. Cataracts of rain fell, as in the Deluge. "The windows on high are open, and the foundations of the earth do shake" (Isaiah 24:18). Those who confine the reference to past events see here an intimation of the passage of the Jordan (Joshua 3:15, Joshua 3:16). The deep uttered his voice. The mass of waters in the ocean and under the earth rears mightily as it bursts forth (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 33:13). His hands. Its waves (Psalms 98:8). Septuagint, ὕψος φαντασίας αὐτῆς, "the height of its form."
The sun and moon stood still in their habitation; or, stand still, or withdraw into their habitation. They hide themselves in the tabernacles whence they are said to emerge when they shine (Psalms 19:4, etc.). Overpowered with the splendour of God's presence, the heavenly luminaries hide their light in this day of the Lord (comp. Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:2, Joel 2:10, Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; Amos 5:20; Matthew 24:29). The miracle of Joshua (Joshua 10:12, etc.) may have suggested some of the language here, but the idea is quite different. At the light of thine arrows they went; i.e. the sun and moon fled away discomfited at the glory of God's weapons, his arrows gleaming with light. The idea may be that, in the absence of the sun and moon, the terrific scene was illuminated only by flashes of lightning. "Lightnings" are sometimes celled God's "arrows," as in Psalms 18:14; Psalms 77:17, etc.; but the image here is rather of the arms of a warrior. Many supply the relative in the sentence, and render, "arrows which shoot along." This seems to be unnecessary, and is not supported by the versions. There is no special reference to the hailstorm at Beth-horon, which discomfited the Cananites, but enabled the Israelites to pass on to victory (Joshua, loc. cit.). It is the terror of the judgment that is adumbrated, when the Lord shall come in flames of fire (2 Thessalonians 1:8), and the heavens shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat (2 Peter 3:12).
Thou didst march through the land in indignation; thou treadest the earth in .fury. The mighty Judge stalks over the earth (Habakkuk 3:6; comp. Judges 5:4; Psalms 68:7). It is a general statement, and not to be confined to the successes of Joshua and the destruction of the Canaanites. Septuagint, Ἐν ἀπειλῇ ὀλιγώσεις γῆν, with the alteration of a letter," Thou wilt bring low the land with threats." Thou didst thresh the heathen (nations) in anger; Septuagint, ἐν θυμῷ κατάξεις ("thou wilt break in pieces") ἔθνη. Jerome here renders the verb, obstupefacies; but elsewhere, as Isaiah 28:28; Hosea 10:11; Amos 1:3, he uses triturare which gives the best meaning. The kindred figure is found in Micah 4:13; Isaiah 63:1, etc.
Thou wentest forth. The prophet specifies the end which these manifestations were designed to effect. God is said to "go forth" when he intervenes for the aid of his people, as Judges 5:4; 2 Samuel 5:24; Isaiah 42:13. For salvation with thine anointed; In salutem cum Christo tuo (Vulgate); τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν χριστὸν σου (τοὺς χριστούς σου, Alex; Sin.), "to save thine anointed". If the signification of the word "with" (eth) be pressed, the passage is taken to mean that, as God manifested himself in old time for the salvation of his people with his chosen "Christ," Moses; so he will hereafter reveal his power for the destruction of the Chaldeans with his chosen "Christ," Cyrus. But this is too definite, and cannot be shown to be intended. The "anointed one," again, is not the nation of Israel, for the term is always applied to a single individual and never to the people collectively; so here it is the theocratic king who is meant—first, the representative of David; and secondly, the Messiah. God reveals himself for the salvation of his people in union with the work especially of his anointed Son, Christ. This is how the passage is taken by Eusebius ('Dem. Evang.,' 4.16), Εἰς σωτηρίαν λαον σου σὺν Χριστῷ σου. It must be confessed, however, that most modern commentaters translate, "for the salvation of thy anointed," taking the last expression (contrary to all usage) to mean the Israelites, as being a kingdom and nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). In this case the present clause is merely a repetition of the preceding one. Thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked; thou dashest in pieces the head. As in the following clause the metaphor of a house is plainly employed, "the head" must be taken for the gable or topmost ridge. "The house of the wicked" is an allegorical description of the Chaldaic dominion and its king; and the prophet declares that God will smite with destruction both the ungodly monarch and the kingdom that opposes itself. Some commentators see here an allusion to the primeval sentence (Genesis 3:15): others to the destruction of the Egyptians' firstborn; others to the incident of Jael and Sisera (Judges 5:26). If the prophet's language was influenced by any of these matters, his view and his oracle are concerned with the mighty future. The LXX. has, "Thou wilt east death upon the heads of the evil." By discovering (literally, making naked) the foundations unto the neck. "By" is better omitted. Keil supposes that "the neck" is the central part of the house, looking from the gable downwards; though why this should be so called is not apparent; and the wording of the original, "the foundations even to the neck," compels us to connect the two words together, and will not allow us to interpret "the neck" of some higher part of the building. The general meaning is plain—the metaphorical house is destroyed from summit to base, the destruction beginning at the gable is carried on to the very foundations According to this view, "the neck" should mean the very lowest basis of the walls. Henderson (after Capellus and others) suggests that we should read "rock," a word derived from the same root. Septuagint, Ἐξήγειρας δεσμοὺς ἕως τραχήλου, "Thou didst raise chains unto the neck." It is possible that the mention of "the head," just above, has led the prophet to use the term "neck" in order to express the utter destruction of the whole body. Selah. Another solemn pause ensues.
Thou didst strike through with his staves; thou didst pierce with his own spears. Thou dost turn on the Chaldeans and all thine enemies the destruction which they intended for others. The people meet with the same fate as the royal house (Habakkuk 3:13); Vulgate, maledixisti sceptris ejus, which seems to be a mistranslation. The head of his villages (פרזים). There is a difficulty in arriving at the meaning of this last word. The LXX. renders it, "mighty men;" Jerome, "warriors;" Chaldee, "army;" Delitzsch and many modern critics, "hordes" or "inhabitants of the plain;" others again, "rulers" or "judges." The most probable version is either "warriors" or "hordes." The head, i.e. collectively the heads of his warlike troops. They came out (or, who rush) as a whirlwind to scatter me (see the description of the Chaldees, Habakkuk 1:6, etc.). The prophet identifies himself with his people. (For the figure of the whirlwind, comp. Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 13:24; Hosea 13:3.) Dr. Briggs renders, "Thou dost pierce with his rods the chief, when his rulers are rushing in to scatter me." Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly; or, as in ambush, to devoter the helpless. They exult in acting the part of robbers and murderers, who lurk for the defenceless and afflict the poor (Psalms 10:8, etc.). As is equivalent to "as it were." Vulgate, Sicut ejus qui. "The poor" are primarily the Israelites, and then all meek worshippers of God.
The Exodus is the type of the deliverance of God's people. Thou didst walk through (didst tread) the sea with thine horses; literally, thou treadest the sea, thy horses, the horses being explanatory. The prophet takes his imagery from Exodus 15:1-2.15.19. He represents God as a warrior in his chariot, leading the way through the waters to the destruction of his enemies and to the salvation of his own people. Through the heap of great waters; or, upon the surge of mighty waters. The verse may also be rendered, Thou treadest the sea—thy horses (tread) the heap of great waters (Psalms 77:19). Past mercies and deliverances are types and pledges of future.
Habakkuk 3:16, Habakkuk 3:17
§ 4. The contemplation of the Divine judgments produces in the people of God at first, fear and trembling at the prospect of chastisement
When I heard. "When" is better omitted. "I heard" the report of thee (vex. 2). The LXX. refers to Habakkuk 2:1, rendering, "I watched." If the former part is the paean of the congregation, the present is the prophet's own utterance expressive of his dismay at the prospect before him. My belly trembled. My inmost part, my inward self, trembled with fear (comp. Isaiah 16:11). My lips quivered at the voice. My lips quivered with fear at the voice of God that sounded in me (Habakkuk 2:1), proclaiming these awful judgments. The word rendered" quivered" (tsalal) is applied to the tingling of the ears (1 Samuel 3:11; 2 Kings 21:12), and implies that the prophet's lips so trembled that he was scarcely able to utter speech. The LXX. renders, "from the voice of the prayers of my lips." Rottenness entered into my bones. This is an hyperbolical expression, denoting that the firmest, strongest parts of his body were relaxed and weakened with utter fear, as if his very bones were cankered and corrupted, and there was no marrow in them. And I trembled in myself. The last word (tachtai) is rendered variously: "under me," according to the Greek and Latin Versions, i.e. in my knees and feet, so that I reeled and stumbled; or, "in my place," on the spot where I stand (as Exodus 16:29). That I might rest in the day of trouble; better, I who shall rest in the day of tribulation. The prophet suddenly expresses his confidence that he shall have rest in this affliction; amid this terror and awe he is sure that there remaineth a rest for the people of God. This sentiment leads naturally to the beautiful expression of hope in the concluding paragraph (Habakkuk 2:17, etc.). Keil and others render, "tremble that I am to wait quietly for the day of tribulation;" that I am to sit still and await the day of affliction. But Pusey denies that the verb (nuach) ever means "to wait patiently for," or "to be silent about;" its uniform signification is "to rest" from labour or from trouble. Thus the Septuagint, Ἀναπαύσομαι ἐν ἡμέρα θλίψεως, "I will rest in the day of affliction;" Vulgate, Ut requiescam in die tribulationis. When he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops. This should be, When he that invades with bands comes up against the people; i.e. in the day when the Chaldeans attack the Israelites. Septuagint, Τοῦ ἀναβῆναι εἰς λαὸν παροικίας μου: "To go up against the people of my sojourning;" Vulgate, Ut ascendam ad populum aecinctum nostrum, which is thus explained: "I will bear all things patiently, even death itself, that I may attain to the happy company of those blessed heroes who fought for their country and their God." It is obvious to remark that this is a gloss, not on the original text, but on the erroneous version.
The prophet depicts the effects of the hostile invasion, which are such as to make the natural heart despair. Although the fig tree shall not blossom. The devastations of the enemy leave the country bare and uncultivated. The Chaldeans, like the Assyrians and Egyptians, cut down and burnt the fruit-bearing trees of the countries which they invaded (comp. Deuteronomy 20:19; Isaiah 9:10; Isaiah 37:24; Jeremiah 6:6). The trees most useful and abundant in Palestine are mentioned (comp. Deuteronomy 6:11; Hosea 2:12; Joel 1:7; Micah 4:4; Micah 6:15, etc.). The labour of the olive shall fail; literally, shall lie. The "labour" is the produce, the fruit. Though the yield shall disappoint all expectation. The use of the verb "to lie" in this sense is found elsewhere; e.g. Isaiah 58:11; Hosea 9:2. So Horace, 'Carm.,' 3.1, 30, "Fundus mendax;" and ' Epist.,' 1.7. 87, "Spem mentita seges." The fields; the cornfields (Isaiah 16:8). The flock shall be cut off from the fold. There shall be no flocks in the fold, all having perished for lack of food. "Omnia haec," says St. Jerome, "auferentur a populo, quia inique egit in Deum creatorem suum."
Habakkuk 3:18, Habakkuk 3:19
§ 5. In spite of the terror produced by these judgments, the true Israelite is blessed with hope of salvation and joy in the Lord.
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. Unshaken in confidence, the prophet, representing the faithful Israelite, expresses his unbounded joy at the prospect of salvation which opens to him beyond the present affliction. The psalmist often thus shews his exulting faith (see Psalms 5:7; Psalms 13:6; Psalms 17:14, Psalms 17:15; Psalms 31:19). I will joy. I will shout for joy; my joy shall express itself outwardly. The God of my salvation (see note on Micah 7:7). The God who judges the nations to procure the final salvation of his people. Septuagint, Τῷ Θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου, "God my Saviour;" Vulgate, In Deo Jesu meo. From this gloss of St. Jerome some of the Fathers have argued for the existence in this passage of a revelation of the incarnation of Christ and the redemption wrought by him.
The Lord God is my strength; more accurately, Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength, from Psalms 18:32; comp. Psalms 27:1. He will make my feet like hinds' feet (Psalms 18:33). He makes me active and swift-footed as the gazelle, as a lusty warrior (2 Samuel 1:23; 2 Samuel 2:18) should be. So by the help of God I shall be superior to my enemies. He will make me to walk upon mine high places. The expression is used properly of God (Micah 1:3), and elsewhere, says Keil, to denote the victorious possession and government of a country (see Deuteronomy 32:13; Deuteronomy 33:29). Here it signifies that believing Israel shall overcome all opposition and dwell in safety in its own land. To the chief singer (musician) on my stringed instruments (neginoth). This is a musical direction, answering to the heading in Psalms 27:1, and implies that the ode is committed to the conductor of the temple music, to be by him adapted for the public service to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. Such directions are elsewhere always found at the beginning, not the end, of psalms (see Psalms 4:1-19.4.8.; Psalms 6:0.; Psalms 54:0.; Psalms 55:0.; Psalms 67:0.; Psalms 76:0.). It has been thought that the suffix of the first person, "my stringed instruments," denotes that Habakkuk had a right to take part in the temple service, and was therefore a Levite; but it is very doubtful whether this suffix is not a clerical error, as Kuenen and Ewald suppose, or merely paragogic. Certainly neither the Greek, Latin, nor Syriac Versions afford it any confirmation. These versions make the subscription part of the ode. Thus LXX; Ἐπι τὰ ὑψηλὰ ἐπιβιβᾶ με, τοῦ νικῆσαι ἐν τῇ ὠδῇ αὐτοῦ, He maketh me to mount upon the high places, that I may conquer by his song;" Vulgate, Super excelsa mea deducet me victor (victori, Cod. Amiat.) in psalmis canentem.
The prayer of an alarmed prophet.
I. THE PROPHET'S ALARM.
1. Its cause. The report of Jehovah; i.e. the communication received from Jehovah concerning the punishment of Judah and the destruction of Chaldea. Habakkuk not the first man that had been afraid at the hearing of God's voice (Genesis 3:10; Exodus 3:6), at the thought of his presence (Job 23:15), at the manifestation of his power (Psalms 65:8), at the contemplation of his judgments (Psalms 119:120). Nor will they who hear the fame of his doings in the past or the announcement of his "judgments to come," as both of these are unfolded in Scripture, fail to be similarly affected. Like the Canaanites before the advance of Joshua and his host, their hearts will melt in them for fear (Joshua 2:11). What excited terror in the breast of Habakkuk was the prospect Jehovah's "report" opened up before him! Though a pious man and a prophet, he was at the same time a philanthropist and a patriot, who could not contemplate without a shudder the decimation of his people or the desolation of his country; and neither can the Christian anticipate without apprehension those chastisements that are promised to himself for correction of his backslidings, and to the Church for her recovery from doctrinal aberration or spiritual declension. It may be better to fall into God's hands, because his mercies are great, than to fall into those of man (2 Samuel 24:14); but in any case it is a fearful thing to fall for judgment into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). Again, the fierce whirlwind of retribution, which in the end should throw down the eagle's nest of Chaldean pride and blow up the crackling flames in which its palaces and temples were to be destroyed, raised within him awe-inspiring conceptions of the omnipotence of Jehovah which made him tremble, even though the downfall of Chaldea meant the deliverance of Judah; and so, although the final destruction of the ungodly will be to the saints a cause of rejoicing (Revelation 18:20), it will also inspire them with a solemn awe of the Divine holiness and justice, majesty and power.
2. Its cure. Prayer. Different from Adam, who, having heard God's voice, ran from God, Habakkuk, in his alarm, betook himself to God. Hiding from God, the custom of sinners; hiding in God, the comfort of saints (Psalms 143:9). Suitable for all times (Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17), prayer is specially appropriate for bad times (Psa 1:1-6 :15). In addition to the promise that God will be a Refuge for the oppressed, a Refuge in times of trouble (Psalms 9:9), and to the fact that good men in all ages have found him so (Psalms 48:3; Psalms 91:2; Jeremiah 16:19), the practice of pouring one's fears (Psalms 34:4) as well as complaints (Psalms 142:2) and requests (Philippians 4:6) into the ear of God seems justified by this, that he who by his judgment causes, is by his wisdom and mercy best able to remove alarms.
II. THE PROPHET'S PRAYER.
1. Its fervent. Intimated by the repetition of the term "Jehovah," and by the three short sentences of which the prayer is composed. Souls labouring under strong emotion commonly express themselves in brief and broken ejaculations, rather than in long and polished periods.
2. Its tenor. A threefold petition.
(1) For the acceleration of Jehovah's work. "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years." The work referred to was the purification of Judah by means of the Chaldean exile, and the salvation of Judah by the ultimate overthrow of her oppressor. It was thus a picture of God's work in all ages—the deliverance of the individual believer and of the Church in general, first through the afflictions and trials of life from the moral defilement of sin; and second, through the overthrow (by Christ's cross and rule) of the enemies of both from the legal and spiritual bondage of sin. The prophet craved that Jehovah might not defer the completion of Judah's redemption till the end of the time which had been appointed for this purpose, but that he might cause his work to live (not suffer it to go to sleep, but quicken and revive it), no that it might be finished in the midst of the years, and Judah's reformation and emancipation brought about long before the stipulated period had arrived. Thus his prayer was one the believer might offer for himself, that God would perfect that which concerned him (Psalms 138:8), would carry on his work of grace within him (Philippians 1:6), making all things work together for his good (Romans 8:28), causing tribulation to work in him patience, etc. (Romans 5:3), and afflictions to yield him the peaceable fruits of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11), as well as to work out for him a far more exceeding, even an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:18); and would crown that work by completely effecting his deliverance from the curse and power of sin, from the terror of death, the darkness of the grave, the misery of hell. It was also a petition which the Church might present for herself, that she might be purified, extended, completed, glorified, net after long waiting, but soon, in the middle of the years. "Even so, come [quickly], Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).
(2) For the manifestation of Jehovah's glory. "In the midst of the years make it known." Make it known, the prophet meant, that the work of punishing and purifying Judah by means of exile in Babylon is thy work; no shall it comfort Judah and awe Babylon. Make it known that the deliverance of Judah by means of the overthrow of Babylon is thy work; so again shall Judah rejoice and the nations of the earth be afraid. The believer and the Church may aide ask that God's work in dealing with them should be manifest, not to themselves merely, but to the world at large. This would both sustain them and impress the world. Until affliction is seen to be God's work, it does little good to the soul; till the world perceives that God is in the Church, it will not cease to persecute and hinder the Church.
(3) For the dispensation of Jehovah's mercy. Habakkuk's plea was not merit. He knew well that what he asked could not be granted on the score of justice.
"'Tis from the mercy of our God
That all our hopes begin."
1. That God's voice should excite alarm even in the hearts of good men is no mean proof of the fallen state of mankind generally.
2. It is a good sign of grace when an alarmed soul betakes itself to God.
3. The pre-eminence which belongs to redemption over all the other works of God.
4. The only power that can awaken dead souls or revive unspiritual and decadent Churches is God.
5. The chief hope of man lies in the mercy of Heaven, not in the goodness of himself.
An ideal theophany: 1. The onward march of the Deity.
I. HIS PERSON DESIGNATED.
1. God, or Eloah, the Strong or Powerful One. A name for the Supreme used for the first time by Moses (Deuteronomy 32:15) to portray God as the Creator of Israel, and employed by Habakkuk "to designate God as the Lord and Governor of the whole world" (Keil). Omnipotence an essential attribute of Divinity (Genesis 17:1; Jos 4:24; 1 Chronicles 29:12; Job 36:5; Job 42:2; Psalms 62:11); the impotence of heathen idols was the best proof that they were no gods (Isaiah 45:20; Jeremiah 2:28).
2. The Holy One. An appellation given to God at least three times in the Psalter (Psalms 71:2; Psalms 78:41; Psalms 89:18), twice in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5), once in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 39:7), once in Hosea (Hosea 11:9), twice in Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:12; Habakkuk 3:3), and occurring frequently in Isaiah. Equally with strength is purity an indispensable quality in the Supreme; and this no less than that in an infinite measure and degree. An unholy God could not be all-powerful, all-wise, all-just, or all-good. Holiness the guarantee and guardian of the other attributes of his nature. Least of all could an unholy God be either a Saviour or a Judge of men.
II. HIS GLORY DEPICTED.
1. Its extent. All-pervading, irradiating the entire universe, covering the heavens and spreading over the earth (Ezekiel 43:2), What is here declared of the material or symbolic presence of Deity is true of his real, though unseen, presence (Psalms 8:1; Psalms 19:1; Isaiah 6:3).
2. Its brightness. Resembling the light, i.e. the sun, to which Scripture likens God himself (Psalms 84:11), and Christ (Matthew 4:2; John 9:5), who is God's Image (2 Corinthians 4:4), the Brightness of his Father's glory, and the express Image of his Person (Hebrews 1:3). In exact accordance with the prophet's thought, God is represented as covering himself with tight as with a garment (Psalms 104:2), and as dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto (1 Timothy 6:16); white Christ is ever set forth as the highest expression of the uncreated glory of the Supreme (John 1:14).
3. Its manifestation. Emitting rays or shooting forth beams on all sides, like the rising sun (Keil, Delitzsch), an emblem suggestive of the partial and gradual, though universal, manner in which the Divine glory unveils itself to intelligent spectators on earth (Job 26:14).
4. Its power. Emanating from his hand, like rays darting forth from the sun's disc, or like horns shooting out from the head of a gazelle (Pusey, Fausset). The allusion may have been to the lightnings which flashed forth from the cloud upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16); but the underlying thought is that one principal aspect of God's glory is the exhibition of power which he furnishes to men in the material creation (Isaiah 40:26, Isaiah 40:28), in the phenomena of nature (Job 36:22, etc.), and in the scheme of grace (1 Corinthians 1:24).
5. Its essence. Hidden, unsearchable, unfathomable, the above-mentioned coruscations of his glory being not so much unveilments as concealments of his ineffable Personality, not so much exhibitions as hidings of his power. That which may be known of God from the outshinings of his glory is the fact, not the fulness, of his power and Godhead, The grand truth symbolized by the cloudy pillar infolding brightness, viz. that Israel's God was a God that, while discovering, yet hid himself (Isaiah 45:15), was in the Incarnation exemplified and emphasized (cf. John 1:14 with John 7:27), and is receiving confirmation by every advance the human mind makes in knowledge (Job 11:7-18.11.9; Job 26:9; Job 37:23; Psalms 145:3; Psalms 147:5; Isaiah 40:28; Romans 11:33). Agnoscticism a witness to the truth here stated.
III. HIS ADVANCE DESCRIBED.
1. The quarter whence he comes. Teman and Paran, i.e. the country south of Judah or Idumea, and Paran the desert region lying between Judah and Sinai (see Exposition). Separated only by the Wady-el-Arabah, the two localities were intended to indicate the Sinaitic region as the spot whence this sublime theophany of the future should proceed. In so defining its starting point, the prophet probably wished to suggest a variety of thoughts, as e.g. that the future glorious manifestation of Jehovah was rendered possible, and even probable, by what had in the past occurred at Sinai; that it would proceed in the line of that earlier theophany, and be a carrying out of the Divine policy therein revealed a policy of mercy and judgment, of salvation and destruction; and that in it, as in the ancient Apocalypse, both the power and the holiness of God would be signally displayed. True of the Divine advent in the overthrow of Babylon, these thoughts were also realized in the advent of the fulness of the times, and will be conspicuous in the final advent at the close of human history.
2. The purpose for which he comes. To execute judgment upon the ungodly world, and so to effect the deliverance of his people. This was to be the object of his interposition in the overthrow of Babylon, as it had been in the destruction of Egypt; this was the end aimed at in the first coming of the Saviour, the redemption of his Church by the annihilation of her foes; this will be the purpose of his appearing at the end of the world, to complete the redemption of his people by completing the punishment of the ungodly.
3. The attendants by whom he is served. Pestilence in front, and fiery belts in the rear, signifying that God will be accompanied with sufficient instruments to effect his purpose. "Death and destruction of all sorts are a great army at his command (Pusey).
1. The certainty of a future manifestation of Jehovah in the Person of the glorified Christ.
2. The double object for which that glorious manifestation of Christ will take place.
Habakkuk 3:6, Habakkuk 3:7
An ideal theophany: 2. The wonderful acts of the Deity.
I. MEASURING THE EARTH, AND DRIVING ASUNDER THE NATIONS.
1. Measuring the earth; i.e. either surveying it with his all-seeing glance whereat there is universal consternation (Fausset), or measuring it out among the peoples on its surface, as Joshua partitioned the Holy Land after its conquest among the tribes (Pusey). Both ideas are historically true, no Divine interposition of any magnitude occurring among earth's inhabitants without bringing with it to thoughtful minds a conviction that the hand and eye of God are at work, and leaving after it, as a result, a rearrangement of the map of the globe. The marginal reading, "shaking the earth," causing it to reel (Delitzsch, Keil), as David says it trembled on the occasion of Jehovah's coming down on Mount Sinai (Psalms 68:8), presents also a valuable truth that the Divine providential government of the world, especially when it takes to deal with long established iniquity for the purpose of punishing and destroying the same, is calculated to inspire awe among earth's inhabitants (Psalms 99:1), as it did when it broke the pride of Egypt (Exodus 15:14), as it was to do when it overthrew the Chaldean power, and as it will do when it hurls the mystical Babylon to the abyss (Revelation 18:19). This the thought contained in the parallel clause.
2. Driving asunder the nations. "He beheld and drove asunder [or, 'made to tremble'] the nations." He so paralyzed them with fear that he drove them asunder, rendering combination amongst them impossible.
II. SCATTERING THE MOUNTAINS AND BOWING THE HILLS. Not the lesser heights of comparatively recent formation, but the primeval altitudes, whose hoary peaks have witnessed the passing by of millenniums, and whose roots go down amid the granite bars of the earth (Psalms 90:2). These by his encampment on their summits he causes to crumble, resolve themselves into dust, and vanish into nought (Nahum 1:5; Micah 1:4). The image may point to "the convulsions on Mount Sinai and to the earthquake which announced the descent of the Most High" (Adam Clarke), but it signifies the utter impossibility of even the strongest forces of nature, whether in matter or in man, resisting the advance of God, and that because his ways are older than even the everlasting hills (Psalms 90:2) are the only things on earth to which everlastingness belongs. "The everlasting ways of the everlasting God are mercy and truth" (St. Bernard, quoted by Pusey).
III. TERRIFYING THE HEATHEN AND PUNISHING THE ADVERSARIES OF HIS PEOPLE.
In prophetic vision Habakkuk beheld the impression made upon the neighbouring nations through which Jehovah passed on his march from Teman to the Red Sea—the Cushites or African Ethiopians on the west "in affliction;" and the Midianites towards the east, "trembling." A different interpretation makes Cushan the Mesopotamian king, Chushan-Rishathaim, who oppressed Israel eight years in the time of the Judges (Judges 3:8-7.3.10), and Midian the last enemy who seduced Israel into sin when on the borders of the promised land (Numbers 25:17), and came up against them after they had settled in it (Judges 6:4-7.6.11). In this case the prophet selects the judgments executed upon these—upon the first by Othniel, upon the second by Gideon—as typical of the inflictions that would fall upon Jehovah's enemies at his future coming.
1. The sovereignty of God over men and kings.
2. The duty and wisdom of recognizing God's hand in the movements of nations and in the phenomena of nature.
3. The impossibility of defeating the ultimate realization of God's purposes, whether of judgment or of mercy.
An ideal theophany: 3. The terrible wrath of the Deity.
I. ITS VISIBLE MANIFESTATIONS. The prophet conceives Jehovah as "a warlike hero equipped for conflict," depicts him as marching forth against his enemies, and throwing all nature (especially its rivers and seas, emblems of the earth's populations) into consternation, and inquires of him what had been the cause of his vehement displeasure. The form of the question suggests that Jehovah's anger had not been directed against inanimate nature, but that the commotions visible in the rivers and the seas were only symbols of his wrath against men.
II. ITS SECRET DESTINATION. It was aimed at a threefold purpose.
1. The destruction of his enemies. Of these the rivers and seas were merely emblems (Habakkuk 3:14).
2. The salvation of his people. Jehovah's horses and chariots were horses and chariots of salvation (Habakkuk 3:13). "The end of God's armies, his visitations and judgments, is the salvation of his elect, even while they who are inwardly dead perish outwardly also" (Pusey).
3. The vindication of his own honor. His bow had been land was to be) made quite bare, i.e. drawn from its scabbard in fulfilment of the oaths he had given to the tribes—first to Abraham, then to Isaac, next to Jacob, and afterwards to David—that he would deliver them from the hand of their enemies (Luke 1:73-42.1.75); or, accepting the marginal translation, because "sworn were the chastisements [literally, 'rods'] of his word," i.e. because the threatenings he had uttered against his people's enemies (Deuteronomy 32:40-5.32.42) were as sure as the promises of deliverance bestowed upon his people themselves.
1. That the wrath of God is as much a reality as the love of God is.
2. That the destruction of God's enemies is as sure as is the salvation of his friends.
3. That in both God will be glorified.
An ideal theophany: 4. The glorious interposition of the Deity.
I. NATURE'S HOMAGE TO THE JUDGE. (Habakkuk 3:10, Habakkuk 3:11.) Jehovah's presence on that great and terrible day will be attested by a succession of marvels.
1. Wonders in the earth.
(1) The cleaving of the earth with rivers (Habakkuk 3:9) may point to the bursting forth of waters from the deep places of the earth, which are again opened as at the Flood (Genesis 7:11) through violent convulsions, or to the overflowing of the land by the agitated and swollen waters, as also happened on the occasion of that appalling catastrophe (Genesis 7:11, Genesis 7:17, Genesis 7:19).
(2) The trembling of the mountains, which writhe as if in pain, may contain an allusion to earthquakes and similar cataclysms.
2. Wonders in the sea. The tempest of waters passed by, the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high" (Habakkuk 3:10). These words possibly allude to what occurred both in the Flood and in the dividing of the Red Sea and the Jordan.
3. Wonders in the sky. "The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, at the shining of thy glittering spear" (Habakkuk 3:11), as they did in the time of Joshua, when Jehovah fought for Israel against Gibson (Joshua 10:13). Compare the description in the Apocalypse of the great day of the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:12-66.6.16).
II. THE WRATHFUL PROCEDURE OF THE JUDGE.
1. Marching through the land in indignation. The land referred to is in the foreground Chaldea, and in the background the whole earth, which, no less than Babylon, will have become an object of Divine displeasure.
2. Threshing the nations in anger. Not the Chaldean people only, but all the peoples who, like them, shall have become the oppressors of God's heritage, all the nations that have not known or served God, will experience the strokes of his anger.
3. Wounding the head of the house of the wicked, laying bare the foundation even to the neck. The wicked one is first the Chaldean king, the head of the Chaldean power, and lastly that wicked one whom Christ will destroy with the brightness of his coming (1 Thessalonians 4:8). The image is that of complete destruction (see Exposition).
4. Piercing with his own staves the head of his warriors or hordes. These were the Chaldean troops, whom the prophet saw coming up against himself and Israel as a whirlwind to scatter them, as highway murderers lying in wait to devour the poor secretly, but whom he also beheld falling upon and destroying one another, wounding themselves with their own swords (cf. 1Sa 14:20; 2 Chronicles 20:23, 2 Chronicles 20:24). So will God's enemies in the end consume and devour one another.
5. Overcoming every obstacle that might be supposed to hinder his purpose, viz. the execution of wrath upon his foes, or the deliverance of his people.
III. THE MERCIFUL PURPOSE OF THE JUDGE. This was (and always will be) the salvation of his people and of his anointed, i.e. of his people Israel and Judah with their Davidic king, then of his believing Church with its anointed Head. If God executes judgment upon the ungodly, it is because otherwise the salvation of the godly cannot be secured.
1. The certainty of a day of judgment.
2. The terrifying aspect to the wicked of the glory of God.
3. The infinite fierceness of the wrath of the Almighty.
4. The ability of God to execute his purposes both of judgment and salvation.
5. The graciousness towards believers of all God's interpositions.
Sorrowing, yet rejoicing.
I. THE CASE SUPPOSED. A complete failure of all creature comforts.
1. Extremely unusual. Even the worst are seldom reduced to the bare boards of absolute privation (Psalms 145:9; Matthew 5:45). David confesses in old age that he had "never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread" (Psalms 37:25).
2. Not impossible or unknown. Persons, and these by no means always the ungodly, but sometimes the good, the excellent of the earth, the pious, the people who fear God and keep his commandments, who believe in his Word and delight in his ways, have been known to be placed in circumstances of utter destitution, such as Habakkuk so touchingly describes. Whether Habakkuk himself was in it, he expected that he might be, as he foresaw that many of his countrymen would be when the terrible Chaldean invasion came. Job had experience of such a situation as Habakkuk portrayed (Job 1:13-18.1.22); Paul (2 Corinthians 11:27) and many others both before and since have known it.
3. Always sad. No blossom on the fig tree, no fruit upon the vine, no harvest from the olive trees or cornfields, no flocks in either fold or stall. Everything gone. Every prop and stay taken—money scattered to the winds by unsuccessful trading, household furniture arrested and sold to pay debt, means of earning a livelihood gone, friends vanished just at the moment when most required, children laid down with sickness when money to pay for medical relief is wanting, health precarious through age or infirmity. When a case like this occurs it is sad.
4. Yet it might be worse. It would be if a Christian were to lose not the creature comforts merely, but the Creator himself, from whom these comforts flow. Let a man lose what he may, so long as he has God and Jesus Christ, the Bible and the throne of grace, with the gift of forgiveness and the hope of heaven, he is not utterly undone.
II. THE RESOLUTION TAKEN. TO "rejoice in the Lord."
1. Sensible. If a man loses three-fourths of his fortune, it may be natural to grieve over what is lost, but it cannot fail to strike one as more sensible to make much of and rejoice in what remains. So a good man, when he sees his creature comforts taken from him, will show himself a wise man by letting these go without too great indulgence in sorrow and cleaving to the Creator, who is infinitely more precious than all besides.
2. Satisfactory. What remains to the good man after the departure of creature comforts is the best part of his estate. It is the part he can least want; he might do without his fig trees, etc; but not without his God; and the part that is most satisfying—fig trees, etc; might feed the body, but only God can support a soul; and the part that is most permanent—the only part that is permanent, all earthly things being subject to decay.
3. Sanctifying. No man can make and keep it without becoming holier and better because of it. He who rejoices in God will gradually grow like God.
4. Profitable. It will come back to him who adopts it in blessings upon his head. If any man will delight in God. God will delight in him, will rejoice over him to do him good.
III. THE CHERISHED EXPECTATION. That God would perfect his salvation.
1. By imparting to him strength. "Jehovah, the Lord, is my Strength." The man who used these words had made three great discoveries:
(1) that man's strength at the best is little better than weakness—in the domain of the body, and in that of the mind, but chiefly in that of the spirit;
(2) that the source of all strength, whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual, for the human being, is God (Zec 10:12; 2 Corinthians 3:5; 2Co 9:8; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 3:20; Colossians 1:11); and
(3) that this Divine strength is indispensable for enabling the soul to cling to God in the day of trouble and season of calamity (Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:5).
2. By inspiring him with alacrity or zeal. "He maketh my feet like hinds' feet;" i.e. maketh them lithe and nimble, active and steady, skilful to climb, and tenacious to hold on like those of the female deer, which quickly scents danger, and bounds along with safety among the crags and cliffs of its native haunts. The language is descriptive of one who, in the season of adversity, in the hour of trial, temptation, and danger, is quick to discern, eager in adopting, and steadfast in pursuing the path of duty, which for him, as for all, is the path of safety. Moreover, the man who rejoices in God will commonly find himself advised in due season of the approach of danger, assisted in ascertaining the path of duty, and strengthened both to enter upon and adhere to it.
3. By exalting him to safety. "He maketh me to walk upon mine high places." The man who can rejoice in God will sooner or later find that God has begun to exalt him beyond common men:
(1) has set him on a high place of safety beyond the reach of condemnation;
(2) is setting him upon a high path of moral and spiritual elevation; and
(3) will set him in the end upon a high throne of glory.
1. The vanity of creature comforts.
2. The sweetness of Divine comforts.
3. The secret of true happiness.
4. The certainty of final glory.
HOMILIES BY S.D. HILLMAN
Prayer and praise.
This chapter records the remarkable "prayer" or "Code" of Habakkuk. The superscription contained in the first verse and a cursory glance at the chapter as thus described may be found suggestive of important teachings respecting the sacred exercises of prayer and praise. Note—
I. THE TEACHINGS CONCERNING PRAYER.
1. We do well to solicit present blessings. "In the midst of the years make known" (verse 2); i.e. he sought the Divine manifestation in mercy to be granted to his people in his own day.
2. We should recount God's goodness in the past. The prayer abounds in reminiscences of God's favour as bestowed upon his chosen in the days of yore.
3. The comprehensive nature of prayer. This prayer of Habakkuk contains
(3) devout contemplation of God in his character and works;
(4) review of his providential doings; and,
(5) pervading the whole, the spirit of confiding and joyous trust.
II. THE TEACHINGS CONCERNING PRAISE.
1. The desirability of employing in this exercise the devout compositions of God's servants in past ages, which have been preserved, in his Word.
2. The appropriateness of the language of prayer as the medium of expressing praise to God. "The prayers of David the son of Jesse" are contained and expressed in his Psalms. "The prayer of Habakkuk" is also "an ode" set to music, and used at his suggestion in the liturgical services of the temple.
3. The importance of cultivating correct musical expression in the presentation of the sacrifice of praise to God. The tones should be in harmony with the character of the thoughts and sentiments of the words being sung. This is probably the meaning of the expression, "upon Shigionoth' (verse 1), 'al shigyonoth meaning "in wandering measures," the tones to be varied according to the character of the thoughts and words. The term "Selah," used by him (verses 3, 9,13), and the direction, "To the chief singer on my stringed instruments," with which he closes his book, also indicate the carefulness in execution the prophet would have exercised. All true worship to God must proceed from humble and trusting hearts, and be presented "in spirit and in truth," and this is perfectly compatible with regard for all that is cultured and artistic in method. Our motto should be, "The best for the Lord."—S.D.H.
Prayer for revival.
The revival of God's work stands intimately connected with prayer. The Holy Spirit is the Author of all true quickening of the Divine life in the souls of men, and his renewing and sanctifying influences are secured in response to earnest supplication (Ezekiel 36:37; Malachi 3:10; Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1). "It is visionary to expect an unusual success in the human administration of religion unless there were unusual omens. Now, an emphatic spirit of prayer would be such an omen. And if the whole or greater number of the disciples of Christianity were, with an earnest unfailing resolution of each, to combine that Heaven should not withhold one single influence which the very utmost effort of conspiring and persevering supplication would obtain, it would be the sign of a revolution of the world being at hand" (John Foster). Observe -
I. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL INVOLVES AN INTELLIGENT APPREHENSION OF THE STATE OF THE AGE, AND THE CHURCH IN THE AGE, IN WHICH IT IS OFFERED. The language of the prophet in the former part of his prophecy indicates the possession by him of an insight into the character and needs both of the Hebrew nation and Church in his day; and this acquaintance prepared his mind and heart for pleading so earnestly for a revival of God's work Our own age and the state of religion in it claims our thoughtful regard. Reflection upon it will show the imperative need there is for the possession of a higher measure of spirituality, consecration, Christian intelligence and courage, and will impel the utterance of the earnest cry, "O Lord, revive thy work" (Habakkuk 3:2).
II. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL WILL BE PROMPTED BY ANXIOUS CONCERN IN VIEW OF THE EVIL CONSEQUENCES RESULTING FROM THE PREVAILING DEGENERACY. "O Lord," cried the prophet, "I have heard thy speech, and I was afraid." Jehovah had spoken unto him in vision, unfolding the terrible judgments which should overtake his people in consequence of their apostasy, and this vision of coming Divine chastisement filled him with terror; and with the real concern of a true patriot in view of the disastrous issue to which, through the prevailing iniquity, the national interests were tending, he implored Divine interposition and help ("O Lord, revive," etc.). The Christian patriot in our own land has reason for anxious solicitude as he views the present in its relation to the future. He knows that there is danger lest the temporal prosperity enjoyed in this age should result in the cherishing of pride, in conformity to the world, and in apathy in holy service; and lest the intellectual activity prevailing should lead to the weakening of conviction, the cherishing of doubt, and resulting in complete indifference in relation to spiritual realities. All this occasions him serious concern, which is intensified as he beholds multitudes in whom these dire effects have been already wrought; and in this spirit of solicitude he is led to the throne of grace, and to cry with impassioned earnestness, "O Lord, revive thy work."
III. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL IS EVER DIRECTED TO THE SECURING OF SPIRITUAL RESULTS. "In wrath remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2). The seer knew by revelation that his nation, owing to its sinfulness, should be overtaken by judgment, and should fall into the power of the Chaldeans; and in his prayer he did not ask for the reversal of this. Divine wrath must follow transgression, but he prayed that in the midst of this God would "remember mercy," in other words, that he would so interpose as to sanctify the dark experiences looming in the future, drawing his erring people nearer to himself, so that they might trustfully pass through the painful discipline in store for them, and come out of it at length purified as gold. And so ever true prayer for revival seeks the spiritual renewal of men; it solicits the manifestation of the Divine mercy in delivering the plants of his own planting from the blighting effects of sin, and in causing them to abound in all holy excellence and grace.
IV. PRAYER FOR REVIVAL IS IMPATIENT OF DELAY. It seeks a present blessing. "In the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known" (Habakkuk 3:2); i.e. without lingering, without postponement, forthwith, in the seer's own time. "How long, O Lord, how long?" "Thy kingdom come;" "It is time for thee to work."—S.D.H.
God in history.
On reading these verses containing the ode of Habakkuk we find that they abound in historical allusions. The prophet recalled to mind the Divine interpositions both in mercy and in judgment which had taken place in the bygone days, and in the light of them contemplated the position and prospects of his people in his own time. This course was a very customary one with the Hebrew bards. They were eminently patriotic, and delighted to touch upon the national experiences of sorrow and conflict, of joy and triumph; and, indeed, to such an extent did they carry this, that an acquaintance with the facts of Jewish history is essential in order that we may apprehend the meaning and appreciate the beauty of their poetic strains. But whilst thus national, these sacred songs, in that they refer to principles which are of general application, and to experiences which are common to humanity, are felt by us to be universal in their character, and to belong unto us as well as to the Hebrews, that in reference to them "there is neither Jew nor Greek," in that they are calculated to instruct and edify, to stimulate and strengthen us all. Viewing in this light the celebrated "ode" of Habakkuk here recorded, we see illustrated in it the great fact of God's working in human history, together with the design and influence of this Divine operation.
I. SEE ILLUSTRATED HERE THE FACT OF THE DIVINE WORKING IN HUMAN HISTORY. Looking back, the prophet traced this working:
1. In the giving of the Law on Sinai (comp. verses 3, 4, with Deuteronomy 33:2; Judges 5:4, Judges 5:5; Psalms 68:8; Teman being another name for Seir). The manifestation of "the eternal light" is thus fittingly compared to the rising of the sun, heaven and earth reflecting his glory. The coming of God in judgment was the thought which, in the circumstances, was necessarily the most vividly present to the prophet's mind; and his allusion here to the manifestation of God in his infinite purity served as an appropriate prelude to this.
2. In the plagues which fell upon the Israelites in the desert, as the result of their disobedience (comp. verse 5 with Deuteronomy 32:24). The plague is referred to as going before God, like the ancient shield bearer before the warrior (1 Samuel 17:7), or the courier before the man of rank (2 Samuel 15:1); and pestilence as coming after, as an attendant following his master.
3. In the effects produced upon the Midianites by the advance of the hosts of God's chosen (comp. verses 6, 7 with Exodus 15:13-2.15.15).
4. In the dividing of the Red Sea and the passage of the Jordan (comp. verse 8 with Exodus 15:8; Psalms 114:3-19.114.5). Verse 8 clearly has reference to these Divine interpositions, although the poet, rising with his theme, looked beyond those events and took a wider sweep, and beheld God as going forth, the Divine Warrior in his chariot of salvation, to put his foes to confusion and to effect deliverance for his own.
5. Expressions also are used in verses 11-15 which, though somewhat veiled, doubtless suggested to the Hebrews, as they raised this song of praise, the sun standing still in Gibeon, and the moon in the valley of Ajalon, in the time of Joshua's victory over the Amorites (verse 11); the tragedy of the slaughter of Sisera, the representative of the head of the Canaanitish tribes (verses 13, 14); and the complete discomfiture of the Canaanites (verse 12). So that the "ode" sets forth God's hand in the events connected with the Jewish nation, and in this way illustrates most forcibly the great fact of the Divine working in human history through all the ages.
II. SEE EXPRESSED HERE THE DESIGN OF THE DIVINE WORKING IN HUMAN HISTORY. This is ever wise and good (verse. 13). God rules over all, making all events contribute to the working out of his purposes of love and mercy in the interests of the whole race. Earthly rulers pursue their own ends, and are prompted by considerations of glory and ambition, but their working is in subjection to the Divine control. "The king's heart," etc. (Proverbs 21:1). Nothing can befall us, whether individually or nationally, without the permission of our heavenly Father—nothing. too, which he cannot or will not overrule to the advancement of our highest interests.
"All change changing
Works and brings good;
And though frequent storms, raging,
Carry fire and flood;
And the growing corn is beaten down,
The young fruits fall and moulder,
The vessels reel, the mariners drown
Awing the beholder;
Yet in evil to men is good for man.
Then let our heart be bolder,
For more and more shall appear the plan
As the world and we grow older."
By a process of Divine evolution, God causes the upheavings and commotions of all kinds which occur in the history of the world to result in the good of humanity; and whilst there is occasion for us, as we note his hand in human history, to say to him with reverence and awe, "In anger thou marchest through the earth; in wrath thou treadest down the nations" (Revised Version), yet we find abundant reason for adding, in the spirit of true adoration, "Thou goest forth for the salvation of thy people, for the salvation of thine anointed" (verse 13).
III. SEE SUGGESTED HERE THE INFLUENCE THIS THOUGHT OF THE DIVINE WORKING IN HUMAN HISTORY EXERTS UPON LOYAL HEARTS.
1. In view of God's terribleness in judgment which marks his working in human history, such are filled with sacred awe. The prophet represents his whole being as convulsed with terror as he thought of the retributions God would, in righteousness, inflict (verse 16).
2. In view of God's gracious purpose, in all his interpositions to save, restore, and bless the race, such are inspired with holy joy. Hence, strange paradox! whilst oppressed in spirit they are also glad in heart. "They tremble and rejoice," and this is their rapturous song in the night, expressive of their whole-souled trust through all, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom," etc. (verses 17-19).—S.D.H.
Habakkuk 3:4 (last clause)
The Divine concealments.
"The hiding of his power."
I. IN THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE NATURE AND OPERATIONS OF OUR GOD WE ARE MET BY THE DIVINE CONCEALMENTS. He is a God "that hideth himself" (Isaiah 45:15); "He doeth great things past finding out," etc. (Job 9:10); "He giveth no account of any of his matters" (Job 33:13); "He maketh darkness his secret place" (Psalms 18:11); "How unsearchable," etc.! (Romans 11:33).
1. We realize this as we think of his Being and perfections. "Who by searching," etc.? (Job 11:7). He is veiled to us by the very covering of his splendour. "Who coverest thyself," etc. (Psalms 104:2).
2. And we also realize this as we think of his working. Mystery meets us in every department of his operations. The scientist and the theologian alike become baffled in their researches, the former having to admit his partial failure as he strives to penetrate the mystery of the universe, and the latter being perplexed at the seeming inequality of God's ways in the providential government of the world, and feeling himself enclosed as with a veil when he ventures to inquire into the high themes of revelation. "There is the hiding of his power." Notice—
II. CERTAIN COURSES ARE OPEN TO US IN VIEW OF THIS GREAT FACT.
1. There is that which is pursued by the sceptic. He reasons—God cannot be known; therefore all thought on the part of man concerning him is needless and vain; all worship of him is folly; all structures reared by his servants to his honour mean waste; his very existence is but a possibility. Here we have the old atheism, banishing God from his universe; the old atheism, only arrayed in a newer and more subtle guise,
2. There is, however, "a more excellent way." Though our God is infinitely beyond our poor stretch of thought, yet he may be known by us. Beyond the comprehension of human reason he is nevertheless present to faith, and deigns to reveal himself to the pure and loving heart. And we do well to remember this, and to repose the trust of our hearts in him, and then to set ourselves to inquire whether, after all, the partial obscurity of the Divine nature and operations may not be wisely and graciously as well as necessarily designed. And pursuing this course, such quieting thoughts as the following, bearing upon the Divine concealments, will be suggested to us.
(1) That our personal well being is advanced by this partial concealment which characterizes our God. It would not be well for us to have complete knowledge of him or his purposes and plans, since then there would be no room for the exercise of faith, patience, resignation; life would cease to be a time of discipline; and there would be no scope for trial and no stimulus to earnest and thoughtful inquiry.
(2) That these Divine Concealments, whilst they are for our good, also contribute to the advancement of the Divine glory. "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing" (Proverbs 25:2). It is in this way that he makes his power felt; that he indicates his superiority to man and his independence of him (Isaiah 40:13, Isaiah 40:14).
(3) That whilst much is thus concealed, everything essential to man's salvation is clearly unfolded.
III. GOD SOMETIMES CAUSES LIGHT TO FALL UPON HIS HIDDEN WAYS AND REVEALS HIMSELF AND HIS OPERATIONS MORE FULLY TO THE VIEW.
1. It has been so in reference to the sacred Scriptures. During the lapse of ages God gradually drew back the veil, revealing more of his will than had been unfolded before.
2. It has been so in the working out of the purpose of redeeming mercy. In the cross of Christ there was expressed the power as well as the wisdom of God; but there was the hiding of this Divine power. The spectators of the scene at Calvary saw only the weakness, and the cross was suggestive to them of shame and reproach and dishonour; but there was power there, although hidden, which soon began to be felt, one of the criminals crucified at the side of the Saviour being the first to experience it. The macerated body of the Redeemer was taken down from the cross, and laid in the sepulchre hewn out of the rock; and again there was the hiding of God's power, and it seemed as though death had conquered; but with the dawn of the first day of the week this power became revealed—the mighty Victor rose, despite seal and guard, the earnest and pledge of the ultimate resurrection of all his saints.
3. And it has been so in human experience. In the dark days of sorrow there has been realized "the hiding of God's power;" but there has followed the revelation of his loving purpose and the making clear to troubled hearts that in all "his banner over them was love." And this shall be made still more manifest hereafter, for the eternal day shall break, and the shadows flee away forever!—S.D.H.
Habakkuk 3:17, Habakkuk 3:18
Songs in the night.
The thought underlying these intensely human words is that of holy and triumphant joy manifesting itself on occasions when in the ordinary course of things the very opposite experience might naturally have been expected. The writer was under the elevating influence of sincere piety, and his rapturous outburst sets forth the truth that true religion excites within its recipients such thoughts, inspires within them such emotions, and imparts to them such confidence, as to enable them, even when all is adverse in their experience, to rejoice and shout aloud for joy. These songsters can break forth in song, not only in fair weather, when the sun is shining and the sky is clear and blue, and when all nature is full of exhilaration, but also when the sun is withdrawn, and when no rift can be traced in the dark clouds.
I. THE GOOD IN CIRCUMSTANCES OF EXTREMITY.
1. The language employed is figurative, and strikingly suggests to us circumstances of the deepest human need. The fruit of the fig tree was an extensive article both of food and commerce. The vine was diligently cultivated from the earliest times, and, with its rich clusters of grapes and its refreshing shade, became a very appropriate symbol of prosperity; whilst the olive, living from age to age, and yielding an abundant supply of oil, was also typical of abundance. Hence the failure of all these indicates the deepest affliction, the direst calamity (Psalms 105:33), and the picture of desolation is rendered still more complete when, in addition to these, the bread corn is represented as ceasing, and the flocks and herds as being cut off (Habakkuk 3:17).
2. These adverse circumstances befell the nation, and, as the result of the Chaldean invasion, the direst woes had to be experienced.
3. The children of men still have to pass through such dark seasons. There is extremity arising from
(1) temporal want occasioned by reverses in circumstances;
(2) slander, charges having no foundation in truth, being made and resulting in mistrust and alienation;
(3) mental depression, the strong man being brought down to the weakness of the child, the sturdy oak becoming feebler than the bruised reed;
(4) bereavement, home being rendered "desolate as birds' nests, when the fledglings have all flown."
II. THE GOOD, CIRCUMSTANCED THUS, STAYING THEMSELVES UPON GOD, AND ON HIM AS WORKING IN ALL FOR THEIR SALVATION. "In God," "the God of my salvation" (Habakkuk 3:18). The thought which appears specially to have been present to the mind of the prophet was that of adversity as being God's loving discipline to result in the perfecting of the tried, and resulting in their salvation: "the God of my salvation." A picture called "Cloudland," by a German painter, viewed at a distance appears a mass of gloom and cloud, but on closer inspection every cloud is an angel or an angel's wing; and so our sorrows, when interpreted in the light of this gracious design of our God, become changed into blessings. The thought that God is with us in our darkest experiences, working for our salvation and to secure to us the highest good, that the narrow path through which he, our Captain, causes us to fight our way will bring us to "the prize of our high calling," is indeed inspiring, and grasping it we may well press on, raising high our banners, and cheering the way and the conflict with music and song.
III. THE GOOD, THUS RESTING IN GOD AND APPREHENDING HIS GRACIOUS DESIGN, BEING RENDERED TRANQUIL AND TRIUMPHANT AND INSPIRED WITH HOLY JOY. "Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy," etc. (Habakkuk 3:18). The joy of the wicked ceases when the fig trees cease to blossom, and the vines to yield their fruit (Hosea 2:11, Hosea 2:12), for it lies upon the surface; but the joy of the holy lies deep in the soul, and is a settled and abiding possession, and triumphs under the darkest circumstances of life. Illustrations: David (Psalms 42:7-19.42.9); Asaph (Psalms 73:2, Psalms 73:24, Psalms 73:25); Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25). Resting in God and apprehending his loving working in our life experiences, he will prove himself our Strength and Song, and will become our Salvation.—S.D.H.
Habakkuk 3:19 (first clause)
God our Strength.
"The Lord God is my Strength."
I. THE LORD GOD IS OUR STRENGTH IN THE CONFLICT WITH SIN. Men are drawn into sin in the hope of securing some personal gratification; they yearn after some unattained good, some unrealized satisfaction, and they yield to the enticements of evil in the hope of securing that for which they are thus craving. But the man whose hope is in God, and to whom he is his "exceeding joy," has parted with these earthly yearnings; in proportion as the higher and the eternal has gained an influence over him, this attachment to the lower and the fleeting has been rooted out. With hearts uncentred from the true God, the Chaldeans craved worldly dominion, and in seeking this "rejoiced to devour the poor secretly" (Habakkuk 3:14), whereas Habakkuk with God as his Portion was as unaffected by the vanities of earth as dwellers inland are by the noise of the distant sea. So the good, rejoicing in God, are unallured by the baits of temptation, and are rendered strong to war against evil.
II. THE LORD GOD IS OUR STRENGTH IN THE MIDST OF THE ADVERSE SCENES OF LIFE. Man, seeking his satisfaction in earthly things, must be feeble indeed when these fail him, since, with thoughts and affections centred in these, as they depart they leave him without comfort and in a state of orphanage. But he who has sought and found his satisfaction in God has remaining with him, when things seen and temporal have taken their flight, the unseen and the eternal to cheer and gladden his soul. Hence he is strong, and in the light of the Divine teaching and the Divine love can calmly look at his sorrows until, interpreted thus, they become to him light afflictions which are but for a moment, and which work for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
III. THE LORD GOD IS OUR STRENGTH IN HOLY SERVICE. Such service is ever attended with difficulties and discouragements, and it is only as we lift up our eyes to the everlasting hills, rejoicing in God and becoming strengthened by him, that we can grapple with these and overcome them. It was this prophet's strong faith and delight in his God that enabled him to prove himself so true a witness in the corrupt age in which his lot was cast. It has ever been the case that the men who have been the most effective workers for God have been the men to whom his living Presence has been an intense reality.
IV. THE LORD GOD WILL CONTINUE TO BE THE STRENGTH OF HIS PEOPLE WHEN THEIR TIME OF SERVICE SHALL CLOSE. Whether this prophet lived to see the devastation of his country which he predicted, we cannot tell, the accounts of his life being so meagre and for the most part apocryphal. We know, however, that, from the state of mental doubt and distress in which he was when he commenced his prophecy (Habakkuk 1:2), he fought his way to unswerving trust in God; for his brief prophecy, opening with the expression of his ardent yearning for more light in reference to the mystery of God's ways, closes with notes of triumphant confidence and hope. Often, doubtless, as his faith became strengthened, did he feel himself in life to be so raised and elevated through his hope and joy in God, as to be like the hind bounding joyously to the high places: and raised above the tumults of earth, though not in heaven, yet in "heavenly places" he communed with his God. Even so we should believe that, as his life terminated, he calmly departed in peace, having seen God's salvation. And all faithful servants of Heaven shall find that when heart and flesh fail, God will be the Strength of their hearts and their Portion forever. Happy, then, in life and in death such as can say from their inmost souls, "The Lord is my Strength"—S.D.H.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Habakkuk 3:1, Habakkuk 3:2
God devoutly addressed.
"A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth. O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy." This chapter is considered to be one of the most magnificent compositions of the inspired volume. It was intended undoubtedly to impart consolation in view of the tremendous calamities which were approaching from the Babylonian invasion. "It exhibits," says Dr. Henderson, "a regular ode, beginning with a brief but simple exordium, after which follows the main subject, which is treated in a manner perfectly free and unrestrained, as the different topics arose one after the other in the excited mind of the prophet) and finishes with an epigrammatic resumption of the point first adverted to in the introduction." The whole chapter presents to us God in three aspects—as devoutly addressed, as poetically portrayed, and as triumphantly enjoyed. These two verses present him to us in the first aspect—as devoutly addressed. "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth." Henderson renders the word "shigionoth," "with triumphant music," which indicates that the ode was in all probability intended for the liturgical service in the templet but to be set to the freest and boldest music. Perhaps the prophet himself was an accomplished musician, as well as a bard of the first order. Three things are to be observed in relation to this devout address.
I. IT WAS COMPOSED FOR GENERAL USE. It is not an extemporaneous address; it is a settled form of devotion. Prearranged forms of devotion are both scriptural and expedient. There is a set form given to the priests for blessing the people in Numbers 6:23-4.6.26. Psalms 92:1-19.92.15. is called "a psalm for the sabbath," Psalms 102:1-19.102.28. "a prayer for the afflicted." Hezekiah commanded the Levites to "praise the Lord in the words of David, and of Asaph the seer," which is Psalms 106:1-19.106.48. And Christ himself gave his disciples a form of prayer. Whilst it is scriptural, it is also expedient. It is absurd to suppose that a minister can properly lead the devotions of a congregation by impromptu utterances. The well known apathy of congregations under the influence of extemporaneous prayers shows it cannot be done. For the individual himself, the extemporaneous prayer is all that is needed, for it is the "soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed" But to get a whole congregation into the channel of devotion, a prearranged form seems desirable.
II. IT WAS IN PROSPECT OF A TERRIBLE CALAMITY, "O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid." Terrible was the calamity now looming on the vision of the prophet. The Chaldean army was approaching; the ruthless troops would soon be in his country, sack Jerusalem its metropolis, and bear his countrymen away into captivity. In view of this calamity the prayer is addressed. The threatened judgments of hell may well drive men into the presence of God to sue for mercy. "Call upon me in the day of trouble," etc. Surely, if men fully realized the predicted judgments that will fall on this world, prayer would be the habitude of their souls.
III. IT WAS FOR A REVIVAL OF DIVINE WORK. "Revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy." Keil thus renders the passage: "Jehovah, thy work in the midst of thy years call to life, in the midst of the years make it known." This may mean—Perfect the work of delivering thy people; let not thy promise lie as it were dead, give it new life by performing it. Do it now, in the midst of the years, when our calamities are at their height, when thy wrath seems to be at high tide and terrible. Now, "revive thy work." Three thoughts are suggested:
1. The work of human deliverance is the work of God. This is true of all deliverances—personal, domestic, national, temporal, and spiritual. He alone can effectually deliver man.
2. This work of God may appear to decline. The perils may thicken, the disease grow more desperate, and all things seem as if God had given up his work. This is often the case with religion in the
3. This decline of God's work can only be overcome by his intervention. "Revive thy work."—D.T.
God poetically portrayed and practically remembered.
"God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah," etc. The Bible contains many grand songs and odes. There is the song that Moses taught Israel to sing (Exodus 15:1). There is the triumphant song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:1-7.5.31.). There is the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1). There is the song of David bewailing the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19), and his song of thanksgiving after the communication of Nathan respecting the building of the temple (2 Samuel 7:18). There is the song of Hezekiah after he had received comfort in his sickness and recovered his health (Isaiah 38:9-23.38.20). There is the song of the blessed Virgin, Magnificat; the song of Zacharias, Benedictus; the song of Simeon, Nunc dimittis. But this song of Habakkuk stands in peerless splendour amongst them all. Here the majesty of God in Jewish history is poetically portrayed and practically remembered.
I. POETICALLY PORTRAYED. God is here presented, not as he is in himself—the Absolute One, whom "no one hath seen or can see," nor as he appears to philosophical or logical minds, but as he appears to a lofty imagination divinely inspired. To the prophet's imagination he appears as coming from Teman and Mount Paran, which refers to the visible display of his glory when he gave the Law upon Mount Sinai amidst thunders and lightnings and earthquakes. Then, indeed, his glory covered the heavens. People at a distance witnessed the splendour of his appearance and shouted his praise. He seemed encircled in surpassing radiance; his brightness was as the light; he "had horns coming out of his hand," and there was the "hiding of his power." Henderson renders it, "Rays streamed from his hand, yet the concealment of his glory was there." The idea, perhaps, is that the brightness that was seen was not his full glory, but mere scintillations or emanations of those infinite abysses of his unrevealed and unrevealable glory. What is revealed of God is as nothing compared with the unrevealed. "Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet." Or, as Keil renders it, "Before him goes the plague, and the pestilence follows his feet." The reference is, perhaps, to the plagues which he brought upon the Egyptians in order to obtain the deliverance of his people. "He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting." "He stands, and sets the earth reeling: he looks, and makes nations tremble, primeval mountains burst in pieces, the early hills sink down: his are the ways of the olden time" (Keil). "While," says Henderson, "Jehovah is marching forth to the deliverance of his people, he stops all of a sudden in his progress, the immediate effects of which are universal consternation and terror." "I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble." "When he drove asunder the nations of Canaan," says an old writer, "one might have seen the tents of Cushan in affliction, and the curtains of the land of Midian trembling, and all the inhabitants of the neighbouring countries taking alarm. He struck consternation into the heart of his enemies." "Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation? The bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word? Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers." "'Was it against rivers, O Jehovah, against the rivers, that thy wrath was kindled? that thou ridest hither upon thy horses, thy chariots of salvation? Thy bow lays itself bare. Thou splittest the earth into rivers.' 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. The question is merely a poetical turn given to a lively composition, which expects no answer, and is simply introduced to set forth the greatness of the wrath of God; so that in substance it is an affirmation. The wrath of God is kindled over the rivers, his fury over the sea" (Keil). The riding upon horses is a figurative representation of the celerity of his triumphant progress. "The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high." "The mountains saw thee, they were in pain: the inundation of water overflowed; the abyss uttered its voice, it raised its hands on high." "The mountains being the most prominent objects on the surface of the globe, Habakkuk reiterates in a somewhat prominent form what he had expressed in the sixth verse in order to preserve the impression of the tremendous character of the transactions to illustrate which they had been figuratively introduced" (Henderson). "The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear" (see Joshua 10:12, Joshua 10:13). Some, however, suppose that the reference here is to the surpassing splendour of the Divine manifestation, that the heavenly orbs withdraw altogether from the fear and horror that pervade all nature, which are expressed in the mountains by trembling, and in the waters by roaring, and in the sun and moon by obscuration. God is here viewed as a warrior whose darts are so brilliant that sun and moon pale before them. "Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger." The special reference here may be to his march in leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, and smiting down his enemies. "Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck." "Having described, in language of the most sublime and terrible import, the manifestations of Jehovah in reference to his enemies, Habakkuk now proceeds to specify in express terms the end which they were designed to answer, viz. the deliverance and safety of the chosen people, and then depicts their fatal effects in the destruction of every hostile power" (Henderson). "'Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly. Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.' Thou goest out to the rescue of thy people, to the rescue of thine anointed one: thou dashest in pieces the head from the house of the wicked one, laying bare the foundation even to the neck. Thou piercest with his spears the head of his hordes which storm hither to beat me to powder, whose rejoicing is as it were to swallow the poor in secret. Thou treadest upon the seas: thy horses upon the heap of great waters. The Lord, at whose coming in the terrible glory of the majesty of the Judge of the world, all nature trembles and appears to fall into its primary chaotic state, marches over the earth, and stamps or tramples down the nations with his feet (compare the kindred figure of the treader of the wine press in Isaiah 63:1, Isaiah 63:6). Not all nations, however, but only those who are hostile to him; for he has come forth to save his people and his anointed one. The perfects in verses 13-15 are prophetic, describing the future in spirit as having already occurred" (Keil). Now, all this sublime representation of God is poetic, highly poetic. It is the characteristic of poetry that it ascribes to one class of objects attributes that belong to another; and in this ode we find attributes ascribed to the Creator which belong to the creature. For example, he is here represented as moving from one place to another, from Teman and from Paran; as standing, "he stood," etc.; as conquering his enemies by human weapons; as riding upon horses and driving in chariots; and as fired with indignation. All this is human. The Infinite One does not move from place to place, does not stand in any one spot, knows no rage, fury is not in him. Whilst in this ode the attributes of the creature are applied to the Creator, we find also the attributes of the living ascribed to dead and insentient existences. The mountains are here represented as writhing and in pain, the deep as uttering its voice and lifting up its hands. But whilst we take this as a poetic representation, we must not fail to notice some of the grand truths which it contains.
1. That God's glory transcends all revelations. The brightness of the Shechinah, in which he appeared on Sinai and elsewhere to the Jews, however effulgent, was but a mere scintillation of the infinite splendour of his Being, the mere "hiding of his power." All his glory as seen in nature, both in the material and spiritual universe, is but as one ray to the eternal sun.
2. That God's power over the material universe is absolute. He makes the mountains tremble, and the seas divide, and the orbs of heaven stand still. In the Apocalypse the refulgent glory of the judgment throne is represented as causing the material universe to melt away before it. And before a full manifestation of himself, what are mountains, rivers, sun, and stars? Mere vapours on the wings of the storm.
3. That God's interest in good men is profound and practical. All his operations, as here poetically described, are on behalf of his chosen people. Though he is high, he has respect to the lowly, and to that man he ever looks who is of a contrite and humble spirit.
II. PRACTICALLY REMEMBERED. Why did the prophet recall all these Divine manifestations made to the Hebrew people in past times? Undoubtedly to encourage in himself and in his countrymen unbounded confidence in him at the critical and dangerous period in which they were placed. The Chaldean hosts were threatening their ruin, the political heavens were black with thunderclouds under which his countrymen might well shiver and stand aghast. Under these perilous circumstances he turns to God; he calls to mind and portrays in vivid poetry what he had been to his people in ancient times.
1. He recalls the fact that God had delivered his people in ancient times from perils as great as those to which they were now exposed. From the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Philistines, etc.
2. That God had done this by stupendous manifestations of his power. Manifestations of his power in the sea, in the mountains, in the orbs of heaven, etc.
3. That what God had done for his people he would continue to do. "His ways are everlasting," or, as Keil renders it, "His are ways of the olden times." The idea, perhaps, is that he has an eternal plan, fixed and settled. What he has done for them he will still do. Thus the prophet remembered the days of old, and took courage.—D.T.
Horror of God.
"When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops." "Having finished the poetic rehearsal of the mighty acts of Jehovah on behalf of his people in ancient times, which he had composed in order to inspire the pious with unshaken confidence in him as their covenant God, Habakkuk reverts to the fear which had seized him on hearing of the judgments that were to be inflicted upon his country by the Chaldeans" (Henderson). Our subject is horror of God; and we offer three remarks on this state of mind.
I. IT IS AN ABNORMAL STATE OF MIND. The benevolent character of God, and the moral constitution of the soul are sufficient to show that it was never intended that man should ever dread his Maker or be touched with any servile feelings in relation to him. Unbounded confidence, cheerful trust, loyal love,—these are the normal states of mind in relation to the Creator. How has the abnormal state arisen? The history of the Fall shows this, "I heard thy voice in the garden, and was afraid." Having sinned, a sense of guilt came to the conscience, and conscience under the sense of guilt invested almighty love with attributes of terror. Horror of God springs from a sense of guilt.
II. IT IS AN UNNECESSARY STATE OF MIND. God is not terrible. There is nothing in him to dread. "Fury is not in me." He is love. His voice to man:
1. In all nature is, "Be not afraid." The smiling heavens, the blooming earth, the warbling songsters of the air, in all he says to man, "Be not afraid."
2. In all true philosophy is, "Be not afraid." All things which true philosophy looks into show benevolence m intention, and breathe the genius of love.
3. In all true Christianity is, "Be not afraid." Corrupt Christianity, it is true, makes him horrific; but the Christianity of Christ reveals him in love and in love only. In Christ he comes down in man to man, and demonstrates his love.
III. IT IS A PERNICIOUS STATE OF MIND. Horror is a pernicious state of mind in every way. It is pernicious to the body. The language of the text implies this, "When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself." The prophet's alarm drove back the blood from the extremities to the heart, his flesh grew cold, contracted, his voice quivered, and his very bones seemed to rot. Horrific feeling is inimical to physical health. But dread of God is even more pernicious to soul.
1. It destroys its peace. Fear shakes every power of the soul as the winds shake the leaves of the forest.
2. It depresses its powers. All the faculties of the soul shrink and shiver under the influence of fear, as the herds of the mountain at the approaching thunderstorm.
3. It distorts its views. Fear of God gives men horrid ideas of him. It has forged all the theologies, both in heathendom and Christendom, that have frightened men. It is fear that has given men that Calvin Deity which frightens the millions away from the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
CONCLUSION. Let us preach to men the God of Christ, the God who says to all men, "It is I: be not afraid"—D.T.
The possibilities in the life of a good man.
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour 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," etc. "The desolation here so graphically and forcibly described is that which was to be effected by the Chaldeans, whose army would consume or destroy the best and most necessary productions of the land; not only seizing upon the cattle and devouring the fruits of the earth, but so injuring the trees as to render them incapable of yielding any produce. The passage contains the most beautiful exhibition of the power of true religion to be found in the Bible. The language is that of a mind weaned from earthly enjoyments, and habituated to find the highest fruition of its desires in God. When every earthly stream is dried up, it has an infinite supply in his all-sufficient and exhaustless fulness." Our subject is—The possibilities in the life of a good man.
I. THE GREATEST MATERIAL DESTITUTION IS POSSIBLE TO A GOOD MAN. It is possible for the fig tree not to blossom, etc. Man lives by the fruits of the earth. These may fail from one of two reasons.
1. From human neglect. It is the eternal ordinance of God, that what man wants from the earth for his existence he must get from it by labour—skilful, timely, persevering labour. The earth gives to the brute what he wants without his labour, because the brute is not endowed with qualifications for agricultural work. But man must labour, and this arrangement is wise and beneficent. It promotes health, imparts vigour, and develops faculties both intellectual and moral. Let man cease to cultivate the soil, and the earth will fail to support him either with the right animal or vegetable productions.
2. From Divine visitation. The mighty Maker can, and sometimes does, wither the fruits of the earth, destroy the cattle of the fields. He does this sometimes without instrumentality, by mere volition; sometimes with the feeblest instrumentality—locusts, worms, etc.; sometimes with human instrumentality—war, etc. We say the greatest material destitution is possible to a good man. Possible? It is frequent. In all ages some of the best men have been found in the most destitute circumstances. Even Christ himself had nowhere to lay his head; and the apostles, what had they?
II. THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL JOY IS POSSIBLE TO A GOOD MAN. "I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." "Spiritual joy," says Caleb Morris, "is a free, full, and overflowing stream, that takes its rise in the very depth of the Divine essence, in the immutability, perfection, abundance, munificence, of the Divine nature. While there is a God, and that God is happy, there is no necessity that there should be any unhappy Christians." What is it to "joy in God"?
1. It is the joy of the highest contemplation. The joys of contemplation are amongst the most pure and elevating which intelligent creatures can experience. These rise in the character according to their subjects. The highest subject is God, his attributes and works.
2. It is the joy of the most elevating friendship. The joys of friendship are amongst the chief joys of earth; but the joys of friendship depend upon the purity, depth, constancy, reciprocity of love; and friendship with God secures all this in the highest degree.
3. It is the joy of the sublimest admiration. Whatever the mind admires it enjoys, and enjoys in proportion to its admiration, whether it be a landscape or a painting. Moral admiration is enjoyment of the highest kind, and this in proportion to the grandness of the character. Admiration of Divine excellence is the sublimest joy. "I will joy in God." To joy in God is to bask in sunshine, is to luxuriate in abundance, is to revel in the immensity of moral beauty, is to dwell with God.
III. THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL JOY IN THE MIDST OF THE GREATEST MATERIAL DESTITUTION IS POSSIBLE TO A GOOD MAN "Although" every material blessing is gone, "I will rejoice." Good men have always been enabled to do so. They have been happy in poverty, exultant in prisons, and even triumphant in the martyr's flames. Having God with them, they have had the reality without the forms, they have had the crystal fountain rather than the shallow and polluted streams. Like Paul, they have "gloried in tribulation," etc. All things have been theirs. In material destitution they felt:
1. In God they had strength. "The Lord God is my Strength." "As thy day, so shall thy strength be."
2. In God they had swiftness. "He will make my feet like hinds' feet." The reference is here, perhaps, to the swiftness with which God would enable him to flee from the dangers which were overtaking his country. It is, however, a universal truth that God gives to a good man a holy alacrity in duty. Duty to him is not a clog or a burden, but a delight.
3. In God they had elevation. "He will make me to walk upon mine high places." "They that wait upon God shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles," etc; up upon the mountains, far too high for any enemies to scale. "God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:17, Hebrews 6:18).—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent