Summary: Habakkuk’s psalm helps us to know how to respond to God even when things don’t make sense.
This morning we’re going to return to our journey through the Old Testament prophets in preparation for our study of the Book of Revelation. So go ahead and turn in your Bibles to the Book of Habakkuk. If you’re not familiar with that small book, you can find it by going to the first book in the New Testament, the gospel of Matthew, and then turning back toward the front of your Bible for five books. We’re going to focus on chapter 3 this morning, but before we read that passage, let me provide you with some background on the prophet Habakkuk.
Little is known about Habakkuk. There are no other Biblical references to him outside the book that bears his name. Even the meaning of his name is uncertain although it likely comes from the Hebrew word that means “to embrace”.
Although Habakkuk does not provide us with information that would allow us to determine the exact date of his writing, the references to the Chaldeans in the text point to a date in the late 7th century BC, when Babylon was the leading world power and they posed a major threat to the southern kingdom of Judah. This would have been about 100 years after the Assyrians had attacked the northern kingdom of Israel and the people of Israel had gone into captivity. The most likely time of his prophecy is during the reign of Jehoiakim between 609 and 598 BC, making Habakkuk a contemporary of Jeremiah, Nahum, and Zephaniah. So obviously, his prophecy is directed at the southern kingdom of Judah.
Habakkuk’s prophecy is unique among all the Old Testament prophets. It does not follow the usual form of a prophet speaking the words of God to his audience. Instead, it begins with a discussion between Habakkuk and God and ends with the psalm that we’ll be looking at this morning.
Habakkuk begins by complaining about the wickedness and violence among the people of Judah (1:2-4). But God’s answer (1:5-11) is not exactly what he is expecting. God is going to raise up the Chaldeans, another name for the Babylonians, who are going to advance upon Judah to punish them for their sin.
That leads to Habakkuk’s second complaint (1:12-2:1) – how is God in His holiness going to use a people that are even more wicked than the people of Judah to carry out His judgment? In His answer (2:2-5), God promises Habakkuk that the unrighteous Chaldeans will not escape His judgment.
Although God’s judgment of wickedness and evil may seem slow by human standards, God assures Habakkuk that the Chaldeans will get what they deserve. It is in this context that God speaks the words that will later be quoted by Paul in both Romans and Galatians as well as by the writer of Hebrews:
…but the righteous shall live by his faith…
Habakkuk 2:4 (ESV)
God then pronounces a series of five woes against the Chaldeans to confirm that he will indeed judge them at some time in the future.
With that background in mind, we are now ready to look at Habakkuk chapter 3. I’ll read the entire chapter:
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
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.
3 God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His splendor covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise. Selah
4 His brightness was like the light;
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
5 Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed at his heels.
6 He 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.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
8 Was 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?
9 You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows. Selah
You split the earth with rivers.
10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
it lifted its hands on high.
11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
at the light of your arrows as they sped,
at the flash of your glittering spear.
12 You marched through the earth in fury;
you threshed the nations in anger.
13 You went out for the salvation of your people,