Habakkuk 3

1 Once the prophecies against Israel, Babylon, and by extension the whole world are completed, Habakkuk offers a prayer, consisting mostly of remembrance and thanksgiving. The title here is reminiscent of many Psalms and the phrases are structured like a song or poem with word groupings of three being the primary feature.

The intent of the word "shigionoth" is unclear. The literal meaning of the word is "to err," but this does not give an indication about the content of the psalm (which also appears to be the case in Psa 7 - the only other place this word is used). Thus, it is thought to refer to the delivery style of the song. Some have suggested it refers to a mournful ode, given the contents of the songs that use it. However, most take the position that the word means the song has an erratic rhythmic and emotional delivery, reeling, as it were, like a drunkard who "errs" as he stumbles around. Note that the NASB translation appears to use the word as if it were someone's name, but there does not appear to be any historical reason for this assumption.

2 Habakkuk remembered the reports about what God had done for Israel in the past, and it filled him with divine and reverent fear of God's awesomeness. He knew God had the power to carry out His decision to punish both Israel and Babylon. Habakkuk asks that God restore Israel again before Judgment Day and continue His plan of salvation that He was to work out through His chosen people. Habakkuk wants God's name and power to be known in Israel and the rest of the world. He also asks God to be merciful even in the midst of executing deserved punishment.
3 The theme of the remainder of this song is the coming judgment of the world and God's deliverance of His people. Habakkuk draws from the books of Moses and the Psalms in several parts of this song, specifically events related to God manifesting Himself in a way that people can see His glory (a.k.a., theophanies). He uses pictures of the past to depict the future redemption.

Teman was the grandson of Esau (Gen 36:10-11), and the city named after him was known for its wise men (Jer 49:7). Because of its impotents, Teman was used to refer to Edom (or perhaps just the southern part). The remains of this city have not been discovered, but it is thought to have been south of Petra.

Paran was the desert area south of Israel between Midian and Egypt, and may have included Mount Sinai at its southern end.

While this appears to be reminiscent of God traveling with the Israelites during the Exodus, the future tense of the verse indicates that it is pointing to an event that has not yet happened. It is unclear what the significance of God appearing from south of Israel is, but it is clear that the effect will be seen and felt worldwide. It is clear from other passages about the end times that few will be happy to see Christ's second coming (Rev 1:7), but other passages also indicate that there will be believers all over the world (Rev 7:9), thus there will be people in all parts of the world praising God when they see Him come. Note that some interpret this phrase as the earth being full of His glory, which would refer to the earth reflecting God's splendor (Isa 6:3).

The meaning of Selah is unclear, but it is commonly thought to mean a pause, interlude, or a change in the music.

4 God's revealed presence is typically associated with light, and here it is compared to a sunrise. The word "horns" here is typically translated as "rays," as it is in Exo 34:29-30. The idea is one of shafts of light, like the first beams of dawn, coming from God. Note that the words do not indicate the God wields lightning, but some have suggested that the Greeks borrowed that idea and ascribed it as a power of their head god, Zeus (Jupiter is the Roman adaptation).

As the sun is not looked at directly because of its brightness, so is God an "unapproachable" light (1 Tim 6:13-16). God hides His glory, least sinful man see it and die because of its unbearable splendor. At times, He wraps Himself in clouds of darkness (Exo 19:9). In the tabernacle and Temple, the priests filled the holy place with a cloud of incense so that God's glory could appear without killing them (Lev 16:11-13). In Jesus, God's glory was concealed in flesh, and the transfiguration gave three of the disciples a brief glimpse of Jesus' true appearance (Mat 17:2). While He may conceal His power and glory from our perceptions, we should make no mistake that it is there and it will be revealed to all.

5 God's enemies will not consider His return as a welcome and glorious event. Rather, they will suffer from a variety of plagues, reminiscent of the afflictions Egypt suffered at the time of the Exodus (see Revelation). In His wake will be a burning heat, perhaps referring to the judgment by fire (Luke 12:49).
6 Much of this prophecy is in the past tense, but the sense is that God allowed the prophet to see the future in such a way that many of the events have "already happened."

Many commentators take this verse as alluding to the entrance of Israel into the Promised Land, but the original language does not appear to lend itself well to the limits of that interpretation. Most translations render the first phrase as "measure the earth," which many understand as the dividing of Land between the twelve tribes, but the original wording and context would make "shook the earth" more accurate (Keil and Delitzsch). The use of "nations" along with the context of the next verse would prevent limiting this to the peoples who inhabited Canaan before Israel entered.

The most famous earthquakes in the Scriptures are the ones that occurred at Mount Sinai after Israel had left Egypt. While those and other tremors had an impact on a few mountains, the extent and severity of this description far exceeds a past event. A few other prophecies make it clear that the earth will be leveled in the coming judgment (e.g., Rev 16:20), which makes poetic license a less likely option. From our perception, such masses of granite and other stone seem eternal and everlasting (the two words used in this verse), but these things will be shattered and collapse. In the end, we will understand that only God's ways last forever.

7 Cushan is not positively identified. Some have thought it to be a placed named after Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia, who oppressed Israel for eight years during the time of the judges (Judg 3:8-10). Others feel that this refers to an Arabian territory adjacent to Midian or is simply another name for Midian itself (if the Ishmaelites and Midianites are considered the same people). Still others suggest that Cushan is another form for Cush, referring to Ethiopia. Thus, it is difficult to discern the intended meaning of this verse. If it refers only to the Arabian Desert area, then it would allude to their being the initial peoples to feel the wrath of God, since He will apparently appear to the south before traveling towards Israel (Hab 3:3). However, if these refer to the two sides of the Red Sea, then it is more likely to indicate the far-reaching impact of God's judgment.
8 Habakkuk turns from describing God to addressing Him directly. He begins by asking a rhetorical question and then describing God as the Judge who is a warrior to His enemies, but Savior to His people.

Note that masses of people are sometimes referred to as "like seas" or "many waters" (Jer 50:42, Rev 17:1), but this passage and the context appears to prevent this interpretation. It is likely still figurative, drawing heavily upon the Exodus events to illustrate that the Final Battle will occur in a similar manner.

The picture given is one of God riding in a chariot pulled by horses (perhaps alluding to 2 Ki 2:11-12, 6:17) through deep waters. This causes the waters to be churned and parted as the wheels flow through. It is not the waters that He is angry with, but His enemies who will be eventually defeated as a direct result of this action. This idea is elaborated on further in the commentary on Hab 3:15.

The chariot is referred to as one of salvation, for in defeating His enemies, God liberates His people.

9 God is pictured having unsheathed His bow, making it ready to shoot arrows.

The next phrase is very obscure. It has been translated in many ways: "You called for many arrows" (NIV), "The rods of chastisement were sworn" (NAS), "to the oaths of the tribes" (KJV), "sevenfold darts of the word" (Ewald), etc. Keil & Delitzsch translate the verse as "chastising rods are sworn through the word," pointing out that in the original Hebrew there is an allusion to God's promise to take vengeance against His enemies in Deu 32:40-42 that in not apparent after translation. They also point out that there are missing elements that would be required to refer this verse to Israel, and the context is not suitable for the "sevenfold darts" translation.

The last part of the verse indicates that new rivers will be formed. This would likely arise from earthquakes forming fissures that are subsequently overrun with water as is alluded to in the next verse.

10 Inanimate objects are personified in this verse as if to demonstrate that they respond to God with awe and trembling, even if people remain indifferent. Verse 6 more with God's omnipotent effect on creation while the following verses reflect the disasters on the earth that accompany Judgment. His presence will cause the mountains to quake. Their trembling is described with a word used for women in labor. There will be terrible storms pouring down rain and causing floods on the earth. The sea, being agitated by storms and earthquakes will "lift up its hands" in the form of giant waves, and "roar" as they crash against the land and each other.
11 The first part of this verse is often compared with Josh 10:12-13, and many see this as indicating that God will stop the earth's rotation during Judgment Day as He did when Joshua fought the Amorites. Some do not think that fits well with the rest of the verse. However, many interpretations have been applied to the latter parts. The phrase indicating the sun and moon "went away" could mean they 1) "fled in fear" as if personified, 2) were darkened as in Rev 6:12 -14, 3) were obscured by the greater brightness of God, or 4) were destroyed as indicated in Isa 60:19-20 and Rev 21:23. Several have interpreted the lighted arrow and the gleaming spear as lightning, but as in Hab 3:4, there is no explicit wording to indicate that God wields bolts of lightning. Some have indicated that this is a poetic way of indicating that God will empower the weapons of men to defeat His enemies. It is likely that they are simply symbols used to represent the power of God that will win His battles in ways otherwise incomprehensible to us. While the details of this passage may be unclear to us, there is no doubt that it describes God winning this ultimate war in supernatural ways.
12 God will tread on the earth as one crushes on grapes in a winepress (Isa 63:1-6, Rev 14:19-20, 19:15 ). Just as some will be saved from every nation, so there will be those destroyed in every nation because of their unbelief. God's wrath is sparked by people's continued and deliberate ignorance of Him despite His blessings and warnings.
13 This verse is also subject to several interpretations. One is that the "anointed" is Joshua, the "wicked leader" is Pharaoh, and "striking the head" refers to the killing of the firstborn. The weaknesses of this view are that 1) Joshua was not anointed, 2) God did not use Joshua to defeat Pharaoh, and 3) this event does not fit as well with the discussion of the end times. Another interpretation has the kingly line of Israel defeating the Chaldeans, but Israel never won a battle against them, it was Persia that gained control of the Babylonian empire. Some translations, including the Septuagint, use the plural "anointed ones" to refer to Israel, but the word anointed is never applied to groups of people, only to individual prophets, kings, and specifically the Messiah.

Thus, the better interpretation is probably that the Messiah is the one who strikes the head of Satan and saves his people (Gen 3:15, Rev 19:15-20:10). Satan's kingdom will be destroyed from the foundation (thigh) to the leadership (neck).

14 When the last battle comes about, Satan will enter it confident that he will easily defeat the helpless Christians and our God. His whole army will arrogantly blitz the remnants near Jerusalem, only to have God turn the battle against them (Rev 16:16-21). Whatever method of destruction they have devised against the faithful, Satan and his army will suffer themselves, possibly because of infighting (Psa 9:15, 2 Chr 20:23-24).
15 God will deal with His enemies at least figuratively the same way as He dealt with Egypt at the Exodus. He will lead His people to salvation, riding His chariot through the sea, but when His enemies try to follow, they will be destroyed. The "heaps" of water are particularly reminiscent of the parting of the Jordan River (Josh 3:14-16). This verse conveys the similar idea as Psa 77:19-20.

As before, the particular wording prevents the figurative use of the waters as meaning people (Keil & Delitzsch).

16 Habakkuk's thoughts turned back to his current time. He knew all things would be made right in the distant future, but the impending invasion and destruction shook him to the core with terror. He trembled from head to toe concerning what he had just seen and heard in the vision. His body felt limp, as if his bones had decayed and could no longer support his frame. He felt like his knees were going to buckle underneath him - he could barely stand. He was helpless to stop these events from happening, and knew he could only wait quietly until the prophecies were fulfilled.
17 Habakkuk's fear of these future events does not mean that he might lose faith in God. Even if other disasters like drought and famine were added to the devastation of war, his confidence in God was steadfast.
18 Habakkuk would still honor God and trust in Him for salvation because He knew God would keep His promises even when His people failed to live up to their parts of the covenants.
19 Habakkuk recognizes that he has no strength at all without God. Our circumstances on earth can change and even be disastrous, but God is unchanging, and those who have faith in Him can walk confidently. Habakkuk anticipates that the people will one day return. Hind's feet refer to swiftness of foot, possibly referring to their eventual escape from their enemies and return to their land. "On the high places" also likely refers to the Jew's return to Israel and the mountains of Judah.

The last phrase is reminiscent of the Psalms, and indicates that this is a song to be played in the Temple on stringed instruments. This was to be a song for all the people to hear, while keeping in mind the prophecy that precedes it.