For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Habakkuk 3

 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

3:1.  “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.”

Shigionoth is defined in Strong’s Concordance as aberration, technically a dithyramb or rambling poem; dithyramb being defined as 1. a Greek choral song or chant of vehement or wild character and usually of irregular form.  2. any wildly enthusiastic speech or writing.  Taylor translates this verse: “This is the prayer of triumph that Habakkuk sang before the Lord.”

It seems that the revelation given him by God had so moved the prophet emotionally that he couldn’t refrain from expressing his gratitude in the form of this enthusiastic poem or song.  His grateful and joyful response rebukes the cold indifference with which we today read the revelations given us in Scripture.  It says much for Habakkuk’s faith that he could write such a poem in view of what had just been revealed to him, particularly in view of the long time that must intervene before the ultimate deliverance would come.

3:2.  “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.”

The knowledge of the judgment which Jehovah was about to mete out to rebel Judah filled the prophet with dread, as well it might.  He was all too well aware of the murderous cruelty of the Chaldeans into whose hand Judah was about to be delivered, hence his fervent plea that the Lord, while having to chastise His sinful people, would at the same time exercise His almighty power to control the activity of the enemy so that Judah wouldn’t be completely destroyed.

3:3.  “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.”

The reference appears to be to the display of God’s glory which accompanied the giving of the law at Sinai.  Teman is a synonym for Edom which was in the general vicinity of Sinai, as was also Paran.  A detailed description of the manifestation of God’s glory on that occasion is recorded in Exodus 19 and 24.  How much had transpired since that day when the people stood in fearful awe of God come down to give them His holy law, and “all the people that was in the camp trembled,” Ex 19:16!  What changes the years had brought!  Now only the prophet and the small believing remnant trembled, while the people brazenly defied God to His face, falling down before idols to render to them the worship that belonged to Him alone, and violating just as brazenly every other segment of His law.

Selah was a sign used to indicate an end or a pause in a piece of music.  According to the Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary “It implies a change in the modulation.  It comes from a root to rest or pause ... 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,”

3:4.  “And his brightness was as the light; he had horns (rays of light) coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding (place) of his power.”

“... his brightness” is also rendered: splendor: flash: radiancy: brilliance, and has been called the effulgence of His glory.  The fact is, the brightness of the Divine glory cannot be described, for no man has ever seen it.  That it is synonymous with His power is clearly stated in the remainder of the verse, “he had horns (rays of light) coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding (place) of his power.”  The horn is one of the biblical symbols of power, so the description of the rays of light as horns, declares the power inherent in the light which is the effulgence of God’s glory, and it is to be noted that the heavens are the work, not of God’s hands, but just of His fingers, Ps 8:3, the measure of our eternal security being declared in the fact that He holds us in His hand, “I give unto them (My sheep) eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.  I and my Father are one,” Jn 10:28-30.  We are held by, and in the very center of God’s power!  Another has pointed out that “Even light, God’s garment, covers, instead of revealing fully, His surpassing glory, Ps 104:2.”

3:5.  “Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.”

The pestilence was the general name for a destructive sickness; and “burning coals” as used here is a metaphor for a burning fever.  God’s being the Source of these deadly sicknesses  reminds us that He is as holy as He is powerful, and will destroy that which is not also holy, it being written three times in Scripture that, “Our God is a consuming fire,” Heb 12:29 and De 4:24; 9:3.

The going forth of these dread agents “at his feet” declares them to be His servants.

A few examples of His use of these plagues are His slaying the firstborn of the Egyptians on the night of the Passover; destruction of the Philistines in connection with their having taken the ark, 1 Sa 5; the deaths of 185,000 Assyrians, 2 Ki 19:35; the slaughter by “great hailstones” of the soldiers of the enemy coalition, Jsh 10:11; the death by plague of a multitude of disobedient Israelites, Nu 11:33, and again in Nu 16:49, and many others.  The Lord Himself declared that pestilence would be one of God’s destructive agents in the Tribulation, see Mt 24:7.

3:6.  “He stood, and measured (shook) the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.”

“... measured” is literally shook the earth, the occasion of that shaking being perhaps when Lucifer rebelled, and the earth became as described in Ge 1:2, the present earth being the result of God’s renovation of that ruin during what are mistakenly called the “six days of creation,” but which were in reality the days of renovation or reshaping of the original earth, see the author’s notes on Genesis chapters 1 and 2, also available on this web site.

Another time when God’s voice shook the earth was at the giving of the law, see Heb 12:18-29; and yet another was at Calvary, see Mt 27:51-54.  The final great shaking of the earth (and the heavens) will occur at the end of the Millennium, see Heb 12:26-29.

His driving “asunder the nations” may have reference to His dispersion of the nations and His confusing their speech, in connection with the building of the tower of Babel, as described in Ge 11.

The scattering of the mountains is literally “dashing in pieces”; and bowing of the hills is to “sink or depress” them. There doesn’t appear to be any scriptural record of this occurrence.

3:7.  “I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.”

Nothing is known with certainty of Cushan, but it is presumed to have been Ethiopia, or the name of a people descended from Cush, a son of Ham; and the occasion when this people or place may have been in affliction is not revealed in Scripture.

The “curtains” of the land of Midian are used here as a metaphor for tents, the land itself being in Arabia; and again, nothing certain is known of the trembling mentioned here.

3:8.  “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?”

“... the rivers” here are generally taken to mean the Red Sea and the Jordan; the occasions being God’s division of the Red Sea to bring Israel out of Egypt, and His division of the Jordan to bring them into Canaan.  The question therefore is, Was God’s division of these waters an indication of His displeasure with them? and the answer is No. 

The horses and chariots are metaphors for His power and might exercised in bringing salvation to Israel.  And so far from His being displeased, it was His great pleasure to deliver them.

3:9.  “Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word.  Selah.  Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.”

This verse presents a very different picture.  While it had been God’s gracious pleasure to redeem Israel, His inherent holiness had required Him to warn them that sin would bring retribution, this being the meaning of “according to the oaths of (to) the tribes, even thy word”; and it wasn’t long before it became necessary to give effect to that warning, the naked bow, i.e., the bow taken out of its sheath and strung with an arrow, speaking symbolically of His necessary execution of judgment.

For the significance of Selah, see comments on verse 3.

God’s cleaving of the earth with rivers, literally bringing forth waters in dry places, is the antithesis of His executing judgment.  It speaks of His pouring out blessing, the very objective He has in mind when He corrects those who belong to Him, as declared in Heb 12:5-11. 

Some understand God’s cleaving of the earth with rivers, to refer to what one expositor describes as, “the fearful physical phenomena attending Jehovah’s attack on Israel’s foes.”

3:10.  “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.”

The reference here may still be to the quaking of mount Sinai at the giving of the law; and the overflowing of the waters, to the dividing of the Red Sea and Jordan; but it leaves without any readily apparent interpretation the deep uttering his voice and lifting up his hands.  It is possible therefore that the language is the symbolic description of events to transpire at Christ’s judgment of the nations at the end of the Tribulation.  The mountains, as frequently in Scripture, would then represent rulers, and in the present context, evil rulers trembling as they stand before the Lord prior to being consigned to hell. 

The passing by of the overflowing waters, in the same context, may represent the final destruction of earth’s rebellious masses also at the end of the Tribulation.  It is instructive to note in this connection that while “passing” is used in a variety of ways, many of them are in a bad connotation, e.g., cross over: alienate: go beyond: meddle: overrun: perish: provoke to anger: rage: raiser of taxes: transgress: turn away: wrath.  “... overflowing” also speaks of evil rather than good, for it means flood: storm: tempest.

This leaves the deep, speaking and uplifting its hands, to portray the godly remnant of Israel and of the nations, worshiping as they prepare to enjoy millennial blessings.

3:11.  “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.”

Most commentators take this to refer to the day spoken of in Jsh 10:12-14, when the sun and moon stood still to enable Israel to complete the extermination of their enemies.  The latter half of the verse is a poetic way of saying that the bright glory of the victory given by God to Israel eclipsed and made unnecessary the light of either sun or moon.

“... thine arrows ... thy glittering spear” may refer to the lightning, and abnormally large hailstones which God rained down on the armies of the five kings opposing Israel.

3:12.  “Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.”

Since no specific event is indicated here, the reference may be to the victories granted Joshua and Israel during the initial seven-year conquest of Canaan, the destruction of the enemy being likened to the beating out of wheat under the feet of the oxen, to separate the grain from the husk.

3:13.  “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.”

There are recorded in Scripture many instances of God’s going forth for the salvation of His people Israel, but since it is said that on this occasion He went forth for salvation “with thine anointed,” the reference appears to be to the salvation secured by the work of His Anointed, the Lord Jesus Christ, at Calvary.  This seems to be confirmed by the next clause, “thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked,” for relative to the Lord’s destruction of Satan it is said in Ge 3:15 “... it (the seed of the woman) shall bruise thy head.”

“... by discovering the foundation unto the neck” means simply that the destruction of Satan was utter, the activity which God presently permits him being that of a desperate dying creature.

While some take “thine anointed” to refer to Israel, it is to be noted that the word used here in not the usual word for anointed, but rather one which is defined in Strong’s Concordance as “a consecrated person (as a king, priest, or saint); specifically the Messiah.”

This deliverance of Israel, like all the others, points to that which will come at the end of the Tribulation when the Lord, returning in power and glory, will deliver them out of the hand of those seeking their destruction.

3:14.  “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.”

While certainly the reference here may be to God’s former deliverances of Israel, there is equally good reason to believe that it continues the metaphoric description of Christ’s defeat of Satan at Calvary.

The first clause means that the foe was smitten with his own weapon, and one can’t ignore the fact that Satan was slain with his own weapon: death, as it is written concerning Christ, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil,” Heb 2:14.

“... they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me.”  Here the prophet is identifying himself with the victim of the enemy’s hatred, just as the Psalmist also at times identified himself with Christ, see, for example Ps 69:1,2,14,15,20; 88:6,7,16-18.”  What is written here applies to Christ as much or more than it does to Israel.

“... their rejoicing was to devour the poor secretly.”   “... their” relates to those who gladly aided and abetted Satan in his attempt to destroy the Lord, i.e., the Jewish leaders, and Satan’s evil minions.  Christ is also described as being poor, see, e.g., Ps 40:17, “But I am poor ...” the reference here as in many of the Psalms, having its ultimate application to the Lord rather than to the Psalmist.

3:15.  “Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.”

This may continue the figurative description of God’s might in dividing the Red Sea and the Jordan, to bring Israel out of Egypt, and into Canaan, as described in verse 8; but it is more likely to refer to His destruction of the Canaanite tribes after having brought Israel into the land, for other Scriptures make it clear that great waters are used typologically to represent the unconverted, see, for example, Isa 57:20, “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.”

Undoubtedly it also points forward to the deliverance that will be brought to Israel at the end of the Tribulation.

3:16.  “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.”

The prophet here turns from his contemplation of Jehovah’s power and might, to declare his own reaction to the assurance that that same mighty God was about to come up against rebel Judah because of her multiplied sin.  That assurance caused him to tremble and fear, so that he became like a man whose bones were rotten and no longer able to support his body, his fear impelling him to pray that he might find rest in that coming day of trouble.  The One coming up unto the people, and invading them with his troops is Jehovah, using the Chaldeans as his instruments.

3:17.  “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor 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:”

The fig, the vine, and the olive tree are symbols of Israel: the vine representing her as she was in the past, a vine brought out of Egypt and planted in Canaan; the fig tree representing her as she has been during these past two thousand years - cursed and dead, but yet to bud again, that budding beginning with the restoration of her autonomy in 1948, and continuing with the daily return of the Jews to Palestine until the present.  The olive represents her as she will be in the Millennium, blest and fruitful. 

Under the figure of these three trees, then, God is revealing to His servant, not Israel’s complete history from Egypt till the Millennium, but rather that there would be a long time when she would continue to produce no fruit for God, because she would continue to be disobedient.  That time, in fact, has continued until today, but it is soon to end, for the impending Tribulation judgments will do what no past judgments have done: bring a repentant remnant, not only of Israel, but also of the nations, to salvation through faith in the Messiah they (Israel) have for so long rejected.  Until that day she will remain cursed and barren, and so will the Gentiles, for their blessing is to come through Israel repentant, converted, and blest.

3:18.  “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

The prophet would rejoice, not in anything of earth, but in the Lord, the God of his salvation; and so is it with all who know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  Our peace and rest are not dependant upon present circumstances, or on anything else in this world: they are in the Lord, the God of our salvation.  Here on earth He gives us His peace, as it is written, “... the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your minds and hearts through Christ Jesus,” Php 4:7; and what awaits us in heaven transcends the grasp of finite minds, as it is written, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him,” 1 Cor 2:9.

We too, “rejoice in the Lord,” and “in the God of my (our) salvation.”

3:19.  “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.”

God’s disclosure of Judah’s coming judgment might make Habakkuk’s belly to tremble, his lips to quiver, and his bones to become like rotten sticks, but he could conclude his hymn of praise with the exultant note, “The Lord God is my strength.”  Above and beyond all of earth’s turmoil, chaos, and care is “the Lord God,” the One Who by His Word has called that world into existence, Who upholds it by that same Word, and Who orders all its affairs for His own glory, and the ultimate blessing of those who love Him.

The prophet’s feet were, metaphorically speaking, to become like those of a deer, i.e., swift and sure, capable of bounding to the tops of the mountains.  So also is the man whose faith is in God and His Word.  He will be able to pass confidently through this world, being in it, but not of it, walking “on the mountains,” i.e., on a higher plane, knowing that his citizenship is in heaven, not earth, his experience being that of those described in Isa 40:31, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”        

The final sentence records the prophet’s instructions for the use of his hymn.  It was to be used in connection with the Temple worship.  What God has revealed to us should also evoke our praise and worship.



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough