The Message of the Prophet Habakkuk – 04 (“Habakkuk’s Doxology”)
1. SCRIPTURE READING:
Hab.3:1-19 (ESV) ~ “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth 2O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. 3God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendour covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. 4His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. 5Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels. 6He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways. 7I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. 8Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord? Was your anger against the rivers, or your indignation against the sea, when you rode on your horses, on your chariot of salvation? 9You stripped the sheath from your bow, calling for many arrows. Selah You split the earth with rivers. 10The mountains saw you and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hands on high.11The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear. 12You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger. 13You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah 14You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret. 15You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters. 16I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 17Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.”
2. HABAKKUK’S PRAYER FOR MERCY (vss.1-2):
The title of our last message from Habakkuk, is “Habakkuk’s Doxology.” According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, a Doxology is a brief formula for expressing praise or glory to God.
Biblical doxologies are found in many contexts, but one of their chief functions seems to have been as a conclusion to songs (Ex.15:18), psalms (Ps.146:10), and prayers (Matt.6:13).
In this book of Habakkuk we witness a wonderful transformation in the life of the prophet. The opening chapter of the book describes Habakkuk’s lamentations, complaints and sorrows. Chapter 2 provides God’s answer to him. And, now in this final chapter, Habakkuk comes under great conviction and he sings praises to the Almighty, sovereign God of the universe. He now sings about the marvellous works of God that he had so recently questioned. His eyes have been opened to the majesty of God!
The opening words of the last chapter indicates to us that these words uttered by Habakkuk, is a prayer, prayed by the prophet. This prayer was prayed in the form of a song based on the musical term “Shigionoth.” This type of song could be emotional or an expression of lament (Afrikaans = “klaaglied”), but looking at the context, it must have been an emotional type of song, because Habakkuk’s complaints are something of the past and he now praises the Lord. He is most probably so full of thankfulness and awe, that he praises God with tears in his eyes.
While on the topic of musical terms. Habakkuk also uses the word “selah” in vss.3, 9 and 13. The meaning of the Hebrew term “selah,” is not known to us, but most probably meant pause, either for silence or for a musical interlude; a signal for the congregation to sing, recite, or fall prostrate on the ground; a cue for the cymbals to crash; a word to be shouted by the congregation; or a sign to the choir to sing a higher pitch or louder. The earliest Jewish traditions thought it meant “forever” and again, if we look at the context, it could mean here in chapter three, “forever,” but we don’t really know.
We find without any doubt, the heart (the centre; the crux) of Habakkuk’s prayer here in vs.2 ~ “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”
Habakkuk starts his prayer in vs.2 with the Hebrew word Yahweh (“Lord”) – the name that God Himself gave to the Israelites through Moses. The name refers to God as a Divine Being and as the covenant God of Israel.
The first word in the last verse or sentence of Habakkuk’s prayer also starts with the Lord’s name, Yahweh (vs.19). This is the literary device called an “inclusio” (or bracketing”), which in this case means that Habakkuk’s entire prayer is bracketed by the covenant name of God. The whole prayer, or song if you want, is therefore a prayer or hymn about Israel’s God and forms a unity.
Habakkuk confesses that he has heard the report of the Lord, but now he stands in awe of the works of the Lord. It’s as if he was saying, “I heard, but now I see.” His challenging dialogue with God has given him a deeper knowledge and understanding of the ways of God. He has come through this experience having been changed by the encounter with the Lord. This is reminiscent of Job’s confession to the Lord in Job 42:5-6 where he says ~ “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Habakkuk’s faith has matured. What he has learnt about God leaves him in awe. The prophet began his prayer by acknowledging the awesome nature of God.
The attitude that was revealed here by Habakkuk, is the same attitude that we as Christians should have in the time of trial and perplexity. What is this attitude that the prophet reveals – what are the essential elements of prayer in times of trials and affliction?
〈 Humiliation: Habakkuk’s first reaction and attitude in his prayer is one of humiliation. He said that he heard what the Lord told him and those very words made him fear the Lord. He does not argue with the Lord or question Him anymore, on the contrary, he acknowledges that what the Lord intends to do with His people and how He is going to do it, is correct – he fully submits to the will and decision of Yahweh.
How did Habakkuk come to this point of total surrender to God’s will, despite the terrible prospect of what was going to happen to Habakkuk and his people? Habakkuk stopped thinking of Israel and the Chaldeans. He stopped thinking of the problem and the horrible outcome of the spiritual and political decay of Israel and the accompanying will of God. He stopped focussing on his people and their idol worshipping enemy. He started focussing on Yahweh, his Lord. As Lloyd Jones states, “Habakkuk returned to the realm of spiritual truth – the holiness of God, sin in man and in the world – and so he is able to see things in an entirely new light. He is now concerned for the glory of God and for nothing else.”
Habakkuk bowed his knees in front of the most Holy One and submitted himself to will of the Sovereign God. He had the same attitude as that of queen Esther in Esther 4:16 when she told Mordechai ~ “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Afrikaans: “as ek moet omkom, dan moet ek maar omkom”). She knew that it was the Lord’s will that she had to go to the king, but she totally submitted to God’s will, not thinking of the consequences. Her focus, like Habakkuk, was on the Lord, not on the circumstances, or the outcome of the situation. That is precisely what we need to do in all circumstances where we are challenged; where we are threatened; where we experience tribulation and trials – an attitude of humiliation.
〈 Adoration: A second element of Habakkuk’s attitude and prayer was adoration. ~ “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear.” “Do I fear.” Habakkuk faced the outcome of God’s plan for them as a nation, but it was not an expression of being afraid of God. The expression suggests awe in the presence of such a wonderful and sovereign God. He realised how great and holy God really is.
We should approach God in similar fashion. He is in control and He will be with His children even if it costs them their lives – He will carry them through – their (our) focus must be on the Lord God. Isaiah promises in Is.40:31 ~ “…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” David encourages us in Ps.27:14 ~ “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”
〈 Petition: Habakkuk also expresses two petitions in vs.2. He prayed for a fresh manifestation of God’s power when he prays ~ “In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known.”
The first request was for renewal or revival of God’s intervention and it was twice linked to time: “in the midst of the years” (other translations, translate it with “in our day,” “in our time” and “in these years). This literally means, “in our time” on both occasions. It seems that the prophet desired a prompt fulfilment. God had, of course, already promised it (1:5).
The prophet’s second request evolved from the first. In these acts of judgment (wrath – 3:8, 12) Habakkuk pleaded for mercy.
3. GOD’S PRESENCE OF MERCY (vss.3-15):
After Habakkuk expressed the two petitions, he recalled the awesome deeds the Lord had performed in bringing His people from Egypt through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. Recounting those deeds gave the prophet confidence that God could also deliver His people from Babylon.
We must realise that Habakkuk had no problem with theological fears and questions about God’s decision to use an idol worshipping nation to punish His people any more, but Habakkuk is still human and therefore prone and exposed to anxiety and fear about the future. The question is, what did he do with his anxiety – with the weakness of his flesh – what are we doing with our concerns?
Habakkuk understands God’s holiness and His demands for justice, yet he pleads with God that He would be merciful and demonstrate compassion in the process of dealing with Israel’s sins. This is a reminder of Moses’ intercession for the people of God after one of their rebellion tirades during their time in the wilderness (Ex.32:11; Num.21:7).
〈 God’s Arrival (vs.3a): Habakkuk now reviews the work of God in the past and His covenantal relationship with Israel. And in his mind’s eye, he sees God on the march, coming from the south – from Teman and Mount Paran and He is coming in majestic splendour.
The city of Teman was located about 100 kilometres to the south of the Dead Sea and Mount Paran was a wilderness region just to the south of the border of Canaan. The Israelites camped at Paran after leaving Mount Sinai (where they received the Law). The spies were also sent into the promised land from Paran (see Num. 13–14).
〈 God’s Appearance (vss.3b-7): While reminding himself of what God did in the past, he also describes the splendour of his Deliverer in vss.3b-7. He describes the absolute majesty of the Lord. In beautiful and poetical form, Habakkuk describes some of God’s attributes ~ “His splendour covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. 4His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. 5Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels. 6He stood and measured the earth; he looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways. 7I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. He praises his almighty, sovereign and holy God and it is this God that will help them through their tribulation (Afrikaans: “verdrukking en swaarkry”).
〈 God’s Actions (vss.8-15): In vss.8-15 Habakkuk turns from describing the awesomeness of God to speaking directly to God.
He describes God’s actions in the past against the sinful and godless. He says that the Lord did not curse the rivers, the sea and mountains – on the contrary, He used the rivers; the sea and the mountains to save His people. He parted the Red Sea and the Jordan, for the salvation of His people. Think of Ex.14:15-29 when the Lord parted the sea through Moses and the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground, but when the Egyptians pursued them into the midst of the sea, Moses stretched out his hand and… ~ “…the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained” (Ex.14:28).
4. HABAKKUK’S PEACE IN MINISTRY (vss.16-19):
Habakkuk knew and firmly believed that although the Lord’s people will be invaded by the brutal and fearsome Babylonians, He will use all means to the salvation of His people – not necessarily to save them from the Babylonians, but to sustain them under all circumstances.
There is also an eschatological motif in this conviction of the prophet. God has come to the aid of His people in the past; God will certainly come again to their rescue; and at the end of time God will come once and for all to vindicate those who belong to Him and to exercise judgement on those opposed to Him.
The realisation that Yahweh would ultimately crush Satan and all his hosts enabled Habakkuk and all other believers to maintain their faith even in the face of temporary triumphs of the enemy. Deliverance was certain, but it would come only after judgment.
Yes, terrible devastation would first come to Judah as a result of the Chaldean invasion. He recognises that the ravages of war on Judah would be dreadful. The fig trees, the vineyards, the olive groves and grain fields would not yield their crops. Flocks and herds would be cut off. Neither luxuries nor necessities of life would be available. Habakkuk imagined the worse possible scenario (3:17).
But, eventually he also saw the revelation of the ultimate victory of God and that gave spiritual strength to Habakkuk. He may have stumbled for a time over the issue of God’s dealings with the world. Now, however, God made his feet “like hinds feet.” The Lord would help him walk on “high places” conquering one obstacle after another. The revelation of ultimate victory enables believers to live triumphant lives (3:19a).
Habakkuk’s personal faith in God and his firm commitment to remain faithful to Him are best illustrated in ch. 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith.” He would keep on trusting in God despite any calamity which might befall him and his country.
5. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:
The Lord understands our weaknesses, our fears and uncertainties. He gave us wonderful examples of Biblical figures that also experienced similar situations – similar fears and uncertainties. Abraham was sometimes weak in flesh. David acknowledged that. Jeremiah and Habakkuk felt at times unfit to do the work of the Lord. Paul says in 2 Cor.7:5 ~ “For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within.”
Such examples assure us that God understands us, and His mercy will show us a way out of our difficulties.
For his own consolation, Habakkuk reminded himself of the history of Israel. We are in a much better and more wonderful position than Habakkuk, because we are in a position to see how everything that God revealed to the prophet has been fulfilled. The Chaldeans were indeed raised up; they did destroy the Israelites; the Israelites were carried away captive into Babylon. But, in due course, God turned upon the Chaldeans and destroyed them, and brought back the remnant of Israel to Jerusalem.
When we look even further ahead. We see the cross of Jesus Christ and how everyone who believed in Him were saved from a terrible, hopeless and totally lost situation. We have more reminders from history than Habakkuk had. We therefore must have hope in the salvation that Jesus Christ brought us.
Walter J. Chantry describes our travel through this life beautifully when he refers to vs.19 and the description of the Lord who is his strength and makes his feet like that of deer. He says: “As the deer, darting through the forest, neither crashes into trees, nor slips on rocks, so shall the believer remain unharmed in the face of earths emergencies, and of death itself. Though hunted by Satan or stalked by the world and our own flesh we run our course by five. We are running amid the arrows of this life, some very poisonous. However, because of the ‘feet of deer’ which God has given us we always evade the final, fatal blow.”
Are we not to be anxious and fearful when we look at the current situation in our country and the rest of the world? David already knew in Ps.46:6 that this was the way of the world. We are not to fear, because God is in the midst of His people. As John say in 1 Joh.4:4b ~ “…for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” The Psalm writer in Ps.46:7 says: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.” God is the sovereign God. If we belong to Him, why should we fear?
Most of us will openly acknowledge that God is in control of heaven and earth – He is indeed a sovereign God, but the moment trouble comes to close for comfort and threatens our person, we start doubting and become fearful.
The Puritan William Gurnall once said: “We fear men so much because we fear God so little.” Beloved, we must start acknowledging that God is indeed God!