Habakkuk 3:1-3, a Prayer/Hymn about God’s Reign

Habakkuk 3:1-3, a Prayer/Hymn about God’s Reign                                       by Jack Kettler

Habakkuk is a minor prophet and the eighth of the twelve prophets. Habakkuk was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. His prophecy dates from about 612 BC, erstwhile to the Babylonian or Chaldean destruction Jerusalem. Habakkuk would be contemporaneous with Jeremiah. Of the three chapters in the book, the first two are a dialog between God and Habakkuk.

A Brief Overview:

The first two chapters are a discourse between Habakkuk and God. Habakkuk questions God for his delay in judgment, and God responds.

Habakkuk asks God why He is allowing this sinful behavior of the people to go unchecked:

“Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.” (Habakkuk 1:3 KJV)

God answers:

“For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs.” (Habakkuk 1:6)

God responds and instructs in Habakkuk in 2:2 to write:

 “And the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” (Habakkuk 2:2 KJV)

God tells Habakkuk to write that:

The Chaldeans are God’s instrument of judgment against His rebellious people.

In verses 4-20, God answers Habakkuk at length, and in particular, in verse 20 tells him:

“But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)

Even in light of the judgment coming, there remains real hope for Israel. The hope is seen in the prayer/hymn of chapter three.

Chapter 3, a Prayer and a Hymn:

Now for the enigmatic yet edifying first three verses of Habakkuk chapter 3:

1.      “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.” (Habakkuk 3:1 NASB)

2.      “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2 NASB)

3.      “God comes from Teman, And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise.” (Habakkuk 1:3 NASB)

These verses introduce us to a beautiful Hymn or prayer about God’s Reign:

In this study, we will answer the fowling questions that come up in chapter three:

1.      What is Shigionoth?

2.      Where are Teman and Paran?

3.      What does God’s coming from Teman and Mount Paran mean?

Locations and meaning:

The Shigionoth spoken of in Habakkuk 3:1 may be an allusion to a poem, or an accompanying instrument, or to a song’s rhythm. Shigionoth is the plural of the Hebrew Shiggaion (שִׁגָּיוֹן). See Psalm 7:1:

Verse one:

“A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjamite. O LORD my God, in You I have taken refuge; Save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me.” (Habakkuk 3:1 NASB)

From Strong’ Concordance:

Shiggayon or Shiggayonah: perhaps a wild passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm

Original Word: שִׁגָּיוֹן
Part of Speech: Proper Name Masculine
Transliteration: Shiggayon or Shiggayonah
Phonetic Spelling: (shig-gaw-yone’)
Definition: perhaps a wild passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers make this clear about the prayer being a hymn in verse one:

“(1-15) A hymn describing a future self-manifestation of Jehovah on Israel’s behalf, accompanied by the signs and wonders of the early history. It is impossible to give the English reader an idea of the rhythmical structure of this beautiful composition. We will only observe that it is independent of the arrangement in verses, and that the poem (except in Habakkuk 3:7-8; Habakkuk 3:13, fin.) consists of lines each containing exactly three words.

(1) Upon Shigionoth. — This term points, not to the contents of the composition, but either to its metrical structure or its musical setting. See on the Inscription of Psalms 7. Inasmuch as this ode is throughout an account of the deliverance anticipated by prayerful faith, it is called not a Psalm, mizmôr, but a Prayer, t’philtâh.” (1)

The Geneva Study Bible offers a nice summary of verse one:

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet {a} upon Shigionoth.

(a) Upon Shigionoth or for the ignorance. The prophet instructs his people to pray to God, not only because of their great sins, but also for those they had committed in ignorance.

Verse two:

“LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear. O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, In the midst of the years make it known; In wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2 NASB)

From Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on verse two we learn:

“2. I have heard thy speech—Thy revelation to me concerning the coming chastisement of the Jews [Calvin], and the destruction of their oppressors. This is Habakkuk’s reply to God’s communication [Grotius]. Maurer translates, “the report of Thy coming,” literally, “Thy report.”

And was afraid—reverential fear of God’s judgments (Hab. 3:16).

Revive thy work—Perfect the work of delivering Thy people, and do not let Thy promise lie as if it were dead, but give it new life by performing it [Menochius]. Calvin explains “thy work” to be Israel; called “the work of My hands” (Isa 45:11). God’s elect people are peculiarly His work (Isa 43:1), pre-eminently illustrating His power, wisdom, and goodness. “Though we seem, as it were, dead nationally, revive us” (Ps 85:6). However (Ps 64:9), where “the work of God” refers to His judgment on their enemies, favors the former view (Ps 90:16, 17; Isa 51:9, 10).

In the midst of the years—namely, of calamity in which we live. Now that our calamities are at their height, during our seventy years’ captivity. Calvin more fancifully explains it, in the midst of the years of Thy people, extending from Abraham to Messiah; if they be cut off before His coming, they will be cut off as it were in the midst of their years, before attaining their maturity. So Bengel makes the midst of the years to be the middle point of the years of the world. There is a strikingly similar phrase (Da 9:27), In the midst of the week. The parallel clause, “in wrath” (that is, in the midst of wrath), however, shows that “in the midst of the years” means “in the years of our present exile and calamity.”

Make known—Made it (Thy work) known by experimental proof; show in very deed, that this is Thy work.” (3)

The Geneva Study Bible outlines verse two nicely:

{b} O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy {c} work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.

(b) Thus, the people were afraid when they heard God’s threatenings, and prayed.

(c) That is, the state of your Church which is now ready to perish, before it comes to half a perfect age, which would be under Christ.

Verse three:

“God comes from Teman, And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His splendor covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise,” (Habakkuk 1:3 NASB)

Comments:

Teman means “right hand” or “south” in Hebrew. In the Old Testament, this is the name of a grandson of Esau for whom the town of Teman in Edom was named.

Mount Paran is often connected with Mount Sinai in Egypt, and there is some evidence that it may originally have referred to the southern portion of the Sinai Peninsula. The minor prophet Habakkuk references that “God is coming from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran” in Habakkuk 3:3.

The next two commentary entries will confirm this. Notice how God is coming is suggestive of an Old Testament theophany.

First, from Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Habakkuk 3:3:

“God came – literally, shall come

From Teman – “God shall come,” as He came of old, clothed with majesty and power; but it was not mere power. The center of the whole picture is, as Micah and Isaiah had prophesied that it was to be, a new revelation Isa 2:3; Micah 4:2: “The law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 44:5, “I will give Thee for a covenant to the people (Israel), for a light of the Gentiles.” So now, speaking of the new work in store, Habakkuk renews the imagery in the Song of Moses Deuteronomy 33:2, in Deborah’s Song Judges 5:5, and in David; Psalm 68:7 but there the manifestation of His glory is spoken of wholly in time past, and Mount Sinai is named. Habakkuk speaks of that coming as yet to be, and omits the express mention of Mount Sinai, which was the emblem of the law. And so he directs us to another Lawgiver, whom God should raise up like unto Moses Deuteronomy 18:15-18, yet with a law of life, and tells how He who spake the law, God, shall come in likeness of our flesh. And the Holy One from Mount Paran In the earliest passage three places are mentioned, in which or from which the glory of God was manifested; with this difference however, that it is said Deuteronomy 33:2, The Lord came from Sinai, but His glory arose, as we should say “dawned” unto them from Seir, and flashed forth from Mount Paran Seir and Mount Paran are joined together by the symbol of the light which dawned or shone forth from them. In the second passage, the Song of Deborah, Seir and the field of Edom are the place whence God came forth; Sinai melted Judges 5:4-5 at His presence.

In Psalm 68 the mention of Edom is dropped; and the march through the wilderness under the leading of God, is alone mentioned, together with the shaking of Sinai. In Habakkuk, the contrast is the same as in Moses; only Tehran stands in place of Seir. Theman and Mount Paran are named probably, as the two opposed boundaries of the journeyings of Israel through the desert. They came to Mount Sinai through the valley, now called Wady Feiran or Paran; Edom was the bound of their wanderings to their promised land Numbers 20:14-20; Deuteronomy 2. God who guided, fed, protected them from the beginning, led them to the end. Between Paran also and Edom or Teman was the gift of the Spirit to the seventy, which was the shadow of the day of Pentecost; there, was the brass serpent lifted up, the picture of the healing of the Cross . If Mount Paran is near Kadesh, then Moses in the opening of his song describes the glory of God as manifested from that first revelation of His Law on Mount Sinai; then in that long period of Israel’s waiting there to its final departure for the promised land, when Mount Hor was consecrated and God’s awful Holiness declared in the death of Aaron.

He who “shall come,” is God, “the Holy One” (a proper name of gods). Perfect in Holiness, as God, the Son of God, and as Man also all-holy, with a human will, always exactly accompanying the Divine Will, which was:

“The passion of His Heart

Those Three-and-thirty years.”

On this there follows a pause denoted by “Selah” (which occurs thrice according to the mystery of that number,) that the soul may dwell on the greatness of the majesty and mercy of God.

Selah – There is no doubt as to the general purport of the word, that it is a musical direction, that there should be a pause, the music probably continuing alone, while the mind rested upon the thought, which had just been presented to it; our “interlude”. It is always placed at some pause of thought, even when not at the end of a strophe, or, as twice in this hymn, at the end of the verse.

Gregory of Nyssa modifies this thought, supposing “Selah” to express a pause made by the writer, that “while the psalmody, with which David’s prophesying was accompanied, went on in its course, another illumining of the Holy Spirit, and an addition to the gift according to knowledge, came for the benefit of those who received the prophecy, he, holding in his verse, gave time for his mind to receive the knowledge of the thought, which took place in him from the divine illumining.” He defines it to be “a sudden silence in the midst of the Psalmody for the reception of the illumining.”

His Glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise – This is plainly no created glory, but anticipates the Angelic Hymn Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men,” or, as the Seraphim sing first glory to God in Heaven Isaiah 6:3, “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth,” and then, the whole earth is full of His glory; and Uncreated Wisdom saith (Ecclesiasticus 24:5), “I alone compassed the circuit of Heaven, and walked in the bottom of the deep.” Nor are they our material heavens, much less this lowest heaven over our earth nor is “His glory” any of God, which rules, encompasses, fills, penetrates the orbs of heaven and all its inhabitants, and yet is not enclosed nor bounded thereby. Those who are made as the heavens by the indwelling of God He spiritually “covers,” filling them with the light of glory and splendor of grace and brightness of wisdom, as it saith, “Is there any number of His armies, and upon whom doth not His light arise? Job 25:3 and so the earth was full of His praise,” i. e., the Church militant spread throughout the world, as in the Psalm 112:3, “The Lord’s name is praised from the rising up of the sun unto the going down of the same, and, Psalm 8:1, O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth, who hast set Thy glory above the heavens.”” (3)

Second, from Matthew Poole’s Commentary further elaborates on Habakkuk 3:3:

“God, the God of our fathers, our God, came; appeared, discovered himself, for that is his coming, who, since he fills all places at all times, cannot be said to come by any change of place.

Teman, either appellatively, the south, or else as a proper name of a mountain or country. So called from Teman, son of Eliphaz, and grandson of Esau. It is also called Seir, or is one particular hill among those many, which make up Mount Seir. It was not far from Mount Sinai, where the law was given, and the prophet hath respect to that Deu 33:2, where God appeared in a manner equally glorious and terrible,

The Holy One of Israel.

Mount Paran, which was a name to wilderness, plains, and a mountain, of which the prophet here speaketh, and in Deu. 33:2 it is said God shined thence. This the prophet mentions as a support of his faith, as an encouragement to others, as a motive why God should renew his work among them, since he so gloriously appeared among their fathers, and made a covenant with them.

Selah, to the argument, he addeth this to awaken us to attention.

His glory; lightnings and thunders, and fire and smoke, tokens of the power, majesty, and greatness of God, at the sight whereof Moses himself trembled. Covered, overspread, intercepted, and obscured, the heavens that part of the visible heavens under which Israel then encamped.

The earth, that part of the earth where this was done.

Was full of his praise; of works, which deserved then, and still do deserve, to be had in remembrance, with praise to God who did them.” (4)

The Geneva Study Bible captures the meaning of verse three perfectly:

“God came from {d} Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.

(D) Teman and Paran were near Sinai, where the Law was given: by which is signified that his deliverance was as present now as it was then.”

Concluding Hymn about God’s Reign Continues from 3:14-19:

4.      his splendor spread like the light. He raised his horns high, he rejoiced on the day of his strength.

5.      Before him went pestilence, and plague followed in his steps.

6.      He stood and shook the earth; he looked and made the nations tremble. Ancient mountains were shattered, the age-old hills bowed low, age-old orbits collapsed.

7.      The tents of Cushan trembled, the pavilions of the land of Midian.

8.      Was your anger against the rivers, O Lord? Your wrath against the rivers, your rage against the sea, that you mounted your steeds, your victorious chariot?

9.      You readied your bow; you filled your bowstring with arrows.                                 Selah You split the earth with rivers;

10.  at the sight of you the mountains writhed. The clouds poured down water; the deep roared loudly. The sun forgot to rise,

11.  the moon left its lofty station, at the light of your flying arrows, at the gleam of your flashing spear.

12.  In wrath you marched on the earth, in fury you trampled the nations.

13.  You came forth to save your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the back of the wicked, you laid him bare, bottom to neck. Selah

14.  You pierced his head with your shafts; his princes you scattered with your stormwind, as food for the poor in unknown places.

15.  You trampled the sea with your horses amid the churning of the deep waters.

16.  I hear, and my body trembles; at the sound, my lips quiver. Decay invades my bones, my legs tremble beneath me. I await the day of distress that will come upon the people who attack us.

17.  For though the fig tree does not  lossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls,

18.  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God.

19.  God, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights. For the leader; with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 4:19 NASV)

Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary (concise) a devotional on chapter 3 is appropriate:

“The prophet beseeches God for his people. (1-2) He calls to mind former deliverances. (3-15) His firm trust in the Divine mercy. (16-19)

Commentary on Habakkuk 3:1, 2

The word prayer seems used here for an act of devotion. The Lord would revive his work among the people in the midst of the years of adversity. This may be applied to every season when the church, or believers, suffer under afflictions and trials. Mercy is what we must flee to for refuge, and rely upon as our only plea. We must not say, remember our merit, but, Lord, remember thy own mercy.

Commentary on Habakkuk 3:3-15

God’s people, when in distress, and ready to despair, seek help by considering the days of old, and the years of ancient times, and by pleading them with God in prayer. The resemblance between the Babylonish and Egyptian captivities, naturally presents itself to the mind, as well as the possibility of a like deliverance through the power of Jehovah. God appeared in his glory. All the powers of nature are shaken, and the course of nature changed, but all is for the salvation of God’s own people. Even what seems least likely, shall be made to work for their salvation. Hereby is given a type and figure of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ. It is for salvation with thine anointed. Joshua who led the armies of Israel, was a figure of Him whose name he bare, even Jesus, our Joshua. In all the salvations wrought for them, God looked upon Christ the Anointed, and brought deliverances to pass by him. All the wonders done for Israel of old, were nothing to that which was done when the Son of God suffered on the cross for the sins of his people. How glorious his resurrection and ascension! And how much more glorious will be his second coming, to put an end to all that opposes him, and all that causes suffering to his people!

Commentary on Habakkuk 3:16-19

When we see a day of trouble approach, it concerns us to prepare. A good hope through grace is founded in holy fear. The prophet looked back upon the experiences of the church in former ages, and observed what great things God had done for them, and so was not only recovered, but filled with holy joy. He resolved to delight and triumph in the Lord; for when all is gone, his God is not gone. Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease. But those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of the ruins of their creature-comforts, and even then praise the Lord, as the God of their salvation, the salvation of the soul, and rejoice in him as such, in their greatest distresses. Joy in the Lord is especially seasonable when we meet with losses and crosses in the world. Even when provisions are cut off, to make it appear that man lives not by bread alone, we may be supplied by the graces and comforts of God’s Spirit. Then we shall be strong for spiritual warfare and work, and with enlargement of heart may run the way of his commandments, and outrun our troubles. And we shall be successful in spiritual undertakings. Thus the prophet, who began his prayer with fear and trembling, ends it with joy and triumph. And thus faith in Christ prepares for every event. The name of Jesus, when we can speak of Him as ours, is balm for every wound, a cordial for every care. It is as ointment poured forth, shedding fragrance through the whole soul. In the hope of a heavenly crown, let us sit loose to earthly possessions and comforts, and cheerfully bear up under crosses. Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry; and where he is, we shall be also.” (5)

In conclusion:

Habakkuk, as a minor prophet, is somewhat obscure. Hopefully, the reader will be blessed reading this study on this often forgotten prophet. There is nothing obscure about his message. As seen in chapter three, the prose is beautiful, and the message to Israel and the larger Church is edifying and full of hope.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27).

Notes:

1.            Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Habakkuk, Vol.14, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 50.

2.            Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 831.

3.            Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Habakkuk, Vol. 5 p.353-355.

4.            Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Matthew, Vol. 2, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 972-973.

5.            Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Habakkuk, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 1421-1422.   Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM

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