Habakkuk, Chapter 3 - In Wrath LORD, Remember Mercy

INTRODUCTION: One of my favorite bible quotes appears in three books of the New Testament (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38) "the just shall live by faith", and Habakkuk is the source of that quote. In the first two chapter divisions of this writing of less than 1,500 words, Habakkuk talks with the LORD about the evils he sees around himself, from the idolatry of Israel, and the LORD reveals his future means of judgment through another people. Habakkuk is somewhat shocked by the coming events, and asks the LORD how this can be consistent with his nature. After the LORD's further revelation of himself, and the description of the utter guilt of Israel in injustice and idolatry, and the fact the one who punishes will not go unpunished; Habakkuk responds by concluding his personal book with a prayerful psalm in chapter three. The prayer of Habakkuk is the core of this MPN.

I used my Online Bible to read eleven different translations of Habakkuk straight through, then used another Online facility to output an interlinear verse-by-verse comparison of all eleven translations to my study file. Then I examined some key words and phrases with the Strong's numbers and my Hebrew lexicon, and prepared a composite paraphrase of all three chapters. At the end of this MPN, I have inserted my paraphrase of the first two chapters for reference, but only chapter three will be examined as the MPN topic.

Habakkuk was one who worshipped Jehovah in spirit and truth, and he most likely wrote his prophecy decades after the Northern Kingdom had fallen for their disloyalty to Jehovah. After using the described method of study of the writing of Habakkuk, I have a sense of relating to him in a more personal manner; and I expect that my considerations about the world around me will now be influenced by his book.


A - Habakkuk 3:1-2, in composite paraphrase

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet concerning erring ones: O Jehovah, I have understood your narrative and am afraid: O Jehovah, revive your work in the midst of the years; In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.

COMMENTS: The text is clear in identifying Habakkuk as a prophet, and labeling this passage as a prayer, but not as clear on the meaning of shigionoth (used in many translations). The term is used only twice in the Old Testament, and it is related to another Hebrew word which means to err. Most of my referenced translators chose simply to transliterate the term, but two opted for "erring ones". I made the latter choice because it seems logical in Habakkuk's text, and in Psalm 7 where it also occurs. Another important term which appears 71 times in various Psalms, is Selah. It then appears the remaining 3 times for the Old Testament in Habakkuk. This word means to pause, but related forms suggest that praise and worship of Jehovah is the purpose of taking pause. Just as a minor note, Habakkuk means, "embrace".


B - Habakkuk 3:2-12, in composite paraphrase

God comes from Teman, the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah! His majesty has covered the heavens, and His praise has filled the earth. His brightness was as a light; he had rays coming out from his hand: there his power was concealed. From his presence went the pestilence of destruction, and a burning flame went forth at his feet. He stood and shook the earth, He beheld, and made the nations tremble; and the eternal mountains were dashed in pieces, the everlasting hills do bow; His goings are as of old. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction; the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. Is it, O Jehovah that against the rivers, is it that your anger is kindled against the rivers, or your wrath against the sea, that you ride upon your horses, upon your chariots of deliverance? Your bow was bared for action. Selah. By you the earth was cut through with rivers. The mountains saw you, and were afraid; the clouds were streaming with water; the deep uttered its voice, and lifted up its hands to exalt. The sun and moon stand still in their habitation; at the light of your arrows as they go, at the shining of your glittering spear. You march through the earth in indignation, you thresh the nations in anger.

COMMENTS: Habakkuk understands through revelation, what the LORD plans to do to Jerusalem, and he appeals for mercy to temper God's righteous wrath, and not for the benefit of men only, but to revive God's own work for God's glory. Habakkuk glorifies Jehovah as the one who fills all heaven and earth - the one who had shown his power in centuries gone by, sustaining the children of Israel in the wilderness of Paran. God's power is concealed until he unleashes it from heaven to make nations tremble, and even to make the mountains and hills to bow to his authority. Cushan and Midian were in dismay because of the LORD, and nature itself was dismayed. But the indignation of the LORD was not against nature. The natural realm did, however, respond to the glory of the LORD, with trembling mountains, and the waters of the deep expressing exaltation. The sun and the moon stood still at the signs of the beginning of action by the LORD. Jehovah's indignation and anger were then poured out upon man.


C - Habakkuk 3:13-16, in composite paraphrase

You have come forth for the deliverance of your people, for the deliverance of your anointed; you cut off the head out of the house of the wicked, uncovering the foundation even unto the neck. You pierced with his own spears the head of his leaders: They came as a whirlwind to scatter me; their rejoicing was as to devour the afflicted, as if in secret. You walked through the sea with your horses, through the mire of great waters. I heard, and my body trembled, My lips quivered at the proclamation; rottenness enters into my bones, and I tremble in my place; Because I must wait quietly for the day of trouble, For the coming up of the people that invade us.

COMMENTS: Then Habakkuk understands that Jehovah has come forth for the deliverance of his people, and for the deliverance of his anointed. Jehovah will not allow his promise concerning the seed of David to go unfulfilled! He will punish those who have punished Israel because they believe their power came from themselves, with no authority superior to their own. Habakkuk believes the God will use the Chaldeans as he said, and he is disturbed throughout his being because he knows he must just wait quietly for the destructive invasion to happen.


D - Habakkuk 3:17-19, in composite paraphrase

For though the fig-tree shall not flourish, Neither shall fruit be in the vines; The labor of the olive shall fail, And the fields shall yield no food; The flock shall be cut off from the fold, And there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in Jehovah, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength; and he makes my feet like hinds' feet, and will make me to walk upon my high places. To the chief singer, on my stringed instruments.

COMMENTS: But then he closes his prayer with glory to God in an expression of maintaining full trust, even if all material reserves and daily provisions fail. And he declares that he will be joyful in Jehovah, the God of his salvation. He attributes all of his strength to Jehovah, and believes the LORD will make his walk as sure-footed as the hind upon a mountain trail, as Habakkuk goes upon his corresponding appointed place. The closing postscript to this prayer probably indicates that the original word choice and arrangement of phrases would be in a poetic style, not so much designed for succinct presentation of fact alone. "To the chief singer, on my stringed instruments."


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

O Jehovah, I have considered your revelation to Habakkuk about the errors of a chosen people who put you behind their backs as if you were not the almighty creator of all that exists. I so easily forget your awesome power and purity, and I often think only within my own limits and fail to allow your spirit to renew my mind. There is much evil in the world today from those who know you not, but alas, even your church falls away, choosing the offerings of the world system, much like Israel of old. You have told all believers that a day is coming when Christ will return to make all things right. Guide my thoughts LORD to believe and trust. To wait for that end time, but with a joyful attitude in you, and praise to you for my preservation from the great destruction to come to rebellious mankind. As Habakkuk has said, it is your work, not our own, which we desire for you to revive in the midst of the years until you come again.

Your majesty fills the heavens, and your praise fills the earth. Your power and glory is concealed until you uncover them for your use. Are the mighty "forces of nature" which all peoples observe all around the globe in our day, demonstrating your anger against just the physical earth, or does this provide the signs of the whole creation in travail for the great day of the LORD to come? Is it not that your anger and indignation is ultimately for the rebellion of those you have created in your own image?

I believe with Habakkuk, that you keep your covenants, and that you delivered your people in his time, and protected the line of the anointed until the coming of Christ. You now protect and deliver your saints, and Christ will return to wound the head of the evil one, and finally bring all history to conclusion. Give me strength LORD, as I try by faith, to wait patiently for your timing, and especially as difficult circumstance may befall my loved ones and me. And may I have the joy of your salvation continually within me. You alone are worthy to receive all honor, and praise, and power, and glory! Amen, and amen.

Published 1 June 2004, first issued 21 August 2001


Composite Paraphrase of Habakkuk 1and2, for reference only

Habakkuk 1:1-17

The burden that Habakkuk the prophet has seen: O Jehovah, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you of violence, and you will not save. Why do you show me iniquity, and look upon perverseness? For plundering and violence are before me, and there are those that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked encompasses the righteous; therefore judgment is perverted.

Look among the nations, take note and be amazed, for I in your days am doing a work, which you will not believe; though it is told you. For I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and impetuous nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. They are greatly to be feared: their right comes from themselves. Their horses are quicker than leopards and their horsemen more cruel than evening wolves; yes, their horsemen come from afar; they shall fly as the eagle hurrying to eat. They shall come all for violence; their presence shall consume as the east wind, and they shall gather innumerable captives. They shall scoff against the kings, and princes shall be a scorn to them. They shall laugh at every fortress, and they shall make siege ramps and capture it. Then he sweeps on like a wind; and he transgresses and is guilty, crediting this power of his to his god.

Are not you from everlasting, O Jehovah my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Jehovah, you have ordained him for judgment; and you, O Rock, have established him for correction. You that are of eyes too pure to behold evil, and that can not look on iniquity, wherefore do you just look on when they deal treacherously, and hold your peace, when the wicked swallows up the man that is more righteous than he; and makes men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? They take up all of them with the hook; they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag; therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice to their net, and burn incense to their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their food plenteous. For this cause his net is ever open, and there is no end to his destruction of the nations.


Habakkuk 2:1-20

On my charge I stand, and I station myself on a tower, and I watch to see what He will speak against me, and what I will reply to my reproof.

And Jehovah answered me and said, Write the vision and engrave it on the tablets, that he who reads it may spread the message. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it may linger, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not be kept back. Behold, his soul which is lifted up in pride, is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.

And also, wine indeed betrays a proud man, and he is not content; who widens his soul like Sheol. And he is like death, and is not satisfied, but gathers all the nations to himself, and collects all the peoples to himself. Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, woe to him that increases that which is not his: how long? And that weighs down himself with the property of debtors: will not your creditors suddenly be moved against you, and your troublers get up from their sleep, and you will be to them like goods taken in war? Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you; because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city and to all that dwell therein.

Woe to him who is gaining evil profits for his house, To set on high his resting-place to be delivered from the grasp of evil. You have been a cause of shame to your house by cutting off many peoples, and have sinned against your own soul. For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. Woe to him that builds a town with blood, and establishes a city by unrighteousness!

Behold, is it not of Jehovah of hosts that the peoples labor for the fire, and the nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea. Woe to him who is giving drink to his neighbor, Pouring out your bottle, and also making drunk, In order to look on their nakedness. You are filled with shame instead of glory; you drink also, and will be seen as Uncircumcised. The cup of the right hand of Jehovah shall turn on you, and disgrace shall be upon your glory. For the violence done to Lebanon shall come upon you, and the destruction of livestock, which made them afraid; because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city, and all that dwell therein.

What benefit has a carved image given to its maker who carved it? A molten image and teacher of lies, That the maker trusts in his own formation, to make mute idols? Woe unto him that says to the wood, Awake; to the mute stone, Arise, it shall teach!

Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But Jehovah is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.

Published 1 June 2004, first issued 21 August 2001