The Expository Files


Habakkuk's Prayer

Habakkuk 3:1-19

Habakkuk is a unique Old Testament book. Even when classified within the "Minor Prophets" category, it has a marked difference.

Habakkuk is upset. He doesn't understand some things about God, and we have a record of his thoughts and his conversations with God about these issues. Jonah's case may come close to this. Yet Habakkuk remains unique.

A good starting place is, Habakkuk 1:6. God said, "I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own." This plan nagged at Habakkuk. Why would God do this? How can God use the wicked as executioners against His people? Habakkuk stated his concern and the Lord replied. Then there came a time when - apparently - the prophet found resolution or satisfaction, though the future disaster was still dreaded. The following prayer of Habakkuk exhibits that satisfaction.

1A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

2 O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.

3 God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His splendor covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.


4 His brightness was like the light;
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.

5 Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed at his heels.

6 He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
the everlasting hills sank low.
His were the everlasting ways.

7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.

8 Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Was your anger against the rivers,
or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
on your chariot of salvation?

9 You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows.


You split the earth with rivers.

10 The mountains saw you and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
it lifted its hands on high.

11 The sun and moon stood still in their place
at the light of your arrows as they sped,
at the flash of your glittering spear.

12 You marched through the earth in fury;
you threshed the nations in anger.

13 You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck.


14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.

15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
the surging of mighty waters.

16 I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.

What should this mean to you today? While it is one of the most beautiful literary passages in the Bible, the prominent value is - this helps you understand the full meaning of the righteous living by faith, and the joy you can embrace even when anticipating misery. Study the text with that in mind.

A "Shigionoth" is a type of music full of passion and the quick changes and movement of strong emotion. This was composed under strong emotional conditions. He expressed his perplexity. The divine answer was given. Now he is expressing his reaction to God. He is not writing an essay in cold, academic terms. He was emotional in his movement away from confusion to a fuller faith in God.

Habakkuk heard. As a result of his hearing from God and about God and His work, he said, "I fear." His good listening to God produced this reverence and desire for revival.

To the God he feared, the prophet said: "in wrath remember mercy." He could not know ask God to dismiss His wrath (it was just, see 2:20). All who truly know the wrath of God and expect His wrath against the wicked, are moved to plea for mercy.

Next, the prophet takes a journey back through time, and he marks out experiences where God "came" in His power, with wrath tempered with mercy. Habakkuk is no longer critical or doubtful. He is praising God for His power: "His splendor covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power." This is a recollection of Israel's history, which was graced with God's majesty. God acted perfectly in every case. Habakkuk is filled with a reverent understanding of God's power and perfection.

"It has been the usual practice of God's people, when they have been in distress and ready to fall into despair, to help themselves by recollecting their experiences, and reviving them, considering the days of old, and the years of ancient times (Ps 77:5), and pleading with God in prayer, as he is pleased sometimes to plead them with himself. Isa 63:11, Then he remembered the days of old." - Matthew Henry

Yet he still anticipates the coming calamity. And whatever happens - whatever God decides to do - he will trust. No affliction, however severe or wearisome, can sever a real believer from his trust in God. God's past activity, the prophet now understands was right. He describes God's activity: He "stood . . . measured . . . looked . . . shook . . . saw . . . marched . . . went out for the salvation of" the people.

Observe how the prophet, now with better perspective, describes his reaction to God's activity: "I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet, I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us." He knows, eventually, everything will be right and find its' place under the hand of God's providence. And through all of this impending turmoil, hope was not lost. Through the surviving remnant, God would bring the Anointed One of His eternal plan.

"From perplexity and doubt he has passed through the school of God's revelation to him, and now he can look to whatever may come and meet it with quiet dignity and confidence," (Homer Hailey, A Commentary On The Minor Prophets, p.# 295).

Now, read back through the third chapter of Habakkuk. Answer these two questions: (1) Do you see again, God is in control? (2) Do you see again, whatever may happen here on earth, "the just shall live by faith" and "the Sovereign Lord" is our strength."

Indeed we can rejoice that "the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him," (2:20). {Also see Psa. 18:31-33}.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 14.9; September 2007