Introduction to these Lecture Notes


Dedicated to the students who attended the Conference in West Bengal, India in October, 2007.


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:


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. 


You are welcome to reproduce in any format anything on my website. You must identify the website in your reproduction and my name as David H. Linden. You must not change any words. You may charge others only for the cost of reproduction.  No further permission is needed from me. If you use my notes, I would like to know of this at your convenience.


Many have read these notes and made suggestions. To two brothers especially I am deeply indebted: the Rev. Paul Walker of Vancouver, BC, Canada and Mr. William Gross of Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. These notes have been improved by their critiques.



Notes on Habakkuk 1

© David H. Linden     University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, New Mexico  USA May, 2017



1:1      The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received.                                                                                        ..


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 1:21) 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 Judah and Jerusalem about 600 years before the birth of Christ.


The First Complaint (1:2-4)


1:2-4      How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.


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 Israel there was a way for sin to be forgiven. Habakkuk’s complaint observed the total paralysis of justice. The law of God was specific that consideration needed to be made for those who are at a great disadvantage (the poor, widows, orphans and aliens). If that breaks down, so has justice and no one is safe.


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]  (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 of the sins which needed repentance.


The Prophets’ usual criticism of Israel was in two main areas, which some would relate to the two tablets [2] of the law: 


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.

God’s Answer to the First Complaint (1:5-11)


1:5      Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.


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 Israel would be found outside in the nations. Habakkuk was to look there, probably something Habakkuk was not considering. God controls those nations too. At home the wicked hemmed in the righteous, but God had an instrument that the wicked in Israel did not control. God would use the Babylonian army to surround Jerusalem. The wicked would hem in the wicked.



The Surprises of God and the Unbelief of Man           “Be amazed; I am going to do something…”    Creation from nothing, the rebellion among the angels, the fall of man in Eden, the promise of His Son as Savior (to die for sin He did not commit), the flood, the exodus, the return from the Babylonian Captivity, the preservation of Israel, and Gentile nations streaming to Christ – all of these were amazing and unbelievable in themselves. However, that God has said what will happen does not mean that His word will be accepted. Human sin resists both the will of God and the word of God. The prediction about the Babylonians (1:6) was something Habakkuk personally believed (1:12). Though a number of prophets gave the same warning, the people of Judah and Jerusalem preferred the complacent deceit of false prophets (Isaiah 30:9-11; Jeremiah 7:21-26; many passages show this!). They would not listen (Ezekiel 3:7). The grammar of 1:5 shows that God was speaking to a plural audience, so this oracle was a message to be relayed to the nation. It is their unbelief, not Habakkuk’s that 1:5 has in mind.


Luke 24 shows resistance to believing the word of the Lord even among the disciples: they did not believe the women (v.11), the Scriptures (v.25), or that they were seeing the risen Christ (v.40,41). Unbelief was mixed with their joy and amazement. They had been told repeatedly of the crucifixion and resurrection (Matthew 16:21; 20:17-19; Mark 9:30-32; 10:45). Faith comes by hearing, but hearing that generates faith is itself the gift of God. (Note the contrast in hearing in Mathew 13:9-17.) Believing God is not a general feature of mankind (John 8:43). The disciples were an example of resistance even in believers. That contradiction is in us (Mark 9:24). Every Christian should say, “I do not naturally believe.”


Paul quoted this text to his countrymen: “Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.” (Acts 13:41).  The Jews did not believe the OT prophets about the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon; generations later they did not believe the apostles about what was coming in their lifetime. (See Matthew 24.) The Romans also destroyed Jerusalem, just as Jesus said they would (Mark 13:14-31). Only those in Jerusalem who believed Christ ran to the gates before the Romans sealed the exits and trapped their victims inside. Habakkuk 1:5 applied in a very fitting way in NT times.


The verse still applies, because Christ is coming again. Our newspapers never speak of this, and yet we know that  “… the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first,” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). The majestic appearance of Christ in power, glory, and judgment is not on the minds of the world. Believers are in constant need of reminders of this truth. By faith we watch for the coming of the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2 Peter 3:11-13). It may be in our lifetime that God will again do this unbelievable “something”. The world is being true to its unbelief. By faith (2:4) in all God has said we too should be amazed. God still says, I am going to do something!     




1:6-11      “ … I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.  7 They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.  8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour;        9 they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand.  10 They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them.     11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on – guilty men, whose own strength is their god.”



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 souls in Judah had found no mercy when they lost their possessions in unjust courts. The Babylonians were just as ruthless, and like the swindlers in Judah they too would seize properties they did not own (v.6). In fact, they would capture entire cities (v.10). Other prophets specified that this violence included bloodshed (Isaiah 1:15). In the justice of God, the injustice of the leaders among His people would be answered by heartless Gentile injustice. Often the rich took advantage of the weakness of the poor and refused pay for work done. Eventually the Babylonians looked for healthy bodies, gathering prisoners the way a whirlwind sucks up sand. Some unscrupulous slave owners soon found themselves as slaves in Babylon. God gave them the same misery they had imposed on others. 


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 Judah chose (vv.3,4), and it is what God gave them in their new masters, the Babylonians.


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.






MY CHALLENGE:      In North America the prophets are neglected Scripture. This impoverishes us. Some prophets are difficult to interpret, such as Zechariah, the end of Daniel, and the end of Ezekiel. Yet the large prophecy of Jeremiah is simple preaching. It is somewhat repetitive, but that was necessary, because God did not address extremely serious issues one time only. Repeated warnings were part of the patience of God and the need of the people.  I urge people to read Jeremiah. It is not difficult. It will sober our thinking lest we drift along with the world. Of course, I write these notes in hopes that I will stimulate an interest in Habakkuk. To benefit more from Habakkuk, read Psalms and especially Deuteronomy, a powerful book with a basic message.  Deuteronomy helps us to understand all of the prophets.



The Second Complaint (1:12 – 2:1)


1:12      O LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O LORD, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.


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 Babylon to correct Israel. That answer brought more perplexity, so in his prayer he reviewed what he knew for sure. These truths were his starting point.


The Decline of Interest in Doctrine      The truths of the Bible are doctrine, for doctrine is simply a compilation of teaching about God and whatever He has spoken in His Word. In our time (especially in so-called Western civilization) theology is frequently depreciated as unimportant. It is treated as a distraction. The new emphasis is on the self, stated in a vague and undefined “relationship with God”. We are being drawn into non-cognitive spirituality. In this way Christians are copying non-Christian religions. Theology may be affirmed and even believed, but when it is no longer central, it has less and less impact on the evangelical church. Not so with Habakkuk! He spoke to God as the One Who had made Himself known in objective verbal revelation. This is the way to think of the Lord. Any other approach will lead to inventing “our own truth”, which is the same as inventing our own error. When we neglect what God has revealed of Himself, only idolatry is left. Propositional truth was the core of Habakkuk’s prayer, one that may serve as a model for us. The Bible is full of doctrinal assertions. Anyone who would depreciate them should realize that he is contradicting God. What God has revealed cannot be unimportant, irrelevant, or in need of any revision by us. Seeking to revise God’s truth is the height of arrogance.[3]  On the other hand, forming our view of God entirely from what He has revealed is reverent Christian submission to the true and living God.  It is the starting point of all obedience. 


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


1:13-17      13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? 14 You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. 15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. 16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. 17 Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?


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 Israel was passive, permissive and tolerant of evil. Habakkuk had to look at injustice (1:3). God told him to look at the nations (1:5); then Habakkuk complains that God was looking on evil (1:13)!  That same impression is very easy for us to adopt today. In my father’s lifetime dreamers spoke of the Great War of 1914-18 as “the war to end all wars”, yet the violence of man against man continues to this moment. Habakkuk was doing the right thing. His mind was perplexed, but his prayer was directed to the One Who rules. He spoke to God as he saw the situation: You tolerate (v.13); You are silent (v.13); You have made (v.14).


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 of covenant-breaking, Jerusalem was worse (Ezekiel 5:5-7). Other nations were faithful to their false gods; Israel alone had the true God, yet she was loyal to false ones.


The ease of Babylon’s military exploits is pictured as a man fishing and loading all the fish he wanted at will. Leaderless fish do not know how to defend themselves. The wicked foe (v.15) was the Babylonian taking whatever he wanted from his neighbours. Literally, he gathered prisoners (1:9); figuratively, he hooked and netted fish. These verses say the same thing. So he was happy and lived in luxury by means of the misery he imposed on others. In chapter 2 we will find the reaction of his victims when opportunity to retaliate arrived. The Babylonian promoted his own honor (1:7) and worshiped his own strength as his god (1:11).


The gods of Babylon were neither transcendent nor holy. (“Who then is like me? Isaiah 44:7.) Their gods were a miserable projection of themselves. We are to be like God, created in His image. The gods of the Babylonians were like the Babylonians, and thus these created gods were exalted approvers of their sin. Of course it would be this way, because they created their gods in their image. (Compare Psalm 115:1-8, especially v.8.) By sacrificing to their net they were glorying in their strength and military ability.


2:1      I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.


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. 


A Little Review of This Prophecy      The beginning of Habakkuk deals with the prophet’s painful perplexity. Reviewing how God rules in this world is a very humbling thing. God knows what He is doing, and all He does is right, including using the wickedness of man to accomplish a righteous purpose. We are tempted to sin by sitting in judgment of God. In this prophecy we are encouraged by Habakkuk’s example to bring our frank questions before God. We may tell Him what puzzles us. We must cling tenaciously to truth, such as the holiness of God and His sovereign right to rule in the decisions of men. Habakkuk is a revelation from God. The Great God of Heaven has condescended to speak to us, allowing prayers, often stated in ignorance. To us He imparts His counsel and explanation. It is a high honor to man that God would speak to us at all, and He has done so very patiently! Before this short prophecy is finished, Habakkuk will pray yet again (3:2). His review of God’s powerful redemption of His people brought him comfort and joy. The prophecy ends with a prayer of faith that has astounded all who have read it. 



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.



Appendix B: God Using the Wicked for His Righteous Purpose


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.


1.  The Pharaoh of Egypt in the Book of Exodus      The Lord in Scripture said to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” The Lord made the Egyptians to be favorably disposed to Israel (3:21), but He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (4:21; 7:3); thus it became hard as Pharaoh willingly hardened it (7:13; 8:15). This fit God’s purpose to display His glory in the way He reacted to Pharaoh’s intransigence. God would have the entire world know that there was (and is) no one like the Lord (9:13-16). The point here is that God exercised His right to use even His wicked creatures for His glory. Later examples will differ, because more often God used one nation against another. Plagues announced in advance in the Name of Yahweh were an immediate action against Egypt. I say, immediate because except for Moses, these divine actions were not done through others, certainly not through other nations. Thus the plagues were an obvious example of God at work directly. In other cases, observers would need to believe God’s word in order to see His hand at work in the nations. God acted through nations and men, and by His prophets He explained what He was doing. I am raising up the Babylonians” is a perfect example of this.  


2.  The Babylonians in the Prophecies of Jeremiah      No one can read the prophets and miss the proliferation of statements that God would employ Babylon as His tool. I urge readers to see how often God is the subject of action verbs and Israel the object of the action. With this there are a multitude of parallel statements that some nation is acting against Judah and Jerusalem. One reading of Jeremiah ought to settle all doubt that God uses the wicked. This is therefore a doctrine: God has no reluctance to use nations at will (i.e., His will) as His instruments. This should be a secure viewpoint among us. “I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon” (20:4) is standard Jeremiah. Nebuchadnezzar was called God’s servant (25:9), because he was. This wicked king never served in obedience to God’s commandments, nevertheless he and his nation were instruments of divine wrath against God’s rebellious people.


3.  The King of Assyria in Isaiah 10:5-19      The Assyrian was the rod of God’s anger (v.5). The King of Assyria was the rod, and God was the One holding the rod. The human king used his club to beat nations. As he did so, he was an instrument of God to punish sin. Here is an example of God being active in the actions of active men! God had sent the Assyrian king and his rampaging army to punish Israel and other nations (vv.6-11). That king did not intend to be God’s tool; he was unaware that he was (v.7). He thought the God of Jerusalem was merely another god unable to stop him and his army. However, the real God was doing His righteous work through him (v.12). Then the Lord would deal with the Assyrian for his wicked pride, which is spelled out in vv.13,14. That little king failed to see that he was merely the ax and not the One using it (vv.15). The ax does not swing the holder; the ax-holder swings the ax – an instructive analogy of a Christian view of history. God holds the ax. Never does God’s using the wicked mean that He approves of any sin, so Assyria faced the sudden and severe wrath of God (vv.16-19) for its willful wickedness and blasphemy (10,11). [On the day I typed these words, I was splitting firewood with an axe!]


4.  Cyrus in the Prophecy of Isaiah      Six texts in Isaiah reveal that God would use the wicked king of Persia in an amazing way. A number of Jews were taken captive to Babylon and beyond. Cyrus allowed their return to Jerusalem as “the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia.” (2 Chronicles 36:15-23 & Ezra 1:1-8.)


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 Jerusalem would be rebuilt (b), He had Cyrus say that too (b). In this way the transcendent decree revealed in a word from God was executed in history in the word of Cyrus. God gave him his military victories, and called him by name many years prior to his birth (c). Cyrus was God’s tool though he did not know the Lord (c), even though he used the high Name of Yahweh in the Chronicles/Ezra texts above. God would raise up Cyrus who would rebuild Jerusalem (d). He was God’s ally to fulfill God’s purpose against the Babylonians (f). In a few words, here is the Lord’s summation (e): “From the east [Persia] I summon a bird of prey [with reference to Cyrus’s military victories]; from a far-off land, a man [note God using a man as His tool] to fulfill my purpose [God’s purpose]. What I have said, that will I bring about [God’s action by means of Cyrus]; what I have planned, that will I do (Isaiah 46:11). God did it by having Cyrus do it. Calling Cyrus a bird of prey indicated Cyrus’s lack of a moral restraint. In all this, God has acted righteously, while Cyrus personally remained a wicked king raised up by God to fulfill God’s holy purpose. And so it has been throughout human history.


5.  The Romans and Unbelieving Israel in Acts 2 & 4      Acts 2:22,23 shows the purpose of God being carried out in the sinful acts of men: Judas the betrayer, the Jewish religious leaders, and the Gentile Romans, especially Pilate. Thus the most wicked event in history, the murder of the Son of God, was at the same time the most wonderful. By means of human wickedness, God graciously provided salvation for sinners. A reporter could see the compliance of Christ going to the slaughter as a lamb (Isaiah 53:7). Then at the cross the sin of man would be visible to the physical eye. A video camera would not see the purpose of God. The conspirators murdering Jesus did what they wanted to do, yet they did what God had decided beforehand that they would do (Acts 4:27,28). The prayer in Acts 4 began with the Sovereign power of God in creation, and continued in His power to fulfill His ancient predictions. The prayer in Acts 4 expressed the apostolic belief that God works in history even through the horrors of human sin to accomplish His good purpose (Acts 2:23).







Appendix  C:  Habakkuk’s Doctrine of God in 1:12



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! 


Because 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 Israel will never be wiped out, even when under the severe judgment of God (Isaiah 42:16,24,25; 43:1-4). We should see in the unique divine Name the self existence of God and the eternal reliability of the unchanging I Am in every age. The simple Name I Am describes Him forever. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8) This is the significance of His Name LORD.


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


© David H. Linden     University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, New Mexico  USA May, 2017

God’s Answer to the Second Complaint (2:2 – 20)

[Habakkuk 2:1 is the end of his first complaint, so I have placed it in the Notes on Habakkuk 1.]


2:2,3      Then the LORD replied:  "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.  3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”


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 Babylon literally. In Revelation 16-19 the fall of Babylon is language and imagery for the end of the rebellious world of man. Hebrews 10 takes the end as Christ’s Second Coming. One eschatological event shares a likeness with another, because the ways of God are alike in principle.


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      “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith –  5 indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples.  6 "Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, ‘Woe…’”


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 Israel.


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.  



2:6b – 8      " `Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?'  7Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim.  8 Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you.  For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.


2:6b – 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. Babylon was creating debts, debts others would pay back in vengeful retaliation when opportunity came. Thus Babylon would be plundered in settlement of this debt. The Babylonian shed blood, but the text does not finish with the consequence of that. It does not need to.  Bloodshed is coming for him too.



2:9-11      "Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin!  10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.  11 The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.


2:9-11      Babylon as an empire was only as safe as the City of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). It was a great city of vast size. It seemed impregnable, like an eagle’s nest so high and out of reach. The Babylonians’ self confidence was an illusion of safety. Massive walls did not save Babylon when traitors within conspired against her. An event in ancient history has become a theme of Biblical revelation: “Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!” (Revelation 18:10).


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 Babylon) built in that way had beams that cried out about the unjust accumulation that financed those walls and great houses. The Babylonian plotted, but he was not the only one capable of plotting. What Babylon sowed, Babylon reaped. (Galatians 6:7). 


2:12-14      "Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime!  13 Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people's labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?  14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.


2:12-14      The focus continues on how the city was established by murder. Instead of adding what we already expect, namely that Babylon will endure bloodshed, it turns to a different theme. Babylon’s vanity in all the effort invested was an exhausting venture doomed to failure. Our labors within the will of God are never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). They remain eternally (John 15:16; Revelation 14:13). Babylon is gone; Christ’s kingdom and God’s city will last forever, (Daniel 7:13-27). Our oceans floors have many sunken battleships and other warships that cost those nations much treasure and effort. They like Babylon are a witness to the waste and frustration that is attached to all plans contrary to the will of God. (See Proverbs 16:3.)


Babylon was a vain attempt at greatness, a grandiose city over a little empire now extinct. We pray for God’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10). God’s plan includes all the earth and every person who will be in it. One day only the redeemed will walk here (Isaiah 35:9). All will know the Lord (Jeremiah 31) and love Him. His eternal city will not be built by victimizing the innocent, but by saving guilty sinners in a gracious persuasive winning of them to Himself. See Appendix E: The Universal Knowledge of the Lord.



2:15-17      Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies  16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD's right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.  17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man's blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.


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 Babylon imposed on its neighbours. For this they will be filled with shame, because a cup of retribution is coming to them from the Lord. Since it is coming around from the Lord, it was not then in sight, but the Lord revealed that it was on the way. This woe completes the review of Babylon’s violence. The next verses will look at their idols. 


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 [4]. 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. Babylon lost its glory (note Revelation 18:7). The NT speaks of the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). At the cross they did not know Whom they were crucifying. The Lord of glory took our sin and shame and has brought to us who believe forgiveness, righteousness, and glory (Revelation 3:21; 21:26; 22:14).


The Cup of God’s Wrath in Isaiah 51:17-23      In Isaiah 12:1 salvation includes God’s comfort and His anger turned away; both themes recur here in Isaiah 51. God tells a people without help, comfort or hope that the cup of wrath has been removed from them.  In Jeremiah 25:15-38, Jerusalem had been warned of this cup, but they paid no attention, so the Lord made them drink it.  (See also Ezekiel 23:31-34.)  Now Isaiah announces that the cup has been removed.  As he moves closer to speaking of the work of Christ in His sacrifice, he still does not say where the cup has gone – or Who drank it!   The Lord Jesus understood keenly that this horrible cup is what He would drink for us, Matthew 26:36-42.  It was not possible that the cup of God’s holy wrath against our sin could pass from His people and also from Christ.  Someone human would experience the wrath of God for human sin, either we would or our Substitute! When Peter resisted Jesus’ arrest (to resist the arrest was to resist His drinking the cup for us), Jesus said, “Shall I not drink the cup my Father has given me?” (John 18:11).  This part of Isaiah 51 prepares us for the fourth Servant Song (52:13-53:12).  In 51:1-3, the comfort is a return to an experience of Eden (paradise regained). That means the curse would be removed. Verses 17-23 provide more explanation; if the curse of the fall is gone, it can only be because wrath against sin has also been removed.  It fell on Christ in our place.



2:18-20      "Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.  19 Woe to him who says to wood, `Come to life!' Or to lifeless stone, `Wake up!' Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.  20 But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him."


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 Temple. 2:18,19 speak of a lifeless, breathless object unable to guide. Earlier in this chapter we have had contrasts. We expect one here. The obvious inference is that the One in that holy temple was different. He was (and is) alive, active and capable. The physical image taught lies because the suggestion is that the thing with eyes and ears, sees and hears. It also teaches a bit of truth because the people know the object itself is lifeless. They really worshiped the demonic spirit represented by the image, represented by a lifeless thing.


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.



Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, and received by faith alone.                    Q & A  33, Westminster Shorter Catechism


“See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith – indeed wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest …” Habakkuk 2:4,5


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?


  1. Paul does not build the entire doctrine of justification by faith on 2:4 alone. Not all is revealed in 2:4. He does argue the instrumentality of faith from it.
  2. Paul assumes that the life of the righteous always functions in faith. This fits 2:4 well.
  3. Faith is not replaced by any other principle, so the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:16,17) must be by faith “from first to last” (NIV for Romans 1:17).
  4. Faith is not natural to the sinner. Since the righteous live by faith, the status of righteous (which is the opposite of the status of sinner) began with faith as the sinner’s response, therefore justification is by faith. Habakkuk can describe the life of the righteous as a life of trust, but Paul can also argue (without being illogical) that the relationship with the Lord had to begin at some point. It began by trusting in the Lord. 
  5. Some scholars think that Habakkuk is saying that those who are “the righteous by faith” live. I am not sure that this was what it meant in Habakkuk 2:4. Nevertheless, it IS the order of the Hebrew words in 2:4 and the order of the Greek words in Romans 1 and Galatians 3.  
  6. In Habakkuk 2:4 God calls some people righteous. This deserves careful attention. It should even surprise us. How could God ever do this without declaring a falsehood? The Bible often speaks in a relative way comparing the lives of the wicked and the righteous. The many expressions that compare conduct do not preclude the possibility of the word being used for a righteous status. 


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. [5]  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.


  1. The entire book of Habakkuk emphasizes the issue of faith. Paul knew this. He found such a correspondence between how faith is presented in this prophet’s writing (and experience) that he used the words of 2:4 as evidence that faith is the way the gift of righteousness is received.


How Does Habakkuk Help Us to Understand Faith?


  1. It draws attention to a significant contrast. In 2:4 “the just shall live by his faith” is a brief parenthesis. It is one line within nine. Note where it appears: “See, he [the Babylonian] is puffed up; his desires are not upright – but the righteous will live by his faith – indeed wine betrays him [the Babylonian]; he is arrogant and never at rest ….”  The pride of the Babylonian and the faith of the righteous is contrasted. We will understand faith better if we pursue the contrast. The Babylonian is puffed up; the faith of the righteous is very different. The Babylonian believed in himself and worshiped his own strength (1:11). The righteous man’s faith is not in himself. IF he had trusted in his own works for acceptance by the Lord, he would be like the Babylonian! Any notion of faith that looks within to one’s conduct in any way misses the essence of Habakkuk 2:4.
  2. Habakkuk had complained to the Lord. He then waited for the Lord’s answer, which he was committed to accepting as true. True faith did not compose the answer from God. The man of faith looked to God for whatever He would say. Sometimes we call this an extraspective  (vs. introspective) faith, i.e., one that looks away from self to the Lord. As Habakkuk waited upon God alone for an answer his trust was consistent with that of the man who looks away from his own righteousness for the Lord to give him the righteousness he needs. 
  3. The revelation being given in Habakkuk is that Babylon would be destroyed. As a man of faith, Habakkuk believed that this would surely happen, “it will certainly come and will not delay,” (2:3) Faith here was not in the accomplishment of the Jews, for not one Israeli soldier participated in the fall of Babylon. Further, Habakkuk 3 presents the crushing of “the leader of the land of wickedness” as the unassisted act of God delivering His people (3:13,14). What was said of Pharaoh and the leader of Babylon applies to Satan too. If we view faith in 2:4 in the setting of the rest of the prophecy, faith is in the Lord’s salvation. Babylon’s "end" (2:3) was a certainty revealed by God, promised by God and believed by the remnant. They produced nothing that they believed in, just as we were no help to the Lord at Calvary. We too put our faith in the promise of God and in the redemptive accomplishment of Christ (Romans 10:9). The Lord Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil at the cross, just as God brought down Egypt and Babylon. Faith in Jesus’ person and work brings justification. In Habakkuk, faith has the same direction (it is in the Lord), even though Habakkuk did not have the same degree of information (we have much more detail about Christ’s death and resurrection). Faith is not a vague aimless faith in faith; it is specifically in God the Redeemer.


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.[6]  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!



 Consequently, just as the result of [Adam’s] one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus Christ] the many will be made righteous.                                            Romans 5:18,19




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:  

  1. Jesus will return to a world already converted.
  2. The Lord is powerfully working to this goal now through His Word, His Spirit and His Church.
  3. These predictions have to do only with what will happen after the coming of Christ, not now.


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 13:12, 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 Holy City to remove our fears (Revelation 21,22).


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 restore Israel was too small an assignment for the Lord Jesus (Isaiah 49:6). God gave Him a grander one, knowing He could bring salvation to the ends of the earth! In Romans 1:5,6 the assignment to Paul was a grace. Then in 2 Corinthians 6:1 he asserted that his ministry was a working together with God. Thus the double essence of the Great Commission is that it is a gracious privilege, and it is a joint labour with the Lord. We are not mere bystanders who cannot participate in God’s great project. 


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:


He [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 Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."  (Isaiah 49:6)


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.[7] 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


© David H. Linden     University Presbyterian Church, Las Cruces, New Mexico  USA May, 2017


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.


The theme of chapter three      Habakkuk 3 is about the awesome power of God in creation and judgment. Habakkuk’s LORD God has a record of acting decisively against His enemies to preserve His people. The prayer in Habakkuk 3 is closely related to the earlier complaints. It reviews what the early revelation in Scripture shows of his unchangeable God. So much of this prayer reviews what God has done that it hardly appears to be petition. It is a prayer that is so taken up with the reputation of God that petition is overwhelmed with worship! Habakkuk began his oracle in turmoil. He ends as one awed with his faithful LORD God and strong in the peace God gave him.  


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 Babylon would follow. This was no picnic! This kind of prayer pleads for God to intervene. Here in 3:2 it is a prayer for mercy – mercy when Habakkuk knows some of the horror that is coming.  This is a prayer of lament as in Psalms 17 and 102.


3:2    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; in wrath remember mercy.


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. He has “made a name for Himself” (Nehemiah 9:10 & Daniel 9:15.) It is called fame because Habakkuk was not there to observe the Exodus and other events. 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 Israel that He would punish their sin severely. Deuteronomy 32 speaks of God’s burning wrath against His rebellious covenant people (v.22). Arrows (v.23), famine, plague, and the attack of animals and snakes (v.24) all picture the intensity of that wrath. But notice that He Who avenges (v.35) also has compassion (v.36). “I have wounded and I will heal” (v.39). He will “take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people” (v.43). In light of the Lord’s detailed explanation of His policy in previous Scriptures, the prayer in wrath remember mercy was based on God’s revelation of Himself. The Lord never operates contrary to His word. Habakkuk’s prayer may have been directly affected by meditating on Deuteronomy 32. (See Appendix F:  Deuteronomy as Background for Habakkuk.)


Deuteronomy 4:25-29 predicts a future apostasy by Israel, but this does not negate the merciful commitment of the Lord to restore a remnant. Note v.31, “For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.”


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.


The Deeds of God      This is a major Biblical emphasis. The Bible is not simply a collection of sayings by God for us to hear. His words to us are of infallible quality and are called “holy words” (Jeremiah 23:9). Psalm 138:2, a psalm with considerable likeness to Habakkuk 3, speaks of God’s word as exalted.  God does more than speak.


Scripture emphasizes the deeds of God as well. This is clear not only in the earlier books in the Bible, but in the profuse praise in later generations of God’s previous actions.  Such worship is common in the Psalms. A good way to delve into this is to use a concordance to look up “deeds”, “works” and “acts” in the Psalms. (See Psalms 26, 45, 65, 66, 96, & 106.) The Lord shows Himself to us in words AND in actions. Both are an intentional revelation of God. God’s deeds promote a true image of the Lord in our minds and thus assist our prayers.  Habakkuk prayed by reviewing God in action, and so should we. In Israel’s psalms, they praised God for His active role in their history, and so should we.


The Likeness of Psalm 77       Habakkuk 3 is similar in many ways to Psalm 77. The emotional distress of the psalmist provoked a prayer of anguish. He wondered about mercy when God showed anger. His review of God’s deeds in the past paid specific attention to God’s violent deliverance of His people from their enemies and safe passage through the Red Sea.




3:3a     God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah



Two places are named outside the territory of Israel. Both would be on the route Israel traveled between Mount Sinai and the promised land. Mount Paran is mentioned in one other place, Deuteronomy 33:2. There we read of Seir, a part of Edom, as was Teman. (Teman was a chief among the descendents of Esau/Edom.) Often a location would be named for a prominent ancestor, thus there is a place called Teman. (See Genesis 36, Obadiah and Jeremiah 49:6-22.)  An aid to interpreting 3:3-7 is the association in Deuteronomy 33:2 that both Mount Paran and the Edomite location have with Mount Sinai. This is especially helpful since the word Sinai does not appear in Habakkuk.


3:3b     His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.


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. Early in Israel’s history the same Lord came down in the sight of all the people (Exodus 19:10), showing His glory.


On 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 trembled … Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder…                                                                                                                                         Exodus 19:16-19


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


3:4-6       His splendor was like the sunrise;*   rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal. (NIV)


* [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 judgment on Egypt, they also occurred in the wilderness among the Israelites (Numbers 21:6; Psalm 106:15). The earth shook at Sinai, and so did the mountains (Exodus 19). The people trembled in fear and wanted more distance from the Lord. Therefore the scene of vv.3-6 is the awesome presence of God at Sinai. This God makes other nations tremble too. Habakkuk had learned of Babylon before she rose to fame and power. God’s might would be shown to that nation too. The God of Israel who drowned Pharaoh in the Red Sea and shook the earth at Sinai can make any nation tremble. When Babylon came in fury, this truth of the great God of Israel was a much needed truth for God’s people to retain in their prayers. 




3:7      I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish.



Speaking of nations that have been removed from the earth, Habakkuk closes this small passage about God at Sinai with the mention of two ancient adversaries cowering in fear. Midian is better known; it was a large and fearsome enemy. Judges gives three chapters to the encounter with this particular foe (Judges 6-8). Cushan is probably not Cush, mentioned in Isaiah 18 & 20.  Judges 3:7-11 mentions Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram. Like Midian, that king was a threat to Israel in the time of the Judges. I suggest Habakkuk was speaking of similar adversaries both of whom existed in the early days of Israel as a nation. Moses’ wife was a Midianite and a Cushite (Numbers 10:29 & 12:1) so probably the two were closely related. The point is that the Lord God Who came down at Sinai is greater than all nations, peoples and powers.  He is the same Lord now. 



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 Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea, without using the words Red Sea.


3:8-11      Were you angry with the rivers, O LORD? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode with your horses and your victorious chariots?  You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. Selah  You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear. 


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 Israel from Egypt.) Other events are mixed in such as the sun standing still in the days of Joshua (Joshua 10:12-14). Note the comment in Joshua 10:14 “… Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!” Divine intervention against Israel’s enemies is a major element in Habakkuk’s prayer. In these verses, the Exodus is the primary example of God’s redemptive warfare. Some reasons for this interpretation are:


First,   Pharaoh pursued Israel with horses and chariots. Note how often horses are mentioned in Exodus 14:23 – 15:19 in both narrative and song. Exodus speaks of Egyptian horses, but Habakkuk speaks of God’s horses, God’s chariots, bows, and arrows. Egypt used horses men could see; then in figurative language the prophet wrote of God’s fight as if He had His own army with the same equipment. God’s “army” defeated the Egyptian army with no losses to God and no survivors to Egypt (Exodus 14:28). This was a great encouragement to Habakkuk. Prayer is not futility when we pray to the Lord of hosts, i.e., the Lord of victorious armies.


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 Red Sea. All of these texts use the same Hebrew word for split. Verse 10 adds the deep, which is the same word in Exodus 15:5: “the deep waters covered them”. “You hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters” (Nehemiah 9:11).


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 Israel in an attempt to bring them back into bondage backfired and resulted in Pharaoh’s death. Later David used Goliath’s sword against him (1 Samuel 17). “With his own spear you pierced his head” (v.14) indicates death, not just a wound.


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 Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). The purpose was redemption (Psalm 77:15), not only in freedom for the Israelites but that they would be a treasured possession for God. (See also Exodus 13:15; Leviticus 25:54,55; Deuteronomy 7:8.)


The correspondence of these verses to the Exodus is convincing. God’s powerful intervention centuries earlier saved Israel and destroyed Pharaoh and his army. Our God, the Lord God of Israel, is not a passive God. Since His ways are eternal (3:6) Habakkuk knew He would respond again to Israel’s need. The memory of the most famous event in their history stimulated this prayer.


3:9      Scholars 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 Israel. Whether with many arrows or promised arrows, God would preserve them (Deuteronomy 20:1-4). See above for split the earth.


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 Israel’s history of the battle against the Amorites in Joshua’s time (Joshua 10:12-14). Perhaps that is what Habakkuk was referring to. The Bible in many places speaks of the entire order of creation being disrupted by God’s activity. When David was preserved by the Lord from the hand of Saul, David wrote in Psalm 18 of God using hailstones, arrows and lightning, etc. This kind of apocalyptic language does not give a literal narrative; it does stress, however, in vivid and spectacular imagery the supernatural involvement of God in the issues His people face. Something may not be literal, but that does not mean it is not true! Scripture may speak of disruptions in the heavens above to impress upon our minds the mighty reactions of God on earth. The assertion of God’s overwhelming participation in the destruction of Pharaoh and his army is literal history, though sometimes stated as if God threw them like a rock into the depths of the sea. If we had a video recording of the Exodus, we would not see chariots being tossed in the air, but we would see the historical narrative of the Bible as factual. The walls of water did come down, and the horse and his rider did perish in the deep water.


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)


3:12-15      In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot.  Selah  With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.


3:12      God 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 land of Egypt was God’s response to Egypt abusing God’s firstborn, Israel (Exodus 4:22,23). The threshing of the nations could also refer to God’s judgment on the Canaanite peoples in the promised land. Threshing has the connotation of cutting them all down. They were exceedingly wicked, so God ordered Israel to eradicate them (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).  


God made a great distinction between Israel and Egypt (Exodus 11:7). The nations sin against God, yet the whole earth remains full of the glory of His justice. (See Psalm 9.) The whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord (2:14), but until they repent and believe earth’s inhabitants remain condemned and under His wrath (John 3:18-20,36). In Psalm 2:  1) the nations rebel; 2) God rebukes them in His wrath; 3) He declares that His Messiah is King. 4) He makes the nations the possession of His Son and 5) patiently implores them to find refuge in Christ (1,5,6,8 &12). 


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 Judah and Jerusalem God does not forget mercy, therefore He came to save. God will save His anointed. This is puzzling in this context because the context was about the deliverance of your people, not an individual. Usually the anointed one is the king, or a priest, or the coming Messiah. Who is the anointed one here? We are not sure. If it means Christ as the Anointed One or Messiah (Psalm 2; Daniel 9), then perhaps the point of this verse is the preservation of Israel as a people for the purpose Paul gave in Romans 9:5. “… From them [Israelites] is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” This interpretation would require that saving the anointed one meant to preserve the nation through whom He came. I lean to this view, but the evidence for it is weak. Some think it refers to Moses the leader of Israel, but it would be unusual to have saving one soul, even though Moses was their leader, as a purpose for the Exodus. I doubt any other Scripture suggests this. 


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 the Red Sea by armed soldiers on horses. But note that Pharaoh is not named. Though this event is stated as an event in the past, we know that later such an event was repeated. Babylon fell suddenly in one night without a battle (Daniel 5) because its leader had been betrayed. Traitors assisted Babylon’s invaders so they could enter the palace and kill Belshazzar. So once more it could be said that his own spear pierced his head. God can turn the “moves” of His adversaries against them. He often does. Satan entered into Judas (John 13:27). By that treachery the devil had Christ delivered to those who were eager to murder Him, but Satan’s strategy resulted in Christ crushing him at the cross (Colossians 2:15). 


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.)


3:16      I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.


"… 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 Babylon. Not only do we have no right to dispense the judgment of God on others (Romans 12:19), we are unable to cope with the reality of God’s awesome vengeance. God broadcasts His mercy, but when the final judgment comes, it is without mercy. Joshua 11:20 is but a small example. Hebrews 10:26-31 speaks of a vengeance beyond our imagination. Habakkuk was traumatized by this revealed insight. In Revelation 19, the saints in heaven rejoice over the destruction of Babylon, announced in chapter 18. But they are the saints in heaven who see things clearly. On earth, Habakkuk was stunned at God’s pronouncements, and the Lord said he would be (1:5). No one can bear the wrath of God but Christ the infinite Lord. We cannot even bear the knowledge of His wrath. We too want space from the thunder and lightning of Sinai (Hebrews 12:18-21). Facing the awesome holiness of God brings trauma. No wonder Habakkuk trembled physically, mentioning his body four times. (See Job 42:4-6.) 


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 Babylon (2:16). He knew what was coming but not when. He knew they would be invaded and that the invaders would also face their own calamity. God is sovereign and has protected His right as God to act as He pleases and to reveal what He chooses (Psalm 115:3; Deuteronomy 29:29).


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.


3:17-19      Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.


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 United States, Dr. D. James Kennedy. He died in faith leaving this word for his congregation:

“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 Israel (i.e., the Book of Psalms) so often did this. In fact, a constant traffic back and forth in our minds is needed on issues of sin, justice, wrath, and judgment, being matched then by grace, love, mercy, and the full payment of our sins by our Lord Jesus Christ.





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 punishment of Israel’s apostasy. He did pray boldly for God’s promised mercy. Note Deuteronomy 26:16 to the end. 


  1. Earlier, Deuteronomy 4:25-29 predicted a possible future apostasy by Israel. A number of statements are of the if-you-do-this-then this-will-happen type. Curses would be invoked if infractions occurred (27:9-26). (I mean sins without any repentance.) Note “if you obey” in 28:1 and “however, if you do not obey” in 28:15. That was to clarify the choices facing Israel. Judgments are stated as future events, conditioned on sin actually occurring. Notice, however, that the curses pronounced in chapter 28 comprise three-quarters of the chapter. Why such an emphasis on penalty?
  2. Gradually the possibility of defection yields to certainty that it will happen. Your children …will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it” (29:22).  “All the nations will ask … and the answer will be: it is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD…” (29:24,25). This Scripture has moved from possibility to certainty. God predicted the explanation apostasy would bring. He would bring on the land and people all the curses written in Deuteronomy (29:27).
  3. It becomes clearer yet. Now it is when: “When all these … curses come upon you…” (30:1).
  4. Then the Lord gave Moses an explicit prediction of Israel’s apostasy, even informing him that it would come soon:  


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 Israel’s defection was certain, their restoration was also certain. This issue goes far beyond simple prediction; it touches upon God’s purpose. Since He said He would have them as His people, the glory of God depends on Him actually having a loyal people! If, in the end God has only rebels He must reject, after He had said Israel would His treasured possession, then God would be a failure. He would be a God who cannot save and keep. His reputation (i.e., His glory) would be in jeopardy. This the Lord will never allow as a permanent situation.  Note the Lord’s confidence in His own work:


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 faithful Israel, then God’s boast of having them as His holy people would be empty words. However, God will never need to admit that He has no people. Yes, He had a necessity to reject Israel because of their sin. (“In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong,” Nehemiah 9:33). BUT the Lord also had a necessity to restore them because of His gracious covenant with them. What appears as an irreconcilable dilemma was resolved by God bringing in a new covenant, one of a different kind. In the new one, God writes His laws on hearts and causes us to walk in His ways (Jeremiah 31;31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-32). By His powerful Spirit, He would produce in them (and us) the obedient response He requires.


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 was Babylon that would sink, never to rise again (Jeremiah 51:64). Ultimate calamity would be on them, but eternal blessing on God’s covenant people.


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 Red Sea, but every day we walk on dry land, we walk on ground that emerged from the ocean as the result of the Holy Spirit’s powerful work in the original creation.

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 (Babylon)    Later in God’s redemptive history, the imagery of deep waters is retained, whether any water was involved or not. God in wrath would remember mercy and save His remnant people when they passed through “deep waters” that were still ahead of Habakkuk’s generation (Isaiah 43:2). Facing the crisis of the Babylonian Captivity, Isaiah 51:9-11 looks back to the Exodus in “days gone by”. Christ, “the Arm of the Lord” (Isaiah 53:1), would act again to save His people. He delivered from Egypt and He could handle Babylon. The Lord Who dried up the Red Sea and opened the waters of the great deep (Isaiah 51:10) would bring the ransomed of the Lord home again. They entered Zion with singing, but Babylon sank never to be seen again (Jeremiah 51:64).


Subsequent deep waters (Christ in the heart of the earth)    Matthew 12:39,41 speaks of Jonah in the belly of a great fish. From the depths of the grave in the heart of the sea, poor Jonah prayed in great distress (Jonah 2:1-9). He faced that terror because of his rebellion, yet found merciful deliverance from the Lord. Our Saviour, One greater than Jonah, entered (figuratively) into “the heart of the earth” when He died. He entered into the consequence of our sin (literally) and was not delivered from the dungeon of death till the third day. Then He rose because our justification had been secured (Romans 4:25). On account of His righteousness, Jesus deserved to live; it was our sin that deserved the horrors of the deep. But our Lord took our place and now grants the free gift of His righteousness to all who trust Him (Philippians 3:9). Because He entered the deep for us and rose from it, all who are His will also live (John 14:19). Out of the depths of our guilt, we sinners cry to the Lord (Psalm 130) and find forgiveness through the One Who entered for us into the heart of the earth. When the “mighty waters” of judgment for sin rise, as in Psalm 32:6,7, they will not overwhelm the person who has made the Lord his hiding place. For those in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation left; our Lord took it for us on the cross. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him…” (Psalm 32:1,2; Romans 4:4-8).


The opposite of deep waters: the heights    He enables me to go on the heights (3:19).  Such a contrast as depths and heights in this short prophecy is deliberate. It is something “thought out” and directed by the Holy Spirit overseeing every letter of every word in this prophecy. Heights may indicate a military victory, for normally whoever occupies the high ground, or takes it, is the victor. After defeating Satan, our Lord has ascended on high (Ephesians 4:8-10). Deuteronomy has clearly affected Habakkuk, and it is intriguing that expressing victory as trampling high places were the last words of Moses to Israel (Deuteronomy 33:29; see also 32:13). Centuries later, I think Habakkuk was reading Deuteronomy and thus listening to the Lord. This is the way he ended this prayer in Habakkuk 3. Pharaoh ends up in the bottom of the sea, but Habakkuk, God’s believer, ends up where? on the heights, seated with Christ, joined by all who are in Him by faith (Ephesians 2:6). 

[1]   For 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 to Nineveh.) In such passages, prophets convey the Lord’s message to His people. Habakkuk is quite different. He is unique among all prophets, since in his oracle he spoke only to God.

[2]   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 and Israel’s.

[3]   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.” 

[4]  My website is:  Other lecture notes are there, many of them in Chinese.

[5]   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.

[6]   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.  

[7]   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.