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In chapter 3, Habakkuk is given a glimpse of the future of Judah and Babylon, and he prays again. What he says is similar to how Christians pray for the Lord Jesus to return soon. We pray that God’s timing will come quickly. His prayer is also similar to a type of song found in the Book of Psalms called a congregational prayer.
Habakkuk chapter 3 starts like this in verse 1: “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.” We don’t really know what this expression “on shigionoth” means. But the word shigionoth by itself means something like “uncertain” or “turmoil”. Possibly it is a song that doesn’t use a traditional rhythm, or it is the prayer of a heart that is in anguish. Anyway, it is a prayer is in response to the severe judgment of God. We believe that God will one day judge all people righteously, but we don’t know the details of when or how it will look like. We can only accept it with fear and sorrow. We also have salvation by God’s grace. But we should be careful about judging other people. God will one day judge all who have done wrong. Because of this reality, Habakkuk’s song is one of grief and sorrow. We can understand why it is the song of a heart in turmoil.
Habakkuk’s prayer begins in verse 2: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” Knowing that God intends to judge Judah and Babylon, he prays that God’s will be accomplished soon. But at the same time, he asks God not to forget his mercy. This prayer teaches us the attitude of looking to God’s mercy for our salvation.
Verses 3 and 4 say, “God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.” It describes God coming to earth to carry out his judgment. It describes his coming with words like glory, praise, and splendor. Teman is a town in Edom, while Paran is a region in the east of the Sinai Peninsula. In the history of Israel, they were liberated from Egypt and came into the land of Canaan; and now once again, the God who led Israel will come to this land. Verse 5 says that behind him will come plague and pestilence. God’s judgment will cover the earth.
Verse 6 says, “He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed—but he marches on forever.” In the Japanese translation it says that “he stood, and measured the earth,” which is a way of saying that God conquers the earth. Under God’s mighty power, even Babylon will crumble. Even Jerusalem, that eternal mountain, will become uninhabitable. And this will happen not only to Judah and Babylon.
Verse 7 says that God’s judgment will also extend to the “tents of Cushan” and the “dwellings of Midian,” which refer to Ethiopia and the deserts of Arabia. God’s judgment will extend widely across on the earth. Verse 8 goes on to say, “Were you angry with the rivers, Lord? . . . Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?” This recalls Israel’s history when they were liberated from Egypt and God’s great power was demonstrated when he divided the Red Sea in two. Further down, verse 12 says, “In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations.” Both Judah and Babylon will be destroyed . . . and so will the people of other nations.
But verse 13 shows us what is on the other side of this judgment. It says, “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.” God has a special love for his chosen people. They are described as “anointed,” and he saves them. In the same way, each of us are saved and specially loved by God. God will one day judge those who persecute the people he loves. In other words, the judgment of God upon the nations is also liberation for those who follow him.
His judgment on Judah and Babylon is truly fearsome. As Habakkuk says in verse 16, “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.” It is a day filled with fear. God’s judgment is more than we can imagine. Just from hearing about it Habakkuk’s heart was pounding. The core of his being filled with terror. Even so, he says, “Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” To wait patiently for God is the mark of a believer. Whatever happens in our lives, we will wait patiently and trust in God. He holds our lives in his hands.
Verse 17 says that when the land of Israel is trampled by Babylon, it will be like a desolate wilderness that does not blossom or bear fruit or produce food. Still, as Habakkuk says in verse 18, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” He knew that the day would surely come for Babylon the Great to finally be destroyed. And when God will judge the forces of evil that oppose him. His justice will surely come upon the earth. Habakkuk says: I will wait patiently for that day.
Holding on to faith, we try to live our lives to the fullest. All around us many things are happening: strife, hatred, and suffering. Habakkuk’s statement of faith was “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” How wonderful that he was able to say that. As those who believe in Christ, let us surrender our hearts and our bodies to the Lord and know that he will guide us firmly.
Last time, we read this verse from Hebrews chapter 11, on the topic of faith. Hebrews 11:21 says, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” Jacob began his blessing with the words: “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day . . .” (Genesis 48:15). He calls God “my shepherd all my life to this day”. It is a wonderful testimony of God’s faithfulness to Jacob. When difficulties confront us, let us live patiently, with faith, trusting in God’s grace. I hope to have the attitude of Habakkuk who said, “Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.” And who said, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”