Bible Commentary: Habakkuk 3

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Habakkuk 3

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The Psalm of Habakkuk

Habakkuk 3 is a prayer of Habakkuk arranged as a psalm. Observe, for instance, the musical term Selah in verses 3, 9 and 13 (which may denote a musical rest or interlude) and the liturgical note at the end of verse 19, "To the Chief Musician," which occurs in the heading of 55 psalms, and "With my stringed instruments," which essentially appears in the heading of several psalms. In verse 1, Shigionoth is apparently the plural of Shiggaion, which occurs in the heading of Psalm 7. "The word shiggayon comes from shagah, 'to wander,' a wandering song" (Adam Clarke's Commentary, note on Psalm 7; see note on Habakkuk 3:1). It is "apparently an indication of the musical setting to be employed for this poem. It may derive from a verbal root meaning 'to reel' or 'to err,' and if so points to some irregular rhythmic mode. At all events, as when such words occur in Psalm titles, it points to the use of this hymn in Temple worship" (New Bible Commentary, note on verse 1).

Having heard the details of God's coming judgment, Habakkuk is sobered and states his concern (verse 2)—apparently for his own people but perhaps also for the rest of mankind, even including the Babylonians. While he asks that God revive His mighty works of old "in these years" (same verse, Tanakh)—that He would act soon to set things right—He pleads with God to exercise mercy in the dealing out of His judgment.

Habakkuk then reviews some of God's awesome works of the past: His appearance in great power and might at Mount Sinai and His judgments through the wilderness wanderings (verses 3-7), His division of the Red Sea to save His people and destroy the Egyptians and perhaps His division of the Jordan River so the Israelites could invade Canaan (verses 8-10), His judgment on other nations when He intervened for Israel in battle (verses 11-15). "These poetic descriptions are intended to pull away the veil of space and time and look beyond the material universe to sense God's elemental power unleashed in judgment.... The specific incidents in which God's anger flared are only hinted at.... What we are to realize is that the historical events, as terrible as they are...pale when compared to the burning anger of God which the material universe currently conceals. How awful it will be for those who one day experience that anger face-to-face" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verses 3-15).

The prophet trembles at the prospect of people having to face the unleashed power of the Creator (verse 16). But he then states that he will stand through whatever may come—making him an example to others of living faith (verses 17-19). Habakkuk "now trembles and melts with fear as he seems to hear the on-coming march of...God. The end of the verse [i.e., 16] seems full of paradox. How can he tremble and totter and at the same time quietly wait with an apparently assured calm? [Continuing in verses] 17-18 His assurance is born of the living faith which these verses so beautifully express. Though everything which, humanly speaking, supports life may fail, yet he can now rejoice in the Lord. Personal faith is the practical answer to life's discontents. The contemplation of the history of God with His people, that all His deeds are 'for the salvation of thy people' (v. 13), now leads the prophet to rejoice in the God of my salvation. [Concluding in verse] 19 Thus Habakkuk has discovered the answer to his initial questioning, and his deep contentment with the answer is expressed in the testimony that he makes my feet like hinds' feet. He feels as if he is 'walking on air,' so light-hearted and sure-footed is he. Not even the most trying high places (cf. Dt. 32:13) through which life's path may lead can daunt the man of faith" (New Bible Commentary, notes on verses 16-18).

Let us all keep this focus as we face the difficult times ahead. For beyond them lie better days than mankind has ever seen.

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