When Habakkuk started his book, he was in a “low place” questioning God. Then he climbed higher and stood on the watchtower, waiting for God to reply. After hearing God’s Word and seeing God’s glory, he became like a mountain climber who raises his hands in excitement at reaching the top of the mountain. His circumstances hadn’t changed, but he had changed, and now he was walking by faith instead of sight. He was living by promises, not explanations.
It isn’t easy to climb higher in the life of faith, but who wants to live in the low place? Like Habakkuk, we must honestly talk to God about our difficulties, we must pray, we must meditate on God’s Word, and we must be willing to wait for the Lord to reveal Himself to us. But it will be worth it as we reach new summits of faith and discover new opportunities for growth and service.
What took Habakkuk from the valley to the ridge? The same spiritual disciplines that can take us there: prayer, praise, and faith.
1. PRAYER: Pray For the Work of God (VV. 1-2)
Prayer is the ultimate way to get answers to questions about God and His work in the world. We must seek our answers directly from the Lord and from His Word. Books, theology, philosophy, science, advanced education, seminaries, Bible colleges, the thoughts and wisdom of others—none of these is a substitute for seeking the face of God Himself. This is the lesson of Habakkuk. We must go to God Himself and to His Word for answers to our questions.
This chapter is a “prayer psalm” that may have been used in the temple worship in Jerusalem. (For the other “prayer psalms,” see Pss. 17; 86; 90; 102; and 142.) The prophet was now praying to the Lord and not arguing with the Lord, and his prayer soon became praise and worship.
This prayer of praise focuses on the splendor and power of God, His majesty and mighty work in the world, and particularly His saving acts in the history of Israel. The unfamiliar word shigionoth (v. 1) was likely a musical notation that gave instructions as to how the song should be sung, possibly its tune or melody. The word selah, a pause or musical note, is another example (vv. 3, 9, 13), and is commonly found in the Psalms.
Habakkuk requested two things from the Lord (v. 2b). These are the only requests in Habakkuk’s long prayer of praise, but they were significant, being the most urgent needs he and his people had.
a. Habakkuk prayed for God to work among His people. The prophet longed for a fresh outpouring of the presence of God. Habakkuk’s prayer begins in this way: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known” Habakkuk prayed because he was overwhelmed by God’s splendor. “I stand in awe of Your deeds” (Hab. 3:2, NIV).
*For Us Today: We are called to acknowledge God’s work and to stand in awe of Him. This is true even when we do not understand God’s ways or His plans. Habakkuk did not understand why God would use such a wicked nation as Babylon to punish His own people. In fact, he had many questions that were not fully answered. Yet, the prophet composed a soaring hymn of praise to the Lord. He acknowledged the Lord’s majesty and stood in awe of His deeds—even though he did not understand them. He feared and revered the Lord despite his own confusion. As believers, we are all called to do just the same.
b. Habakkuk Prayed for Mercy Finally, Habakkuk prayed because He wanted God to show mercy. The prophet agreed that the people of Judah deserved to be punished, and that God’s punishment would work out for their good, but He asked that God’s heart of love would reveal itself in mercy. He was like Moses when he interceded for the nation at Mt. Sinai (Ex. 32) and at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 14). Perhaps Habakkuk had the promise of Isaiah 54:7-8 in mind as he prayed, and see Jeremiah 10:23-24. Certainly the Lord did show mercy to the Jews, for He preserved them in Babylon and then permitted a remnant to return to their land and establish the nation.
*For Us Today If, like Habakkuk, you ever become discouraged about the condition of the church, the state of the world, or your own spiritual life, take time to pray and seek God’s mercy. The greatest need today is for intercessors. (Isa. 59:16).
It may not look today as if God is not doing anything, but if you and I could see what is moving behind the scenes and see the wheels that are turning; I think that we would be as surprised as Habakkuk was. I think we too, would cry out to God for mercy. Many believers today have thrown up their hands about the conditions in our own country — they’ve just given up. We all feel that way at times, don’t we? But, God is moving today in judgment, and somebody needs to cry out to Him and say, “Oh, Lord, as you are moving in judgment, don’t forget to be merciful to us. We need your mercy.” This great nation of ours needs the mercy of God today. We have been on an ego trip. We have really had a flight of pride, of being the greatest nation in the world. What would we do in the time of a major crisis?
2. PRAISE: Praising The Greatness Of God (VV. 3-15),
God came in splendor (3:3-5). According to some scholars, Mt. Paran is another name for the entire Sinai Peninsula, or for Mt. Sinai itself (Deut. 33:2). Teman is usually identified with Edom. In this song, Habakkuk seems to be retracing the march of Israel from Sinai to the Promised Land.
Everything about this stanza reveals the glory of God. He is called “the Holy One” (Hab. 3:3, and see 1:12), a name used in Isaiah at least thirty times. “His glory covered the heavens” (3:3) is an anticipation of the time when His glory will cover all the earth (2:14). God’s appearance was like the lightning that plays across the heavens before the storm breaks. All of creation joined in praising Him as “the earth was full of His praise.” God’s brightness was like the sunrise only to a greater degree (see Matt. 17:2). “Horns” means “rays”: “rays flashed from His hand (Hab. 3:4, NIV) where His power was hidden.
Verse 5 takes us to Egypt, where God revealed His power and glory in the plagues and pestilences that devastated the land and took the lives of the firstborn (Ex. 7-12). Those ten plagues were not only punishment because of Pharaoh’s hardness of heart; they also revealed the vanity of Egypt’s gods. “Against all the gods of Egypt will I execute judgment: I am the Lord” (Ex. 12:12; Ps. 78:50). But this verse might also include the various judgments God sent to Israel when they disobeyed Him from time to time during their wilderness march.
God stood in power (3:6-7). Invading generals either push forward to gain ground or they fall back in retreat, but the Lord simply stood and faced the enemy unafraid. In fact, He calmly measured the earth as a sign that He possessed it. To measure something is an indication that it’s yours and you can do with it what you please. It’s also a preliminary step to action, as though the Lord were surveying the situation and estimating how much power it would take to execute His wrath on the nations. The Lord revealed His power when He shook the earth at Sinai before He delivered His Law to Israel (Ex. 19:18; Heb. 12:18-21).
The nations that lay between Egypt and Canaan are typified by Cush and Midian, two people groups living near Edom. As the news of the exodus from Egypt spread quickly through the nations, the people were terribly frightened and wondered what would happen to them when Israel arrived on the scene (Ex. 15:14-16; 23:27; Deut. 2:25; Josh. 2:8-11).
*For Us Today: These verses clearly demonstrate God’s incomprehensible power over nature. Most of us fear to even think that God would use the same natural disasters and pestilence today. Far fewer of us are bold enough to declare the truth of God’s coming judgment. Such a warning might make us appear fanatical. Yet, one thing is definitely true: if God chooses, He can demonstrate the same power or any other supernatural act today, whether to get our attention or to correct the ways of His people. God’s Word makes it clear that He has done this throughout the history of the world. God’s Word also declares that as world history draws to a close, natural disasters and pestilence will increase and be more devastating. And God will be behind it all, using it all for His purposes. See also: (Mt. 24:7), Re. 6:1-6), (Re. 11:13, 19), (Re. 16:17-19).
God moved in victory (Hab. 3:8-15) Habakkuk uses dynamic poetic imagery to describe Israel’s march through the wilderness as they followed the Lord to the Promised Land and then claimed their inheritance. The Red Sea opened to let Israel out of Egypt, and the Jordan opened to let Israel into Canaan. The Egyptian chariots and their occupants were drowned, but God’s chariots were chariots of salvation. Verse 9 pictures the various battles that the Israelites fought en route to Canaan, battles that the Lord won for them as they trusted Him and obeyed His commands.
In verse 10, we move into the Promised Land and see Israel conquering the enemy. God was in complete control of land and water and used His creation to defeat the Canaanites. Verse 10 describes the victory of Deborah and Barak over Sisera (Judges 4-5), when a sudden rainstorm turned their battlefield into a swamp and left the enemy’s chariots completely useless. In Habakkuk 3:11, we have the famous miracle of Joshua when the day was prolonged so Joshua would have more time for a total victory (Josh. 10:12-13). Leading His army, God marched through Canaan like a farmer threshing grain, and His people claimed their inheritance (Hab. 3:12).
Expositors aren’t agreed as to what historical event is described in verses 13-15. Perhaps the prophet is referring to the various times God had to deliver His people, as recorded in the Book of Judges, and the “anointed one” would then be the judges. He raised up and used to bring deliverance (Judges 2:10-19).
However, perhaps Habakkuk was looking ahead and describing the deliverance of God’s people from the Babylonian Captivity. God brought the Medes and Persians to crush Babylon and then to” permit the Jews to return to their land (Ezra 1:1-4). The image of God stripping Babylon “from head to foot” (Hab. 3:13, NIV) parallels what Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 50—51. Perhaps Habakkuk was looking both to the past (the Exodus) and to the future (deliverance from Babylon) and using the ancient victory to encourage the people to expect a new victory
In this hymn, Habakkuk describes his God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God of glory who reveals His glory in creation and in history. He is the living God who makes the dead idols of the nations look ridiculous. He is the God of power who can command land and sea, heaven, and earth, and therefore, He is the God of victory who leads His people in triumph.
*For Us Today: There is no substitute for understanding the greatness of God, whether in our messages or in our songs. The shallowness of some contemporary messages, books, and songs may be the major contributing factor to the weakness of the church and the increase in “religious entertainment” in meetings where we ought to be praising God. The thing that lifted Habakkuk to the mountaintop was his understanding of the greatness of God. We need a return to the kind of worship that focuses on the glory of God and seeks to honor Him alone.
3. FAITH: Affirm The Will Of God (vv. 16-19).
This is one of the greatest confessions of faith found anywhere in Scripture. Habakkuk has faced the frightening fact that his nation will be invaded by a merciless enemy. The prophet knows that many of the people will go into exile and many will be slain. The land will be ruined, and Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed. Yet he tells God that he will trust Him no matter what happens! Listen to his confession of faith.
“I will wait patiently on the Lord” (3:16). If Habakkuk had depended on his feelings, he would never have made this great confession of faith. If Habakkuk looked ahead, he saw a nation heading for destruction, and that frightened him. When he looked within, he saw himself trembling with fear, and when he looked around, he saw everything in the economy about to fall apart. But when he looked up by faith, he saw God, and all his fears vanished. To walk by faith means to focus on the greatness and glory of God.
One of the marks of faith is a willingness to wait patiently for the Lord to work. “Whoever believes will not act hastily” (Isa. 28:16, NKJV). When we run ahead of God, we get into trouble. Abraham learned that lesson when he married Hagar and fathered Ishmael (Gen. 16), and so did Moses when he tried to deliver the Jews by his own hand (Ex. 2). “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isa. 3:15).
Habakkuk could wait quietly because he knew that God was at work in the world (Hab. 1:5), and he had prayed that God’s work would be kept alive and strong (3:2). When you know that God is working in your life, you can afford to wait quietly and let Him have His way. And, God had instructed him to wait (2:3). No matter what we see and no matter how we feel, we must depend on God’s promises and not allow ourselves to “fall apart.” “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Ps. 37:7).
Over the years, I’ve often leaned on a verse that has helped me wait on the Lord. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). Whenever we find ourselves getting “churned up” within, we can be sure that we need to stop, pray, and wait on the Lord before we do some stupid thing.
“I will rejoice in the Lord” (3:17-18). By the time Babylon was through with the land of Judah, there wouldn’t be much of value left (2:17). Buildings would be destroyed, treasures would be plundered, and farms and orchards would be devastated. The economy would fall apart and there would be little to sing about. But God would still be on His throne, working out His divine purposes for His people (Rom. 8:28). Habakkuk couldn’t rejoice in his circumstances, but he could rejoice in his God!
The prophet’s testimony here reminds us of Paul’s admonitions to believers today: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes. 5:16-18, NKJV). Habakkuk discovered that God was his strength (Hab. 3:19) and song as well as his salvation (see Isa. 12:1-2; Ex. 15:2; Ps. 118:14); and therefore he had nothing to fear.
It’s one thing to “whistle in the dark” and try to bolster our courage, and quite something else to sing about the eternal God who never fails. Though his lips were trembling and his legs were shaking (Hab. 3:16, NIV), the prophet burst into song and worshiped his God. What an example for us to follow! It reminds us of our Lord before He went to the cross (Mark 14:26), and Paul and Silas in the Philippian dungeon (Acts 16:19-34). God can give us “songs in the night” (Pss. 42:8; 77:6; Job 35:10) if we’ll trust Him and see His greatness.
“I will rely on the Lord” (3:19). If my legs were shaking and my heart pounding, I’d find a safe place to sit down and relax, but Habakkuk began to bound up the mountain like a deer! Because of his faith in the Lord, he was able to stand and be as surefooted as a deer; he was able to run swiftly and go higher than he’d ever gone before. This is one reason why the Lord permits us to go through trials: they can draw us nearer to Him and lift us above the circumstances so that we walk on the heights with him.
God made us for the heights. If He allows us to go into the valley, it’s so we might wait on Him and mount up with eagles’ wings (Isa. 40:30-31). “He made him to ride on the high places of the earth” (Deut. 32:13). This is what David experienced when he was being chased by his enemies and by Saul: “It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places” (Ps. 18:32-33).
*For Us Today: Oftentimes, we do not understand God’s judgment or why He brings affliction into our lives. We cannot comprehend why He allows bad things to happen to us or to those we love. God’s Word teaches that He uses trials and afflictions for many reasons: to strengthen us, to correct us, to discipline us, to force us to turn from sin. Simply stated, God uses trials and tribulations in order to protect us and society—to keep us from harming ourselves and others. Apart from such judgment, many more people would continue in sin, causing more and more injury, corruption, and suffering in the world. More people would be doomed to eternal separation from God. Seen in this light, God’s judgment is an incredible act of mercy. In fact, many of the trials and afflictions we suffer in life are truly blessings in disguise. This is why Habakkuk was able to rejoice and praise the Lord even though judgment was coming. God’s Word speaks clearly on this subject: (Mt. 7:25), (2 Co. 4:17), (He. 12:11), (Js. 1:12), (1 Pe. 1:7), (Re. 2:10), (Jb. 23:10), (Ps. 78:34), (Ps. 119:67). (Zec. 13:9), (Mal. 3:3).
Habakkuk teaches us to face our doubts and questions honestly, take them humbly to the Lord, wait for His Word to teach us, and then worship Him no matter how we feel or what we see.
God doesn’t always change the circumstances, but He can change us to meet the circumstances. That’s what it means to live by faith.
For more on this Series, “When God Seems Unfair” go to http://www.ridgefellowship.com/messages/singleseries/10035.html