Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.
Hab 3:1-19. Habakkuk's Prayer to God: God's Glorious Revelation of Himself at Sinai and at Gibeon, a Pledge of His Interposing Again in Behalf of Israel against Babylon, and All Other Foes; Hence the Prophet's Confidence Amid Calamities.
This sublime ode begins with an exordium (Hab 3:1, 2), then follows the main subject, then the peroration (Hab 3:16-19), a summary of the practical truth, which the whole is designed to teach. (De 33:2-5; Ps 77:13-20 are parallel odes). This was probably designed by the Spirit to be a fit formula of prayer for the people, first in their Babylonian exile, and now in their dispersion, especially towards the close of it, just before the great Deliverer is to interpose for them. It was used in public worship, as the musical term, "Selah!" (Hab 3:3, 9, 13), implies.
1. prayer—the only strictly called prayers are in Hab 3:2. But all devotional addresses to God are called "prayers" (Ps 72:20). The Hebrew is from a root "to apply to a judge for a favorable decision." Prayers in which praises to God for deliverance, anticipated in the sure confidence of faith, are especially calculated to enlist Jehovah on His people's side (2Ch 20:20-22, 26).
upon Shigionoth—a musical phrase, "after the manner of elegies," or mournful odes, from an Arabic root [Lee]; the phrase is singular in Ps 7:1, title. More simply, from a Hebrew root to "err," "on account of sins of ignorance." Habakkuk thus teaches his countrymen to confess not only their more grievous sins, but also their errors and negligences, into which they were especially likely to fall when in exile away from the Holy Land [Calvin]. So Vulgate and Aquila, and Symmachus. "For voluntary transgressors" [Jerome]. Probably the subject would regulate the kind of music. Delitzsch and Henderson translate, "With triumphal music," from the same root "to err," implying its enthusiastic irregularity.
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.
2. I have heard thy speech—Thy revelation to me concerning the coming chastisement of the Jews [Calvin], and the destruction of their oppressors. This is Habakkuk's reply to God's communication [Grotius]. Maurer translates, "the report of Thy coming," literally, "Thy report."
and was afraid—reverential fear of God's judgments (Hab 3:16).
revive thy work—Perfect the work of delivering Thy people, and do not let Thy promise lie as if it were dead, but give it new life by performing it [Menochius]. Calvin explains "thy work" to be Israel; called "the work of My hands" (Isa 45:11). God's elect people are peculiarly His work (Isa 43:1), pre-eminently illustrating His power, wisdom, and goodness. "Though we seem, as it were, dead nationally, revive us" (Ps 85:6). However (Ps 64:9), where "the work of God" refers to His judgment on their enemies, favors the former view (Ps 90:16, 17; Isa 51:9, 10).
in the midst of the years—namely, of calamity in which we live. Now that our calamities are at their height; during our seventy years' captivity. Calvin more fancifully explains it, in the midst of the years of Thy people, extending from Abraham to Messiah; if they be cut off before His coming, they will be cut off as it were in the midst of their years, before attaining their maturity. So Bengel makes the midst of the years to be the middle point of the years of the world. There is a strikingly similar phrase (Da 9:27), In the midst of the week. The parallel clause, "in wrath" (that is, in the midst of wrath), however, shows that "in the midst of the years" means "in the years of our present exile and calamity."
make known—Made it (Thy work) known by experimental proof; show in very deed, that this is Thy work.
God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.
3. God—singular in the Hebrew, "Eloah," instead of "Elohim," plural, usually employed. The singular is not found in any other of the minor prophets, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel; but it is in Isaiah, Daniel, Job, and Deuteronomy.
from Teman—the country south of Judea and near Edom, in which latter country Mount Paran was situated [Henderson]. "Paran" is the desert region, extending from the south of Judah to Sinai. Seir, Sinai, and Paran are adjacent to one another, and are hence associated together, in respect to God's giving of the law (De 33:2). Teman is so identified with Seir or Edom, as here to be substituted for it. Habakkuk appeals to God's glorious manifestations to His people at Sinai, as the ground for praying that God will "revive His work" (Hab 3:2) now. For He is the same God now as ever.
Selah—a musical sign, put at the close of sections and strophes, always at the end of a verse, except thrice; namely, here, and Hab 3:9, and Ps 55:19; 57:3, where, however, it closes the hemistich. It implies a change of the modulation. It comes from a root to "rest" or "pause" [Gesenius]; implying a cessation of the chant, during an instrumental interlude. The solemn pause here prepares the mind for contemplating the glorious description of Jehovah's manifestation which follows.
earth … full of his praise—that is, of His glories which were calculated to call forth universal praise; the parallelism to "glory" proves this to be the sense.
And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.
4. as the light—namely, of the sun (Job 37:21; Pr 4:18).
horns—the emblem of power wielded by "His hand" [Ludovicus De Dieu]. "Rays" emanating from "His hand," compared by the Arabs to the horns of the gazelle (compare "hind of the morning," Ps 22:1, title, Margin). The Hebrew verb for to "emit rays," is from the root meaning "horns" (Ex 34:29, 30, 35) [Grotius]. The rays are His lightnings (Ps 18:8), [Maurer].
there—in that "brightness." In it, notwithstanding its brilliancy, there was but the veil "(the hiding) of His power." Even "light," God's "garment," covers, instead of revealing fully, His surpassing glory (Ps 104:2) [Henderson]. Or, on Mount Sinai [Drusius]. (Compare Ex 24:17). The Septuagint and Syriac versions read for "there," He made a hiding, &c.; He hid Himself with clouds. English Version is better, which Calvin explains, there is said to be "a hiding of God's power," because God did not reveal it indiscriminately to all, but specially to His people (Ps 31:20). The contrast seems to me to be between the "horns" or emanations out of His power ("hand"), and that "power" itself. The latter was hidden, whereas the "horns" or emanations alone were manifested. If the mere scintillations were so awfully overwhelming, how much more so the hidden power itself! This was especially true of His manifestation at Sinai (Ps 18:11; compare Isa 45:15, 17).
Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.
5. pestilence—to destroy His people's foes (1Sa 5:9, 11). As Jehovah's advent is glorious to His people, so it is terrible to His foes.
burning coals—Ps 18:8 favors English Version. But the parallelism requires, as the Margin translates, "burning disease" (compare De 32:24; Ps 91:6).
went … at his feet—that is, after Him, as His attendants (Jud 4:10).
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.
6. He stood, and measured the earth—Jehovah, in His advance, is represented as stopping suddenly, and measuring the earth with His all-seeing glance, whereat there is universal consternation. Maurer, from a different root, translates, "rocked the earth"; which answers better to the parallel "drove asunder"; the Hebrew for which latter, however, may be better translated, "made to tremble."
everlasting mountains—which have ever been remembered as retaining the same place and form from the foundation of the world.
did bow—as it were, in reverent submission.
his ways are everlasting—His marvellous ways of working for the salvation of His people mark His everlasting character: such as He was in His workings for them formerly, such shall He be now.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
7. the tents—that is, the dwellers.
Cushan—the same as Cush; made "Cush-an" to harmonize with "Midi-an" in the parallel clause. So Lotan is found in the Hebrew of Genesis for Lot. Bochart therefore considers it equivalent to Midian, or a part of Arabia. So in Nu 12:1, Moses' Midianite wife is called an Ethiopian (Hebrew, Cushite). Maurer thinks the dwellers on both sides of the Arabian Gulf, or Red Sea, are meant; for in Hab 3:6 God's everlasting or ancient ways of delivering His people are mentioned; and in Hab 3:8, the dividing of the Red Sea for them. Compare Miriam's song as to the fear of Israel's foes far and near caused thereby (Ex 15:14-16). Hebrew expositors refer it to Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, or Syria, the first oppressor of Israel (Jud 3:8, 10), from whom Othniel delivered them. Thus the second hemistich of the verse will refer to the deliverance of Israel from Midian by Gideon (Jud 6:1-7:25) to which Hab 3:11 plainly refers. Whichever of these views be correct, the general reference is to God's interpositions against Israel's foes of old.
in affliction—rather, "under affliction" (regarded) as a heavy burden. Literally, "vanity" or "iniquity," hence the punishment of it (compare Nu 25:17, 18).
curtains—the coverings of their tents; the shifting habitations of the nomad tribes, which resembled the modern Bedouins.
tremble—namely, at Jehovah's terrible interposition for Israel against them.
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?
8. Was the Lord displeased against the rivers?—"Was the cause of His dividing the Red Sea and Jordan His displeasure against these waters?" The answer to this is tacitly implied in "Thy chariots of salvation." "Nay; it was not displeasure against the waters, but His pleasure in interposing for His people's salvation" (compare Hab 3:10).
thy chariots—in antithesis to Thy foe, Pharaoh's chariots," which, notwithstanding their power and numbers, were engulfed in the waters of destruction. God can make the most unlikely means work for His people's salvation (Ex 14:7, 9, 23, 25-28; 15:3-8, 19). Jehovah's chariots are His angels (Ps 68:17), or the cherubim, or the ark (Jos 3:13; 4:7; compare So 1:9).
Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.
9. bow … made … naked—that is, was drawn forth from its cover, in which bows usually were cased when not in use. Compare Isa 22:6, "Kir uncovered the shield."
according to the oaths of the tribes even thy word—that is, Thy oaths of promise to the tribes of Israel (Ps 77:8; Lu 1:73, 74). Habakkuk shows that God's miraculous interpositions for His people were not limited to one time, but that God's oaths to His people are sure ground for their always expecting them. The mention of the tribes, rather than Abraham or Moses, is in order that they may not doubt that to them belongs this grace of which Abraham was the depository [Calvin and Jerome]. Maurer translates, "The spears were glutted with blood, the triumphal song!" that is, no sooner did Jehovah begin the battle by baring His bow, than the spears were glutted with blood and the triumphal song sung.
Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers—the result of the earthquake caused by God's approach [Maurer]. Grotius refers it to the bringing forth water from the rock (Ex 17:6; Nu 20:10, 11; Ps 78:15, 16; 105:4). But the context implies not the giving of water to His people to drink, but the fearful physical phenomena attending Jehovah's attack on Israel's foes.
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.
10. The mountains—repetition with increased emphasis of some of the tremendous phenomena mentioned in Hab 3:6.
overflowing of the water passed by—namely, of the Red Sea; and again, of the Jordan. God marked His favor to His people in all the elements, causing every obstacle, whether mountains or waters, which impeded their progress, to "pass away" [Calvin]. Maurer, not so well, translates, "torrents (rains) of water rush down."
lifted … hands on high—namely, its billows lifted on high by the tempest. Personification. As men signify by voice or gesture of hand that they will do what they are commanded, so these parts of nature testified their obedience to God's will (Ex 14:22; Jos 3:16; Ps 77:17, 18; 114:4).
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.
11. sun … moon stood still—at Joshua's command (Jos 10:12, 13). Maurer wrongly translates, "stand" (withdrawn, or hidden from view, by the clouds which covered the sky during the thunders).
light of thine arrows—hail mixed with lightnings (Jos 10:10, 11).
they went—The sun and moon "went," not as always heretofore, but according to the light and direction of Jehovah's arrows, namely, His lightnings hurled in defense of His people; astonished at these they stood still [Calvin]. Maurer translates, "At the light of Thine arrows (which) went" or flew.
Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.
12. march—implying Jehovah's majestic and irresistible progress before His people (Jud 5:4; Ps 68:7). Israel would not have dared to attack the nations, unless Jehovah had gone before.
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. Selah.
13. with thine anointed—with Messiah; of whom Moses, Joshua, and David, God's anointed leaders of Israel, were the types (Ps 89:19, 20, 38). God from the beginning delivered His people in person, or by the hand of a Mediator (Isa 63:11). Thus Habakkuk confirms believers in the hope of their deliverance, as well because God is always the same, as also because the same anointed Mediator is ready now to fulfil God's will and interpose for Israel, as of old [Calvin]. Maurer translates to suit the parallelism, "for salvation to Thine anointed," namely, Israel's king in the abstract, answering to the "people" in the former clause (compare Ps 28:8; La 4:20). Or Israel is meant, the anointed, that is, consecrated people of Jehovah (Ps 105:15).
woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked—probably an allusion to Ps 68:21. Each head person sprung from and belonging to the house of Israel's wicked foes; such as Jabin, whose city Hazor was "the head of all the kingdoms" of Canaan (Jos 11:10; compare Jud 4:2, 3, 13).
discovering the foundation—Thou destroyedst high and low. As "the head of the house" means the prince, so the "foundation" means the general host of the enemy.
unto the neck—image from a flood reaching to the neck (Isa 8:8; 30:28). So God, by His wrath overflowing on the foe, caused their princes' necks to be trodden under foot by Israel's leaders (Jos 10:24; 11:8, 12).
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.
14. strike … with his staves—with the "wicked" (Hab 3:13) foe's own sword (Maurer translates, "spears") (Jud 7:22).
head of his villages—Not only kings were overthrown by God's hand, but His vengeance passed through the foe's villages and dependencies. A just retribution, as the foe had made "the inhabitants of Israel's villages to cease" (Jud 5:7). Grotius translates, "of his warriors"; Gesenius, "the chief of his captains."
to scatter me—Israel, with whom Habakkuk identifies himself (compare Hab 1:12).
rejoicing … to devour the poor secretly—"The poor" means the Israelites, for whom in their helpless state the foe lurks in his lair, like a wild beast, to pounce on and devour (Ps 10:9; 17:12).
Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.
15. Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses—(Hab 3:8). No obstacle could prevent Thy progress when leading Thy people in safety to their inheritance, whether the Red Sea, Jordan, or the figurative waves of foes raging against Israel (Ps 65:7; 77:19).
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.
16. When I heard … trembled—namely, at the judgments which God had declared (Hab 1:1-17) were to be inflicted on Judea by the Chaldeans.
belly—The bowels were thought by the Hebrews to be the seat of yearning compassion (Jer 31:20). Or "heard" may refer to Hab 3:2, "When I heard as to Jehovah's coming interposition for Israel against the Chaldeans being still at some distance" (Hab 2:3); so also the voice" [Maurer].
at the voice—of the divine threatenings (Hab 1:6). The faithful tremble at the voice alone of God before He inflicts punishment. Habakkuk speaks in the person of all the faithful in Israel.
trembled in myself—that is, I trembled all over [Grotius].
that I might rest in the day of trouble—The true and only path to rest is through such fear. Whoever is securely torpid and hardened towards God, will be tumultuously agitated in the day of affliction, and so will bring on himself a worse destruction; but he who in time meets God's wrath and trembles at His threats, prepares the best rest for himself in the day of affliction [Calvin]. Henderson translates, "Yet I shall have rest." Habakkuk thus consoling his mind, Though trembling at the calamity coming, yet I shall have rest in God (Isa 26:3). But that sentiment does not seem to be directly asserted till Hab 3:17, as the words following at the close of this verse imply.
when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade—rather (as English Version is a mere truism), connected with the preceding clause, "that I might rest … when he (the Chaldean foe) cometh up unto the people (the Jews), that he may cut them off" [Calvin]. The Hebrew for "invade" means, to rush upon, or to attack and cut off with congregated troops.
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:
17. Destroy the "vines" and "fig trees" of the carnal heart, and his mirth ceases. But those who when full enjoyed God in all, when emptied can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of ruined creature comforts, and rejoice in Him as the "God of their salvation." Running in the way of His commandments, we outrun our troubles. Thus Habakkuk, beginning his prayer with trembling, ends it with a song of triumph (Job 13:15; Ps 4:7; 43:3, 5).
labour of the olive—that is, the fruit expected from the olive.
fail—literally, "lie," that is, disappoint the hope (Isa 58:11, Margin).
fields—from a Hebrew root meaning "to be yellow"; as they look at harvest-time.
cut off—that is, cease.
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
18. yet I will rejoice—The prophet speaks in the name of his people.
The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.
19. hinds' feet … walk upon … high places—Habakkuk has here before his mind Ps 18:33, 34; De 32:13. "Hinds' (gazelles') feet" imply the swiftness with which God enables him (the prophet and his people) to escape from his enemies, and return to his native land. The "high places" are called "mine," to imply that Israel shall be restored to his own land, a land of hills which are places of safety and of eminence (compare Ge 19:17; Mt 24:16). Probably not only the safety, but the moral elevation, of Israel above all the lands of the earth is implied (De 33:29).
on my stringed instruments—neginoth. This is the prophet's direction to the precentor ("chief singer") as to how the preceding ode (Hab 3:1-19) is to be performed (compare Ps 4:1; 6:1, titles). The prophet had in mind a certain form of stringed instrument adapted to certain numbers and measures. This formula at the end of the ode, directing the kind of instrument to be used, agrees with that in the beginning of it, which directs the kind of melody (compare Isa 38:20).