Habakkuk’s Vision of the Divine Warrior, 1-15

3:1 This is a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet:
3:2 LORD, I have heard the report of what you did;
I am awed, LORD, by what you accomplished.
In our time repeat those deeds;
in our time reveal them again.
But when you cause turmoil, remember to show us mercy!

A prayer – There is not only a change of form here (ch 3 is essentially a psalm) but also of mood.  Note the contrast with Hab 1:1 – ‘the burden of Habakkuk’.

On shigionoth – Cf. Ps 7:1.  Probably a musical direction.

In this psalm of praise and petition, there is a joint focus on who God is, and what he has done. ‘He remembers the mighty acts of God in the exodus, law-giving at Sinai and conquest of the land. His awesome power before mighty armies causes the psalmist to quake in awe, but he knows that this mighty God is love and will care for him. His terror can thus be safely replaced by a joyful calm.’ (NBC) we think, perhaps of the roar of Aslan in the Narnia Chronicles of C.S. Lewis; the roar that was so fearful was a great comfort to those under the great lion’s protection. ‘The presence of God is relative in its impact, depending on the relationship which those to whom he comes share with him. Those who oppose him and his people will experience the Warrior in wrath (12) as he moves throughout the earth. They will be surprised at their defeat when they went forth expecting victory. Those who are in God’s will know this same Warrior as the gracious Saviour and Deliverer.’ (NBC)

With regard to the outworking of God’s purposes in history, ‘Habakkuk 1–2 appears to emphasize the human agents in the outworking of this pattern; chapter 3 reveals its inward dynamics in the sovereign agency of God, who implements the covenant through whatever earthly means he chooses. Together they form a compelling and tightly meshed testimony to the ways of God in judgment and in grace.’ (Amerding)

J.H. Eaton thought that this psalm might have been assigned to be sung in the temple at the time of the Autumn harvest festival (the Feast of Tabernacles).  King and people would assemble to pray for rain and fertility of land and for deliverance from oppression.  F.F. Bruce (This Is That, p44) concurs.

The faith expressed in this psalm extends much further than the present crisis involving Judah and Babylon: ‘The hymn really concerns God’s final reckoning with the wicked and the establishment of his order in all the earth … of the time when God brings his purpose for the earth to completion.’ (E. Achtemeier)

Habakkuk prayed because (a) God had spoken; (b) he was overwhelmed by God’s majesty; (c) he longed for God’s work to succeed; (d) he wanted God to be merciful.

I have heard of your fame – or, more specifically, ‘your report’, or ‘your speech’.  Having set himself to listen in Hab 2:1.

‘Those that would rightly order their speech to God must carefully observe, and lay before them, his speech to them. He had said (ch. 2:1), I will watch to see what he will say; and now he owns, Lord, I have heard thy speech; for, if we turn a deaf ear to God’s word, we can expect no other than that he should turn a deaf ear to our prayers, Prov. 28:9.’ (MHC)

‘The noun “fame” is normally used of secondhand information, suggesting a remoteness from the hearer’s own experience to the persons or events referred to.’ (EBC)

‘The knowledge of God’s deeds in Israel’s past leads the prophet to a two-pronged response. He personally experiences an awe-filled respect at the power of God, the one who sustains and provides for his creation. He also uses this knowledge of God’s previous acts to request that they be repeated in Israel’s present. In the very wrath which Habakkuk has prayed befall the sinners of his day, he requests that God allow his tempering mercy.’ (cf. Ex 34:6 Lk 1:54) (NBC)

I stand in awe of your deeds – The word translated ‘awe’ could equally be rendered ‘fear’. ‘Many people have the idea that its always an enjoyable experience getting to know God in a deeper way, but thats not what the saints of God in the Bible would say. Moses trembled at Mt. Sinai when God gave the law. (Heb 12:18-21) Joshua fell on his face before the Lord (Jos 5:13-15) and so did David. (1 Chron 21:16) Daniel became exhausted and ill after seeing the visions God gave him, (Dan 8:27 10:11) and the vision of Christs glory on the Mount of Transfiguration left Peter, James, and John facedown on the ground and filled with terror. (Mt 17:6) When John saw the glorified Christ, he fell at his feet as though dead.’ (Rev 1:17) (Wiersbe)

The fear of the Lord, according to the OT, is not only the beginning of wisdom but virtually synonymous with true religion.

Like another psalmist (Psa 103:7) Habakkuk knew his history.  Do we?

Renew them in our day…in our time – or, ‘In the midst of the years’ (RSV, etc).  This phrase ‘probably has an eschatological thrust, denoting the interval between the present time and the end (Hab 2:3) appointed by God.  This interval appears to Habakkuk “as a long series of years”, characterised by the apparent absence of God.’ (Prior, citing Keil).

Act mightily amongst us in today’s emergency, just as you have in the past.

The more clearly we can discern God’s actions in history, the more confidently we will be able to pray for his work to be renewed in our own day.

Make them known – ‘The prayer is for divine revelation…Unless the Lord does open blind eyes, his work remains unseen, unrecognised and unappreciated; hence the fundamental importance of Habakkuk’s double plea: “Renew your work; reveal your work.” Both are necessary.’ (Prior)

In wrath remember mercy – Both words have strong emotional connotations.  The word for ‘wrath’ is unusual, and suggests trembling.  The word for ‘mercy’ is related to ‘womb’, and ‘signifies a warm love of great depth’ (Patterson, WEC).

Show mercy to your people, even though they have aroused your anger.  And Eph 2:4 teaches Christians that God does precisely that. On praying for the removal of God’s anger; see Ps 39:10 79:5 80:4 Dan 9:16. Certainly the Lord did show mercy to the Jews, for he preserved them in Babylon and then permitted a remnant to return to their land and establish the nation.

Only this verse, out of the entire chapter, contains any requests for God to do anything.  In these three phrases, the prophet is praying that the Lord would do something for his own cause (‘renew your deeds in our day’; something for his own honour (‘in our time make them known’), and something for the comfort of his people (‘in wrath remember mercy’).  We may summarise the three petitions: ‘renew’, ‘remind’, ‘remember’.

‘Both wrath and mercy are part of the multi-faceted nature of God. Even when he is wilfully ignored or blatantly disobeyed, the love of God for his people draws him inexorably to them in spite of their actions towards him. (cf. Ho 11:8-11) This is not an expectation of universalism, that God will ultimately forgive all wrongs and restore everyone to a relationship with himself. It is a prayer that if and when the sinners return in true penitence to their Creator, he would forgive and restore them to himself. This prayer for grace is not unique in the OT, since the foundation for it is laid in the constitutional covenant document for the people of Israel (Dt. 30:1-10). Here, forgiveness is provided in anticipation of its being needed by sinful Israel. This verse in Habakkuk thus encapsulates the message not only of the book, but of the very gospel itself.’ (NBC)

‘The love of God is so strong that even when he is flagrantly ignored, deserted or rejected, he is drawn, as a husband to his wife, or a mother to her child, to love in spite of the actions of the other (cf. Isa. 1:2, 18–20; Hos. 11:8–11). The wrongs are real, but so too are the compassion and the desire to forgive, if the ‘condition’ for restoration—a renewed desire to acknowledge God—is present to allow the floods of his mercy to be unleashed. This mercy is described in the last part of the psalm (vv. 16–19). So verse 2 thus serves as an encapsulation of the message of the book, and as a prayer all today need to make to the ever-just but ever-compassionate God.’ (Baker, TOTC)

‘Of one fact Habakkuk could now have no doubts: that with God there is holy, righteous anger.  However long he bides his time, however quiet and distance he appears to have become, however much violence and greed he seems to bypass or overlook, there is woe and wrath for the unrighteous: “the arrogant man shall ot abide” (Hab 2:5).’ (Prior)

‘Even those that are under the tokens of God’s wrath must not despair of his mercy; and mercy, mere mercy, is that which we must flee to for refuge, and rely upon as our only plea. He does not say, Remember our merit, but, Lord, remember thy own mercy.’ (MHC)

3:3 God comes from Teman,
the sovereign one from Mount Paran.
His splendor covers the skies,
his glory fills the earth.

Many Muslim scholars consider v3 (along with Deut 33:2) to be a prophecy of the prophet Mohammed.  But ‘Paran is not near Mecca where Mohammed came, but is hundreds of miles away. Furthermore, the verse is speaking of “God” coming, not Mohammed. Finally, the “praise” could not refer to Mohammed (whose name means “the praised one”), since the subject of both “praise” and “glory” is God (“His”), and Mohammed is not God.’ (Howe & Geisler, When Critics Ask)

3:4 He is as bright as lightning;
a two-pronged lightning bolt flashes from his hand.
This is the outward display of his power.
3:5 Plague goes before him;
pestilence marches right behind him.
3:6 He takes his battle position and shakes the earth;
with a mere look he frightens the nations.
The ancient mountains disintegrate;
the primeval hills are flattened.
He travels on the ancient roads.

Vv 3-15 take the form of a theophany – the most extensive in the entire OT.  It vividly recalls the 400 years of slavery in Egypt, the Exodus, the wanderings in the wilderness, the giving of the law at Sinai, and the entry into the promised land.

Most of the tenses in this passage are perfect.  KJV, RSV and NIV all translate the verbs in the past tense.  But the perfect tense is often used to express present confidence in a future event which is ‘as good as’ already accomplished.  Indeed, these words point to a final fulfilment when ‘all the tribes of the earth…will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (Mt 24:30).

‘Everything about this stanza 3-5 reveals the glory of God. He is called The Holy one (Hab 3:3, and see Hab 1:12), a name used in Isaiah at least thirty times. His glory covered the heavens (Hab 3:3) is an anticipation of the time when his glory will cover all the earth (Hab 2:14). God’s appearance was like the lightning that plays across the heavens before the storm breaks. All of creation joined in praising him as The earth was full of his praise. God’s brightness was like the sunrise only to a greater degree. (see Mt 17:2) Horns means rays: rays flashed from his hand (Hab 3:4, NIV) where his power was hidden.’ (Wiersbe)

God came – An unusual and archaic name (Eloah) is used for God here.  This may be intended not only to evoke memories of the distance past, but also to represent the perspective of Israel’s enemies, to whom God was not Yahweh, the covenant Lord, but a more distance and fearsome Creator.

‘Only two words, but they touch the heart of the matter – “God came.” Taking the inspired prophet as our guide, we may say that revival is a visitation of God and the characteristic features are “his glory,” “his praise,” “his hand” (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), “his power”.

The holy one – This expression, a favourite of Isaiah, implies here the ‘radical and dangerous otherness of God, his separation and elevation over all possible rivals.’ (Roberts)

‘Habakkuk had already complained that the holy God was not showing forth his holiness when he let an unholy nation like Babylon attack his people (Hab 1:12)’ (NAC).   But now he sees ‘the righteousness and holiness of God in action. With impartiality he shall strike down first the ungodly in Israel, and then the heathen Babylonian.’ (Robertson)

Teman…Paran – These places, both south of Judah, are associated with Sinai, and therefore with the giving of the law.

Selah – The only occurrence outside the Psalms.  The word is probably some kind of musical instruction, and may be an indication for the instrumentalists to play while the worshippers ponder the truths they have just been uttering.

v4 The language here is similar to that used in hymns to the Babylonian sun-god, Shamash.  Sun-worship even seems to have been prevalent for a while in ancient Israel, particularly during the reign of Manasseh: the horse and chariots of the sun that he set up were destroyed by Josiah during his cleansing of the temple, 2 Kings 23:11.

Sunrise – The underlying imagery is unclear: the reference could be to the dawn (NIV), sunlight (NASB, NRSV, CEV), or to lightning (GNB).  But, whatever the precise allusion may be, it is clear that God’s glory is being likened to a radiant brightness, to an overpowering brilliance.

His hand – suggestive of God’s readiness for action.

…where his power was hidden – or ‘veiled’.  ‘The sheer incandescence of the light which shone as God presenced himself in the midst of his people had to be veiled, if it was not going to burn up everyone and everything like some former-day nuclear or chemical explosion.’ (Prior)  See 1 Jn 1:5; 1 Tim 6:16.

Even when God’s power is veiled, v4, ‘it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’, Heb 10:31, for ‘our God is a consuming fire’, Heb 12:29.

The prophet recalls the work of God in sending the plagues amongst the Egyptians (Ex 7-12).

In OT times, God’s glory was often revealed in punishments meted out to Israel’s enemies, and sometimes to Israel herself. In NT times, his glory is principally revealed in his Son, Jn 1:14. In the person and work of Christ, then, we learn that God does indeed ‘in wrath remember mercy’. As an illustration of the contrast, recall that the first plague of Moses in Egypt was the turning of water into blood, (Ex 7:14-25) while our Lord’s first recorded miracle was the turning of water into wine.

‘Now the Almighty has arrived.  Like a great colossus towering over the mountain peaks, the Lord God measures the earth, claiming the right of domain inherent in himself as Creator.  With a glance of his eye, he manifests his sovereignty in apportioning territories…His glance startles the nations.’ (Robertson)

The ancient mountains crumbled – Even the mountains and hills are seen as transient compared with their Creator, whose ways are eternal.  ‘The ‘mountains’ and ‘hills’ are symbols of grandeur, permanence, and security in the ‘earth’ (e.g., Gen 49:26; Deut 33:15); yet they too are revealed as frail and impermanent … Although they appear to be ‘age-old’, in truth God alone is eternal.’ (Armerding)

‘This verse moves into the cosmic and eschatological aspects of Yahweh’s coming (cf. Ps. 97:4–5; Isa. 29:6; Joel 3:16; Nah. 1:5; Zech. 14:4; Rev. 16:18). It moves from a unique experience of God when he brought his people out of Egypt to a declaration about God’s character, the way he is for all time, and so will be again.’ (Baker, TOTC)

‘Habakkuk’s description is not far removed from modern accounts of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other so-called “natural” disasters.’ (Prior)

His ways are eternal – the mountains are ‘ancient’, and the hills ‘age-old’, but God’s ways are yet more enduring.

3:7 I see the tents of Cushan overwhelmed by trouble;
the tent curtains of the land of Midian are shaking.
3:8 Is the LORD mad at the rivers?
Are you angry with the rivers?
Are you enraged at the sea?
Is this why you climb into your horse-drawn chariots,
your victorious chariots?
3:9 Your bow is ready for action;
you commission your arrows.
You cause flash floods on the earth’s surface.
3:10 When the mountains see you, they shake.
The torrential downpour sweeps through.
The great deep shouts out;
it lifts its hands high.

‘The nations that lay between Egypt and Canaan are typified by Cushan and Midian, two peoples living near Edom. As the news of the exodus from Egypt spread quickly through the nations, the people were terribly frightened and wondered what would happen to them when Israel arrived on the scene.’ (Ex 15:14-16 23:27 Deut 2:25 Jos 2:8-11) (Wiersbe)

v8 Note the switch, not only from ‘he’ to ‘you’, but also from a general word for God (Eloah, v3) to the covenant name of the Lord (Yahweh).  ‘The prophet recognises this holy, eternal, glorious Soveign as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of their fathers, the God of Moses and Joshua.’ (Prior)

In vv8-10, the prophet uses dramatic imagery to describe the Israelites’ march through the wilderness towards the promised land.

‘To talk of God venting his anger on nature is as inappropriate as ascribing divine attributes and powers to nature, as did the people who inhabited the land of Canaan before the Israelites appeared on the scene.’ (Prior)

‘These powers are variously allotted among members of the CAnaanite pantheon, but in the Hebrew scriptures they are all controlled by the one living and true God.  Among the Canaanite divinities Asherah walks on the sea and Baal rides on the clouds, but the God is Israel exercises these and other prerogatives himself.’ (Bruce)

Your victorious chariots – hints at the purpose in all this – to deliver his people.

You uncovered your bow – You took it out of its case, in readiness for battle.

v10 The Israelites have now entered the promised land and are conquering their enemies there. This verse describes the victory of Deborah and Barak over Sisera (Judg. 4-5), when a sudden rainstorm turned the battle-field into a swamp and left the enemy’s chariots completely useless.

LIfted its waves on high – or ‘its hands’ – to acknowledge defeat.

3:11 The sun and moon stand still in their courses;
the flash of your arrows drives them away,
the bright light of your lightning-quick spear.
3:12 You furiously stomp on the earth,
you angrily trample down the nations.
3:13 You march out to deliver your people,
to deliver your special servant.
You strike the leader of the wicked nation,
laying him open from the lower body to the neck.

This verse seems to describe the famous miracle of Joshua when the day was prolonged so Joshua would have more time for a total victory. (Jos 10:12-14)

In all of this, ‘history has become a series of divine actions, the purpose of which cannot be doubted.’ (Prior)

Now God’s double purpose is clearly stated: to ‘deliver’, to ‘save’, and to punish ‘wickedness’.

To save your anointed one – ‘It could here be speaking of the king, one who is customarily anointed (cf. 1 Sam. 10:1; 16:12–13; 24:6, 10; 2 Sam. 12:7). He is the representative of the people (cf. Isa. 7:8–9) and therefore his consecration by anointing would also be theirs.’ (Baker TOTC)

‘The term “anointed one” was used of the high priest or the king as a member of the Davidic line but could also indicate another divinely selected individual, such as Cyrus in Isa 45:1. In this context the term has multiple meanings. In reference to the exodus it would most likely point to Moses. But in Habakkuk’s day it referred to God’s anointed people in general and a hoped-for king/deliverer in particular. In the context of sacred canon it looked forward to Messiah, fulfilled in the life, sufferings, death, resurrection, and salvation of Jesus of Nazareth.’ (NAC)

‘The whole purpose of the psalm and of God’s theophany is to indicate the continued presence of gracious care coupled with divine judgment. Here we have God’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaints (Hab 1:12–17)—his people will be saved.’ (Baker, TOTC)

‘There were three things that God had a eye to, in giving Israel so many bloody victories over the Canaanites:—(1.) He would hereby make good his promise to the fathers; it was according to the oaths of the tribes, even his word, v. 9. He had sworn to give this land to the tribes of Israel; it was his oath to Isaac confirmed to Jacob, and repeated many a time to the tribes of Israel, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan…(2.) He would hereby show his kindness to his people, because of their relation to him, and his interest in them: Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, v. 13…(3.) He would hereby give a type and figure of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. It is for salvation with thy anointed, with Joshua, who led the armies of Israel and was a figure of him whose name he bore, even Jesus our Joshua. What God did for his Israel of old was done with an eye to his anointed, for the sake of the Mediator, who was both the founder and foundation of the covenant made with them. It was salvation with him, for in all the salvations wrought for them, God looked upon the face of the anointed, and did them by him.’ (MHC)

3:14 You pierce the heads of his warriors with a spear.
They storm forward to scatter us;
they shout with joy as if they were plundering the poor with no opposition.
3:15 But you trample on the sea with your horses,
on the surging, raging waters.

With his own spear you pierced his head – The punishment is, at least in part, self-inflicted.  This was certainly the case when Israel’s enemies ‘destroyed one another’, 2 Chron 20:20-23.

The sea was a source of horror to many, and so it is not surprising that the imagery is picked up in the vision of the consummation of all things: ‘and the sea was no more’, Rev 21:1.

The whole of the preceding passage is ‘a collage, a collecting of many images to convey an expression both of past experience and future expectation.’ (Robertson).  ‘Habakkuk’s psalm is a blend of Moses’ song (Ex 15), Deborah’s song (Judg 5) and David’s song (2 Sam 22).  The prophet has, therefore, been drawing on the resources of a rich heritage in order to reorientate himself and his people around the historic facts of God’s work on their behalf down the centuries.  He re-lives it and, in a deliberate act of faith, sees God doing in the prophet’s own day what God alone can do.’ (Prior)

Prior illustrates the greatness of God in the face of the Nebechadezzars of this world: ‘Louis XIV of France…wanted to be remembered as the greatest French king ever.  So he required that, at his funeral in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, all would be darkened except the one candle on his casket at the front.  But when Jean-Baptiste Massiool, sid to have been the only court preacher to have made Louis XIV dissatisfied with himself, got up to give the funeral oration, he walked over the the casket and snuffed out the light.   With that he commenced his message with the words, “Only God is great. Only God is great.”‘

Hab 3:16 I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.

Habakkuk has come a long since chapter 1.  He began with complaint and rational argument.  But the real and lasting answers came with a revelation of the living, active, God.  Rational enquiry has its place; but can only point us to, and not take the place of, an experiential encounter with God.

I heard and my heart pounded… – this is the counterpart of God’s statement in Hab 1:5 – “You will be amazed”.

My legs trembled – ‘When such factors and circumstances combine, we can expect similar physical manifestations today: deep agony of spirit for the state of God’s people and of the nation, fervent intercession for the intervention of God in saving power, increasing awareness of the inevitabiity of judgment and of the human suffering which accompanies it, and intense personal engagement with God’s word for the present situation…It is to be expected that an encounter between a mere mortal and the living God should make an electrfying impact on the human soul and body.’ (Prior)

I will wait patiently – Cf. Hab 2:3.  Habakkuk ‘resolves to take the long view, in the assurance that God’s justice will prevail over the oppressors, even though the oppressors are instruments in God’s hands to punish the covenant community…By “taking the long view” I mean that Habakkuk can more easily accept that punishments will be meted out on the short term by a nation yet more evil and violent, if he is assured that all nations, including the oppressor that will administer the chastening, will ultimately be held to account.’ (Carson, How Long, O Lord?)

Habakkuk responds with two resolutions: ‘I will wait patiently’, and ‘I will rejoice’.  ‘He now not only knows the truth about the priority of living by faith in God; he has embraced the truth in his own life, and is committed to practising it day by day, whatever may happen.’ (Prior)

‘This is one of the greatest confessions of faith found anywhere in Scripture. Habakkuk has faced the frightening fact that his nation will be invaded by a merciless enemy. The prophet knows that many of the people will go into exile and many will be slain. The land will be ruined, and Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed. Yet he tells God that he will trust him no matter what happens!’ (Wiersbe)

The day of calamity…on the nation invading us – For the Babylonians, that day came in 539 BC, at the hands of Darius the Mede.

Hab 3:17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

By the time that Babylon had finished with Judah, there wouldn’t be much of value left (Hab 2:17). Buildings would be destroyed, treasures would be plundered, and farms and orchards would be devastated.

‘Judah had in the main an agrarian economy. She derived most of her sustenance from crops such as figs, grapes, olives and other produce of the fields, as well as livestock such as the flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle. Even though these sources might fail in some way, the psalmist sees that ultimately his existence is not based on them, but upon their source, Yahweh.’ (TOTC)

‘This is a practical commentary on, and example of, the faith noted in Hab 2:4.’ (TOTC)

‘One has to live in a agrarian world to begin to appreciate this appalling scenario.  It describes disaster on a total scale…the ravages of war, the horrors of invasion, the devastation of nature’s resources, the removal of all basic necessities….It is the end of everything that can keep body ans soul together.  There is nothing – absolutely nothing – and an invading army takes possession of the land, pillaging and raping with indiscriminate violence.  It is Bosnia, Vietnam and Rwanda roled into one….Nothing to eat, nothing to drink, nothing to wear.  Not just poverty, but the enemy stalking the land.  Nowhere to hide.’ (Prior)

‘His circumstances have not changed. The outer world with its evil conduct and rapacious warfare remains the same. God’s people remain in time of lamentation. The prophet, however, turns to praise. Why? He has heard God’s voice and seen God’s vision. He knows the ultimate outcome of history.’ (NAC)

‘The six clauses of v. 17 seem to be in ascending order of severity, with the loss of figs ranking least and the loss of the herd in the stalls causing the greatest economic damage. Figs served as a delicacy in Israel, but their loss did not produce severe hardship. Grapes provided the daily drink, but again the loss of the fruit of the vine would produce inconvenience rather than privation. The olive crop on the other hand produced oil for cooking and lighting. Grain (barley and wheat) provided for the staple diet of Palestine. The failure of the fields to produce food might mean starvation for large segments of the population. Both sheep and cattle made up much of the wealth of Palestine. Sheep and goats provided wool and the occasional meat for the Israelite diet. Hebrews did not normally eat cattle, but they were used for preparing the soil for planting and other heavy work. The loss of any of these individually might be survived. Together, the losses spelled economic disaster and devastating loss of hope—loss of their daily provisions, loss of their economic strength, loss of the Lord’s blessing due to their sin (Lev 26; Deut 28; Amos 4:6–9; Hag 1:6–11). But Habakkuk knew that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3; see also Phil 3:7–8).’ (NAC)

From this text John Newton preached at his wife’s funeral, saying that he had never taken it before, keeping it in reserve for his greatest affliction.

R.C. Sproul imagines what a 21st-century version of this great confession of faith might look like: “Though the farming industry collapses, though the stock market crashes, though the automobile industry goes belly-up, though the technological industries explode, though all of these things happen, nevertheless, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. I will joy in Him.” (Can I have joy in my life?)

Hab 3:18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

I will rejoice in the Lord – Too often, we ask the Lord to change our circumstances, when his will is to change us. And that is what happened to Habakkuk. Think of the journey he has come. A similar journey is recorded in Psalm 13:-

(Ps 73:21-28) When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, (22) I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. (23) Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (24) You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. (25) Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (26) My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (27) Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. (28) But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

‘Quiet patient [v16] is the proper atmosphere for true joy.  Without inner tranquility, rejoicing is manufactured, superficial and strident.  It manifestly is not the joy of the Lord, which becomes our strength (Neh 8:10).  It is a rather noisy, even raucous, exuberance which grates and evaporates.  Habakkuk’s magnificent words comes from an entirely different world.’ (Prior)

‘More than “toughing it out” or “hanging in there” Habakkuk would be “joyful” in the God of his salvation (cf. Jas 1:2; Rom 8:35–37). Habakkuk exhibited the kind of relationship with God which enjoyed the divine Person more than the things he could do for the prophet. He put God above the fray of life, rejoicing in him and worshiping him regardless of the circumstances.’ (NAC)

‘It is one thing to thank and praise God for all the good things in our lives, to rejoice in our blessings.  It is quite another to rejoice in the midst of nothing, when all these blessings have been summarily and completely removed.  The prophet has learned to rejoice, not in any particular quantity or quality of blessings, but in God hmself.   God never changes.  If we learn – if we are liberated – to find our joy in the Lord, regardless of any good things we may or not not receive at his hand, then he remains a continuous source and cause of joy.’ (Prior)

‘This text teaches us to rejoice in God even when every instinct in our bodies is crying out with grief. Though fully alarmed at the outrage that would take place, Habakkuk experienced a holy joy, a divine enabling to rejoice in the Lord.

The object of his joy was the God of his salvation. Some things are just more abiding and important than this temporal world. Sometimes it seems as if history is out of control and no one knows where it all will end. Since God is ultimately behind the course of history, he is in control and he knows where it will end.

Thus, all the symbols of prosperity (the fig tree, the vine, the olive, the fields, the flocks and the herds of cattle) could be removed, but none of these compared with the joy that came from the living God himself. Even though that joy did not in itself mitigate the depth of the physical pain felt in the body, it did transcend it in worth, reality and depth.

This text has enormous relevance for a Christian view of history and for those who are oppressed and experiencing the reality of the conqueror’s or enemy’s wrath.’ (HSB)

‘Habakkuk resolves that, however great the privation he must suffer along with the covenant community, he will delight the more in God. It is almost as if the threatened loss of all material blessings and security drives him to enjoyment of God: there is nothing and no one else to rely on, and therefore nothing to mask the enjoyment of God that ought to be the believer’s focus…Firm resolve this may be; grim resolution it is not. It is the resolution of one whose eyes have been opened to see where his delight should have been in the first place. God’s discipline, displayed in calamitous punishment of the nation, becomes a means of grace, if not for the entire nation, then at least for Habakkuk and those who join his train.’ (Carson, How Long, O Lord?)

‘Those who, when they were full, enjoyed God in all, when they are emptied and impoverished can enjoy all in God, and can sit down upon a melancholy heap of the ruins of all their creature comforts and even then can sing to the praise and glory of God, as the God of their salvation. This is the principal ground of our joy in God, that he is the God of our salvation, our eternal salvation, the salvation of the soul; and, if he be so, we may rejoice in him as such in our greatest distresses, since by them our salvation cannot be hindered, but may be furthered.’ (MHC)

‘Joy in God is never out of season, nay, it is in a special manner seasonable when we meet with losses and crosses in the world, that it may then appear that our hearts are not set upon these things, nor our happiness bound up in them.’ (MHC)

God never changes. ‘Kingdoms have their eclipses and convulsions. What is become of the glory of Athens? The pomp of Troy?What Christian can say he does not find a change in his graces; that the bow of his faith never unbends, the strings of his viol never slacken? Surely we shall never meet with such Christians till we meet them in heaven. But God is without any shadow of turning. The angels were subject to change; they were created holy, but mutable, Jude 6. These morning stars of heaven were falling stars. But God’s glory shines with a fixed brightness. In God there is nothing that looks like a change, for better or worse; not better, because then he were not perfect; not worse, for then he would cease to be perfect. He is immutably holy, immutably good; there is no shadow of change in him…Men are fickle and mutable, like Reuben, “unstable as water,” Gen 49:4. They are changeable in their principles. If their faces altered as fast as their opinions, we should not know them. Changeable in their resolutions; as the wind that blows in the east, presently turns about to the west. They resolve to be virtuous, but quickly repent of their resolutions. Their minds are like a sick man’s pulse, which alters every half hour…Others are changeable in thier friendship. They quickly love and quickly hate. Sometimes they will put you in their bosom, then excommunicate you out of their favour…Expect to meet with changes in everything but God.’ This is of comfort to the godly, (1) in case of losses: you may lose friends, family, possessions, but you cannot lose God, Hab 3:18. (2) In case of sadness of spirit: God may seem to have withdrawn himself, So 5:6, but in reality he is immutable in his love, Jer 31:3 Isa 54:10. ‘He may change his countenance, but not his heart.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 66-68)

‘This is the principal ground of our joy in God, that he is the God of our salvation, our eternal salvation, the salvation of the soul; and, if he be so, we may rejoice in him as such in our greatest distresses, since by them our salvation cannot be hindered, but may be furthered.’ (MHC)

Hab 3:19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

See Psalm 18.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength – The prophet’s ability to rejoice in a bleak situation ‘is not due to any innate, inherited or inwardly developed strength of his own.  There is no technique to master, no guru to consult, no formula to adopt…He is clear that it it Yahweh, the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God of Israel, who is personally the one who provides all the strength he needs.’ (Prior)

‘Oh, sweet consolation! If a man have a burden upon him, yet if he have strength added to him, if the burden be doubled, yet if his strength be trebled, the burden will not be heavier, but lighter than it was before to his natural strength; so if our afflictions be heavy, and we cry out, Oh, we cannot bear them! yet if we cannot bear them with our own strength, why may we not bear them with the strength of Jesus Christ? Do we think that Christ could not bear them? or if we dare not think but that Christ could bear them, why may not we come to bear them? Some may question, can we have the strength of Christ? Yes; that very strength is made over to us by faith, for so the Scripture saith frequently, The Lord is our strength; God is our strength; The Lord Jehovah is our strength; Christ is our strength Ps 28:7 43:2 Ps 118:14 Isa 12:2 Hab 3:19 Col 1:11; and, therefore, is Christ’s strength ours, made over unto us, that we may be able to bear whatsoever lies upon us.’ (Isaac Ambrose)

‘There is an implied contrast between God and those supports on which men usually lean. There is indeed no one, who is not of a cheerful mind, when he possesses all necessary things, when no danger, no fear is impending: we are then courageous when all things smile on us. But the Prophet, by calling God his strength, sets him in opposition to all other supports; for he wishes to encourage the faithful to persevere in their hope, however grievously God might afflict them.’ (Calvin)

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer – An expression used of God’s care in dangerous situations, cf. 2 Sam 22:34 Ps 18:33

He enables me to go on the heights – Though I lose earth, I shall gain heaven.

‘Both Habakkuk and David [Psa 18:31-33] bear witness to the ability to move nimbly like a deer on dangerous terrain.  They are given the strength, not just to stand firm and to cope in the face of immense adversity, but to rise above it and to make swift progress – to climb, not simply to coast…He is expressing the truth which Paul classically stated: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10); “I can to all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).’ (Prior)

‘Many of us suffer from spiritual vertigo: faced with the prospect, let alone the presence, of high places – of scaling the spiritual heights – we grow queasy.  We do all we can to avoid ending up in such threatening situations.  We try to keep within what we reckon to be our areas of spiritual competence.  In our own resources we have neither the head nor the feet for high places.  But he makes me treat upon my high places – places which God has prepared for us (and us for them), places which seem dangerous and beyond our reach.  Habakkuk knew that he had been taken into such a place, and that several more such high places lay ahead of him.  He was prepared to be taken there and to be equipped by God to walk there.’ (Prior)

‘Habakkuk commits himself to praise, not complaint: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread the heights” (Hab. 3:19). This is not stoicism; it is the sacrifice of praise (cf. Heb. 13:15). It is not merely the power of positive thinking in religious guise, nor is it a Pollyanna-style optimism (after all, Habakkuk’s circumstances and prospects have not changed). Rather, this commitment to praise is simultaneously the fruit of determined obedience to respond aright to the God who is there, and an un-self-conscious paean of worship that stems from a deeper grasp of who this God is.’ (Carson, How Long, O Lord?)

‘Habakkuk’s closing words are vastly different than his opening ones. In contrast to his harsh questions and accusations, the prophet now surrenders to God’s purposes for Israel and the nations. Not only God’s patient answers but the further revelation of God’s person and power have been sufficient to humble the prophet. Habakkuk will live triumphantly and faithfully through it all. He will rest secure in the strength that God alone can supply.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible)