What does “God came from Teman” mean?

What does “God came from Teman” mean?                                      by Jack Kettler

“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.” (Habakkuk 3:3)

At a glance:

In chapter 1:5, Habakkuk raises questions to God because he could not understand why evil was dominant. God had promised to bless, and Habakkuk did not see any evidence of this. Additionally, God said He would do great things that “you would not believe if you were told.”

Chapter two consists of God replying to Habakkuk’s question.

In chapter 3:2, Habakkuk gives God the glory and praise for faithfully answering his questions, “LORD, I have heard thy speech 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.”

The above starting passage from the minor prophet Habakkuk is somewhat obscure. If one were to approach this passage from a finite corporeal finite of view, interpreting the verse would quickly degenerate into complete nonsense. For example:

One might speculate that God was on a trip or visiting his hometown.

The goal of this study will be to understand the text and in particular, learn about Teman and Mount Paran, or the wilderness of Paran.

In the following cross references, Teman is referred to again:

“And Jobab died, and Husham of the land of Temani reigned in his stead.” (Genesis 36:34)

“And when Jobab was dead, Husham of the land of the Temanites reigned in his stead.” (1 Chronicles 1:45)

“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came everyone from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.” (Job 2:11)

“Concerning Edom, thus saith the LORD of hosts; Is wisdom no more in Teman? is counsel perished from the prudent? is their wisdom vanished?” (Jeremiah 49:7)

“Therefore, thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also stretch out mine hand upon Edom, and will cut off man and beast from it; and I will make it desolate from Teman; and they of Dedan shall fall by the sword.” (Ezekiel 25:13)

“But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.” (Amos 1:12)

“And thy mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mounts of Esau may be cut off by slaughter.” (Obadiah 1:9)

In the following cross references, Paran is referred to:

“And the Horites in their mount Seir, unto El-paran, which is by the wilderness.” (Genesis 14:6)

“And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran.” (Numbers 10:12)

“And he said, The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousand of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.” (Deuteronomy 33:2)

“And Samuel died; and all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah. And David arose, and went down to the wilderness of Paran.” (1 Samuel 25:1)

Definitions and historical details from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

TEMAN

“te’-man (teman, “on the right,” i.e. “south”; Thaiman): The name of a district and town in the land of Edom, named after Teman the grandson of Esau, the son of his firstborn, Eliphaz (Genesis 36:11 1 Chronicles 1:36). A duke Teman is named among the chiefs or clans of Edom (Genesis 36:42 1 Chronicles 1:53). He does not however appear first, in the place of the firstborn. Husham of the land of the Temanites was one of the ancient kings of Edom (Genesis 36:34 1 Chronicles 1:45). From Obad 1:9 we gather that Teman was in the land of Esau (Edom). In Amos 1:12 it is named along with Bozrah, the capital of Edom. In Ezekiel 25:13 desolation is denounced upon Edom: “From Teman even unto Dedan shall they fall by the sword.” Dedan being in the South, Teman must be sought in the North Eusebius, Onomasticon knows a district in the Gebalene region called Theman, and also a town with the same name, occupied by a Roman garrison, 15 miles from Petra. Unfortunately, no indication of direction is given. No trace of the name has yet been found. It may have been on the road from Elath to Bozrah.

The inhabitants of Teman seem to have been famous for their wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7 Obadiah 1:8 f). Eliphaz the Temanite was chief of the comforters of Job (2:11, etc.). The manner in which the city is mentioned by the prophets, now by itself, and again as standing for Edom, shows how important it must have been in their time.” W. Ewing (1)

The wilderness of Paran:

Paran, El-paran

“pa’-ran, (pa’ran, ‘el-pa’ran; Pharan):

(1) El-paran (Ge 14:6) was the point farthest South reached by the kings. Septuagint renders ‘el by terebinthos, and reads, “unto the terebinth of Paran.” The evidence is slender, but it is not unreasonable to suppose that this is the place elsewhere (De 2:8; 1Ki 9:26, etc.) called Elath or Eloth (‘el with feminine termination), a seaport town which gave its name to the Aelanitic Gulf (modern Gulf of `Aqaba), not far from the wilderness of Paran (2).

(2) Many places named in the narrative of the wanderings lay within the Wilderness of Paran (Nu 10:12; 13:21; 27:14; compare Nu 13:3,16, etc.). It is identified with the high limestone plateau of Ettih, stretching from the Southwest of the Dead Sea to Sinai along the west side of the Arabah. This wilderness offered hospitality to Ishmael when driven from his father’s tent (Ge 21:21). Hither also came David when bereaved of Samuel’s protection (1Sa 25:1).

(3) Mount Paran (De 33:2; Hab 3:3) may be either Jebel Maqrah, 29 miles South of `Ain Kadis (Kadesh-barnea), and 130 miles North of Sinai (Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, 510); or the higher and more imposing range of mountains West of the Gulf of `Aqaba. This is the more probable if El-paran is rightly identified with Elath.

(4) Some place named Paran would seem to be referred to in De 1:1; but no trace of such a city has yet been found. Paran in 1Ki 11:18 doubtless refers to the district West of the Arabah.” W. Ewing (2)

Next, an entry from a classic Bible commentary to gain an enlightening overview of the Habakkuk 3:3 passage is in order. 

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges explains the passage:

“3. God came from Teman] cometh: the poet feels himself in presence of the manifestation. Teman is a district lying in the north-west of Edom, Ezekiel 25:13; Obadiah 1:9.

the Holy One from mount Paran Or, the mountains (hill country) of Paran. The “Holy One” is virtually already a proper name (without the Art.), as Isaiah 40:25. Paran is the elevated region lying between the wilderness of Kadesh on the north and that of Sinai on the south, west of the Arabah. If any particular mountain be referred to it may be Jebel Mukrah, which has a height of 2000 feet, and forms the southern boundary of the plateau. At present the region is the seat of the Azazimeh Arabs. The whole region of Sinai, Paran and Edom is regarded as the scene of the divine manifestation; comp. Deuteronomy 33:2; Jdg 5:4.

His glory covered covereth the heavens. The “glory” is the splendour of the divine majesty, which overspreads the heavens. Psalm 8:1; Psalm 148:13.

was full of his praise] the earth is filled with. The term “praise” has a secondary meaning, viz. that in God which evokes praise or adoration. The meaning is not that praises from men’s mouth filled the earth, but that the light of God’s glory filled it, just as it overspread the heavens. Isaiah 6:3.

3–7. Approach and manifestation of Jehovah in the storm

The Theophany is pictured as a great tempest in the heavens in the midst of which God is present. It comes from the south, the region of Paran and Sinai (Habakkuk 3:3 a); there is a terrible splendour around the advancing God, which lightens the heavens and the earth (Habakkuk 3:3 b, 4); pestilence and fever-glow follow in His wake (Habakkuk 3:5); all nature shudders, the eternal hills sink down (Habakkuk 3:6); the nations and tribes in the desert are dismayed (Habakkuk 3:7).

3–15. The Revelation of Jehovah

The passage has three strophes of 5, 4, 4 verses respectively. (1) Description of the Theophany, Habakkuk 3:3-7. (2) The question, what is its meaning? Habakkuk 3:8-11. (3) Statement of its meaning—it is to save His people, Habakkuk 3:12-15.” (3)

In closing, a summary:

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers is an excellent commentary summary:

“(3-15) Habakkuk describes the “Theophany” or self-manifestation of Jehovah, which is to introduce the desired deliverance. The Authorised Version has unfortunately rendered all the verbs in this section in the past tense, thus obscuring the sense of the poem. They all refer to a scene really future, but brought by the grasp of faith into the immediate present. In the Hebrew some of these verbs are in the future tense, others in the past used with the force of a present, the “prophetic perfect” as it is sometimes termed. Such a use of the Hebrew preterite is common in Biblical poetry, notably in the Book of Psalms. It is almost impossible to reproduce in English the slight distinction between these tenses. While, however, his eyes are thus fixed on a future deliverance, the basis of all Habakkuk’s anticipations is God’s doings in time past; the chief features in the portraiture are, in fact, borrowed from the Books of Exodus and Judges.

(3) God came. — Render “God shall come from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah. His glory covers the heavens, and the earth is full of His praise.” Jehovah reveals Himself from the south: i.e., from Mount Sinai, as in Deuteronomy 32, Judges 5, Psalms 68. The southern country is here designated as “Teman,” i.e., Edom to the S.E., and “Paran,” the mountainous region to the S.W., between Edom and Egypt.” (4)

The Habakkuk 3:3 passage, at first sight, is seemingly an obscure passage. Nevertheless, the diligent reader will find a gold mine of edification from sampling some of the rich contributions that Biblical commentators have made regarding the text. The manifestation of Jehovah in the storm or the Theophany is striking and majestic. 

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

Notes:

1.      Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘TEMAN,’” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 2929.

2.      Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘PARAN,’” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 2247.

3.      Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Andrew B. Davidson, Habakkuk, (Cambridge University Press, 1896), e-Sword version.

4.      Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Habakkuk, Vol.5, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 531.

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 books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com

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