The first two chapters revealed two dialogues between Habakkuk and the Lord. First, the prophet was confused about God's delay in responding to the violence in Judah. When he was told that the Chaldeans were going to be used of the Lord to judge God's people, he became even more perplexed. What was the prophet's response? He continues to pray.
Some scholars contend that this third chapter is a separate entity, which was written at a later date than the first two chapters. When the Dead Sea Scrolls Commentary on Habakkuk was found at Qumran, it did not include Chapter 3. Some go so far as to say that the chapter was written by someone else, who simply used Habakkuk's name. That's going too far. We don't know whether or not all three chapters were written at the same time. However, a thematic unity can be seen in the book. What began in the first chapter in the valley of despair finds its culmination on a mountaintop of faith and praise.
A Prayer for Revival from God. 3:1, 2.
The prayer of Habakkuk is on shigionoth. The meaning is unknown. Strong's concordance defines the word as a moral mistake, while Young's says erring.
Verse two contains two petitions: (1) for revival, and (2) for mercy. These are the only petitions in Habakkuk's prayer. God's word of impending judgment by the Babylonians struck fear in the heart of the prophet. A fearful prophet prayed, "O Lord, revive You work in the midst of the years!" The word revive is not found in the original Hebrew text. It is a word supplied by translators. The prophet is praying, "Make known Your work." It is understood that God's work was to make alive or revive. Unquestionably this was the need of the hour for Judah and Jerusalem.
"In wrath remember mercy." In Chapter 1 the prophet was troubled about the lack of justice in the land. In his prayer the plea is not for justice from God, but mercy. This is an acknowledgment of the sinfulness of Judah, and of the nation's need of forgiveness. In grace God gives us what we don't deserve; in mercy He doesn't give us what we do deserve. O Lord, make your work of revival and mercy known today!
A Prayer of Reflection upon God. 3:3-16.
Habakkuk's petition is followed by a hymn of adoration toward the Lord, as the prophet reflects upon the majesty and might of God. Reference is made to God's work among God's people in the past. This reflection upon the past was intended to be used as a sounding board of what the Lord would do in the future.
"God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran." God had visited Israel in the wilderness. Teman was a desert oasis in Edom, but it represented the region south of the Dead Sea. Seir was a poetic name for the same. Mount Paran is located west of Edom between the Sinai Peninsula and Kadesh Barnea. It was in this area that the Lord performed many mighty works as He led His people from Egypt into the Promised Land.
"Selah," found in verses 3, 9, and 13, is generally considered a musical notation, indicating a pause for reflection.
Poetic parallelism is obvious throughout this prayer. In verse 3 we find Teman and Mount Paran, His glory covering the heavens and His praise filling the earth. In verses 4 and 5 we see His brightness like the light and His hands flashing rays, as well as His power and His pestilence. In verse 6 He stood and He looked, measuring the earth and startling the nations. The everlasting mountains scattered and the perpetual hills bowed. Next we observe that the tents of Cushan are afflicted and the curtains of Midean are trembling. In verse 8 we have His pleasure, His anger, and His wrath. Reference is also made to His horses and His chariots. His bow and His arrow are displayed in verse 9. And even more parallel statements are displayed throughout this prayer.
In Israel's past God came down on Mount Sinai with thunder, lightning, and fire. Exodus 19:16-19. The people of Israel looked up and saw something of the awesome majesty of the Lord.
Cush and Midian are mentioned in verse 7. These nations were located on either side of the Red Sea. People who lived there were nomads, who had witnessed something of God's miraculous work during the Exodus and Israel's sojourn in the wilderness. They had a first hand knowledge of the mighty power of God.
The might of God is the focal point from verse 8, which presents three questions that are not seeking an answer. They are asked with the purpose of generating thought. The mighty God is portrayed as a Savior with horses and chariots and bow and arrows (or rods) in verse 9. This omnipotent God divided the earth with rivers.
Verses 10 and 11 make poetic reference to the flood of Noah's day, and the heavenly phenomenon which occurred when Joshua battled the Amorites in the Valley of Aijalon. See Joshua 10:12-14. "The sun and the moon stood still in their habitations." God is definitely in control of the forces of nature, and often used them in the exercise of His wrath. Psalm 18:13-15; 77:16-19.
This almighty Savior "marched through the land in indignation, trampled the nations in anger, struck the head," and "thrust through with His own arrows. He went forth for the salvation" of His people. He "walked through the sea." What an awesome God of majesty and might!
Habakkuk's adoration gives way to a reverent fear and trembling in verse 16. His body shook and his lips quivered. He wrote, "Rottenness entered my bones." Such was the feeling that he had. We are reminded of Isaiah's experience when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. He responded, "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips...." Isaiah 6:5. After seeing dramatic visions of Gentile world powers Daniel wrote, "As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my countenance changed." He later said, "And I, Daniel, fainted and was sick for days...." But in the midst of his fears, Habakkuk expressed his confidence and hope in the coming Deliverer. He looked for "rest in the day of trouble." God's purpose is to be seen not so much in the fury of nature or in His ferocious assault against the enemy, but rather in His desire to save His people. Such was Habakkuk's reflection upon the majesty and might of God.
A Prayer of Rejoicing in the Lord. 3:17-19.
The prophet's prayer begins with a petition for revival among God's people. It continues with adoration, as the man of God reflects upon the majesty and power of God. The prayer ends with praise.
Habakkuk knew that God's judgment was imminent. He realized that dark days were on the horizon. The Lord had five woes for the wicked Babylonians. In verse 17 the prophet speaks of three thoughs. "Though...though...though...." The cruel Chaldeans were expected to come through the land like a plow, destroying all vegetation. Even the sheep and cattle were not to be spared. The nation would be in financial ruin.
Habakkuk's statement of faith: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." God is both the source and supplier of joy. Joy comes through a personal, intimate relationship with the Lord. Christians today would do well to follow Habakkuk's example, and that of the apostle Paul, who wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4. The prophet added, "The Lord God is my strength." Paul made a similar statement, when he wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13. Habakkuk expected God to make his feet like a deer's feet, capable of walking on high hills.
What lessons can we learn from the Book of Habakkuk? First, God's delay in answering our prayers doesn't always mean His denial. It is true that at times He is prompt to answer our prayers even before we ask. Isaiah 65:24. There are also times when asking isn't enough. We need to knock on God's door, and keep on knocking. If He doesn't answer your prayer, pray again...and again...and again.
Second, God's judgment is just. We reap what we sow. Both the Jews and Chaldeans reaped what they sowed. Galatians 6:7, 8. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. Hosea 8:7.
Third, God's judgment of His people is corrective. "O Rock, you have marked them for correction." Habakkuk 1:12. God restricts His chastening to His children. Read Hebrews 12:3-11.
Fourth, God wants us to live by faith, trusting Him regardless of outward circumstances. Situations may change, but He remains faithful. Habakkuk 2:4. Faith doesn't ask Why? The answer to life's perplexities and challenges is found in Who!
Fifth, rejoice in the Lord, the God of our salvation. David wrote, "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him." Psalm 28:7. He is the mighty Savior, who delivers His people from tragedy to triumph. Praise the Lord!