Introduction to these Lecture Notes
Dedicated to the students who attended
the Conference in West Bengal,
These notes have been written to assist those who hear me lecture on Habakkuk. The notes relieve the burden of taking notes, and give diligent persons more connections to pursue in their study of Scripture. On the Internet they are available for anyone. They will appear on my website: www.grebeweb.com/linden
When I use a reference such as 1:12 without naming a book, the reference is from Habakkuk unless the context clearly requires a different part of the Bible. Appendices are used for major themes related to the text of Habakkuk. For those whose English is limited I have suppressed idioms.
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Notes on Habakkuk 1
The prophet saw (or received) this oracle. It is a revelation from God. Habakkuk did not receive this message from himself. It would be very easy for someone to consider it as something he initiated. Though he expresses his feelings to the Lord, the Lord controlled the experience of the prophet. His questions and perplexity were sincere; they did happen. The Lord’s hand was in it all, generating in Habakkuk his painful pleas, with the Lord then supplying the replies. This “burden” (the odd Hebrew word for oracle) weighed on him, because God had put it on his heart.
In the doctrine of inspiration, we may say that the prophets received, saw, were told, heard, or had a message from the Lord. In any case the Lord initiates. Prophets did not write their own opinions and pass them on to others. God gave and they received what He gave in a way that only God can do. Habakkuk’s brief prophecy did not have its origin in his will or emotions. He was carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 2:21) to write as he did. True prophets were officially authorized; they did not call themselves to this ministry (see Hebrews 5:4). Since their message was from God, it was relevant, accurate, and authoritative.
Contrary to our wishes, Habakkuk does not say to whom
he wrote, where he lived or when. We are left with one clue in 1:6 as to his
time in history. From this we conclude his specific audience. Undoubtedly, he
was a prophet to
The First Complaint (1:2-4)
1:2-4 The oracle begins with a painful cry to the Lord; it begins and ends with a lament. Twice in the first complaint he asks why. The prayer in 1:2-4 assumed that God hears and controls the things that vexed the prophet. He knew it was God Who had made him look at all he saw. He truly viewed God as God, the One to pray to, as the One Who can save. That the situation abounded with strife was something God could rectify, yet one God had ordained. The power of God was not being questioned, nor was God’s right to demand righteousness. There is also the sense that the judgment of God against evil is right and expected, and that a failure to judge sin would contradict God’s holy character.
What was being questioned? The words “How long” assumed that the distress was not permanent. Surely God would in some way intervene at some time. Habakkuk’s sense of timing is at the heart of his complaint. In Habakkuk’s opinion, God was overdue to act. He had not done so yet, so Habakkuk responded with a terrible appraisal. He implied that God tolerates wrong, though he knows the opposite is true. The tentative judgment being made about God was that He was inconsistent. God had been prayed to, so the issue had been brought before Him, and Habakkuk stumbled into thinking that God had failed to be wise. Before it is over, Habakkuk will accept by faith the wisdom of God. God does not buckle to pressure, or live by the expectations of His creatures, but He does allow frank prayers and complaints. Habakkuk was confused.
What was the evil? The
chief evil Habakkuk mentioned was violence among his people. “Violence”
appears six times in Habakkuk. Of course, in a fallen world sin will break out,
but there is human restraint in the institutions of governments. Law
enforcement and fair courts are a wonderful blessing. Furthermore, within
A typical prophetic criticism Habakkuk’s description of the sins of his people was very brief; in the whole oracle it is less than three verses. It was not even a prophetic denunciation spoken to the people. (1:5 speaking to a plural audience is a small exception to this observation.) In vv. 2-4 Habakkuk reviewed their sin as background to his chief issue, the appearance that God did not act to correct sin. Therefore there was no need to make a complete listing the sins which needed repentance.
The Prophets’ usual criticism of
1. Their idolatry as defection from the Lord. To worship an idol is to forsake the Lord even while claiming loyalty or performing rituals (Isaiah 1:13). Idolatry is covenantal adultery (Hosea 4:12). Any trust in a foreign power was unbelief in Yahweh as the covenant-keeping God to preserve them as a nation with the Son of David as their ruler (Isaiah 7:1-17; 31:1).
2. The other prevalent law-breaking was their abuse of the weak: the widow, the alien, and the fatherless (Zechariah 7:8-10). The perversion of the justice system (as here in 1:4) was seen in bribing judges (Micah 3:11), withholding wages (Malachi 3:5), accumulating land not returned in the year of release (Isaiah 5:8), etc. Social injustice is the aspect of law Habakkuk refers to in vv.2-4.
Lest reading the prophets discourage us, remember that it was in this setting of national moral decline that the prophets often held out the prediction and promise of God’s saving intervention. Thus the Holy Spirit in these later OT books gave more about Christ and His coming than we find in the previous Scriptures.
1:5 Habakkuk looked on the sin of his people. It was all he saw and so he fretted whether God would be true to Himself. The Lord replied by saying that Habakkuk should look at what He the Lord was going to do. God is a God of patience, but not inaction. His patience is often misunderstood (2 Peter 2:8,9). Never presume that judgment restrained is God’s permanent policy. Justice delayed is not justice abandoned.
The reaction of the Lord concerning what was going on in
1:6 Since God was raising up the Babylonians, it seems safe to understand that they had not emerged at this point as the dominant power of the region. This might place Habakkuk in a time a little earlier than Jeremiah. Of more importance is the emphatic teaching in this verse that God was raising up a wicked Gentile power to do His will. The Babylonians did not act in obedience to God’s revealed commandments, yet as God’s instrument of punishment (1:12) they would do what He had ordained. See: Appendix B: God Using the Wicked for His Righteous Purpose.
1:6-11 Retribution The
violence within the covenant community was punished by foreign violence. The
Lord “rewarded” destruction (v.3) with destruction. Undoubtedly some helpless
Military might The Lord’s answer predicted the speed of the Babylonian attack. Note: sweep, swift horses, galloping cavalry, swooping vultures. Then to close this section with an inclusio it mentions sweep again. (See the notes on chapter 3 re inclusios.) The Babylonians had such speed there was no escape from them, and no opportunity for one besieged city to help another. The enemy would simply overwhelm them. The Jews could not run, and wherever they remained, their city walls could not save them (v.10). (See also Jeremiah 1:15; Isaiah 22:5).
Godlessness In Judah God’s law was ignored at the highest levels.
They were godless. No one has any regard for God if his policy is to disregard
whatever God has said. The Babylonians had no respect for the law of the real
God either. The proper role of God over all was being replaced. Whenever God is
rejected a horrible substitute takes His place. The only thing that can replace
justice is injustice. This is what
The Babylonians mocked other human authorities. The denial of God’s authority led to the denial of authorities He has erected. Godlessness tends to chaos. No social structure is possible without law, but the Babylonians were a law to themselves. Such denial of God meant that the honor that should have been His was directed back to themselves. The depravity of self-love (2 Timothy 3:1-5) abounded in Babylonian arrogance.
The Lord ended His reply to Habakkuk’s complaint by a statement of Babylonian guilt and self-worship. The God Who opposes false gods ended with an assessment of them that demanded His reaction to them. This was the next issue that would arise in Habakkuk’s perplexity about the justice of God.
The Second Complaint (1:12 – 2:1)
Habakkuk received an answer from God. He knew that the Lord had heard him and would
deal with the sin of his people. That would be a relief, yet a new and perhaps
more difficult question rose in his mind. He continued to pray to the only One
Who could answer and act, and he stood on certainties about God that he knew.
Many things may puzzle and unsettle us. In such times we need to have our feet
on the firm foundation of what we know from Scripture about God. Habakkuk had
learned from the Lord that He would use
God is eternal and unchanging, holy, almighty, just, sovereign and self-existent. The personal language My God, My Holy One indicates a covenant bond. In the opening of this prayer, Habakkuk has packed much truth into a few words. For an elaboration of 1:12, see Appendix C Habakkuk’s Doctrine of God in 1:12
1:13 The need for God to deal in judgment with his own people was clear. Habakkuk had actually been asking for something like that from God! Then it seemed as if God would deal with one wickedness and overlook another one. God cannot look favorably on anyone’s sin. (Christians should realize that though we are forgiven in Christ, our sin is just as repulsive to God as ever.) Habakkuk sensed an irreconcilable tension between God’s holiness and His sovereign decision to allow the wicked to indulge their sin, sin of a very vicious kind. This is Habakkuk’s Why do you tolerate …?
He also asked Why
are you silent? God does not explain
all His decisions to us, especially in advance. He does not seek our counsel
(Romans 11:33-36). He does not “clear” things with us. He is not accountable to
us. The Lord is God and we are not. As Habakkuk said in his prayer, the
Babylonians would surely swallow up entire nations and then thank their false
god for their victories. It appeared to Habakkuk that the Lord God of
The fact that Habakkuk wrote this oracle shows that God was not silent for long. This prophecy is part of the Word of God. To be without divine explanation is terrible confusion. If we have no word of direction or explanation from God, we will suffer (Proverbs 29:18).
1:14–17 At this
point the prayer switches from you to he, as the prophet speaks about the
Babylonian (singular). God had described them (plural) in 1:6-11. When Habakkuk
speaks of them, he adds no new factor to make their sin more heinous. His
appraisal agrees with what God had said. Habakkuk thinks the Babylonians are
more wicked than his own people. From the standpoint of military aggression
against other nations he was right (Ezekiel 7:23-27), but from the standpoint
The ease of
The gods of
The watchman stood in a high location to see if an enemy might be approaching. He would discern the danger and sound a warning. The prophet was to warn in a different way. He did not give his view of the danger. His duty was to wait for a revelation from the Lord (Ezekiel 3:17). True prophecy is never the prophet’s wisdom or interpretation of anything (2 Peter 1:21). He is an example of a godly approach to whatever problems afflict us and confuse us. He looked to God; He waited on God, and whatever response God would give would be what he would accept and repeat to others.
He knew that with God as the source, any answer from Him would be truth, and it would be the only thing he could proclaim to others with assurance and authority. Possibly the words “and what answer I am to give” refer to what he would say to others after receiving the Lord’s answer. The wisdom of the wise will perish (Isaiah 29:14). The Lord Almighty is wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom (Isaiah 28:29). “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure,” (Isaiah 33:6). It is crucial to Christian ministry that we not view our thinking as a store of wisdom when we have the Word of God instead.
Appendix A: Prayers of Complaint in Scripture
Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long will the wicked, O LORD, how long will the wicked be jubilant? (Psalm 94:2,3)
Puny dictators do not allow complaints, while the great and majestic Lord God over all authorities welcomes the prayers of His children. His view is that He is being looked upon as God when we cry out to Him; He likes it, because our real God is whomever we call on for help. (This makes all prayers to Mary or saints idolatrous.) What surprises us is that God has allowed and placed in Scripture prayers we call laments. Our encouragement includes that in speaking to God we are not limited to gentle requests and positive praises. Painful groans and frank questions are also welcomed. The man who saw his beloved wife and two children in coffins, then turned his face to the wall saying in anguish, “O God, O God …” was praying as a Christian. There is no teaching in the Bible that we must not pray in agony about our burdens. Anguish stimulates prayer.
We are dealing with difficult matters. This prophet questioned (what he thought was) the lax rule of God, God’s supposed lack of intervention when greatly needed. These were trials the Lord made Habakkuk “look at” (v.3), not matters of Habakkuk’s choice or pleasure. God’s sovereign decisions were the assumption of all that Habakkuk said; otherwise he could not complain to a Lord God Who had no control over the things that vexed him. The Scriptures never defend God by arguing that anything is outside His control.
One aspect of prayer that emerges here is that we come to the Lord as little children with whatever we face. Casting burdens on the Lord is a way that we learn that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). We are never in the situation where we believe in His care without any examples of it being needed. God has made no promise that we would never have any anguish. “… All the days [with no exceptions] ordained for me were written in your [very private] book [containing all the circumstances I will face] before one of them [i.e., the ordained days] came to be” (Psalm 139:16). (Please be careful there, because I added my interpretation into the text itself.)
Laments cry out, how long, as do the murdered saints in Revelation 6:10,11. In that text they were told to wait a little longer. The Lord told Habakkuk that He had a specific time for His intervention (2:2,3). Thus the phrase “in God’s good time” is the language of cognitive faith and a contented heart. These prayers also ask Why? Unbelief assumes “there is nothing He can do about it”. Faith says, “It is in His hands”. The why recognizes that He has a reason. Prayers may raise hard questions without a specific resolution in a person’s lifetime. For example, Psalm 89 raises serious issues that were not clarified until the first coming of Christ. The prophets and psalmists did not have the information that it is now our privilege to have (1 Peter 1:10-12). We must not misconstrue Biblical lamentations as assumptions that God would not address the problems raised. It was simply that He had not done so when the prayer was made. They prayed believing He would. God has chosen for problems to fester so that we will eagerly wait for His response. Supreme patience waits for Christ to return (James 4:8). The language of “come soon” is tempered by a love for God that accepts His time.
Our eagerness to see the Lord intervene as and when we think He should, assumes that He should submit to our wisdom. Overstepping this boundary runs counter to God’s longsuffering. If God were quick to express wrath (note Exodus 34:6; James 1:19) who of us would be saved? “Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation …” (2 Peter 3:15). God does not live in fear of those who complain that He is late. He jealously guards His right as God to decide both the “what’s” and “when’s” of His creatures. Because He functions in His wisdom, He can only act according to His own timetable. That is just God being God!
Another example is Moses’ lament in Exodus 5:22,23, but see also God’s reply in Exodus 6. For psalms of lament, see Psalms 10, 13, 73 & 74, though there are many more. We distinguish these from imprecatory psalms, which cry out for the wrath of God so that the wicked will have their due. Those too are in the Bible.
How we view history is important. In Habakkuk 1:6 the Lord said, “I am raising up the Babylonians”. This is a clear statement of God’s action. It is much more than prediction. The Lord does not speak of Himself as only an observer of the future. Of course He knows all that will ever happen, but this text is telling us that God decided to use the Babylonians for His specific purpose. God does not read history to learn from it in order to make comments on it; He manages it, ruling over the lives of mankind, including those who have come into bondage to Satan. God is sovereign in all matters of human action and decision. “He does as He pleases with …the peoples of the earth” (Daniel 4:35). This truth is contrary to popular notions of man’s supposedly free will. (My brief reply is that as a result of the fall, man is not free. He is in bondage to sin and Satan. His heart is dead to God, and so he lacks any spiritual interest in repentance and faith. Notions of man’s freedom and spiritual ability, apart from God changing our hearts, do not fit the Bible’s description of our sinful condition.) This appendix reviews other Scriptures that show God using the willful actions of unbelievers; we cannot avoid the fact that God has the right to move the hearts of men as He pleases (Proverbs 21:1; Luke 22:22). God works through the righteous conduct of His people (2 Timothy 2:20,21). The Scriptures below will also show that the nations are tools by which God accomplishes His purpose. He does this mysteriously; the humans involved act freely without coercion. There is no wickedness in the Lord (Psalm 92:15) when He uses the willful sinful acts of sinners for His holy purpose. Examples of God using Gentile powers as His instruments follow.
Babylonians in the Prophecies of Jeremiah No one can read the
prophets and miss the proliferation of statements that God would employ
Cyrus in the Prophecy of Isaiah Six texts in Isaiah reveal that God would
use the wicked king of
The six Isaiah texts are: a) 41:25; b) 44:24-28; c) 45:1-7; d) 45:13; e) 46:11; f) 48:14,15. God stirred up this king
(a). Though God said
Romans and Unbelieving
This prayer begins with wonderful truths about God. There was no vagueness in Habakkuk’s mind about the Lord he was praying to. A clear conception of who God is enables us to pray in His will and not to some false deity of our own imagination.
1. Eternal & Unchanging God has not merely lived forever. He is the same God from age to age, so what He promised in Abraham and Moses’ day is binding forever. If He learned something or changed in any way, He would be a different God from what He was before (Malachi 3:6). Only God is eternal and unchanging, so His promises are eternal, and thus Habakkuk was confident in saying We will not die.
2. Holy We are right to think of God as holy when we consider His sinlessness. He cannot be tempted to sin; He does not contemplate sinning. He has never had any experience in sinning. He is thorough and consistent in His purity. Sin is recent; God is eternal. By the word holy we mean that God is different in many ways. Our life is contingent; His is inherent. We may learn, but God knows. We act; God judges us. We make uncertain plans; God decrees with certainty (Proverbs 19:21). God’s holiness sets Him apart from all His creatures, not just from the standpoint of infinity and superiority. He is set apart as transcendent. God’s holiness includes His moral perfection, but it goes beyond to include all that sets Him apart from us and makes Him unique. So He is holy in all His attributes. You can never be wrong if you say, “God is holy in His justice, in His judgments, in His creation, in His commandments, in His power, in His decisions, in His very existence, (etc.)”
3. Almighty God is not a God who can only promise; He is able to fulfill His word. He is a Rock, a wonderful image for being steady, unmovable, and powerful.
4. Just Since God appointed the Babylonians for judgment and punishment, this was evidence to Habakkuk that God does not tolerate wrong, as he once worried in vv.2-4.
5. Sovereign When God appointed and ordained Babylonian action, He did not check with them first to see if it was all right with them. He is God and acts as God with unlimited rights. What He never violates is His holy character.
God rules over His enemies, even their actions and motivations. God’s enemies receive their life from Him and He sustains their existence. His absolute right to rule them extends into their hearts, so that He can use the devil or the Babylonians at will, whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not. If you are going to pray, God is the One to turn to. God speaks as God in a way we must not without assuming the unique rights of God: “There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life.” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
6. Self Existent This feature of God’s transcendence is implied in His Name LORD. It is an expression of “I Am that I Am” (Exodus 3:14,15). God’s Name is a statement. It is not just a label to identify Him. When God says “I am”, He claims an existence beyond our reach. When a human says, “I am,” he makes a temporary and contingent statement. It is not an eternal reality. It is dependent on all the things he needs to support his existence. Deny a man food, water, or air and he will be described as “he was”. God’s life is from Himself!
God is unchangeable, His I Am Name
implies that His word is as faithful a million years later as the moment He
spoke. This solid reputation of God appears in the prayer of Habakkuk 3. Here
in 1:12 God’s faithfulness is the reason for Habakkuk’s confident we will
not die. He again includes why
twice in this prayer, but in his perplexity he knows that the LORD cannot break
His covenant with Abraham. The people of
7. The Covenantal Feature All of the wonderful features of God stated above could be true without God allowing us to be close to Him. None of the attributes of God mentioned so far indicate that He has taken in anyone as His sons and daughters. Habakkuk calls God, “My God, My Holy One”. Covenant language confesses that He is our God (Exodus 15:2), and we are encouraged to say that we are His people (Leviticus 26:12). God speaks that way of believers. The term “sons and daughters” is commonly used to speak of the children of mankind. God uses it of His family too (Deuteronomy 32:19; Ezekiel 16:20; 2 Corinthians 6:18). David used my many times in 2 Samuel 22:1-7. The language of intimacy is expanded in the NT with prayer being offered to Our Father (Matthew 6:9), with more reference to God’s children (John 1:12; Romans 8:16,17; 1 John 3:1,2; Revelation 21:7).
Notes on Habakkuk 2
[Habakkuk 2:1 is the end of his first complaint, so I have placed it in the Notes on Habakkuk 1.]
2:2,3 This verse supports the idea in v.1 that the Lord’s
answer is to be given to others. It was not for Habakkuk alone. It was to be in
writing as a permanent word to all who follow. Perhaps make it plain meant to write it in large letters, easy to read.
God’s answer (and all of His Word) was to be spread. The one reading was to run with it to others. Note these issues
in Christian ministry: The word awaited was God’s; it must be understood, and
then disseminated. Note too the confidence of God; this is not a revelation
where God is trying to guess what is coming. It rings with authority and divine
confidence. (God is absolutely self-confident.)
the end is probably the end of
The oracle begins with a “how long?” Again in the second complaint, Habakkuk waits. (Faith has the virtue of patience.) To His waiting servant, God speaks of an appointed time, a time that is certain, a time that He has chosen. From our standpoint God’s time may linger and delay. We may treat God’s promised events as “someday, sometime”. For God it is an appointed time. We are encouraged when we speak of God’s good time. Vv.2 & 3 are God’s introduction to His reply, which now follows.
2:4-6 Here is a description of the Babylonian, spoken of in
the singular. Chapter 2 ends with a reference to God in the singular. There
were many Babylonians and many gods, but there is one LORD God of
The Babylonian is depraved. His appetite is like hell (grave is “Sheol” in Hebrew); hell never has enough. The section is all about the Babylonian except for one line inserted in a place where it does not seem to fit! This is a benefit to us, because it sets up an important contrast. There are other contrasts: idols vs. the Lord (2:18-20); and the frustrated efforts of exhausted nations (2:13,14) vs. the certainty of God’s purpose being fulfilled. This contrast in v.4 is of the Babylonian as a model of the proud man, whereas the righteous person out of his faith lives. My longest appendix is Appendix D: The Role of Faith in Justification. These verses contrast the self-confident individual and the righteous man whose trust is in the Lord. I leave further discussion of this vital theme to the appendix.
The way of the wicked is hard (Proverbs 4:19). The Lord’s answer involves five woes upon him. (See the similarity to Isaiah 5.) These woes are pronounced by the victims, but it is really God stating the charges. It shows that God does not tolerate the treacherous (1:13). He judges them. The greedy destroyers of man and everything else will be brought down. Notice though that God’s judgment is not limited to punishment. God spells out the offenses. He is judging when He appraises. We should listen carefully when God tells us what He thinks of sin. His action in judgments logically follows His judicial review.
8 In v.5 the greedy person gathered people; here he gathers property. He
steals and extorts. God gives possessions, but His way is that we are not to
covet anything that belongs to our neighbour. If we obey this, we will not
steal from him. (See the tenth and eighth commandment.) The surviving victims have memories.
The moral issue of unjust gain is described as the
ruin of peoples. Their plunder enabled them to build a city of wealth and
wonder. However, the house (of
2:12-14 The focus continues on how the city was established by
murder. Instead of adding what we already expect, namely that
2:15-17 Humiliating trouble forced on others may be pictured
as drunken staggering (Psalm 60:3; Jeremiah 25:16). There are multiple images
here. This loss of control is also tied to the shame of nakedness. This is the
kind of degradation
The Cup from
the Lord’s Hand The cup of wrath appears in a number of
Scriptures. It also conveys the imagery of God’s wrath upon the Son in His
death on the cross. I have adapted the material in the box below from my
lecture notes on Isaiah 51 .
What the cup of the Lord was like for Christ is clearer to us when we ponder
Habakkuk 2:16. The cross of Christ is properly understood not only in terms of
physical suffering, or judicial sentence, or separation from God, or the defeat
of Satan, or reconciliation with God, or penal wrath upon our gracious willing
Substitute, or a sacrifice that brings forgiveness (it is all of these), it was
also the scene of Christ literally experiencing the shame due to us for sin. At
the crucifixion, they removed His clothes and people watched (Matthew
27:35.36), or in the language of Habakkuk, they gazed. Shame is the
opposite of glory.
2:18-20 The other woes pronounce or anticipate judgment. This last one does more to teach than taunt. (Some are uncertain whether taunt is the best translation in 2:6.) Like Isaiah 44 this woe shows the futility of idols by examining their creation, their lifeless existence, and their inability to speak or answer. In Habakkuk the real God gave answers. Surely faith in a physical object is misplaced and will lead to disappointment. (See the notes for 1:14-17.)
The apologetic of the Bible
sometimes examines error, and sometimes contrasts truth and error. The contrast
here is a description of idols followed by a cryptic statement that the LORD is
in His holy
God has an image too. He will not allow us to make any, for any we make will misrepresent Him grossly. How can we show this unchangeable eternal Spirit by a thing recently created and decaying? How can the infinite God fit on a shelf? How can the beauty of His grace be shown in gold or silver? How can a metal mouth stand for His eternal Word spoken through the law, the writings, the prophets, and the apostles? There is good reason for the second commandment. It saves us from striving for an unreachable objective. There is no image of God that anyone can make, that can in any way even approximate the real Lord God. But God has an image of Himself. The Lord Jesus in His incarnation is the visible image of the invisible God. (See Colossians 1:15-21; Hebrews 1:1-4; 1 John 1:1 and 2 Corinthians 4:4-6.) To see Christ is to see the Father (John 14:7-9).
Why does it say, “Let all the earth be silent before him”? Sometimes silence before God is a matter of such guilt that there is no excuse that can be offered, (Romans 3:19,20.) The way to be saved is to “shut up” (or be silent) and offer no reason for God’s mercy, and to accept what He offers in Christ no matter how much that hurts our pride! Naturally many see in this statement a sense of awe before God. I would add to that that after Habakkuk’s complaints, he had to be silent and wait for God’s answer. We would wait forever for an idol to speak, but the Lord our God does give guidance (2:19). Our God has given His word and in what He said (no matter when) He still speaks. We hear when we cease from our poor wisdom cluttering our minds. If we are silent before the Lord Who is in His holy heavenly temple, we will learn that Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). The Father has said that we should listen to Him (Luke 9:34-36).
Appendix D: The Role of Faith in Justification (Habakkuk 2:4)
This appendix may be more difficult to understand than the others. If that is so for you, read the very last section first. That may help some.
The gospel the Apostle Paul proclaimed was not received from other men, not even from other apostles. He received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11,12). The Bible does not tell us any more about the Lord Jesus instructing Paul privately. Since there is only one gospel, the faith he then proclaimed was the same one the other apostles embraced (Galatians 1:23,24). We do know that right after His resurrection the Lord showed the other apostles truths about Himself in the OT Scriptures. Paul used this same way to explain the gospel. On of his favorite statements was Habakkuk 2:4.
The Apostle Paul’s Quotation of OT Texts to Support Justification
· In Romans 4:1-3, 9-11, 20-25, he taught imputed righteousness from Genesis 15:6.
· In Galatians 3:6-9, quoting Genesis 15, he again taught justification as imputed righteousness with the major emphasis being on faith.
· In Romans 4:4-8, he taught from Psalm 32 that sins are not imputed to the man who trusts God.
· In 1 Corinthians 1:29-31, Paul joined boasting in the Lord (from Jeremiah 9:24) with boasting in Christ as our righteousness.
· In Galatians 3:10-14, Paul included Habakkuk 2:4 to emphasize that it is by faith that we are justified, and not by keeping the law.
· In Romans 1:17, at the introduction of his most detailed treatment of justification, Paul quoted Habakkuk 2:4 as his first text to show that justification was by faith.
Paul taught that justification appears in Genesis and has further support in the Psalms and the prophets. Justification is not a doctrine limited to the New Testament. The OT law and prophets teach this gospel (Romans 3:21), and OT saints were justified in the same way that we are (Romans 4:1-8). The chief contribution of Habakkuk 2:4 is on the role of faith.
We do not find the entire doctrine of justification spelled out in 2:4. In my opinion, Genesis 15 and Psalm 32 give more on the nature of justification. Habakkuk does not say what justification is, though it does refer to the righteous person. Faith is then mentioned as the way the righteous live, but the Apostle Paul will insist in his writings that faith is the way one becomes righteous. How can Paul teach that we are justified by faith from this text?
The holy Lord, Who requires perfect righteousness, could for some reason call a person righteous, though that man was born in sin and still has sin in his life – for all have sinned, and all do sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20). The only thing in the text that could be the reason for God calling this someone righteous is that he had faith as a response to the Lord.  Habakkuk does not elaborate that righteousness is a gift from God, and Paul does not say that that aspect of justification is taught in 2:4. However, since his righteousness came by faith, it was not procured by merit, and so it had to be a gift.
How Does Habakkuk Help Us to Understand Faith?
In Habakkuk, faith is directed to the word of the Lord. That point has much support throughout the oracle. The prayers are all to the One who can explain and act. These prayers rest in God’s promises. (See the notes at 3:2.) They are prayers of faith, and none of this faith is in the worth of the one praying. Habakkuk 2:4, Paul’s choice text, fits the gospel. Justifying faith is opposed to the attitude of those impressed with themselves. Faith is unlike the pride of the Babylonian; it rejects religious confidence in one’s own righteousness (Luke 18:9). We cannot have faith in the accomplishments and words of God and at the same time have our trust in our faithfulness. Justifying faith cannot be in our obedience, our baptism, our birthright, or anything other than the Saviour our God has provided. Justification is strictly by faith, and only by faith, so that it may be by grace (Romans 4:16). Grace is God’s principle in salvation, so any addition of our works in justification destroys faith and grace. He who looks to his own religious life is like the puffed up Babylonian, not the man of faith. Faith “looks to the Son” (John 6:40).
The Three New Testament Quotations of Habakkuk 2:4
1.) In Hebrews 10:37,38 it is part of a call to perseverance. Not only will it come (i.e., the end of Babylonian oppression), but He will come (i.e., Christ).
2.) In Romans 1:17, Paul uses 2:4 as part of his major emphasis that the righteousness that comes from God is received by faith. (See the discussion of this above.)
3.) In Galatians 3:10-14, the apostle is engaged in a major conflict over the competition of works with faith. Justification cannot be by faith if it is also by works.
Faith vs. Works
The righteous in 2:4 do not live by works, nor are they righteous by works. The only response of the righteous in 2:4 is faith. Works follow from faith, but they do not assume the role of faith. A child is not its own mother, and good works cannot generate themselves. Our relationship with God begins in faith and continues in faith, which “expresses itself through love” (Galatians 5:6), and shows itself by what the believer does (James 2:18). At the moment of justification nothing else is present as the reason for the gift of righteousness to become our possession. Since righteousness is acquired by imputation from outside ourselves (a source other than the believer), its reception must be in harmony with the gift nature of the righteousness offered. God does not justify for the righteousness in us. If our righteousness were imputed to us – even in the most godly person on earth – it would be a very poor gift. Such native obedience is still stained by sin and is incomplete in obedience. God would reject it. And worse, if it is possible to be worse, imputing our righteousness to us would replace the good gift, the perfect gift, the righteousness of Christ.
In Justification Faith and Law Keeping are Opposing Principles
· …No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather … But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known … This righteousness from God comes [a different way] through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:20-22)
· … a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:28)
· If … Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about …[However] "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." … To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:2-5)
· … A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. [We] have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16) Paul’s repetition was to make sure that the difference was clear. See also Romans 4:13,14; 10:4; Philippians 3:9 and Titus 3:5.
A Survey of Various Aspects of Justification
Justification is a strong and basic doctrine. However, any revision of its nature, means or basis destroys the purity of the gospel in the one adopting an unbiblical doctrine. The Bible’s message of justification, the very core of the gospel, is powerful because it brings sinners to Christ. It is fragile in that we cannot tamper with it. Like a large bathtub with many plugs at the bottom of the tub. It does not matter which plug is pulled, the water drains away.
The good works that are God’s reason to justify: These are Christ’s, not ours.
The obedience required: It is Christ’s righteousness not ours.
The death in which God punished our sin: It was the sacrifice of Christ, His blood, not ours.
The One Who pronounces the sinner forgiven/acquitted: It is God, not us.
The One Who pronounces the ungodly person who believes righteous: It is God not us.
The nature of justification: It is a legal declaration of God’s view of us because of Christ; it is not a transformation produced in us.
The principle of God providing justification: It is His grace to us, not our merit.
The means by which we acquire righteousness: It is by faith, not any kind of religious activity by us.
The nature of justifying faith: It receives from Christ and rests in Him. Justifying faith does not provide but takes.
The result in our attitude for this divine grace shown: We are eternally grateful, with no reason for pride in anything we have done.
The result in our conduct for this grace: Since God has given the believer a new status, He graciously treats us as children, not mere subjects, and gives His Holy Spirit to produce godly graces in us.
The venue in which all necessary conditions were accomplished for forgiveness and righteousness: Perfect righteousness has appeared only once in human history. It was in the life and death of Jesus Christ as a man. Our Lord Jesus Christ satisfied all the requirements of the law and endured its sanctions for us. These conditions were not accomplished in our hearts or experience but in Christ’s.
The venue in which the decree of justification occurs: It happens in the mind of God the Forgiver, God the Justifier, again, not in our hearts or experience. Since this is transcendent to us, it can only be known by the supernatural revelation of God’s promises in Scripture. His word is our assurance of God’s new view of us in Christ. Justification is then confirmed to us in the fruit of the Spirit in every believer’s conduct.
The difference from all other religions: Every human religious invention lacks grace and supplants it with merit. It has no forgiveness by faith, but only by works and ritual. It has no imputed righteousness; sinners can only try to gain some dubious benefit through their own religious practice. Only in the Christian faith has the Holy Lord God Himself died for the sins of His people and obeyed in the place of all the enemies whom the Father had chosen to love and save!
Appendix E: The Universal Knowledge of the Lord
When the Apostle Paul said, “We live by faith not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), he was saying the same thing as Habakkuk 2:4, the righteous man will live by his faith. In that passage, Paul spoke of a new body, which at that moment he did not have and had never seen, yet he was confident in the Lord’s promise of the resurrection. Since we live in a world of unbelief, it seems unreal that the entire earth will be inhabited one day only by people reconciled to God. We do not see this yet, but since the righteous live by faith in whatever God says, we know it will come. Not one of us has seen it yet “but in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).
Christians are certain of this redeemed earth. It will be more than just a large number of redeemed people (Romans 8:18-25). All agree that there will be an ultimate separation of godly and ungodly people (Revelation 21:7,8). Yet we still have among us quite different views about how this will be worked out. Perhaps these views may be stated this way:
I do not hold views 1 or 3. I think the second is correct, yet we are humbled by limited understanding. We should remember that “we see [now] but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 12:12, NIV). God has withheld from us many details, but this is a clear prediction in the Old Testament:
… For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:9
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14
“No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:34
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it … Isaiah 2:2,3
We have certainty of the
final character of life on earth but with some uncertainty about how it all
comes about. Suppose it were the other way, and we only had knowledge about
what is going on right now, but no assurance of how it will end. That would be
terrible! The Lord has chosen to assure our troubled hearts (John 16:33) with
enough revealed truth of the
We are further encouraged
concerning the Great Commission. (The thread I am pursuing is that our current
service ties into the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord.) The
agenda of God is not a crushing weight imposed on us. The universal knowledge of
God is not only possible; it cannot fail. First of all, it rests on Christ’s
almighty shoulders (Isaiah 9:6,7). Then we have been allowed the privilege to
participate with Him as fellow-workers. We do not replace the Lord or work
apart from Him, but under and with a Lord Who cannot fail. After all, to
In Acts 13:47, the apostolic team spoke of their work with Gentiles as a fulfillment of an assignment to them spelled out in Isaiah 49:6. In other words, this commission, though clearly given to Christ, was nevertheless one in which they participated. Furthermore, it was not optional whether they would participate; they were commanded to do so. Christ’s task was the ministry into which they had been inducted! Compare the two Scriptures:
[the Father] says: "It is too small a thing for you [Christ] to be my
servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of
For this is what the Lord has commanded us [Paul & Barnabas]: " `I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.' " (Acts 13:47)
A “Great Commission” had been placed on Christ. In Matthew 28:16-20 the Lord included those united to Him in salvation in a functional union of service with Him. Though the disciples were bound to it as duty, it was not “dumped” on them. The ascension was not a desertion of them. The Lord did not relinquish His role. All authority remains His. This indicates His position. Then too, He will be with His servants to the “very end” (NIV). That indicates His active involvement with them. It might be helpful to say that it was not just that He would be with them, but that they were going to be with Him in what He had to do in the assignment from the Father.
In this way (bringing them into His ministry) Christ builds His church (Matthew 16:18), but since He is still the Builder, success and completion is an absolute certainty. Other Scriptures supply relevant details: He opens hearts in response to His gospel (Acts 16:14). He will lose not one that the Father has given to Him (John 6:35-40). The earth being filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord entails the entire Godhead. The Father draws to Christ (John 6:44). The Son builds His church. The Spirit indwells and empowers every believer (Romans 15:17-21; 2 Corinthians 3:7-9; 6:3-10). This is an agenda of success, because the Lord Himself is the driving force behind it.
In my opinion, the two parables in Matthew 13:31-33 are additional support for my thesis. In the first one Jesus taught that His kingdom in this age would increase greatly. The second parable assures us that the gospel will penetrate every culture and overcome every barrier. Surely this is being fulfilled today. Moving ever closer to the goal, we too believe that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Everyone works better when he knows his labour is not in vain. In the Lord, it is not (1 Corinthians 15:58). “From the west, men will fear the name of the LORD, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory…” (Isaiah 59:19).
In Romans 15, Paul links his ministry to the ministry of Christ so closely that his does not even exist apart from it. Romans 15 elaborates on what we observed in Acts 13:47. Such divine involvement in our time leads inevitably to Habakkuk 2:14.
In Romans 15:8-12, Christ is a servant to bring to reality what the Old Testament promised concerning the salvation of the Gentiles. Since Gentiles were being converted in his ministry, Paul viewed the serving role of Christ as what generated this success in his ministry. Gentiles were being converted, so the activity of Christ had to be the reason.
In Romans 15:15,16, Paul speaks of himself as a servant of Christ. Two ministries (Christ’s and Paul’s) were so joined that he spoke of his work as what Christ had accomplished through him. He says more, for Christ’s efforts resulted in leading Gentiles to obey God by what Paul had said and done. Paul views all he had done as the accomplishment of Christ. Therefore it was the almighty Christ evangelizing Gentiles and Paul was the weak instrument by which He was doing it.
Romans 15 teaches the fellowship we have with Christ in ministry. Thus Paul, with good reason, emphasized encouragement in this chapter (vv.4,5). Then after four OT references about the inexorable salvation of Gentiles, he added, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Paul does not convey any defeatism in the assignment he had received – this mandate we call “the Great Commission”. Instead, he received his work as a gift to him and he viewed all of his success as the manifestation of Christ’s work through him (Philippians 4:13). For Paul, the idea that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” made sense. It was already underway. There are no dry places at the bottom of the ocean, and likewise on this planet all shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest.
Notes on Habakkuk 3
This is a prayer. It says so in v.1. Habakkuk had opened this little book by speaking to the Lord, yet the two prayers in chapter one are different from this one. The first prayers complained, looking for answers; they lacked the peace of heart that comes from trusting the Lord. This closing prayer springs from faith in the information God had revealed to Habakkuk. That godly man accepted it; though it was troubling to his spirit. He could then pray in faith, in submission, and in contentment.
The structure of chapter three Habakkuk is in two parts, each beginning by a reference to Habakkuk the prophet (1:1 & 3:1). One is an oracle (1:1) and the other a prayer (3:1). The prophet uses inclusios, markers used by Jewish writers of that time to show what they intended as units. Inclusios are obviously similar words or statements at the beginning and end of a section. Whatever was included within the inclusios was the authors intended unit. For example, in 3:8 horses churn up the water, and then horses trampling water reappear in v.15. Also the opening line (v.1) probably refers to something musical, and the chapter ends with another reference to music. These are not coincidences; this means 3:1-19 was intended by the prophet as a unit. In writing the Scriptures they did not use A, B, C outlines, and they did not indent to show a new paragraph. Instead they often arranged these word indicators within the text! By following such clues the divisions of this chapter emerge clearly. I conclude that this chapter is laid out like this:
3:1-19 Parameters of the whole with inclusios related to music.
3:2 The introductory petition
3:3-7 God’s power and splendour in history
Note in vv.3 & 7, geographical clues.
In vv.3-6 God is spoken of in the third person only.
3:8-15 Further review of God’s powerful reaction to rescue His people.
Note the horses and waters in vv.8 & 15
God is spoken to in the second person only.
3:16-19 The effect on the prophet emotionally and spiritually
The prophet speaks in the first person.
3:1 Prayer in 3:1 is not the usual
word for prayer. This kind of prayer is a painful intercession fully aware of
impending danger. That the Babylonians would take over his country was a
traumatic realization for Habakkuk. They had a reputation for cruelty (1:6).
Then the devastating punishment of
Habakkuk’s heartfelt plea to God was coupled with confidence in God’s unchanging character. He prays convinced of the continuing goodness of God. He was certain what God would be like, because He knew what God had been like. The Lord’s fame refers to His reputation. (Note Nehemiah 9:10.) It is called fame because Habakkuk was not there to observe the Exodus and other events. (None of us is a witness to creation!) Just as it is with us, he had to learn these ancient reports. God has preserved for us in the Bible a record of His deeds, so that our view of Him and prayers to Him will be formed by them. Renew them [God’s works] probably means “Do it again for us”. This petition acknowledges that the Lord is the same from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:1,2). The just live by faith in the dependability of God.
Truth may appear contradictory. God punishes and God
shows mercy. He does both; they are compatible. We do not choose between them.
The Apostle Paul wrote of “the kindness and sternness of God” (Romans 11:22),
so with the Lord wrath and mercy co-exist. He is not capable of accepting sin;
He has a holy reaction to it. God may show grace to sinners as He chooses, but
He can never suspend His justice. (That is why mercy to sinners required the
vicarious death of Christ on the cross.) Repeatedly the Lord warned
Deuteronomy 4:25-29 predicts a future apostasy by
When God’s people sin, the Lord chastens. Chastening His own is a priority expressed in Hebrews 12:5-11 where fatherly love motivates correction. For true believers there is mercy, though merited for us only by Christ. In His death the Lord Jesus absorbed wrath for our sin. At the cross both mercy from God and wrath from God reached their ultimate expression at the same time in the same event. Habakkuk knew God must punish (1:12). God did not threaten in vain (Ezekiel 6:10). Habakkuk also knew he could still pray for mercy, and in doing so he was praying in the will of God. He did not pray against God’s judgment, because living by faith meant accepting that God’s judgments were well-deserved. (Note Romans 3:4-6.) We cannot represent God faithfully if we are embarrassed concerning the righteousness of God’s judgment. Unlike ours, His wrath is clean. It is as holy as His love and mercy.
Two places are named outside the
The glory of God and the reasons for which we must praise Him fill heaven and earth. His glory is not always obvious to our dull hearts. We may not think of His glory when we ride on a crowded bus or hear a news broadcast. In Isaiah’s day, a time of great wickedness, the seraphim insisted that the whole earth was full of God’s glory (Isaiah 6:3). That is true whether we see that truth or not. That wicked men are still alive shows the glory of God’s patience; that men die shows the glory of His justice and His faithfulness to His warnings. When God sends rain for everyone (Matthew 5:45) to supply us with food, this too shows the glory of God, the glory of His kindness (Romans 2:4).
Habakkuk reviews God’s past glory where He showed
Himself pre-eminent above all of nature and all competitors. The Lord God Who
covers the heavens spoke from heaven and came down at Sinai (Nehemiah 9:13). He
displayed His splendour before the eyes of His people (Judges 5:3-5). In the
early words of this prophecy, Habakkuk feared that God was passive. God
answered him by showing, to his amazement (1:5), how very active He would be.
the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick
cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear… The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:18-21
* [Or, His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from His hand … (ESV)]
There is good reason to interpret the flashing rays as
lightning (as in Exodus 20 above). While plagues and pestilence occurred in
3:8-15 Habakkuk continues his prayer with words that
address the Lord directly. The entire section is expressed in military language
mentioning weapons of that time: arrows, spears, horses and chariots. In this
section there is considerable mention of events related to the waters of the
sea. Everything in this section is a poetic review of God’s former actions.
Because it is poetry, some ancient words are obscure, and it is more difficult
to be certain of every event Habakkuk may have had in mind. Since it begins and
ends with charging horses; that makes us certain that vv.8-15 were intended to
be read as a unit. The previous section (vv.3-7) focused on the events at
Sinai. In vv.8-15 Habakkuk speaks much of the Exodus and
3:8-10 The single Hebrew word which the NIV translates as rivers and streams may refer also to the sea. It is not limited to inland waterways. God’s anger was not against the waters. Everyone would understand his rhetorical question. Yet God’s wrath was certainly present. The section begins with anger, wrath, and rage and an attack of such fury it shook the earth. That is not a strange way to picture God’s wrath in the Bible. It appears in the Bible in the OT, often in Revelation and then too in Hebrews 12:25-29. With what or with whom was God so angry? If we identify the event, we have the answer.
This section speaks in ways that would take the minds
of its first readers back to the Exodus. (Exodus here is not the Book of
Exodus, but rather the exit or escape of
First, Pharaoh pursued
Second, there is a strong emphasis on this powerful
activity occurring in relation to water.
Saying in v.9 that the waters were split,
as in Exodus 14:16,21 and Psalm 78:13, fits the dividing of the waters of the
Third, an enemy
leader of God’s people was brought
to a speedy death, not just a defeat. The
leader of the land of wickedness (v.13) is a good description of Pharaoh.
The Hebrew word for land in v.13 is
usually translated “house”, and God saved Israel from that “house of slavery”
(Exodus 20:2, ESV). Pursuing
Fourth, the purpose
of all this spectacular warfare was to
deliver your people (v.13). Enemy warriors were out to devour (v.14), and
God came out to deliver. The Ten
Commandments begin with, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of
The correspondence of these verses to the Exodus is
convincing. God’s powerful intervention centuries earlier saved
find this verse difficult to translate with certainty. The word many in many arrows might be a slightly
different word that means to swear or commit to something. If that is right,
then in this case it would mean that God was obliged by covenant to fight for
3:10 We should not assume that Habakkuk here speaks only of the Exodus. The reference to mountains and especially torrents of water and high waves sounds more like the Great Flood, which in its destructive force would be like a tsunami overrunning the entire earth. Habakkuk did not write to give a chronological account of history; he was remembering the fame of God in His powerful deeds.
3:11 The sun
and moon standing still immediately reminds anyone knowing
Literal: You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground,
Figurative: But you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. (Nehemiah 9:11)
marching in this earth in wrath is a continuation of military imagery. Very
temporarily, the devil is the god of this
world (2 Corinthians 4:4 and 1 John 5:19); that is still true. Yet God
still moves as He pleases throughout the earth. Never has He given up His claim
that the earth is His (Psalm 24:1). He may call Satan to account as He chooses
(Job 1:6-12). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ.
God is not passive, absent from, or careless about this earthly scene. He
judges the nations. (Psalm 96 is but one example.) The kind of judgment in v.11
should be considered in light of v.12. How has God dealt with nations that
afflicted His people? The death of the firstborn in the
God made a great distinction between
3:13,14 The order
of God’s wrath is the chastening of the covenant people first, then the
Gentiles (1 Peter 4:17). In His exercise of wrath on
Crushing the leader of the land of wickedness is discussed above. Stripping from head to foot is a total removal of his armor, thus all his defenses, and thus his defeat.
With His own
spear is discussed above. Warriors
seeking to devour the weak surely refers to Israelites on foot being pursued at
3:15 It is easy to see how mention of horses churning great waters is repetition and finishes this section. But do not miss that the text says your horses. This is part of prayer to the God Who acts on behalf of His own. (Note how similar Psalm 68 is to Habakkuk 3.)
"… This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). See also Psalm 119:120,161.
3:16 Here is the emotional reaction in Habakkuk to what He
knows is coming. In v.2 he prayed that God would repeat His mighty work. Then
he trembled at the reality of the coming invasion and the later calamity on
The prophet said, “Yet
I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come…” This is very, very
important. He knew how God had acted in the past as recorded in Scripture. He
knew God cannot change. God cannot break His covenanted promise to the children
of Abraham, nor ignore His warnings to them. Habakkuk knew chastening was
coming. He also knew the cup from the
Lord’s hand was coming around to
Sometimes precise times are revealed as in Daniel 9, but more often God withholds the day and hour of His predictions (Mark 13:32). Every Christian should humbly submit to this word of the Lord: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). The Lord gave much information and told Habakkuk that the revelation (i.e., the future events revealed) waited for a specific time of fulfillment. It will certainly come and will not delay. (2:3). This holds for us too as we wait for the coming of the Lord (Hebrews 10:35-39). In faith Habakkuk believed that God had set a time and waited, note, waited patiently and trembled. Faith involves waiting, and patience is a trait of genuine faith.
3:17,18 Here is an expression of faith and submission that has captured the hearts of “God-trusters” for generations. Habakkuk expected devastation and rejoiced in the Lord. I once visited a friend prior to a serious surgery. He seemed cheerful. I said, “You could die.” He smiled and said, “I know,” delighted that his life was in the hands of the Lord His God. (See Romans 14:7,8.)
Not all of God’s punishment was of a military kind. It would also affect their agriculture. (See Leviticus 26:14-26; Hosea 2:12; Joel 1:5-12, and the detailed warnings in the end of Deuteronomy.) The food from the ground, trees and animals may be denied him. This godly man of faith anticipated that he too would suffer along with his people. They had rejected their Blesser and He denied His blessings to them.
Note in Deuteronomy 28 how often the curse for disobedience was directed to crops and livestock. Verse 51 in that chapter below is so very similar to that it makes one think it is the precise text Habakkuk had in mind when he wrote:
They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. Deuteronomy 28:51
The poetry in vv.17,18 is graphic, but what grabs the
heart is the surprising attitude of this believer as he faces his trouble.
There is no diminishing the reality of the trouble; in fact that is part of
what is so vivid. Yet his faith sings in confidence. He admitted the likelihood
of losing all, and the confidence of losing nothing since he had the Lord. Like
Paul, Habakkuk anticipated “having nothing … yet possessing everything” (2
Corinthians 6:10). His praise sprang from a satisfied heart. True rejoicing
replaces grudging resignation. As I have composed these notes, I learned of the
death (Sept. 5, 2007) of a famous pastor in the
“Now, I know that someday I am going to come to what some people will say is the end of this life. They will probably put me in a box and roll me right down here in front of the church, and some people will gather around, and a few people will cry. But I have told them not to do that because I don’t want them to cry. I want them to begin the service with the Doxology and end with the Hallelujah chorus, because I am not going to be there, and I am not going to be dead. I will be more alive than I have ever been in my life, and I will be looking down upon you poor people who are still in the land of dying and have not yet joined me in the land of the living. And I will be alive forevermore, in greater health and vitality and joy than ever, ever, I or anyone has known before.”
Habakkuk could suffer temporary destitution but he would not suffer eternal loss. The Lord is the LORD, Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God. He was to the prophet God my Saviour. With such a Saviour he would be saved; he could not be lost or deprived forever. Whether he knew it or not, he was an heir of all that belongs to Christ (Romans 8:17). That makes every believer a co-owner with the Lord of everything. The unbelieving billionaire is a pauper in comparison with us. The fields in Habakkuk’s day might produce no food, but this meek man would still inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). The Holy Spirit gave him an assurance of how well-off he was and gave him joy, the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23).
3:19a Habakkuk’s words exude faith. In spite of all that v.18 says, some will twist his words to defend and promote self-confidence. The man who trembled at the Lord’s words did not credit his personal fortitude or strength. His faith was not in his faith, or any of its results. The major issue in faith is the question of what or Who the object of faith is. The Lord was his strength. (See Psalm 18.) The result was that he became like a surefooted deer able to climb heights without falling.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. (Jude 24,25)
3:19b Habakkuk 3
is a prayer, a fitting spiritual response to the word the Lord gave him.
Directed by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), he wrote this for us as well. .
Here is a wonderful pattern: first, God speaks and we respond in line with what
He has said. That way we do not innovate and create our own focus for worship.
God sets the agenda and in this way we are led in worship by the Spirit. This
prayer is a psalm from beginning to end. It even has in it two Selahs, which are found only in the
Psalms and here. It was sent to the music director (of the temple, perhaps?) to
be fitted to a suitable melody, or so I surmise, and sung by a choir or all the
people together. If even half of my guesswork is so, it is quite clear that
this oracle and prayer was not written for Habakkuk’s private use alone, but
for all the people of God. And convinced of that, I must note that Christian
music should not diminish the themes of God’s wrath and judgment. Let us treat
Habakkuk as a good model! Our worship should emphasize all of God’s mighty acts
in history including the destruction of the Enemy. The hymnbook of
Appendix F: Deuteronomy as Background for Habakkuk
Every part of Scripture is consistent with every other
part. This includes the remarkable agreement that Habakkuk shows to
Deuteronomy. I propose that there was a conscious connection in Habakkuk’s
mind. This was the case with Daniel who prayed, “The curses … written in the
Law of Moses … have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you”
(Daniel 9:11). Before Moses’ death the Holy Spirit gave detailed predictions of
apostasy and restoration in Deuteronomy. Habakkuk never prayed against God’s
Then the LORD appeared …and said to Moses: "…These people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them … When they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant… I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath." Deuteronomy 31:15-21 (See also 31:27-29.)
In light of this, the wrath of God would surely
follow. Yet mixed in with these dire predictions were appeals for obedience. If
they obeyed, blessings would follow. That is to be expected when God holds out
the choice of life and death before His people. However, just as
And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the LORD your God, as he promised. Deuteronomy 26:18,19
If there never is a
Note how plainly the Lord spoke of their return in Deuteronomy 30:2-5. With a promised change of their hearts, this early prediction speaks in the language of the new covenant.
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live … You will again obey the LORD and follow all his commands … The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands … Deuteronomy 30:6-10
Habakkuk believed that his merciful God would not
abandon his people or forget His covenant with them (Deuteronomy 4:31; Jeremiah
51:5). He also believed that since God is holy, severe chastening was coming.
These were not things Habakkuk imagined. Thus Habakkuk prayed in wrath remember mercy! (3:2). He was
not being irrational. He was simply praying on the foundation of God’s
pronouncements. (See Psalm 89:30-34.) His nation would be judged (Habakkuk
1:12), but a godly remnant would repent and be spared (Jeremiah 50:4,5,20). It
The lesson to us is that the chief guide for prayer is a Biblical view of the God to Whom we pray. The chief content of prayer is whatever He presents to us in Scripture. In Habakkuk’s case the issues of wrath and mercy were not generated by the prophet’s feelings; they were God’s policies, and Habakkuk knew about God’s character and ways through the revelation of Scripture. He prayed in accord with what he found in his Bible.
In light of the entire prophecy and the earlier Scriptures that so greatly affected it, I suggest that Habakkuk’s prayer in 3:2 meant something like this:
“O Lord, in your holy wrath against us, so well-deserved because of our sin, remember also your covenanted kindness promised to us, and in mercy preserve us. Show your power in our day too, just as you did long ago, and so save your remnant and deliver us from these cruel Gentiles. Cause us to walk with you again in holy fear, in obedience to your commandments.”
Anyone wishing to get a good understanding of Habakkuk will benefit greatly from studying the end of Deuteronomy.
Appendix G: The Deep Waters of the Bible
Deep Waters in the Old Testament Habakkuk’s prayer resonates with themes found in the rest of Scripture. Here is one more. I suspect that all of us have a fear of being cast into the sea to sink to the bottom, knowing we have little time left and unable to have one more breath of air!! Being drowned in the depths of the sea with a large millstone hung around one’s neck is a horrible fate (Matthew 18:6; Ezekiel 27:27). Sometimes a major trial is pictured as the depths swallowing a person, as in Psalm 69. The angry sea is frightening; it shows that we are such little people. For God, the sea has been the center of some of His powerful activity on earth. Habakkuk has given enough clues to convince us that he had the Exodus in mind in chapter 3, without being so specific that he precluded all other actions of God related to the waters of the deep.
The deep waters in creation When the
waters were divided in Habakkuk 3:9, this could be done by making two walls of
water, as in Psalm 78:13. But when land appeared in Genesis 1:9,10, that action
also divided the waters, though in a different way. We miss an enormous
blessing if we simply view this as the appearance of dry ground, without
considering Who did it. “ … Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the
[almighty and active] Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2,
NIV)! We did not see the division of
water at the
The deep waters of the Flood The flood in Noah’s day was not just an accumulation of rain. “ … on the seventeenth day of the second month – on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11). The great Lord Who had made the dry land appear, could make the dry land disappear. Let us not rebel against such a God! When angry with human sin, He, at the time of His choosing (as on month 2, day 17), may unleash His fury on this earth. Note however, that He also saved eight souls, when He preserved Noah and his family (2 Peter 2:5). The Great Flood was an exhibition of God’s judgment and also His saving mercy! This combination of grace (Genesis 6:7,8) with God’s destructive reaction to sin is at the heart of Habakkuk’s intercession in Habakkuk 3. Someday the Lord will appear: 1) in blazing wrath inflicting eternal destruction on all who do not obey the gospel, and 2) at the same time bringing relief and glorification to His saints (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). If we get what we deserve it will be #1; if we have the Saviour Who on the cross took what we deserved, we are given #2, the reward Christ earned for His own.
The deep waters of the Exodus Just as the first dividing of water was the old creation, and the Great Flood was a renewal of the earth and its people, God separated Israel and Egypt, making a distinction (Exodus 8,9, & 11). This is a foretaste of the ultimate separation (Matthew 25:31-46), the ultimate judgment, and the ultimate salvation. In Numbers 16, God’s judgment meant that Dathan and Abiram were swallowed up in the earth the way Pharaoh died in the water (Deuteronomy 11:4-6).
Subsequent deep waters (
an example of prophetic censure directed to the nation, see Isaiah 1. Note
there how many topics are covered from religious matters to social issues. See
also the bulk of Jeremiah or the first half of Ezekiel. All the prophets wrote
in a time of great apostasy, thus they called God’s people to repent and gave
as reasons the offenses of the people. (Jonah is an exception; he preached only
The division of the law into two tables is an old Christian tradition.
It is the idea that the first four commandments were on one tablet and the
remaining six on the other. It is a
harmless viewpoint, and in some ways beneficial. The Ten Commandments do fall
into two main categories: a) those related to God and b) those related to our
neighbours. However recent research has
challenged this notion. When covenants were made, there would be two copies of
the agreement. It is likely that in the covenant box which Scripture calls “the
ark of the covenant” the two tablets were two complete sets of the Ten Commandments, God’s copy
 The 1980 Gallup Poll on religion reported, “We have a revival of feelings but not of the knowledge of God. The church today is more guided by feelings than convictions. We value enthusiasm more than informed commitment.”
 When we say that the reason for justification is faith, we maintain this distinction:
The ultimate and effective cause of our justification is the obedience of Christ in His entire life of law-keeping and in His sacrificial death for our law-breaking. Faith is the instrumental cause or the means by which we receive the benefit of justification. The ultimate cause is the redemptive ministry of Christ for us as the vicarious representative of His people.
An Illustration: If one person makes a coat and another person accepts it as a gift, the coat maker is the efficient cause. Accepting the coat is the means to having it (the instrumental cause). A person could answer “Why do you have that coat?” in two ways. He might say, “My friend made it”, or he might say, “It was given to me.” Faith is resting upon Christ and receiving the benefit He procured for us. Faith does not manufacture; it is not the coat maker. It is the coat accepter.
 Another illustration may help. A woman told a pastor that her husband had an adulterous affair with another woman. He urged her to tell the husband that he could have her as his wife, OR the other woman, but he could not have both. It had to be one or the other. Paul treats faith for justification as uniquely exclusive of alternatives. His gospel requirement for obtaining the verdict of righteous is one thing only, faith. Faith does not mix with works. It is not partly our obedience and also partly trust in Christ. Only a false justification can come through our righteousness. God’s salvation is by faith in Christ’s obedience. Faith allows no competitor. Faith receives its reward as a gift; the performance of works for God’s acceptance finds its reward as a payment earned (Romans 4:1-5). These two cannot mix; justification is by one and not the other. Justification by faith leaves no opening for any other way.
 The word for servant here in v.16 is different from v.8. In v.16, the word has the idea of liturgical service. Thus it fits the words, “with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God”. When the gospel is accepted, Paul has this offering to make to God. The offering is converted Gentiles, made holy by the effect of the gospel. This grace of God clashes with the Jewish rejection of Gentiles as “unclean” or uncircumcised. God has accepted them in Christ, v.7.