The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Habakkuk 3

Hab 3:1

Hab 3: Having received the revelation that Yahweh would destroy Babylon, Habakkuk could understand that He was righteous in using that wicked nation to discipline Israel. Babylon would not go free but would perish for her sins. Israel's punishment, on the other hand, was only temporary. This insight led Habakkuk to write the prayer of praise that concludes the book.

This hymn is similar in language and imagery to Deu 33, Psa 18:4-19, and Psa 68.

A PRAYER OF HABAKKUK THE PROPHET: Habakkuk's prayer is hymnic in form, like many of the pss (cp Psa 16; 30; 45; 88; 102; 142), and it apparently stood apart from the rest of the book at one time, as this title verse suggests.

SHIGIONOTH: The singular, "Shiggaion", occurs in the superscript to Psa 7 (see Psa 7:1n). "To cry aloud, or to roar" (as a lion: cp v 2 here), either because of pain or danger. Suggests intense feeling.

Hab 3:2

This verse contains the only three petitions in Habakkuk's prayer: that God would: (a) preserve life, (b) provide understanding, and (c) remember mercy.

I HAVE HEARD OF YOUR FAME; I STAND IN AWE OF YOUR DEEDS, O LORD: The prophet acknowledged that he had received the Lord's revelation (cp Hab 2:1). It was essentially a revelation of Yahweh -- about His justice, sovereignty, and power -- and it had filled him with awe. Reception of divine revelation resulted in the fear of the Lord (cp Pro 1:7).

RENEW THEM IN OUR DAY: "Them" being "your deeds". Habakkuk called on God to stir up the work that He said He would do in judging Babylon.

IN OUR TIME MAKE THEM KNOWN: He asked God to make His deeds known to His people "in the midst of the years," namely the years between Judah's judgment and Babylon's (cp Hab 2:6-20). God undoubtedly did this in part through the Book of Habakkuk.

IN WRATH REMEMBER MERCY: While God was preparing Babylon for His wrath, Habakkuk asked Him to remember Israel by extending mercy to her. This is essentially a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem (Psa 122:6; Isa 54:7,8).

Hab 3:3

Vv 3-15: It is possible to read this vision in the future tense: (1) "In vv 3–15 there is a mixture of... verbal forms... All of the forms are best taken as indicating completed action from the speaker's standpoint (all of the prefixed forms being regarded as preterites). The forms could be translated with the past tense, but this would be misleading, for this is not a mere recital of God's deeds in Israel's past history. Habakkuk here describes, in terms reminiscent of past theophanies, his prophetic vision of a future theophany (see v 7, 'I saw'). From the prophet's visionary standpoint the theophany is 'as good as done.' This translation [ie, the NET] uses the English present tense throughout these verses to avoid misunderstanding. A similar strategy is followed by the NEB; in contrast note the NIV and NRSV, which consistently use past tenses throughout the section, and the NASB, which employs present tenses in vv 3–5 and mostly past tenses in vv 6–15" (NETn). The vision is BOTH a past tense, AND a future tense: the theophanies of the past (esp that of the Red sea and Sinai) becomes a pattern for a future theophany. (2) " The prophet did not write, 'Eloah came from Teman.' The word rendered 'came' is not 'bah', as in Deu 33:2, where it is correctly translated, but 'yahvo', the future of the same verb, and, therefore, to be rendered 'shall come in'. The text should be rendered thus: 'Eloah shall come in from the South, and the Holy One from mount Paran" (Eur).

GOD CAME FROM TEMAN, THE HOLY ONE FROM MOUNT PARAN: The prophet pictured Yahweh as arising over His people like the rising sun, appearing over Teman, a large town in Edom, and Mt Paran, the mountain opposite Teman (cp Deu 33:2-4). These locations were to the east of the Israelites as they departed from Egypt.

GOD: The name for "God" used here, "Elohim," is in the singular, "Eloah," perhaps stressing the essential unity of God who is the Holy One, and the Strong One!

SELAH: See Lesson, Selah.

HIS GLORY COVERED THE HEAVENS: The Strong One's splendor covered the heavens like the sun after sunrise. The self-manifestation of His glory filled the earth with His fame. "Glory" (Heb "hod") describes primarily kingly authority (eg, Num 27:20; 1Ch 29:25; etc), and here it has particular reference to Yahweh's sovereignty over creation and history. This is evidently a description of the LORD's appearance on Mt Sinai to the Israelites' forefathers. Moses used similar terms to describe His coming then (cp Deut 33:2).

Judgment at Sinai?: Hab 3:3 may be prophetic, but the effect of the mention of Sinai is to draw an analogy between the mighty deeds of Yahweh in Moses' day and the wonderful deliverance expected and prayed for by the prophet. However, where in all the ch is the resurrectional judgment referred to -- or even implied? It is not. We must make a far-reaching inference to use this passage as "proof" of the Sinai location. We must set up a sequence of events, a sequence which may appear plausible, but about which we simply cannot be positive. It would be far more reasonable to interpret Scripture with Scripture, and surmise that the Sinaitic (and Egyptian) revelations of God in the LD will be for the purpose of saving the natural Jews out of Egypt (as the historical allusions cited above imply), not for the judgment of the responsible out of all nations.

Hab 3:4

HIS SPLENDOR WAS LIKE THE SUNRISE: The radiance of the Holy One's glory was like the sunlight. Elsewhere Christ is pictured as the Sun of righteousness, with healing in his "rays" or "beams" (Mal 4:2). The shining forth of this Sun will destroy the forces of darkness (Isa 60:1,2), for he is the Light of the world (John 8:12), and as such he is the destroyer of darkness (John 1:8,9). Cp Psa 19:6; 2Sa 23:3-6.

RAYS FLASHED FROM HIS HANDS: Power seemed to flash from His fingertips as rays (lit, horns) of light stretch from the rising sun (cp Exo 34:29,30, 35).

WHERE HIS POWER WAS HIDDEN: The KJV has: "and there was the hiding of his power." In spite of this shining forth in glory, most of His power remained concealed. Like the Shekinah Glory that led the children of Israel out of Egypt, the pillar of fire was concealed in a heavy cloud -- and could at the same time appear light to the Hebrews and a dark, impenetrable cloud to the Egyptians.

Even when the glory of God is revealed in the earth in the person of Christ and his glorified and immortalized saints, that glory will not necessarily shine forth at all times and for all peoples.

Hab 3:5

PLAGUE WENT BEFORE HIM; PESTILENCE FOLLOWED HIS STEPS: As God moves through the earth, like the sun, He burns up what is in front of Him and chars what He leaves behind. Plague (lit, burning heat) and pestilence (ie, devastation, "burning coals": KJV) are the results and evidences of His searing holiness.

PESTILENCE: Heb "reseph". According to Strong, "reseph" is related to "seraph", ie the seraphim in Isa 6:2 (cp Rev 4:8). "There [may be] mythological echoes here, for in Canaanite literature the god Resheph aids Baal in his battles" (NETn).

FOLLOWED HIS STEPS: Or, "were at his feet." Cp Rev 1:15: "His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace."

Hab 3:6

HE STOOD, AND SHOOK THE EARTH: See Lesson, Earthquakes.


HIS WAYS ARE ETERNAL: "What He hath done at one time, He will do yet again. Man's ways are variable, but God's ways are everlasting. There are many reasons for this most comforting truth: among them are the following -- the Lord's ways are the result of wise deliberation; He ordereth all things according to the counsel of His own will. Human action is frequently the hasty result of passion, or fear, and is followed by regret and alteration; but nothing can take the Almighty by surprise, or happen otherwise than He has foreseen. His ways are the outgrowth of an immutable character, and in them the fixed and settled attributes of God are clearly to be seen. Unless the Eternal One Himself can undergo change, His ways, which are Himself in action, must remain for ever the same. Is He eternally just, gracious, faithful, wise, tender? -- then His ways must ever be distinguished for the same excellences. Beings act according to their nature: when those natures change, their conduct varies also; but since God cannot know the shadow of a turning, His ways will abide everlastingly the same. Moreover there is no reason from without which could reverse the divine ways, since they are the embodiment of irresistible might. The earth is said, by the prophet, to be cleft with rivers, mountains tremble, the deep lifts up its hands, and sun and moon stand still, when Jehovah marches forth for the salvation of His people. Who can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou? But it is not might alone which gives stability; God's ways are the manifestation of the eternal principles of right, and therefore can never pass away" (CHS).

Hab 3:7

I SAW THE TENTS OF CUSHAN IN DISTRESS, THE DWELLINGS OF MIDIAN IN ANGUISH: Habakkuk saw the semi-nomadic Ethiopians and Midianites, who lived on both sides of Mt Sinai, trembling with fear because they witnessed something of Yahweh's power. (The terms Midianite and Cushite both described Moses' wife (Exo 2:18-22; 18:1-5; Num 12:1), so they may be synonyms here.) Perhaps this is a reference to Yahweh parting the Red Sea. It is small wonder that these tribes trembled since His glance can cause mountains to melt (v 6).

Hab 3:8

WERE YOU ANGRY WITH THE RIVERS, O LORD? WAS YOUR WRATH AGAINST THE STREAMS?: With rhetorical questions Habakkuk affirmed that Yahweh was not angry with the (Nile and Jordan) rivers and the (Red) sea when He transformed them. He was demonstrating His power for the salvation of His people, as a divine warrior riding His chariot.

Yahweh was not angry with the rivers and streams per se, but with the nations which were represented thereby (cp figures of speech in Isa 8:7; 18:2; 27:12; Rev 9:14; 16:12).

DID YOU RAGE AGAINST THE SEA...?: Nor was He angry with the sea, except insofar as the troubled sea represented the nations that fought against Him (cp Isa 57:20,21).

THE SEA: The chaotic waters are perhaps intended to conjure up the picture -- familiar in Canaanite and Babylonian mythology -- of the god's (ie, in this case, Yahweh's) primordial victory over Leviathan the "god" of the sea: see Lesson, Leviathan -- esp "OT History".

WHEN YOU RODE WITH YOUR HORSES AND YOUR VICTORIOUS CHARIOTS: Or "chariots of salvation" (AV). The cherubim are pictured as chariots (1Ch 28:18; cp 2Ki 13:12; Deu 33:26).

Hab 3:9

YOU UNCOVERED YOUR BOW, YOU CALLED FOR MANY ARROWS: He pulled His powerful bow out and prepared to use it. He called for many arrows to shoot at His enemies (cp Deu 32). Cp Isa 49:2; Zec 9:13.

"God had enlisted weapons and pledged them on oath for the destruction of His enemies" (Robertson).

SELAH: See Lesson, Selah.

YOU SPLIT THE EARTH WITH RIVERS: The prophet envisioned the rivers as God's instruments in dividing portions of the earth.

Hab 3:10

THE MOUNTAINS SAW YOU AND WRITHED: Habakkuk personified the mountains and described them as shaking when they saw the LORD. Even the contours of the Land will be changed in the Last Days (Psa 48:2; Zec 14:10).

TORRENTS OF WATER SWEPT BY: Torrential rainstorms that resulted in flooding swept by Him (cp Gen 7:11,19,20). Nations at war are pictured as raging, out-of-control rivers: Isa 17:13.

THE SEA ROARED AND LIFTED ITS WAVES ON HIGH: The sea lifted up its waves like hands in response to His command (cp Psa 77:15-17,20; Luke 21:25; Psa 93). This suggests the dividing of the Red Sea when Israel marched out of Egypt (Exo 14:22; 15:8).

Hab 3:11

SUN AND MOON STOOD STILL IN THE HEAVENS: As at the time of Joshua (Jos 10:1213).


Hab 3:12

YOU THRESHED THE NATIONS: As an ox treads out the grain. Other "threshing" language: Mic 4:18; Joel 3:13,14; Rev 14:15-20.

Hab 3:13

YOU CAME OUT TO DELIVER YOUR PEOPLE, TO SAVE YOUR ANOINTED ONE: This may refer to Moses in his battles with Israel's enemies, or it may refer to a coming anointed one -- the Messiah (cp Psa 2:2; Dan 9:26).

YOU CRUSHED THE LEADER OF THE LAND OF WICKEDNESS: Or "the head" of wickedness (with ref to Gen 3:15). The LORD had also smitten the leaders of many evil nations that opposed the Israelites, beginning with Pharaoh.

YOU STRIPPED HIM FROM HEAD TO FOOT: He had disabled their nations as thoroughly as when someone slits a body open from bottom to top or tears a building off its foundation.

See Lesson, Selah.

Hab 3:15

YOU TRAMPLED THE SEA WITH YOUR HORSES, CHURNING THE GREAT WATERS: Yahweh had trodden down the Red Sea as though He rode through it on cosmic horses causing it to surge away and leave a dry road for His people to walk out of Egypt (cp v 8).

Hab 3:17

Vv 17,18: Even though everything would get worse in Judah, Habakkuk determined to praise Yahweh and to rejoice in the God who would save Him (cp Psa 18:46; 25:5). The prophet pictured the worst of circumstances by using a variety of rural metaphors drawn from plant and animal life. Taken together they have the effect of saying that no matter what bad thing may happen, Habakkuk, and hopefully all Israel, would trust God. Even though the prophet felt weak physically, he was strong in faith spiritually. Thus he would live (cp Hab 2:4). Many of these bad conditions did mark Judah when the Babylonians overthrew the nation (cp Lam 2:12,20; 4:4,9,10; 5:17,18).

Figuratively speaking, the Israelite fig tree was barren (Joel 1:7), the Israelite vine was not yielding fruit (Eze 15), the Israelite olive was unproductive (Rom 11:17), the Israelite field was weed-infested (Heb 6:8; Jer 4:3), and the Israelite flock and herd were poor and scattered (Eze 34:2). Yet... the righteous would still rejoice in God!

Hab 3:18

YET WILL I REJOICE IN THE LORD, I WILL BE JOYFUL IN GOD MY SAVIOR: Habakkuk does not end with a wail but with a song. It does not end with inquiry but with affirmation. It does not end with frustration but with faith.

"Thank God for His glorious invitation and opportunity to serve Him totally with all your life and strength. And pray without ceasing for the precious divine blessing of ever more zeal and enthusiasm and dedication and intensity of effort. Working for God is the only true living: all other activities are various deceptive degrees of death. It is a joy and a privilege far higher than anything this dead, dull world can ever offer, or even comprehend. All worldly accomplishment ends in the grave" (GVG).

Hab 3:19

THE SOVEREIGN LORD IS MY STRENGTH: Yahweh, Habakkuk's master, was the source of His strength, even though the prophet's legs shook (v 16).

HE MAKES MY FEET LIKE THE FEET OF A DEER, HE ENABLES ME TO GO ON THE HEIGHTS: He enabled his servant to walk through the perilous valley he faced as surefootedly as the hoofs of a gazelle enabled it to navigate precipitous places (cp Deu 32:13; 33:29; 2Sa 22:34; Psa 18:32,33,39).

FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. ON MY STRINGED INSTRUMENTS: The final footnote to this book gives direction to the choir director who used this chapter as part of Israel's formal worship. Habakkuk specified the use of stringed instruments to accompany the singing undoubtedly because they set the proper mood.

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