The Word of the Lord to Habakkuk

Chapter 3

Habakkuk, in his prayer, trembles at God's majesty, 1-16. The confidence of his faith, 17-19.

1 [A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.]

2 O LORD, I have heard your speech and was afraid. O LORD, revive your work in the midst of the years. 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. [Selah.] His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.

4 And his brightness was as the light. He had rays coming out of his hand, and there was the hiding of his power.

5 Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.

6 He stood and measured the earth. He beheld and drove apart the nations. The everlasting mountains were scattered and the perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting.

7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction. And the curtains of the land of Midian trembled.

8 Was the LORD displeased with the rivers? Was your anger against the rivers? Was your wrath against the sea that you rode upon your horses and your chariots of salvation?

9 Your bow was made quite ready, according to the oaths of the tribes, even your word. [Selah.] You cleaved the earth with rivers.

10 The mountains saw you and they trembled. The overflowing of the water passed by. The deep uttered his voice and lifted up his hands on high.

11 The sun and moon stood still in their habitation. At the light of your arrows they went, and at the shining of your glittering spear.

12 You marched through the land in indignation. You threshed the heathen in anger.

13 You went forth for the salvation of your people, even for salvation with your anointed. You wounded the head of the house of the wicked by uncovering the foundation to the neck. [Selah.]

14 You struck through with his staffs the head of his villages. They came out as a whirlwind to scatter me. Their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.

15 You walked through the sea with your horses, through the heap of great waters.

16 When I heard, my belly trembled. My lips quivered at the voice. Rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, so that I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, he will invade them with his troops.

17 Though the fig-tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines, though the labor of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls,

18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet and make me to walk upon my high places. [To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.]


Matthew Henry Commentary - Habakkuk, Chapter 3


John Gill's Chapter Summary:

The title of this chapter is a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, composed after the manner of a psalm of David, and directed to the chief singer (verses 1, 19). The occasion of it is expressed (verse 2); in which the prophet declares his concern for the work of the Lord, and the promotion of the kingdom and interest of Christ; and observes the various steps that were, or would be, taken for the advancement of it; for which he prays, and suggests that these would be after the manner of the Lord's dealing with the people of Israel, and settling them in the land of Canaan (verses 3-15); and there being several things awful in this account, both with respect to the judgments of God on his enemies, and the conflicts and trials of his own people, it greatly affected the mind of the prophet (verse 16); and yet, in the view of the worst, he expresses his strong faith in the Lord, as to better times and things, that would most assuredly come (verses 17-19).

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 2:20-3:1:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you have deigned to make yourself known to us by your word, and as you elevate us to yourself in a way suitable to the ignorance of our minds,— O grant, that we may not continue fixed in our obstinacy, but that we may put off all superstitions, and also renounce all the thoughts of our flesh, and seek you in the right way; and may we suffer ourselves to be so ruled by your word, that we may purely and from the heart call upon you, and so rely on your infinite power, that we may not fear to despise the whole world, and every adversity on the earth, until, having finished our warfare, we shall at length be gathered into that blessed rest, which your only-begotten Son has procured for us by his own blood. Amen.

[v.2a] - "O LORD, I have heard your speech, and was afraid" - From John Calvin's Commentary: "By saying, that he feared the voice of God, he makes a confession, or gives an evidence of repentance; for we cannot from the heart seek pardon, unless we be first made humble. When a sinner is not displeased with himself, and confesses not his guilt, he is not deserving of mercy. We then see why the Prophet speaks here of fear; and that is, that he might thus obtain for himself and for others the favor of God; for as soon as a sinner willingly condemns himself, and does not do this formally, but seriously from the heart, he is already reconciled to God; for God bids us in this way to anticipate his judgement."

[v.2b] - "speech" - Or, "voice."

[v.2c] - "revive" - Or, "preserve."

[v.4] - "rays" - Originally, "horns," but here, "rays of light," is meant.

[v.5] - This verse is rendered in various ways. The American Standard Version is, "Before him went the pestilence, and fiery bolts went forth at his feet." John Owen rendered it, "From before him proceeded the word (i.e., the law), and forth came lightning at his feet." Others substitute "burning coals" with, "plague," or "pestilence," and render the verse to say that pestilence went before him and plague followed him.

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 2-7:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we have a continual contest with powerful enemies, we may know that we are defended by your hand, and that even you are fighting for us when we are at rest; so that we may boldly contend under your protection, and never be wearied, nor yield to Satan and the wicked, or to any temptations; but firmly proceed in the course of our warfare: and however much you may often humble us, so as to make us to tremble under your awful judgement, may we yet never cease to entertain firm hope, since you have once promised to be to us an eternal Father in your eternal and only-begotten Son, but being confirmed by the invincible constancy of faith, may we so submit ourselves to you, as to bear all our afflictions patiently, until you gather us at length into that blessed rest, which has been procured for us by the blood of your own Son. Amen.

[v.9a] - "quite ready" - Literally, "quite bare." The idea is that the bow has been made bare by being pulled out of its sheath, and therefore, it is ready for use.

[v.9b] - "according to the oaths of the tribes, even your word" - It seems as if every English translation has a different rendering of this text. The Pulpit Commentary agrees with the KJV, but then adds, "the Hebrew text is corrupt, and cannot be explained with any certainty." The ASV renders the text as, "the oaths to the tribes were a sure word." The word, tribes, can also be translated to shafts, rods, or arrows, and the phrase, even your word, can be translated as appointment, decree, or command. With those two alternate translations, the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon offers this rendering of the text: "Sworn are the rods (or, arrows) of appointment." Though that rendering is given, the BDB Lexicon states that the text is not reliable.

[v.10] - "The overflowing of the water passed by" - John Calvin said that this text is applied to the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31) and the crossing of the Jordan into Canaan (Joshua 3:14-17).

[v.11] - "The sun and moon stood still in their habitation" - Reference, Joshua 10:12-14.

[v.12] - Reference, Psalm 44:5.

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 8-13:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you have so often and in such various ways testified formerly how much care and solicitude you have for the salvation of those who rely and call on you,— O grant, that we at this day may experience the same: and though your face is justly hid from us, may we yet never hesitate to flee to you, since you have made a covenant through your Son, which is founded in your infinite mercy. Grant then, that we, being humbled in true penitence, may so surrender ourselves to your Son, that we may be led to you, and find you to be no less a Father to us than to the faithful of old, as you everywhere testify to us in your word, until at length being freed from all troubles and dangers, we come to that blessed rest which your Son has purchased for us by his own blood. Amen.

[v.14] - "villages" - The Hebrew word here can refer to two different things, though the overall meaning doesn't change too much. It can refer to what is here used, villages, as in an open unfortified village (John Owen). It can also refer to the inhabitants of a village, for the Hebrew word is in the masculine form (the feminine form is used to refer to cities and towns), and in this case, it can be translated as warriors, leaders, or inhabitants (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon; John Calvin). The ASV renders the word as warriors.

[v.15] - "through the heap of great waters" - The Pulpit Commentary offers this alternate rendering of this text: "upon the surge of mighty waters."

[v.16] - "so that I might rest in the day of trouble" - From John Calvin's Commentary: "There seems to be here an inconsistency—that the Prophet was affected with grief even to rottenness, that he trembled throughout his members with dread, and now that all this availed to produce rest. But we must inquire how rest is to be obtained through these trepidations, and dreads, and tremblings. We indeed know that the more hardened the wicked become against God, the more grievous ruin they ever procure for themselves. But there is no way of obtaining rest, except for a time we tremble within ourselves, that is, except God's judgement awakens us, and even reduces us almost to nothing. Whoever therefore securely slumbers, will be confounded in the day of affliction; but he who in time anticipates the wrath of God, and is touched with fear, as soon as he hears that God the judge is at hand, provides for himself the most secure rest in the day of affliction. We now then see, that the right way of seeking rest is set forth here by the Prophet, when he says, that he had been confounded, and that rottenness had entered into his bones that he could have no comfort, except he pined away as one half dead: and the design of the Prophet, as I have already said, was to exhort the faithful to repentance. But we cannot truly and from the heart repent, until our sins become displeasing to us: and the hatred of sin proceeds from the fear of God, and that sorrow which Paul regards as the mother of repentance (2nd Corinthians 7:10)."

[v.17-18] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "We now perceive more clearly, that the sorrow produced by the sense of our guilt is recommended to us on account of its advantage; for nothing is worse than to provoke God's wrath to destroy us; and nothing is better than to anticipate it, so that the Lord himself may comfort us. We shall not always escape, for he may apparently treat us with severity; but though we may not be exempt from punishment, yet while he intends to humble us, he will give us reasons to rejoice: and then in his own time he will mitigate his severity, and by the effects will show himself propitious to us. Nevertheless, during the time when want or famine, or any other affliction, is to be borne, he will render us joyful with this one consolation, for, relying on his promises, we shall look for him as the God of our salvation. Hence, on one side Habakkuk sets the desolation of the land; and on the other, the inward joy which the faithful never fail to possess, for they are upheld by the perpetual favor of God. And thus he warns, as I have said, the children of God, that they might be prepared to bear want and famine, and calmly to submit to God's chastisements; for had he not exhorted them as he did, they might have failed a hundred times. We may hence gather a most useful doctrine,— That whenever signs of God's wrath meet us in outward things, this remedy remains to us—to consider what God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy, which faith brings to us, can overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows and anxieties."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 14-19:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we cease not daily to provoke your wrath against us, and as the hardness and obstinacy of our flesh is so great, that it is necessary for us to be in various ways afflicted,— O grant, that we may patiently bear your chastisements, and under a deep feeling of sorrow flee to your mercy; and may we in the meantime persevere in the hope of that mercy, which you have promised, and which has been once exhibited toward us in Christ, so that we may not depend on the earthly blessings of this perishable life, but relying on your word may proceed in the course of our calling, until we shall at length be gathered into that blessed rest, which is laid up for us in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.